Here’s something they don’t teach in business school: At some point, starting a company will give you a stomachache. It will be caused by some combination of unrelenting stress, constant uncertainty and too much late night takeout from a greasy Chinese place.
Running a business is hard, but it’s not hard like a math test or a marathon. It’s a different kind of hard because you can’t just put your head down and tough your way through it. Creating something from nothing means facing perpetual surprises, challenges, financial issues and unforeseen risks. But there are ways to be prepared so you can minimize your Pepto-Bismol intake.
- Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter. Startups and venture funds are sexy. Everyone wants the “founder” epithet on rounded edge business cards. Realize that you don’t need to buy into this scene to run a successful company.
- Educate yourself. Find good mentors who have built companies you admire or that are similar to yours, and find out how they did it. Find people that will tell you what it’s really like — people who talk about failure and sacrifice. Learn from their mistakes. Read lots of books. A good starting place is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, founder of Netscape and the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Other good books include: “Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff, “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
- Don’t raise money (unless absolutely necessary). Any time you give a piece of your company away to raise money, you not only dilute your equity, you dilute your control by putting more hands on the steering wheel. If you need to raise money, be smart about how much equity you let go and at what price.
- Get used to getting paid last. Even with millions of dollars in revenue, you may take home little to none of it, especially in the short term. The roll call of people with a claim to that money ahead of you can be very long: your employees, your office landlord, your vendors. Be prepared to go months without a steady income, even if your company is pulling in a lot of cash. If you have a significant other, this can put a lot of strain on your relationship. Be sure to have a conversation about how you will deal with the inevitable rough patches.
- Maintain your creativity. Nothing will get your business through “impossible” problems more than creative problem-solving. When something looks insurmountable, take a step back and find a less conventional way around the problem.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Far more often than you might think, just asking for things gets results. It’s amazing what people will tell you or give to you if you simply ask them.
- Build your network. Nobody builds a business alone. You will rely on others for help constantly, and having a long list of people you can call on is crucial. Networking is most effective when not done in the “traditional” sense (i.e. a bunch of people in a windowless room trading small talk and business cards). Instead, try to cultivate genuine, long-term relationships with people whose company you actually enjoy.
- Set expectations. Even if you follow every step above, there will be times when you feel broke and overstretched. Your friends will be mad at you because you no longer go out as much as you used to. You will feel followed by a dark cloud of tasks that are relentless and infinite in number, making it nearly impossible to enjoy anything. You will live and breathe this company that throws fire in your face and expects you to survive. You will get better at navigating it over time, but brace yourself for all that and more as you begin your journey.
Keep these points in mind, and you’ll be off to a stronger start than most. Godspeed — you’re going to kill it.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.