There are a lot of myths and hype out there. Here’s what the entrepreneur’s journey to success really looks like.
- Get inspired by an idea
- Incubate it
- Find product-market fit
- Customer love
- Raise money and scale
- Take Time
- Build Something Even Bigger
Get Inspired By An Idea
It may be simply being struck by an opportunity, seeing where the business puck is headed, or a gaping void in the markets that you have a solution for.
More often, startup ideas the actual start of the startup journey initiate from getting frustrated about inefficiencies or lack of good service and solutions in antiquated markets. It’s that friction that creates highly valuable business pearls.
Don’t get hung up on the fact that your idea isn’t 100% unique. It doesn’t have to be. Few, if any are. To win it does have to be 10x to 100x better than existing solutions. Yet, it is action and having the best team that matters most. Having enough money to dominate and move faster than the pack is critical too.
Take Time To Think & Plan
Before rushing in at full speed, take a moment to think, and hone your idea and vision.
Some of the most successful founders of billion-dollar companies that I know took several months out just to think and get clarity on their ideas first.
Don’t get lost in this stage. Speed is important in the entrepreneur’s journey. Yet, you have to make sure you are going in the right direction and there is real potential to create a big business.
Research, talk to potential customers, find out what they will actually pay for, and begin networking with the investors, fundraising consultants and M&A experts who will help you go from zero to one.
Layout your pitch deck. Even if you don’t plan to raise money, it will help you organize your thoughts and get objective.
Recently many founders have raised big money to give them the slack to dedicate themselves to figuring out the idea for months before they really start. Others say they have most freedom before raising money, and don’t want to have a hard pivot after bringing in investors. It really depends on how much it is going to cost you to perfect the idea and prove the model.
Unless you land sizable seed funding right upfront you’ll probably start by bootstrapping.
Many of the most successful billion-dollar businesses started with multiple cofounders squatting in a studio apartment or sleeping in the office for several years.
Ramen may sound like a cliche, but unless you’re a food startup with lots of leftovers you’ll be plowing every penny you can back into the business. It is everything but glamour during the initial stages of the entrepreneur’s journey.
Note that getting funded doesn’t mean that you are personally getting funded with lots of play money either. That’s money for the business and hiring other help. Until your startup is really making money you better hold off on waving around that Black Card and splurging on new cars.
Fortunately, there are many benefits of bootstrapping too. Including:
- Staying focused on the business instead of raising money
- Having more freedom to explore ideas
- Remaining focused on providing what’s best for the customer
- Being in a stronger negotiating position with investors later
- Reserving more equity and preventing dilution of equity
- Forcing you and your team to be careful with money, get profitable quickly and demand the best returns
Survive The Dark Days
Becoming an entrepreneur sounds great. It’s the promise of freedom, taking control of your future, and being able to do things better than existing companies. Of course, the promise of exciting wins and big paydays can be inspiring too.
However, the truth is that most of the days ahead are going to be tough. It’s not a great sales pitch for becoming an entrepreneur. Few really talk about it. Yet, in between those amazing successes, behind the scenes are a lot of trying days. In fact, every day is going to be full of challenges.
Being an entrepreneur is really being a problem solver, tackling new issues and figuring things out every day. This can be stimulating. It’s not that bad if you learn how to laugh your way through it and embrace the challenges. Just don’t expect anything to be a breeze.
Don’t expect this to pass either. If your business is a success the challenges just get bigger and come faster. You need to be able to see a couple of quarters ahead and be preparing and growing yourself as a leader and professional to ace it.
This means surrounding yourself with new coaches and advisors, making new hires, moving up to new tasks and delegating out what you were doing last quarter. It means constant learning and constantly evolving.
Find Product Market Fit
Your business isn’t going far fast until you find product-market fit. This happens when your product or service is selling so fast that it is hard to keep up with demand.
Keep testing until you’ve got it. If you aren’t sure if you have or not product-market fit, then you probably don’t have it. You will know.
