Be an entrepreneur, Part 3/3: The 5 things you should always do

Hello and welcome, to this, the third and final installment in my “Be an entrepreneur” series! In case you missed it, in Part 1, published Monday, I discussed how Silicon Valley is the new Hollywood; and, in Part 2, published Wednesday, I explained the 5 things you should never do as an entrepreneur. So today of course, we’ll wrap things up with a list of the 5 things you should always do in your endeavour to build the NBT (remember, that’s Next Big Thing).

In no particular order then, let’s kick them off, starting with the corollary to where we left off last time on what not to do:

1. Make sure to prioritize time for your life, your health, and your friends and family

Exercise. Like actually, religiously do it. You brush your teeth every day, right? You take a shower (hopefully?) every day, right? You eat (at least something) every day, right? (You do certain other things every day too.) So, exercise every day, too. Don’t have an hour or two? Fine. Do at least just 20-30 minutes. I like to mix it up: 30 minutes at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 30 minutes of running (which I hate, but do anyway, because, well, it’s good for you) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and (usually) Saturdays. And of course always walk when you can, instead of drive.

Two months ago, I sucked at running one mile. No, seriously, it was a tremendous, ponderous, laborious, miserable effort of, well, misery. But thanks to a bit of technology — namely, the Nike Running app on my iPhone, and its genuinely useful “Coach” feature — I can now proudly run 3 miles at an average pace in the mid-8 minute range. Nothing too fancy, to be sure, but not too shabby either.

And what would a discussion of exercise be without a discussion about weight? So I’m about near as makes no difference to two meters tall; about 6’5″ and, two months ago, was shocked to discover I had leapt up from my usual 195 pounds to a staggering 219, even though I still looked pretty lean. Now, in less than two months, I’m back down to 210, and on target to hit 200 again in about another two months or so.

So in less than two months of running 3-4 times per week I’m already reaping the benefits. I now sleep better, I feel better, I feel confident knowing I’m healthier; net-net, I’m just… well… better!

(And no, this wasn’t just thanks to my exercise routine, but also my new “meal plan” — no, it’s not a diet, it’s a meal plan. If enough people are interested, maybe I’ll write about this in another article; it’s probably not what you’d expect. Just let me know in the comments.)

To claim this isn’t at least somewhat about vanity would be a genuinely stupid, and utterly pointless, lie. Sure it is. But more importantly, it’s about just being healthy. And the fact its, you owe it to yourself; to your friends; and to your family. So get yourself in gear. There’s great technology to help you now, especially the new Apple Watch (more on that in a future article).

I’m not going to write much on your life, friends, and family, but suffice to say, do not neglect your hobbies, your friends, or your family. Not only is it not worth it, but forsaking their importance in your life will ultimately be your downfall. We learned this during our two months of California Bar Exam prep: for instance, we were actually encouraged to play video games before sleeping because they were a fun way to actively let your mind unwind after twelve to fourteen hours of studying. The point is, whether it’s a game, catching up on literature or social science books (please just drop the “self-help” or “business” books on your downtime, ok?), or making time for aEuropean-style three hour dinner followed by wine and cheese with your friends or familyjust do it.

2. Make sure to be lean (seriously)

I didn’t say to drop “business” books entirely, just to drop them from your downtime: to wit, do actually go out and read Eric Ries’ excellent book The Lean Startup. (And Sarah Livingston’s Founders at Work. And perhapsSarah Lacy’s two books, Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky and Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good. And for more, check out this great question on Quora.)

Being lean is about an entirely different mindset. Think of it as doing a science experiment. Think of it as testing something you have no idea whether it will work. The idea is to get the bare minimum out there so that you can gauge the reaction of potential customers, and experiment against some testable hypotheses.

3. Make sure to build your network of investors beforeyou need them

Last time, we talked about how it’s bad to seek money too soon; about how there is such a thing as raising money too early, before you have either or both of (a) users and/or (b) revenue, in which case, even if you do miraculously manage to raise money, it will be at such a woefully low valuation that you’ll essentially be giving up your fledgling company.

On the flip side, however, do make sure that you start building your network of investors early. Go to events where you can actually meet them (ignore the ones where you can’t); drop them an email, keep in touch with them, and make sure they know what you’re up to. Proudly say that you’re not looking for investment yet because you’re not yet ready, but that you’d like to keep them in the loop and reach out to them when that time comes Then, when you’re ready to reach out to them, just reply to the last email between the two of you so they see the entire thread, and take it away.

4. Make sure to pursue your startup because you are compelled to do so, and not merely because you want to

Make no mistake: need is far more powerful a thing than a want; want versus need, need wins every time, hands down. Put another way, need is a drive, something you are biologically, psychologically, or otherwise compelled to do; a want is something you desire or would like to do.Biological drives and urges are needs; going for a drive with the top down; reading a book; or eating a cheeseburger are wants.

You cannot — i.e., it is strictly impossible — to build a successful startup if you simply want to do it. Sure, you might get started, the way you might get started hitting the gym at the start of the new year. But unless you are compelled, unless you are driven with an inner fire, burning with a hunger that cannot be silenced, you will fail just as so many people fail at their new year’s resolutions to keep going to the gym.

(As an aside, this is why I finally managed to get my own health back in gear: my wants had finally evolved into a need, and I became compelled to get back in shape, literally unable not to work out regularly.)

The point is, doing a startup — like working out; or, to the point of what we discussed in Part 1 on Monday, acting in Hollywood — really is a different sort of thing, a different sort of life adventure entirely. Accordingly, it requires of you an entirely different sort of constitution; an entirely different mindset and psyche.

Pursue your startup just because all the cool kids are doing it, as we discussed on Monday, and you are doomed to miserable failure, your only solace that such failure will likely be quick (though I cannot guarantee free of pain, I’m afraid). 

5. Make sure to turn failure into success

Failure is only a thing if you let it be a thing. Put another way, failure is only failure if it is absolute, and if you cannot convert it into success.

I can say quite proudly that, although we fought a valiant four year battle with our previous startup, Venturocket, it did indeed ultimately fail. But incredibly, as the Phoenix rose from the ashes of its predecessor, so we were able to pull Twibble from the battered, crumbling remains of Venturocket. Today, Twibble continues to grow strongly, already doing better after just several months than Venturocket ever did after four years.

The point is, we could have taken the easier path and just given up. I could have given up on startup world, and gone back to practicing law. But you see, when you are driven and compelled to build something you care about, the luxury of choice escapes you; you simply haven’t got the capacity to act on choice, and are instead driven to satisfy the urge that burns deep within you.

Or, as I’m fond of saying, “Giving up is a luxury I can’t afford.”

Make no mistake: all those successful startups you read about, all those veritable celebrities of entrepreneurs, they’re not there because they wanted or planned to be there; they’re there because they had to be there. They had no choice. They were compelled to build and succeed at their startup the way one is compelled, by evolutionary instinct, to frantically surface above the waves before they drown.

So there you have it. In one week, we’ve studied the Hollywood-ized nature of Silicon Valley; learned the five things you should never do as an entrepreneur; and concluded with the five things you must always do in order to succeed and build the NBT (remember, that’s Next Big Thing).

And guess what? I’m taking that same journey with you. So let’s keep going and see what’s out there, shall we? Because when there’s a will, there’s a way.

And if you believe in what you’re doing; and if there’s a need for what you’re building; and if you are compelled to succeed, then you will succeed.

Follow me on Twitter @MarcHoag
Follow me on @Quora


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