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Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs

Advice for Budding EntrepreneursIf you've got your own company or are planning on starting one, there is one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty. There will be times when you think, what the hell have I done? I can't do this!
Fortunately, in all likelihood, you'll be wrong. But who in the world is going to tell you that, with authority, when the time comes? More to the point, who will you believe?

The funny thing about entrepreneurs is that they tend to be skeptics who don't easily trust others. They generally keep their own counsel. So who are they going to believe, their own inner voice, or their friend or spouse who, by the way, sort of has to say, "Don't worry; you can do it!"

You see, we overachieving, success-minded people are our own worst enemy. We're notorious victims of self-doubt, anxiety, and self-limiting behavior that, all-too-often, results in shooting ourselves in the foot ... or somewhere even worse.

For enterprising people, the whole idea of finding a mentor, a partner, or like-minded people for support and to bounce ideas around is a complex issue that represents a critical factor in their ultimate success or failure. And since I've got a few decades of experience with this sort of thing, here's some ...

Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs

  • Get a partner. Just about every successful startup - Silicon Valley or otherwise - has cofounders. Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Hewlett-Packard - it's a long, long list. Don't get me wrong; having a partner is often difficult and they don't always work out. But the benefits of having someone to bounce ideas off and a two-person support system far outweigh the negatives. And partners have a high level of credibility with entrepreneurs.
  • Find an angel. The whole mentor and coach thing has become so overblown that - I know this is going to piss a lot of people off, but - I wouldn't go that route. Instead, find an angel investor who's willing to provide seed funding for minority ownership. Why? Two reasons: 1) Objective feedback and validation from a professional investor, another pair of eyes, is huge, and 2) to help you navigate the business stuff that isn't your forte.
  • Have a sponsor. Most entrepreneurs think of their company as their baby. That means they're oftentimes too close to the situation to be objective. Thus, the partner / angel thing makes a lot of sense. But these people are more than just another pair of eyes; they're like a sponsor to an addict. When you feel you're starting to slip, lose control, your confidence, or your mojo, seek them out. Don't wait. And don't do anything stupid you're likely to regret.
  • Maintain balance. It's easy to get lost in your new gig. Sure, all successful entrepreneurs and executives will tell you there's no substitute for hard work and long hours. I tell people that all the time. But working hard is different from getting lost in it and losing all sense of self. Remember that your company is part of your life, not the other way around.
  • Take baby steps. As I recently told one would-be entrepreneur: Just put one foot in front of the other, don't get ahead of yourself, do what feels right, and have fun with it. You'll do fine. There'll be plenty of time to wonder if you're in over your head after your first million (dollars, twitter followers, facebook friends, whatever).
If you've got an interesting entrepreneurial experience, share it and help the newbies out there.

Update: Somebody just pointed me to an HBR post by entrepreneur / writer Michael Fertik called How to Pick a Co-Founder. Check it out.

On the same subject:

  1. What's the One Thing Limiting Your Success?
  2. Top 10 Pitfalls of Inexperienced Management Teams
  3. Why You Shouldn't Become an Entrepreneur
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Image: Joi via Flickr