In the event you are not there yet, it may still take some funding, marketing, and PR to really get adoption and sales going. Though, this will all be far easier once you’ve nailed this milestone.
Keep talking to customers and getting feedback. Keep tweaking as you gather this new data. Sometimes it is a product and feature problem.
In other cases, it is a visibility problem. Enough of the right customers just aren’t seeing you. Many winning startups have overcome this with just the right article or blog that got published in the right place. Make sure you are investing in content marketing.
Or the roadblock could be sales and using the right words that convey your technical genius to regular users.
Love your customers and make sure they love your brand and product.
One of my recent guests on the DealMakers Podcast says he deliberately organized his business model so that he would have to win customers’ loyalty every month. It forces you to keep innovating and adding value and to keep your edge sharp.
When you care about your customers and can deliver the goods, they feel it. When they love you back they’ll tell others and bring you business, they’ll grow with you. They’ll even invest in you.
When they love you enough, even larger companies may acquire you and adopt your brand for everything else they do. Without a doubt, customer love is one of the most fulfilling stages of the entrepreneur’s journey.
Raise Money & Scale
Once you’ve got product-market fit and your customers are raving about you it is a lot easier to raise money.
You’ll have access to better investors on better terms, and have a higher valuation. At this point, the entrepreneur’s journey becomes a bit easier.
Here is where it really makes sense to raise capital. You should be able to plug in capital and get predictable results out. It’s just a matter of how much you can raise and how fast you can scale.
Storytelling is everything when it comes to fundraising. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key.
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
ACCESS THE PITCH DECK TEMPLATE
Eventually, you’ll find an exit with someone like Google acquiring your business. That may be through a merger or acquisition, or going public. You may not do it to cash out for yourself, but for your investors and to ensure your mission has the best chance of blooming to its full potential.
Five-time startup entrepreneur and founder of $10B Zscaler, Jay Chaudhry says the motivation for his exits are to enrich his teams. His first startup created 70 to 80 millionaires among those who invested themselves in working for him. That inspired him to do it again and again.
Just know that once you take outside money from investors you are really committing to pursuing an exit of some type. Most of your future business, fundraising and product decisions are going to be focused on achieving this outcome.
While selling a company for billions of dollars may sound glamorous and like a ticket to finally get that yacht, $2M custom Bugatti, and private island, most don’t splurge on these things. The most fun part of the entrepreneur’s journey is not reaching the finish line. It is actually the journey itself to get there.
Money isn’t a big motivator for the highly successful founders I’ve met. They are more concerned about the impact and the mission and enriching others.
It’s nice not to have to worry about money anymore, but the most common splurges of those with big exits are traveling and going to take some time in or possibly buy a modest cabin outside of the city.
If you’ve been too wrapped up in your business to think about where to go, you might want to try some of these destinations.
- Mexico – for sun, sand and sangria
- Israel – to see the innovation happening in Startup Nation for yourself
- Ukraine – it’s trending right now
- North Florida – for exploring a new part of the Sunshine State
- Cyprus – an English speaking tax haven that isn’t overpriced yet
- Nicaragua – the new Costa Rica
- Vietnam – for one of the emerging destinations popular with expat entrepreneurs
Take Time Out
Perhaps the most valuable thing that a grand business exit can buy you is some quality time out. It may just be to think and cross a few things off your bucket list or go meet other entrepreneurs. Or it is finally getting to be there for your family and spending time being the parent you’ve dreamed of for years.
In reality, this honeymoon doesn’t last. Retirement isn’t for entrepreneurs. They are born to find solutions that create a better tomorrow.
Now that the need for money definitely doesn;t have to be the motivator for your next business, take your time to travel, talk to other entrepreneurs, your kids, dream big, decide what you really want to do, because you have the freedom too.
Launch A New Startup
Take time to think about your next move and get clarity on your next big business success. Find an even bigger opportunity to tackle and go launch that startup.
There will still be challenges. Fundraising can be a mission all over again. Though many of the most successful hyper-growth startups are launched by repeat and older founders.
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