Mistakes made and Lessons learnt.

I was recently asked to do a talk by Entrepreneurs Anonymous and it forced me to think about everything that I’d learnt over the last few years. It’s been an interesting time of reflection after selling the ISP I started, grew and ran for 16 years before eventually exiting. It’s funny how when the mind is no longer bombarded that lessons distill and become clear.

Here are some of the key take-aways from the talk:

  1. Big mistakes are normally realised later, in hindsight. Do what you can to survive. Correct small mistakes as soon as you realise what has happened. Don’t analyse or blame, just fix. Encourage a environment in the business where employees feel safe to admit a mistake a soon as possible.
  2. Try to see the positive in a mistake, learn from it and use it to make the business better. Find the cause and put processes in place to try avoid it happening again.
  3. Lessons learnt (Part 1 — Investing — Watch out for Ego)
    Do your homework, don’t be rushed. Make sure you understand the business model and that you are in alignment with the CEO. Make sure that if you are a “lean start-up” person that the CEO isn’t a “spend money to make money” person. You will clash. Don’t buy into the hype, look at the facts.
  4. Lessons learnt (Part 2— Managing)
    It’s easy to turn into a control freak when you are starting up. Money is tight, you aren’t sleeping enough. You feel that you can’t afford mistakes. Remember why you employed those one or two people. Let them do what they were employed to do and you do what you need to do. If they feel that you will always pick up the pieces, they won’t be responsible. Hold them responsible, set reasonable deadlines, have a sprint meeting on Monday morning and have a reflection meeting on Friday afternoon. But don’t micro manage. It is a waste of your time and theirs.
  5. Lessons learnt (Part 3— Selling)
    Give customers what they want. Don’t think you know better. If there is a demand, service it. Entrepreneurs want to change the world. But more than that we want to have a successful company and service a need. The biggest benefit of being small is that you are nimble. Don’t be afraid to pivot if you recognise a need and your initial plan isn’t going too well. I’m sure you all know the story of how Slack started…(if not read this)
  6. When Starting up (Part 1 — Innovate don’t Invent)
    Look at existing businesses that are working and do them better. Make small important changes that differentiate your offering. If you invent something new, you need to educate the market and only then can you start selling the product. Unless you have that one in a million idea that everyone instantly gets, rather find better ways to do existing things. There are so many things that have changed in the last 5 years, be part of that wave.
  7. When Starting up (Part 2Just do it!)
    Don’t overthink things. Action creates momentum. Work 12hr days. The old saying analysis / paralysis. I’m not saying don’t do your research, but make decisions, if they are mistakes, be nimble and make another decision. Darwin is often misquoted with “survival of the fittest” it’s actually “Those species that survive are the most able to adapt to change”
  8. When Starting up (Part3 —Be careful of taking outside money.)
    Having outside investors sets you on a treadmill. Having investor money brings instant relief. Some runway, some space to expand. But with it comes the pressure of performance, and scaling increases overheads and increased overheads means needing more investor money. In no time, instead of doing what you love, you could be spending all day chasing money and managing investor relations.
  9. #protips (Get Momentum)
    It’s easier to get investors when you have something to show. Get a POC working, get a website up, don’t waste you time going to investors with an idea until you’ve done something. Create momentum. Make something happen. Do a business plan, register a domain, build a website. You will quickly work out if your plan has merit or not. Tell people about what you are doing, go to networking events. Make sure you have an elevator pitch. You need to be able to tell anyone, in the most simplistic form what it is that you do. (without hesitation after someone asks, “so what do you do?”)
  10. #protips (Do something relevant)
    Most unicorns have come about by luck and timing. If this is your first start up, just do something well. Create a business that can survive on it’s own. Make sure you have a proper business case. If you exit successfully, then think about changing the world.We can’t all be Elon Musk. Just fill a need, scale a business, adapt to change. And if you are very lucky, you might even exit.
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