What really makes a ‘good entrepreneur’ is hard to tell.
‘Success’ too may be something hard to define unambiguously. It really depends on individual circumstances. And sure enough, for every successful outcome achieved, there are both another bigger goal ahead -yet to reach- and a bag full of failures behind. We’ve all been there.
Yet, if we accept that entrepreneurial success may not be a set status, but the achievement of a considerable leap forward towards your dreams, then we can start to talk about it.
Are there any strong foundations you should be mindful of when you embark on a business path towards your own success?
I believe that there are. So, as I’m busy juggling between the organisation of the biggest blockchain 1-day event in London this summer and the closing in of tenants for my most recent real estate development deal, I thought I’d share what experience has taught me about this.
Below you’ll find 3 fundamental pillars that underpin any entrepreneurial success story. Whether it’s the profitable closing of a business deal, or the closing of a fund round for an early stage startup. The are: Vision, Due Diligence, and Resilience.
I — Vision
“Entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for something and a want to create” — David Karp (founder of Tumblr)
Entrepreneurs are different from other people in that they are insatiably curious. They are risk-takers because they constantly think to themselves that there has to be a better way.
This is not just me saying it, by the way, as the former president of PepsiCo and former Apple CEO John Sculley has been reported to say the exactly the same (Entrepreneur.com / Europe — July, 2018).
What does this mean, in practice?
It means that if you really want to succeed in business, you can’t just think “I’ll open A bar”, or “I’ll sell SOMETHING”, or “I’ll be A property investor”. Sure, you can make some money by doing any of these things and many more like them — and sure thing you’d be a business person. Yet, that’s not quite being an entrepreneur. Nor, in my opinion, you’d ever make a substantial change to yourself and the world around you.
Think, and Think Big! Bust most importantly think differently. This does not necessarily mean that you have to come up with a whole new way of doing something like Amazon.com did. You might just find that simply being able to cater to some underserved needs in a specific reality is enough to achieve success in that particular entrepreneurial endeavour you’re undertaking.
But! You must be offering something new under the sun, and you need to be sure that you (and your team if you have one) have this Vision crystal clear.
When I joined Silicon Roundabout, the meetup community had already grown into a huge group of entrepreneurs, developers, investors, and tech enthusiasts. It did, however, lack a clear direction and purpose. It was just “A” big meetup. It was in that scenario that Paul (the other organiser) and I decided to push it into becoming THE biggest tech community in London. It was going to be THE UK event session where people could see THE new startup tech being developed around. Furthermore, with the gradual introduction of an online Hub and external partnerships, we are now taking it to be THE platform to raise startup funds this side of the Atlantic. Why? Because we believe this to be the right way to improve things for our audience and community.
Now, look past the specific of this case: do you see the point I’m trying to make? It’s pretty much about “accepting” to be just “A thing” versus striving towards being “THE thing”.
It does not always have to be as grandiose and as uncertain as being a creating better tech community than what’s around and a tech startup fund-raising vehicle.
Recently for example, AGÀPE Properties, the real estate company I direct, redeveloped a derelict building in the far South East London into an industrial-styled co-living home. The idea came from what WeLive is trying to do in the US, or The Collective and Co-Living Spaces are doing in hipster Shoreditch and Brighton. No one, however, had ever taken the concept to that part of London. Despite that, we envisioned that such a project could be a game changer there, so we went ahead and did it nonetheless.
The result? Well, despite being told by local agents “Are you sure you want to rent these units out for £800 per month? Don’t you know that here rooms in shared homes go for £400?”, tenants booked 70% of the rooms before we even finished the works.
The moral: spend time thinking about what your vision is for the industry or world you want to get into. It can be as simple as focusing on an under-served niche, or a big as aiming to be a disrupting new way of doing things. But don’t be afraid to think differently and brand yourself accordingly. Then, of course, go out and do it.
II — Due diligence
“Diligence is the mother of good luck” — Benjamin Franklin (Inventor, Scientist, Politician: America’s Founding Father)
They say that everything that could possibly go wrong, will go wrong.
I say this is not always true: sometimes, even what could have not possibly gone wrong will go wrong.
You will always come across problems and the reality of things will always turn out different from what you had expected. Despite this, there are ways to minimise the impact of uncertainty and ways to protect you against unforeseen circumstances.
