Many people around the world, including recently-graduated millennials, middle-aged corporate executives, and even senior managers, are all choosing to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies. Truth be told, I took the plunge too. I decided to start an international executive search firm specializing in the Consumer Products and FMCG sectors. After 4.5 years of running my own business, I have realized that success in corporate life does not automatically translate into success when you are an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is tough. We may think we are ready, but many of us are really not. Through this post, I want to share my perspectives on entrepreneurship.
Why do you want to become an entrepreneur?
Getting away from a corporate job you perceive as dull, boring or with limited growth opportunities are definitely not the right reasons to start your own business. Neither is the fact that your friend has decided to turn entrepreneur and wants you onboard. The best reason to start your own venture is because you have come up with a product or service that can potentially solve a problem at scale. It may be a new way to solve an existing problem or a solution to ride an emerging trend.
In my case, I set out to transform executive search because I believed that the process must be a win-win for both client companies and individuals, and that the process must somehow factor in potential to succeed in the new role, and not just past performance.
Once you have made the decision for the right reasons, it is vital that you assess yourself to check that you possess the necessary traits. These traits will not guarantee success, but if you don’t possess them you can be sure your entrepreneurship dream will be short-lived.
Here are the traits that I believe are vital for success as an entrepreneur.
Self-belief & Passion
The first vital ingredient is the self-belief that you can make a real difference. Self-belief combined with passion is the fuel that will power your entrepreneurial dreams and propel your venture forward. Therefore, before you jump off the cliff into the world of entrepreneurship (believe me, the idiom is no exaggeration), be sure you possess self-belief and passion in large measure. And remember this is not about just the start of the journey; you need unflagging self-belief and passion all the way.
Lose your ego
Being humble is a critical trait in an entrepreneur. Successful corporate careers feed egos. But as an entrepreneur (especially in the initial period), you have only your ideas. You may think your idea is a game-changer, but if the market wants tweaks, you must let go of your ego, steer clear of the “Not Invented Here” syndrome and fine-tune your offerings suitably. This does not mean to ignore your gut feeling and change your idea just because some one tells you to, it just means to be open to adaptations.
It is important to be grateful to your earliest clients. Remember that they helped us pay our bills when we were young and struggling. No matter how big we become, it is our responsibility to ensure that they continue to get the same levels of service even when we have more marquee clients with better fee-paying ability.
Hire people with the right skills early
Nobody is equally good at all aspects of running a business. Soon after you decide to start your venture (in fact, even before), be ruthlessly objective in assessing what your strengths are and where you need help. Use the results to figure out who your first few hires need to be. I had experience in executive search, but had only limited exposure to training and people management. Recognizing the importance of these competencies for any successful and growing business, I focused on finding people to help me upskill in those areas. It was important for the business that I would be a leader which others wanted to work for.
Delegate and trust!
Focus on hiring people with skills you do not possess and it is important to share your vision so they buy in. Once they are on board, give them the freedom to work. I explained to my colleagues why I believed we could improve the way things were done by Executive Search firms which already exist today. We brainstormed as a team and came up with the “LS International way”.
As an entrepreneur, it is easy to be blindsided by “ego” (there’s that word again!) or our own sense of superior knowledge. Do not discard ideas that come from others without examining them thoroughly. Remember that you got them on board in the first place because you admitted that you do not know it all. You may have founded the company, but your team plays a key role in how far the venture goes, how successful it becomes and how soon. I have no hesitation in acknowledging the massive contributions to the success of LS International which Daniel Torre, Paula Sáenz López and Gerard Fauria Bayo continue to make.
Ability to wear multiple hats and switch from one to the other
As an entrepreneur, you will need to play different roles, such as CEO, CFO, Marketing, Sales, HR and everything else- often in the space of a few hours. And you may well need to do this several times every day. Until your business gets to a level where you really need to invest in an office assistant, you will need to answer phone calls. Heck, you may even need to clean the office bathroom! Just remain grounded through all of this.
In the context of each role that you are playing, what you need is the ability to focus on the task at hand and fully give it your attention. This sounds easier than it really is. This is a trait that is critical to executives working in companies too, but may be just that much more critical to entrepreneurs.
It took me six months to sign up my first paying client. That could be interpreted to mean that I faced an extended period of “failure”. To be sure, I learned a lot along the way, but I also faced many nights of staying up, worrying about my decision and the future. Worrying does not help; what you need is the resilience to cope when things don’t go per plan. Just as important, you need the ability to learn from your experience and see what you can do differently going forward.
Albert Einstein is believed to have observed that “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result”. That is certainly true as an entrepreneur. You must possess the resilience to learn from the failure and rejection that you will inevitably face in your journey and bounce back.
To recap, an entrepreneur must be passionate about his/her business idea. S/he must have self-belief. Hire skills to complement your own- and not clones or people who blindly say “yes”. Be open to new ideas from any source if they can truly make the business better. Beware of your ego, as it can show up in the most unexpected ways, and if you do not curb it, you will pay in the form of lost ideas, colleagues and clients leaving you, and eventually business growth. Failure is unavoidable, so the ability to remain resilient in the face of failure is critical, just as the ability to learn from mistakes and move on.
Having a great idea and possessing the right traits are essential but not predictors of success; that is altogether a different matter (and we all need a slice of luck).