Erwin Wils of Millionaire Life Strategy: Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup
An Interview With Paul Moss
…Realize you are in the problem-solving business. The client experiences a problem, you have the solution to that problem and the client is willing to pay for that. The bigger the problem you solve, the more they are willing to pay for it. When you market your product or service, focus on the problem and the problem-solving capabilities of your solution.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Erwin Wils.
Wils found his passion in hypnotherapy in 2015, and registered his company that same year. He thought it might take 5–10 years before he would be running his own successful business full-time, but found himself fully self-employed by 2017. Since he didn’t have any background in entrepreneurship, he had to learn it the hard way. He changed his focus several times in his first few years before narrowing down his niche. Now he empowers tech experts to boost their business and themselves, transforming them into the person that will achieve their ambitions, goals, and beyond.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After graduating as a Master of Science in electrical engineering and working in the corporate world for 20+ years optimizing processes, being the interface between business and technology, I launched my own company in pursuit of my own dreams. I soon discovered that being an expert and starting for yourself doesn’t automatically mean you can make it as an entrepreneur; I had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, overcoming the pitfalls on my path to excellence. Now I coach other tech experts to excel in their business and earn a great living while doing it.
I believe technology is at the heart of the future and I’ve seen how entrepreneurs change the world. It is time to put the “nerd” stereotype on the shelf and give tech experts the confidence and roadmap they need to succeed. That’s exactly what I’m doing with Millionaire Life Strategy, showing the world what tech geeks are really about: bringing brilliance to market.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It wasn’t so much an “A-Ha!” moment for me, as much as it was a revelation. I had always been looking for ways to add value. The first weekend of my hypnotherapy training I had such a powerful experience being the hypnotherapist, it was like everything I was looking for, came together:
- I love helping people, but in a coaching manner. I’m not telling my clients what to do, the insights come from within them, and that’s exactly what hypnotherapy is all about.
- My work needs a challenge. When I’m not challenged and my work becomes routine, I get bored and distracted. And since everybody is unique — has their own challenges, solutions, and ways of getting there — every client and every coaching session is a new and exciting challenge for me.
- I love to optimize processes, and now I get to optimize the most complex ones out there, those of the internal human being.
From that moment on, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. This was, and still is, my way of making a positive impact.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Probably unconsciously, but my very first hypnotherapy trainer more or less inspired me to start my business. During the first training weekend, he mentioned: “If you want to master this, start working with people. You only learn it when you apply it”. And so I did. After doing some sessions with friends and family, I decided to start working with strangers. I made an appeal for volunteers, and 34 signed up within 2 days. I practiced with free sessions. I took my exam in August 2015, so I said to myself and my wife that all sessions through August were free of charge, because I considered them to be part of my training, but once I was certified, I would charge for my sessions. We registered our first company at the Chamber of Commerce and our company launched September 1, 2015. That is how it all started.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Next to all my skills and experience, I want to mention two things that stand out for my company:
- A deal is a deal
That sounds logical, but I take this very seriously. I rather arrive 30 minutes early to an appointment than 5 minutes late. A better example to demonstrate what I mean is this: I don’t use the snooze button. Because when I set the alarm, I make an agreement with myself to get up at a certain time. If I use the snooze button, I’m already breaking my first agreement that I’ve made that day. And it’s an agreement I made with myself. When I can’t keep a promise I made with myself, what guarantee do my clients have that I will keep my promises?
That’s how deeply it is engrained in my system. When I make a promise to deliver certain results with my clients, I will do everything to get those results with my client. When it seems we’re not getting there, I blame myself first and see how I can save the situation. You will never hear me say: “that’s because you didn’t do exactly as I told you to do.”
- Become obsolete.
When people, processes or business become dependent on me, I feel trapped, and I want to get out of there. Well, except for my family of course. I don’t want to become a crucial link in the chain. It is the famous saying: “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” I am the latter. I think it is related to my high sense of responsibility. I have been in certain roles in the past where I was the only one that performed certain tasks. I didn’t want the customers to suffer from that, so I put in extra hours; I was almost working on autopilot. Until one day I woke up at 4AM, got busy in my head with all tasks to do, and started my laptop at half past 4. That was when I realized I couldn’t proceed like that. That day I decided that I wanted out, but not until I found the perfect replacement to take my place.
When people ask me for information, I share it and I show them where to get it themselves the next time. I love to share knowledge. I mean, what good is knowledge when you don’t share it? And the fun thing is, when you do share it, people still come back to you, because of the value you add to their lives.
