The successful entrepreneur's biggest secret
A lot has been written about how to be a successful entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship requires pushing yourself to the limit. It requires doing so many things that you have never done before, and becoming good at them. As an entrepreneur, you will be in charge of accounting, marketing, product design, product specification, business planing, pre-sales, post-sales, legal contracts, stock options plans and the list goes on.
Some people credit being a successful to a good idea, some credit it to being smart, some credit it to being able to adapt etc. In truth is that a successful entrepreneur will likely have harnessed a basic knowledge of most of the above listed competences, and likely have become a master at a number of them.
To me however, the number one quality for success is resilience: the ability to never give up. There are no qualities as important as this one. Bad marketing or bad execution can be overcome by the one who does not give up, but even good marketing and good execution are nothing if the entrepreneur does not hang in there as the going gets tough.
As an entrepreneur, you will encounter a myriad of challenges. After successfully signing a big contract, you might find yourself on top of the world, only to hear in the news a month later that the company you just signed this contract with has declared bankruptcy and reduced your success built over an 18 months sales cycle to nothingness. To be clear, this is not a fictional scenario, these kind of things do happen, and though your setbacks will likely be of a different nature, they will likely happen nonetheless. At that point, the only thing that matters is: how do you respond? Do you have the strength to pick yourself up? What about when the big cheque that you were expecting is not coming, will you have the strength to explain to your employees that their salary might be delayed? Will you have the strength to fire half of you workforce? Will you have the strength to pick yourself up and rebuild from the ashes once your main product just got outbeat by a competitor?
All successful entrepreneurs share this same trait, they do not give up. Yes they hurt, yes they will feel the pain, but they will pick themselves up and start again. Most successful entrepreneurs have a large number of failed businesses under their belts. Failure is part of growing and is an important process.
I played chess at international level in my youth, and we have a saying: "You learn nothing when you win. You learn a lot when you lose".
The Japanese are notoriously masters of resilience. Having been hit repeatedly by catastrophe throughout their history due to geological events, wars, tsunamis and even nuclear bombs, they always rebuild, stronger and better.
When we started Comufy in 2007, we designed an instant messenger platform aimed at end users. After 18 months of hard work we ran out of money and pivoted to businesses, trying to reuse our technology. The traction was light and we kept pushing, adding social networks onto the mix. We eventually scrapped our entire instant messenger architecture and completely pivoted to providing a social CRM as well as a Social Media Management System (SMMS). Our platform eventually became used by the biggest companies in the world such as BBC, Universal Music Group, Sky, Trinity Mirror etc. But traction was still too slow so we pivoted again and started going into the low-margin business of providing a social CRM for games companies on Facebook. This was a low margin business, but the traction was crazy! Because we were capable of increasing retention and conversion levels using a unique combination of CRM and intelligent customised notification, our traffic exploded and suddenly all the biggest Facebook games companies in the world used or wanted to use our system. In the end, Comufy was bought by King Digital, the maker of Candy Crush for a large sum of money.
What I have not yet said in this story is that we nearly gave up. We so nearly gave up. Twice. No, three times. No, in reality, about a dozen times. You see, to us success was not inevitable. We started with little money, burned through our money and had little hope of raising investment. We were not paying ourselves anything for years aside from enough to sleep and eat. We were so poor that we had to start taking loans from family and we went into debt, the kind of debt that would take you years to get out of. It took nearly 8 years for Comufy to go from nothing to success, and I can assure you that when you earn very little, have big piles of debt, work over 80 hours per week continuously for years, your friends are progressing in their careers but you feel stuck, and you are married yet still have to rent your main bedroom so that you can live in the lounge to save some money, time does not go by quickly. So many times, us, the three founders sat down to have a chat about this one question: "Do we give up? If not what is our limit, when do we say enough is enough?".
So here you have it: NEVER GIVE UP. If something doesn't work, fix it. If fixing it is not possible, then drop it, learn from your mistake and start again.
They say that the odds of success in the startup world are one in ten. Sure enough, if you try 10 times, you will eventually succeed!
Good luck to you.