4 Things You Have to Get Right to Win at Entrepreneurship

4 Things You Have to Get Right to Win at Entrepreneurship

It took me too long to figure out how to ensure growth, operations, and culture were scaling at the same pace. When one materially outpaces the others - you accidentally create a lopsided company that feels like a car zig-zagging down the road crashing into the side rails as it speeds down the highway. 

I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years. It took us 5 years to figure out what business we were in, another 8 years to grow fast and almost crash into oblivion, and 5 more years to rebuild the foundation of the business for sustainable, profitable growth. 

In this adventure, I’ve learned some lessons that will stick with me forever. Here they are:

Knowing how to grow a company is not the same as knowing how to run one.

If there is one thing that I most underestimated in my natural sales-driven nature, it was the importance of having a strong operational counterpart to ensure the operations of the business were scaling at the same pace as our growth. It seems so obvious to read it on paper, but it can be difficult to have the discipline to slow down sales to make the necessary investment required to ensure client churn and delivery keep pace with the revenue engine. 

If you have blinders on and keep plowing into growth without a plan for the hiring, org structure, training, onboarding, pricing, productization, and accountability, it quickly feels out of control. If you’re struggling with solving the same problems over and over and with frustration that no one seems to know what is going on - you may be missing your operational counterpart. 

No one is going to tell you to go home. Figure out your time boundaries. 

Starting a business takes an enormous amount of work. There is no way around it. However, more permanent bad habits can accidentally form during a necessary season of ‘grinding it out.’ 

As a founding team member, it can be hard to ‘downshift’ and realize the organization is no longer in survival mode. It no longer requires you to work all weekend and give up most evenings. As an entrepreneur, it can be difficult to know when you can trust what you’ve built and begin to put a more reasonable schedule in place for yourself. 

There will always be something else that can be done. Work will never be completely finished - and work tends to expand to fill the time available. Set boundaries for when you will go home. Keep those promises to yourself and your family. In my experience, the work was completed more quickly because I didn’t give myself forever to get it done. 

Moving fast and moving forward is not the same thing.

The adages, ‘move fast and break things’ or ‘ship the MVP’ can be dangerous grounds in the early days of entrepreneurship. The propensity to ‘go fast’ needs to be balanced with the time and attention required to get clear marketplace feedback on your product or service and the time required for excellence. 

Constant pivots make it nearly impossible for teams to be able to deliver well on anything and make it difficult to get good customer feedback on what you intend to take to market. Fast decisions are not always well-researched decisions. Fast shipment often lacks the time required for QA and refinement. Fast work often lacks collaboration and the time to get to the best idea and not just the first idea. 

Motivating people is not the same as leading them.

It’s one thing to get everyone excited about the future, it’s another entirely to give teams the information they need to be excited about how to do their jobs well today. When you’re first getting started in a business - especially when you are competing for talent, and you’re an unknown entity - selling your people on the vision is a critical piece to getting them excited to join the team.

However, it wears off quickly if there isn’t substantive information about how, where, and why. Emotional pep talks are not an answer to an organization that lacks clarity about how to navigate today with confidence and clarity.

It’s hard, but worth it.

Having the entrepreneurship bug is a hard and sometimes lonely journey. If you’re early in your journey, lean hard on those who have gone before you. If you’re deep into the journey and have most of it figured out - reach out to someone who is just starting and help them get it right faster. Do this, and we all get better. 

This article was originally published in the Indianapolis Business Journal

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