But at the end, coaching is a personal business, so if I don’t click with the customer, I know the relationship is not going to work. At least, that is my opinion. That’s also the very reason I don’t charge for my discovery sessions, because that’s what it is: to discover if there is a match and the goals of the client are realistic, considering his or her situation. And if there is no match, or if I believe someone else might be a better fit, I will tell that to the prospect. Because I only want the best for them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Well, I love to share my knowledge and inspire people, so by being a guest on podcasts, participating in interviews like this one, posting on social media and being a guest speaker, I hope to make a positive impact and help people. For instance, I had a virtual meeting with somebody, and she was late. In fact, she stood me up because of another meeting. So, I told her that it is better to inform the other person that you will be late, or need to cancel, instead of letting that person wait for nothing. Months later she sent me a private message to thank me for that, because as of that moment she was very aware of her appointments and it made a big difference for her. You never know how you will impact another person’s life. And for the bigger picture, one day I hope to be able to give something back to Haiti, the country that gave my wife and I our two sons.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would like to emphasize the following 3 character traits:
First and foremost I would like to mention passion. After my first hypnotherapy training weekend, I knew I found my passion, my way of making a positive impact. Everything I love to do, came together. I love helping people in a coaching way, my work needs a challenge to keep it interesting, and I love to optimize processes. And within hypnotherapy, everything is included! That moment I just knew I wanted to do that for a living some day. Because of that passion, my timeframe of being fully self-employed decreased from 5–10 years into 2 years. That’s why I love this quote from Napoleon Hill so much: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” I believe that passion is the driving force behind that.
- I am the eternal student.
I love to grow and develop myself. When I attend a training, seminar, etcetera, you can find me on one of the first front rows. And when I don’t understand something, or I need some clarification, I raise my hand and ask questions, in contrast to many other participants. I don’t care what others think of me at that moment, I am there to learn and grow.
- I focus on the positive side of things.
I am a firm believer that things work out as they are meant to be and when you do good, you receive good. When I look back at my life, I’ve been through some serious things, although I don’t experience it as such. I have been in a serious car accident, lost my father due to cancer, have had cancer myself, have been laid off, struggled financially, and still I can see the positive things in that. It is all in the past. It made me the person I am today and I am very happy with that. I have a very lovely wife that I consider to be my soulmate, we have 2 adopted boys, I’m doing what I love to do, and there is more to come.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Maybe you recognize this, it is an advice I used to follow: “I started out with nothing, and now I’m so successful, I cracked the code. And if I can do it, you can do it too.” As a newbie, I wanted success so badly that I believed everything. You could say that just like the saying, “I was blinded by the glass beads.” I bought their trainings, only to find out it wasn’t as easy as they said. “You should blog. You should do videos, twitter, affiliate marketing, build FB groups, do webinars; drop-shipping is where the money is…” the list goes on and on. The only issue is, that even though it worked for them, that doesn’t automatically mean it works for me — or for you. I started to recognize that they wanted me to copy them and that didn’t work for me. They have had the momentum, they already had an email list, they were already doing it, and I had nothing. Yet I learned a lot from that period. Not all of them are as successful as they claim. It’s also important to stay authentic. Only do things that feel right for you. That’s why I love coaching. I don’t tell my clients what to do. I share my wisdom and knowledge, show them what works and what doesn’t, guide them, and let them decide what works for them.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
As I mentioned before I started out as a hypnotherapist. The issue with all those hypnotherapy, NLP, coaching programs etcetera, is that you get the tools and skills to help everybody, but no training tells you how to run a business. It’s like “go out there and start changing lives!” I wasn’t raised in an entrepreneurial environment, so I had to learn everything the hard way. You know, you can absolutely be an expert in your field, but that doesn’t make you a successful entrepreneur. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by all the “gurus” out there. They were all successful in my eyes, so I listened to them and believed all those great stories, only to find out it didn’t work for me. And I was too eager. I wanted results immediately and didn’t realize that it took time to build the “know-like-trust” factor. It wasn’t until I decided to invest in a business coach that things started to change. And now I help my clients to learn from my mistakes.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
I think it is in my genes. I always had (and have) a positive mindset. I am a firm believer that things will work out in the end and people get what they deserve. So that’s why I’m always positive. Maybe it has also to do with my core values. When I promise something, I am committed and will do everything to keep my promise. I would rather come 30 minutes early to a meeting than 5 minutes late because I promised to be there! When I start a training, I finish it. It’s the same with goals I set. It’s a promise I make to myself. So how can I ever earn your trust when I cannot keep a promise I made with myself? Some say it takes a lot of will power, but I have my own: Wils power.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?
I always said that my work needs to be challenging, because if it’s not, I get bored and distracted easily. So, becoming an entrepreneur fulfilled that need very well. I love to grow and develop myself, which means getting out of my comfort zone. As long as you take into account that you will make mistakes, because you are constantly doing things for the first time, it’s easier to handle. Those become your best learning moments. It doesn’t matter that you fall now and then, it matters that you get up, learn, and proceed. Adjust to the situation, celebrate all wins (small and big) and embrace the mistakes. For instance, when the pandemic hit and everything went into a lockdown, I accepted the situation as is and looked at how I could adapt my business. Don’t put your energy into things you cannot influence. Focus instead on what you can do and make the best of it.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Well, that takes case-by-case advice. What do you need the money for? Are you planning to sell services or products? What’s in it for the investor(s)? The benefit of bootstrapping is that you are in complete control, there are no dependencies. The disadvantage is that things can take longer, especially if money is needed to progress. The benefit of fundraising is that the money issue is solved. The disadvantage is that you have an obligation to the investor to perform; it can complicate things a lot.