Furthermore, there is no need to increase the inherent uncertainty of an entrepreneurial endeavour by not being prepared. As a matter of fact, doing so equals to an economical suicide.
If you know what you are doing and you have a strong and meaningful vision, you can still fail. If you don’t know what you are doing, you are sure to fail.
Do you think that the two case examples I mentioned above were just a walk in the park for the people involved? Do you think that making the choices we made with Silicon Roundabout or with AGÀPE Properties was just the fruit of an eureka moment and that everything else followed like magic the day after? No — of course this wasn’t the case.
Benjamin Franklin used to say that “by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail”. No words could be more appropriate if you aim to succeed in something. It’s a bit like racing. You can still lose if you train hard before competing, but if you don’t train you just have no chance.
This should not paralyse you of course, nor should you spend endless days thinking that you are not yet good enough or that the circumstances are not good enough. Do take action, that’s for sure, but don’t spare even a single ounce of energy on preparation, market research, target client profiling, early testing, and relevant education.
Like the American entertainer Eddie Cantor used to say “it takes twenty years to become an overnight success”.
III — Resilience
“Every great entrepreneur I’ve succeeded with has an unusually high tolerance for uncertainty” — Barbara Corcoran (Shark Tank, The Corcoran Group)
So there we go. You’ve got the idea and you’ve turned into a coherent vision. You’ve researched the market and allowed for contingency buffers and alternative exits and pivot points. You’re prepared and hungry for success. The engine is already in motion. The first steps have been taken.
Then, failure comes.
Sometimes it’s a big failure or, more often, it’s just a big enough setback or obstacle that sends you back to the drawing board. Things are not turning out as you planned. What now?
The answer might sound cheesy and obvious, but it is as simple as this: you must be ready to stomach it and maintain your leader’s grip on the situation.
Leadership, of course, is another term that’s often overused in today’s entrepreneurial press, but I’ve not mentioned it by chance here. What I mean is that you cannot let obstacles and setbacks fill you up with self-doubt.
When we think of resiliency, the image may come to mind of a person who just climbed a mountain despite being disabled. We do not necessarily think of someone like ourselves having to wrestle with rejection, roadblocks, let-downs and failed attempts at success. We do not think of ourselves as the leading figure of our own project that is being pushed into a corner whilst our mind cannot stop thinking of dark and scary ‘what ifs’.
Going back to my two examples from before, rejections, mistakes, or even mere bad luck were (and still are) a constant component of both. We’ve been rejected with Silicon Roundabout. We’ve made mistakes. We have failed certain experiments we made. Same thing with the co-living project at AGÀPE Properties. From subcontractors letdowns, to planning mistakes at council level, from unforeseen structural defect, to all sorts of problems due to both external factors as well as our own errors: this project has constantly challenged us and even pushed me to think “what if this really screws us up for good?”.
It’s at times like these that you must remind yourself that the true grit of a leader is not how he or she performs during the good times but rather how he/she displays emotional strength, courage and professionalism during the most trying times. It is impossible to demonstrate resilience unless you have gone through difficult times.
Remember that with every struggle comes a tremendous opportunity. These are the times where you can choose to embrace the gift of adversity and use it to strengthen your leadership abilities. Here is where you can make a difference. It’s where you can train yourself to be the leading figure that can really make your entrepreneurial endeavour succeed.
Good times are a reason to celebrate and reward people. However, nothing is more rewarding than coming out of a storm as a stronger leader and a more cohesive team. Treasure these moments and, if the worst does come up, make sure you don’t waste the opportunity to learn.
Then stand back up and try again.
Once Nelson Mandela said that he never failed, he either won or learned. Resilience is what will take you there: to either succeed or learn from something and get ultimately closer to success.
Making an exhaustive list of what helps with entrepreneurial success is probably an impossible task. In this article we’ve looked instead at establishing what are the three pillars that underpin successful enterprises -be them big startup dreams or a particular project.
Remember these three as they will always serve you well regardless of the type of entrepreneur you want to be.
- Vision, that you must nurture with curiosity and the ambition to be the best and/or the first at doing something for others
- Due Diligence, that you must do aplenty to prepare for your enterprise
- Resilience, that you must have not to give up in the face of adversities, so that you can lead your project to either success or to precious learning before you pick up the next fight
So here are my two pence for today. I hope you found it useful and don’t forget to share your thoughts if you agree or disagree with anything we’ve talked about here.