Most (if not all) entrepreneurs would agree –being an entrepreneur is not easy.. An essential part of the journey consists of learning from of the trials tribulations of proceeding entrepreneurs. As Isaac Newton famously stated: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – as entrepreneurs we have plenty of giants to look up to, but more practically, we also ought to seek advice from those willing to dedicate some of their time and knowledge to help us achieve our entrepreneurial goals.
Most of the time, these discussions will be fruitful. They will help shed light on some parameters that we couldn’t foresee on our own, will challenge some of our perspective and way of thinking and unlock new horizons.
Often, entrepreneurs also receive advice from well and not so well intentioned people. Some advice is relevant, some is useful, but all assist in making an informed decision, critical because to the biggest responsibility an entrepreneur has – to make the best possible decisions for their business and stakeholders.
And sometimes comes the sort of advice that in hindsight, you will label as the ‘worst advice’ you have been given, which could have led to seriously bad decisions.
Here’s what I have labelled as the ‘worst advice’ I have received as the CEO of Maestrano.
- “It’s too difficult, don’t do it”
This by far takes the cake as the absolute worst piece of advice any entrepreneur could be given.
Needless to say that if entrepreneurs throughout history had followed this advice, we would probably still be eating raw meat in our caverns.
To me, this is the ultimate excuse to rest on your laurels. It is also the reason why entrepreneurship is so challenging, yet thrilling: it is having the courage to achieve something of great difficulty that others have not yet done. If something is easy, chances are it has already been done. Yes, progress comes from solving difficult issues. No, it’s not easy. But this is what drives entrepreneurs – the challenge of solving complex situations.
One common variant of this piece of advice, especially in large corporations, is “it’s too risky, don’t do it”. This is even more shortsighted. Entrepreneurship is by nature risky. The principle of entrepreneurship is to try to do something new and innovative, paving a way (most of the times) in unchartered territories.
Giving an entrepreneur advice not to do something because it is too risky is not only pointless, but it will actually reinforce their will to keep pushing.
If we had earned $1 each time we heard this about Maestrano when we were socialising the idea some years ago, we would be millionaires. And if we had listened, we would not have the immense pleasure to help large corporations and thousands of SMEs globally. Was it difficult to get Maestrano off the ground? Of course it was! And we still have our tough times. But every single moment of it has been worth it.
I say: “Risk it for the biscuit”. And remember, “no pain, no gain”.
- “Don’t go global too fast, consolidate domestically first”
I will admit, in some cases this piece of advice can actually be a wise, particularly applicable to businesses that have a local vocation.
If you want to start a chain of coffee shops, it is probably indeed better to start doing right with a few in your city, then the next biggest city, before thinking of opening abroad.
But in our case, as a technology company selling software integration for SMEs and software integration platforms to large corporations, we had to think global from day one.
In this day and age, it you have a digital industry and conduct most of your business online, you are global anyway.. Anyone, from anywhere will be able to find you. So you’d rather be ready rather than reactive.
Most people giving this advice hold the view that you need to walk before you can run – which is very true. They just do not look at your business in the same referential as you.
For Maestrano, walking was to have a geographical implantation in the US in the first six months of operations, as we knew from day 1 it would be a critical market for our product. Running would then be to expand in other geographies. 2 years after commercial launch we have offices in the US, London, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney and we are very happy we did it fast. This strategy doesn’t make the running of the company easy by any means – we can probably improve our process and operations – but we benefit from such a great pipeline of opportunities and market reach that the geographic inconvenience seems like a very little price to pay.
Thinking global from day one and going global rapidly has given us an agility and access to opportunities that we would have missed out on if we had focused on consolidating our domestic market initially. There is such a thing as ‘time to market’, and it’s important to not miss it.
As Susan Sontag once said; “I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list”.
- “Take one more co-founder”
This was a disheartening and disappointing piece of advice we received in the early days. Disheartening because it came from a (supposed) prominent member of the startup community. Disappointing because it just showed that even entrepreneurs, or experts in entrepreneurship, can (and do) have dogmatic, inflexible views.
It probably wouldn’t be surprising to say that it came from a member of the investment community, for whom 2 co-founders was simply not enough to build a business. We never got a proper response when we questioned this.. Instead, we were expected to simply accept a completely unjustifiable “because 3 is better”. Profound.
This can actually be a very dangerous piece of advice. It doesn’t really matter how many founders there are in a business, so long as there’s harmony, understanding and commonality of vision amongst them.
You can read more stories than you can imagine about how startups and businesses failed because the founders grew apart, didn’t get on well or didn’t have aligned visions. The founding team is the single most important aspect of a startup or a starting business.
Considering one more is needed just to match an ideological number is not only senseless but can actually cause a fatal disharmony on the medium to long term.
Needless to say, we did not follow this advice. Not because we think that being three founders is not a good idea, but because we knew that for Maestrano and what we wanted to achieve, the two of us were sufficient enough.
As an entrepreneur, surround yourself with constructive personalities you need, and secondarily with useful skillsets. Do not let anyone dictate the manning of your company – it is up to you to define its spirit, its pace and its participants. You want to build your dream team, the way you see fit. Will you always get it right? Of course not. But you will always do things with the right intent, and this is – in my view – a key factor of success.
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Stephane Ibos is CEO and co-founder of Maestrano, an innovative cloud services business management platform, launched in 2014 in Australia. The company attracted funding from leading information technology heavyweights in its first six months of trading and was widely recognised as revolutionising the way SMBs manage business systems in the cloud. Since then, Maestrano has expanded its operations in Australia, the US, the UAE, South East Asia and Europe and secured a global patent for its core technology Connec!™ and smart reporting Impac!™. Maestrano serves SMBs and Enterprise customers in more than 17 countries.