You have to sell the vision. Create answers to questions like, “How will the investor benefit from the cooperation?” “How can you minimize the risk? “What will be his (or her) return on investment?” “When will you be able to return the money (or what share of the company will the investor get)?” “What problem is being solved?” “What is the market potential.” Play devil’s advocate: create the business plan, be honest to yourself and ask yourself the question: “If a total stranger would approach me with this business plan and ask me to invest, would I invest my own money into this company?” If the answer is no, I would stick to bootstrapping.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
I believe the most important thing you need is sales. If possible, first sell your product before you start to build it. You can have the greatest idea, build it, test it, perfect it, only to find out that there is no need for the product, or the market is not ready for it. At that moment, you have wasted a lot of resources, energy, money and above all, time. Do your market research, sell the vision, let people to sign up for it and make them leave a deposit. At that moment, you know there is a need for your product, and there is a must to build it, because you have buyers waiting for it. By the way, when you have already buyers signed up, it will make your story towards investors a lot easier as well.
Secondly, you need to define your niche. The narrower you niche, the clearer your message will be and the more you will become the go-to business for that niche. It may sound contradictory, especially when you are just starting and need all the business you can get, but if you want to help everybody, you’re actually helping nobody. Think of it this way: when you go fishing, do you want to fish in a small pond and catch every fish in it, or do you want to fish in the ocean, hoping one will bite?
Thirdly, realize you are in the problem-solving business. The client experiences a problem, you have the solution to that problem and the client is willing to pay for that. The bigger the problem you solve, the more they are willing to pay for it. When you market your product or service, focus on the problem and the problem-solving capabilities of your solution. I still see a lot of entrepreneurs focusing on the tools that they have or offer, not on the problem they solve. For instance, consider two Apple iPod advertisements: one states “4 GB internal memory”, the other one states “200 hours of music in your back pocket.” What do you think the client wants?
Fourth, understand the basics of all parts of your business. That means you need to wear a lot of hats. You need to understand the basics of finance, marketing, logistics, purchasing, selling, etcetera. I’m not saying you need to do everything yourself or become an expert in everything, but you need to understand the basics. First thing that I outsourced was accounting. I didn’t want to make mistakes with regards to the necessary declarations to the tax authorities and everything was new to me, but I know the basics, I filed my private declarations years before that, so I had no issue outsourcing this. The reason I mention this, is that when you even don’t know the basics of something you want to outsource, how will you ever be able to check if they’re doing a great job? When you consider outsourcing, make sure you define SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) and that you are in the position to challenge both the goals and the company helping you achieve them.
Fifth and final thing I would like to mention, know your core values. They define you and your company. When you want to partner with others, hire employees, outsource activities, or whatever cooperation you are looking for, make sure that the other party understands, or even better aligns with those core values. Because when they do, the cooperation will be successful.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
That could be a very long list, and I probably made most of them as well. I would like to mention two that I see often. First mistake: their company starts with a great idea, vision, they start building it, and when the time has come to start selling products or services, people don’t buy. At that moment, they’ve wasted a lot of time, effort and probably money, only to find out there is no actual need, or the market isn’t ready for it. To avoid this waste, do some serious market research and start selling before building.
Second mistake: they have a hard time understanding their customers. In other words, they sell the tools, not the results. I already touched on this in my third tip in the previous question, yet I still see a lot of entrepreneurs making this mistake. Standing in the shoes of the customer, truly understanding their problem could avoid this error.
Best thing to do to avoid those mistakes is contact me, of course
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Use a weekly action planner. That is a personalized template with hourly blocks of types of activities you should put your energy into at very specific times. Everything that is important to you should be in that template. For instance, physical and mental wellness activities, quality time, family time, client time, marketing time, etcetera.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe entrepreneurs are changing the world and I am a very strong believer that every single person is here on earth to deliver their added value — to make a positive impact. I would love to see that our educational system would dedicate some time to the (early) development of entrepreneurship. I remember when I started my business in 2015, I soon realized that being an expert and working for myself didn’t automatically meant I was a successful entrepreneur. I had to develop some other, very needed, skills before I could truly call myself an entrepreneur.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Michael Jordan, the former basketball player. I loved watching him play and I am very interested in his “life after” basketball and how he built his empire.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can visit my website https://millionairelifestrategy.com, link to me on linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/erwin-wils or when they want to discover what I could do for them, book a free discovery call at https://calendly.com/erwin-wils/30-minutes-discovery-call-english
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!