Entrepreneurs seems to be a dime a dozen these days. Founder, and/or CEO, are the new “IT” title. The Truth is, anyone can start something, and with luck and persistence, there will be some kind of funding available, for some time, and social media make it too easy to create the illusion of success. Fewer have the skills to see their project through. But what distinguishes an entrepreneur from a wantrepreneur, and are you ready for the ride?
Do what you enjoy
Entrepreneurship is difficult. It is scary, messy, risky and requires a lot of sacrifices. Most of it, entrepreneurs face a daily onslaught of people ready to challenge the validity of their project, the numbers in their financial projections, and their go-to market strategy. Unless you went into business knowing and loving your project, the lack of passion will show. And, aside from feeling like a fraud to the experts in the field, spending all your physical and mental energy on something you’re not passionate about will grind you. That passion allows you to recruit the people who will make your project better, because they will share in the excitement and power through with you.
Network, network, network
The best entrepreneurs are great networkers. This is not to say that they are born networkers, because this is definitely a skill that can be taught. Your business is like a baby. It needs nurturing and external stimulations to grow healthy and smart. Any interaction should be an opportunity to talk about your new project because it might yield a new client, a mentor, an idea or someone who’ll connect you to a friend. This is also an excellent time to practice and refine your elevator pitch. Take time to observe your interlocutors’ reaction. What are they not understanding? Who are they comparing your idea to? What do they suggest would make it better?
Remember that large companies pay a lot of money for consultants to organize focus groups, and while this approach is qualitative, using people from a varied background to bounce ideas off gives any entrepreneur an instant picture of the questions and objections he or she will face. Isn’t it better to work those kinks out with a glass of wine or a coffee in hand, rather than on stage during a pitch?
Of course, every entrepreneur I have met, including me, KNOWS that their idea is (pick one) _____ [unique, the best, revolutionary, transcendent, disruptive]. If we did not, we would not be here offering to share our talents with the world now, would we? Wantrepreneurs stop there. And a lot of them, judging by the sheer volume of similar apps in my app store. Great entrepreneurs keep themselves in check by staying humble and open to the fact that there will (almost) always be someone who can add something.
Test your theories. If you are lucky to have gained some early traction, use your customers or prospects to validate what you think they want. At our launch event in April 2016, we surveyed more than 120 guests from a wide range of customer profiles and industry experts, and explained what we had concocted thus far to help them. That was great. We got feedback, gathered a few new ideas to tweak… everyone was happy. But we did not stop there. Our next, live, survey question asked: “Other than what we’ve already covered, what is your biggest pain point?” – their answer was almost unanimous and pointed to a totally different service. My co-founders and I looked at each other on stage and nodded. “Challenge accepted”.
How cool is that? Even before the ink was dry on the first iteration of the business, our next-gen product was born, to create a two-pronged approach that reinforces itself, and serves our stakeholders better.
Accept that you might fail
Vocalizing the risks of failure is essential to keep the fire going. Learning from failure, when it happens, is essential for building resilience. In most cases, it takes months or years of uncertainty before the new company becomes stable enough to be safe, and there’s always a delicate balance between feeling safe and being complacent. As a matter of fact, none of us in business should ever be complacent. Knowing that failure is a risk is not the same as fearing it. It is healthy. Some of us will react by having a personal plan B always in place. A great entrepreneur has a clear vision of success, and a good definition of the obstacles in the path. A lot of entrepreneurs have known failure and learned from it, but it is how they handled their responsibilities as a leader during those times that makes them stand out. Only in rare occasions is failure a surprise and management should always have a wind-down plan that considers all stakeholders. Failure does not define you, but your reputation does.
Being a true entrepreneur is more than a title under your twitter handle. It is a willingness to check yourself at the door to give it all for a passion, to live and breathe your project until it has a life of its own. It involves risks, long hours, financial sacrifices, self-doubt and ethics. And beyond the rough ride is the unparalleled luxury of knowing that you have created something that will outlast you. That is the greatest reward of all.
About the author
Anne-Sophie founded League Network based on her 15-year leadership at NJ’s 5-sport Mountain Top League. She has been CMO, co-founder and director of B2B media and service firms, including Winning Media, Triathlete Magazine, Outsourcing Today, EmployeeService.com, SharedXpertise Media, Corporate Responsibility Magazine and the American Distilling Institute, and experienced 3 exits.
She holds an MBA in Marketing from Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), BA in International Business Management from Institute Commercial Nancy (France) and in English from the University of Nancy II (France). A fencer, swimmer, volleyball and backyard soccer player through high school, she came to the world of youth sports volunteering through her children.
She is a devoted advocate for youth sports league organizations and safety best practices. Anne-Sophie champions our motto “Better Leagues, Better Lives ®” in everything we do here at League Network.
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of Business Game Changer Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, Money and Finance Magazine, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha is chair of The Ethical Publishers Association and co-chair of The Logistics Association. Kizzi made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.