One thing I learned growing up during a communist regime and witnessing it collapsing during my teenage years, is to question everything. When every single belief you were taught by your mentors proves to be wrong, it alternates your way of thinking. And even though sometimes I wish for having happier childhood memories, I realize it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Why? Because it taught me to never trust the path someone else built for me, and create my own.
Some call it non-conformism, others call it self-discovery. No matter how you define it, this quality is the most essential for an entrepreneur. Realizing that everyone else’s path simply doesn’t play any role in your own development is crucial for breaking free of rules and stereotypes that may stand in your way.
This might be the reason entrepreneurship is never taught in academic settings, and there are no 10 easy steps to become a successful entrepreneur. Everyone has to build their own path, and in order to succeed this path has to be different from anyone else. This is the only requirement. When you are ready to put aside every way of living you were taught so far, only then you are able to fully live and create. Your way.
Make an experiment. Take some of the rules written by an authority on the subject teaching you how to achieve X. Now research for examples that prove the total opposite. I’m sure you’ll be surprised.
For instance, look at some of the rules of creating a successful startup. Paul Graham has plenty in his very insightful but full of stereotypes article. Now take this specific statement:
“When and if you get an infusion of real money from investors, what should you do with it? Not spend it, that’s what.”, writes Graham. Advice like this couldn’t be more generic. I don’t need to do a full research to come up with plenty of startups that succeeded by aggressively taking over the market. It really depends on the company and timing needs to be carefully considered.
Now my favorite part is when Graham describes who is the best candidate to start a company:
“So who should start a startup?”, he writes. “Someone who is a good hacker, between about 23 and 38, and who wants to solve the money problem in one shot instead of getting paid gradually over a conventional working life.”
The only thing that’s missing here to make a full stereotype is perhaps adding a “white single male” to the list. Mr. Graham, how about “Who should start a startup? Every human being who has achieved a freedom of thought”? I like that better.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Paul Graham is a very smart man and I do find lots of his articles inspiring, but I make sure to filter it through my own lenses and question everything. Just as I did now. I bring him here as one example of someone who’s very well respected in the entrepreneurial community, but might lead you the wrong way if you don’t question his advice and make your own conclusions. Something you have to constantly do as entrepreneur.
There will be always people with different opinions than your own, and your biggest test is to trust your vision in a way that no one can affect it. The only person that can change it is you, and only after you proved to yourself otherwise.
So the question is who do you look up to as an entrepreneur? If every single source of authority is questioned, who leads you on your path?
Here is the tough truth: YOU. Entrepreneurship is a lonely business, no matter how many business partners or employees you have. At the end of the day it’s all you. If you feel the need to have a strong co-founder, it means you are not ready to discover your path and take responsibility. Maybe not yet.
As tough as it sounds, there are however few things that I found helpful along the way of my personal entrepreneurial path:
Create support system. Be constantly involved in a community with other entrepreneurs, online and offline. This defuses a bit of the lonely feeling, when it appears every once in a while.
Be constantly inspired by other people. Find people with a vision, who can communicate their thoughts in an inspiring and uplifting way. Be careful with people who preach or think they know the right way. There is NO right way.
Surround yourself with optimists. Don’t listen to anyone who ever used the word “over-optimistic”. Optimism is your drug of choice as an entrepreneur, and can be used in unlimited quantities. No one has ever died from optimism over dose, but people do die from depression all the time.
Don’t think about money as your only fuel. Your imagination is the real fuel. You just need to use it to attract the money.
Replace problems with challenges. I dislike the word “problem” because of its negative aura. The word “challenge” makes me excited. We might be still talking about the same thing, but the approach to challenge is more playful.
Worrying is praying for the worst. I borrowed this from my yoga teacher, and it’s one of my favorite quotes I’ve ever heard. Worry is one of those lies that make you believe that imagining the worst case scenarios in your head makes you “prepared”. Wrong! It only increases their probability.
Stop doing check lists. Especially those that tell you what you need in order to build a successful company/ raise money/ make money / get buzz/ attract users, etc. Here is my problem with check lists – they always have unchecked or missing items. Because once everything is complete, there is no more need for a check list. The truth is you are complete, as you are. At every single moment you have all that it takes to make things happen. When you do a check list and find missing items, you create excuses for why things are not happening.
Think about it.