“If you had one shot, or one opportunity. To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?”
Lose Yourself – Eminem
Taking that shot at starting a business feels like jumping off a ski jump- you know should be able to land but it will require luck and skill. I started my first business with my friend Bob Roback twenty years ago with an idea. We fundamentally believed that the computer was going to be the way people consumed and discovered music. We created a prototype using the cutting edge technology available to us in 1994 to create a monthly CD-ROM that people played on their computer. It was called LAUNCH and was described as an “MTV that you could control.”
We landed well, though it was never easy. LAUNCH Media became a successful internet company that we eventually sold to Yahoo! in 2001. But, I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Unfortunately, there is no way to go to school to be a great entrepreneur. Experience is the only teacher and you don’t know what you don’t know when you start a company for the first time.
Here are some lessons that I learned along the way. Just because they worked for me doesn’t mean they will always work but I wish had understood these better before I started:
1. Play to your personal strengths. Aggressively and honestly identify your own weaknesses and supplement accordingly. Staff your team with people smarter and more knowledgeable than you are in those areas. This will let you focus your skills and expertise where they can have the most impact. I have learned what I am good at, and what I like to do; they are highly correlated. Correspondingly, hiring people to do the things you aren’t good at and don’t like will make you better at your role. (I recommend the book StrengthsFinder if you need help figuring out your strengths, but you could also do a quick survey of your peers, colleagues and family.)
2. Talk to people. Don’t fall into the trap of operating in stealth mode – your connections to others will be critical to success. Build a support structure including people who have been there and done it. There’s a pay-it-forward mentality among most entrepreneurs. Take advantage of it. Secrecy has some advantages but most ideas aren’t what make businesses successful – it is execution. To be a great executor, you need to get a lot of help and advice. That is worth the trade off on secrecy.
3. Listen to doubters. If for no other reason than to be able to prove them wrong! Your detractors can be blessings in disguise: they are an unlikely source of inspiration and motivation, and they just might speak some truth. Listen carefully, take what you can use and leave what you can’t. I still remember all the people who told me that no one would ever listen to music or watch ads on a computer.
4. Start now! There are many reasons for not starting a business. The media constantly reminds us of the high taxes, increased regulations and other impediments to starting businesses today. Ignore them. With the support systems in place for entrepreneurs, and the availability of talent and capital, there’s never been a better time to start a business. When I started, I didn’t know anyone else who had started a business and the support systems were immature or non-existent.
So get moving and take that one shot. It’ll be the best decision you make.