Kea Sigma Delta had its 10th birthday just over a week ago (14 November). I wish I could say that it's been a resounding success, but business and entrepreneurship aren't like that. Most companies don't even reach this milestone; they fail earlier. So, still being here is a success in itself.
It's been 10 long hard years. 10 years of failing forward. By failing forward I mean that the lessons learnt from each "failure" were put into practise with the next project. Each failure brings me closer to ultimate success.
So, what have I learnt over 10 years? A lot. Too much to cover here, but here are 4 key lessons...
Lesson 1: Be Okay With Failing Publicly
I started out very timid and secretive. Nobody could see what I was doing until it was done. I treated business like a school assignment: study hard, work hard, and submit the final assignment for grading. Bad idea in entrepreneurship.
There's huge uncertainty when starting a new venture. Does anybody need or want what I'm making? Would anybody be prepared to pay for it? How do I reach potential customers who need my product/service? Without answers to those questions you have no business. You need feedback from the marketplace, and you need it yesterday.
Being hidden away meant I was getting zero feedback. Even worse, when version 1.0 of the product was ready, there was nobody to show it to. Nobody was waiting for it, and that left me scrambling to find potential customers. It delayed getting crucial feedback for years.
So, build in public. Talk about your business, your product/service. Find out if people are interested, and build a waiting list of people who are anticipating its release.
If you're scared of criticism and humiliation, don't be. For starters, initially nobody's watching. Most people are too busy with their own problems to notice. You probably will get criticized... by people you barely know who have never tried to make anything great in their life. Their opinions don't matter. Fellow entrepreneurs will honour your struggles; they know what it's like...
Lesson 2: Read "The Lean Startup" and Apply it Properly...
I highly recommend the book "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries. It provides a methodology to address the great uncertainty mentioned above. Really take the principles to heart and apply them.
I read it, and thought I understood it. But, I still insisted on "engineering everything properly." That's part of my pride as an engineer. I wanted to get the design and structure right so that I had a good foundation when the sales started rolling in. The sales never rolled in...
I spent years working on something that nobody wanted. Well engineered, but irrelevant. Ouch! Seriously, that really hurt.
Good feedback is much more important than good engineering early on. Do people need/want my product or service? Are they willing to pay for it? Do I need to tweak the product to better serve the market (product-market fit)? Or, should I abandon it completely and try something new? You need answers to these questions ASAP. So, read the book and apply it properly...
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Lesson 3: Focus on What You Can Do Not on What You Can't
I studied business & marketing a lot while trying to build a successful company. The internet "gurus" who claimed to be experts effectively all told me I need to become just like them. Extroverted marketers told me I needed to become an extroverted marketer. As a consequence, I spent a long time feeling that all my skills didn't matter; I always needed something I didn't have or wasn't good at. Very frustrating.
The thing is, I suck at being someone else, especially an extrovert. I am, however, the world's expert at being me. I needed to leverage my strengths instead of being obsessed with my weaknesses.
Switching my focus from what I don't have and can't do to what I can changed everything. That year I could suddenly go to conferences. I didn't have more money. The only difference was that I could see possibilities. Possibilities that I was previously blind to.
My mind was rewired to see opportunities. I could see what was possible, how I could learn more, and how I could serve others better. This in turn helped with business. Business is deceptively simple. In a nutshell: business is you helping others get what they want, and them paying you in return.
Lesson 4: Learn When to "Never Give Up" and When to Quit Fast
You may have seen those "inspirational videos" where they tell you to never ever give up. Keep on going. Don't quit. Keep getting up again. It's not true.
Yes, perseverance is important. You must keep trying in order to succeed. However, persisting with something that is never going to work is just stupid. I spent years working on Relight (photo enhancement software) that had no chance of success. The time spent was lost. I would have been far better off now if I'd quit it early, and moved on.
So yes, be persistent. Keep trying. Don't quit something after only a half hearted attempt. However, be prepared to change your plan, or even to completely change it.
How do you know when to keep going and when to quit fast? Experience. I bet that wasn't the answer you were hoping for, but most entrepreneurs have a lot of failures under their belt (or in their closets). You may see an "overnight success," but that success was built on 10+ years of trying and failing, and trying again. Those past failures taught them the lessons that helped them achieve ultimate success.
Advice For Rookies: Start With Something You Can Launch in 2 Months
Are you a "wantrepreneur" who would like to start his own business? Great! Start with something small. Really small. Aim for a product (or service) you can build in 2 months. Know that it'll probably take longer.
No, your little product won't make you rich or even replace your day job. That's not the goal. You want to get something out into the marketplace, and try to get that first sale. That first sale feels amazing.
Once you've released a product. You can take the experience you've gained to build something a bit bigger. Rob Walling calls this "the stair-step approach." Make a small product. Then build a bigger one, and a bigger one. Keep going, and eventually you'll have the experience needed to make something that has the chance of becoming big.
If you'd gone straight for the big project like I did, then you'd likely fail miserably after wasting years working on it. You don't know what you're doing yet, so your goal is to learn fast. This is best done one small project at a time.
Thanks A-EON and the Amiga Computer Community
One last thing: thank you to A-EON Technology and the Amiga computer community. I'm able to keep doing what I'm doing because you buy and support the AmigaOS 4 software that I've written. I am truly grateful.