One Piece of Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
Here’s How to Think About Milestones
This comes from a discussion Amy Jo Kim’s podcast where she asked me about the biggest mistake that we see young entrepreneurs make.
I’ve been trying to start and run companies for years and I still make the following mistake. So this is advice for myself that also works for many young entrepreneurs.
As we’ve gotten into coaching, we’ve had the privilege of coaching many young entrepreneurs too. Age isn’t even the most important way to describe them. The key characteristic is first-time, so youth refers to how far into your entrepreneurial career you are.
The thing that is really stands out is that people are planning too far ahead.
They’re stuck in this idea of what the company could be five years from now. They’re trying to make the five year version of the company happen tomorrow.
What they need to realize is that if you have no customers, the next milestone is one customer.
As we coach any goal, including entrepreneurship, we’ve found a very powerful tactic is to help people come around to focusing on momentum.
That means focusing on the next step and trusting that those first few steps will build to the speed and impact you want.
The biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make are the ones that block them from making real progress. In other words, entrepreneurs often spend their time and energy in a way that generates zero momentum.
There are two ways to be blocked from making real progress.
One is paralysis by analysis.
You’re over-thinking the requirements based on a distant point in the future, and so you think something like, “Well, I can’t start this company unless I have investors.”
That’s always false, right? There’s always a smaller version of the company that you could build in evening and weekends that doesn’t require any investors or even for you to give up your job.
The other way to block yourself is to over-build in secret. This is just a different way to not make progress.
Real progress comes from real users, real earnings, real revenue. When you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t bring this to someone until it’s done, and I’m going to spend three years getting it to my own idea of done,” all you’ve really done is wasted three years where you could have built the smaller version and gotten real traction earlier.
All of those things fit, for me, into this framework of you’re obsessed with the idea of the final version of the company, rather than the version that should exist tomorrow.
So momentum, and this comes up in all aspects of productivity, is coming around to thinking about the next step rather than the last step.
It’s impossible to get to one million users without passing through a phase where you have one single user.
And every time I force myself to think this way I find out that this supposedly trivial milestone is a lot harder than I thought.
For example, when we started selling coaches, I took the entire team out for lunch when we passed the 3-digit revenue milestone. Yes, I spent $150 to celebrate making $100.
The team laughed, but the path to four digits and five digits turned up a ton of work in order to make it repeatable. We had to fix bugs, solve quality control, figure out sales, figure out support, improve sourcing and training.
And now, having passed seven digits, everyone involved gets how hard each mini-milestone is.