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Early in my career, I really lacked perspective. I made the mistake of thinking I was a big fish and learned quickly that it’s in proportion to the size of the pond, and there is always a bigger pond. Some people think they are happy where they are, but that is only because they don’t know what lies ahead for them on the other side of fear.
I took a job for the money, but I wasn’t excited about the work. That experience taught me salary doesn’t make you happy. I think about that experience every time I hire someone to work at ZipRecruiter. Learning what gets people excited is the best way to judge whether or not your environment is a match.
A mistake I have made in the past was looking at an opportunity or project and immediately thinking I may not be qualified to take it on. I have found that all of my past work experiences and my personal life contribute to whatever task is at hand. I think that, as an entrepreneur, you find you have more skills than you ever thought you had. I now take on new opportunities with more confidence.
—Brittany Gaskill, co-founder, Stylelink
When you’re growing, trying to save money by limiting the size and quality of your team is a huge mistake. It’s important to hire people who will grow with you. Rather than hiring based on experience today, I have learned to hire based on our needs in 12 to 24 months. This reduces turnover and ensures that we have plenty of team members to support our company objectives.
The biggest mistake I’ve made was not being ambitious enough when I was younger and exploring and learning more things in life. However, I’ve learned that it is never too late to go for your dream. Regardless of how old you are, you should always set the bar high and never quit until you achieve it.
—Melanie Cho, co-founder and director of marketing, TrendPo
Early on, I naively extended trust to people who hadn’t earned it. I was left in financial hardship by unscrupulous partners whom I trusted far too easily. These days if you have my trust, you’ve earned it through dependability and loyalty during hard times. True colors tend to come out when we’re not flying so high.
When I started my first corporate job, the biggest mistake I made was trying to fit a traditional role of leadership; I ran projects top down. By straying away from my natural style, I realized I wasn’t leveraging my core strengths: understanding my stakeholders’ needs and fostering a collaborative environment.
—Gloria Hwang, co-founder, Thousand
The way entrepreneurial success stories sometimes are told, it seemed that if you made something that consumers wanted, success would inevitably follow. I was all about the product, and now I've changed: I’m all about the company. Sure, the product needs to be the best, but that alone is worthless. You need to create awareness, and you need to give consumers access. That takes the right people. It’s all about the team.
His achievements are practically unbelievable considering his meager, humble beginnings. Along the way, he failed more times (and more spectacularly) than most of us could stomach in a lifetime.
Here are seven ways Ma experienced soul-crushing failure, but managed to keep his optimism, just like his hero, Forrest Gump. He...
1. Didn’t give up after failing many exams at school.
Ma was not a good student. In fact, he almost didn’t get into middle school.
"I failed a key primary school test two times, I failed the middle school test three times, I failed the college entrance exam two times…” Ouch. These are things most of us are lucky enough to have never said to our parents.
2. Scored 1 out of 120 points on the math portion of his college entrance exam.
Failing is one thing. Getting a score of less than 1 percent on your college entrance exam is something else completely. And it wasn’t because he didn’t have time to prepare. To this day, Ma struggles with mathematics, despite the fact that Alibaba is a tech company.
To quote Ma: “I am not good at math, have never studied management, and still cannot read accounting reports."
But as it turns out, he never needed to be good at math to become a billionaire. Perhaps even more impressive is that he never heard the word “computer” in his childhood.
3. Wasn’t deterred after being rejected from Harvard 10 times.
It’s not so much that being rejected from Harvard 10 times is surprising, it’s that he bothered applying that many times in the first place. What this shows us is that Ma is the paradigm of persistence. “The very important thing you should have is patience.”
His wife, Zhang Ying (who married him before he became wealthy), doesn’t mind his appearance. “Ma Yun is not a handsome man, but I fell for him because he can do a lot of things handsome men cannot do.”
6. Couldn’t convince Silicon Valley to fund Alibaba.
Even after he started Alibaba, he suffered multiple failures. It wasn’t profitable the first three years. In the beginning, they expanded too fast and almost imploded when the dot-com bubble burst. At one point, Alibaba was just 18 months away from bankruptcy.
As Ma humbly notes: “I call Alibaba ‘1,001 mistakes.’”
7. Told his 18 Alibaba partners that none of them could be execs.
This, he notes, was his biggest mistake ever. “The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you've got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision.”
If at first you don’t succeed...
Jack Ma is a classic rags-to-riches story, but even more impressive than his fabulous wealth is his uncanny level of persistence. He is proof that no series of failures (despite how cripplingly depressing) can keep someone from achieving their dreams.
As Ma says: “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”
GUEST WRITERIn Silicon Valley, where my company BlueVine is based, that question has been discussed and debated for decades. But even in the world-famous center of technology and business innovation, there are different and conflicting ideas on what it means to be an effective chief executive officer. Steve Jobs was, of course, the region’s iconic CEO, the most famous symbol of entrepreneurial success. But his image as a trailblazing innovator was, at times, overshadowed by his reputation as a brash, hard-driving boss.
Then there’s the down-to-earth, magnanimous management style of the likes of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of Hewlett-Packard, and Dave Duffield, founder of PeopleSoft and Workday. Is it a choice between the tough boss versus the nice-and-friendly leader?
In my view, these are false options. In my own journey as an entrepreneur, confidence and humility are critically important. I came to recognize this as my business was growing. I needed people to help my business succeed, and to sustain and guide that growth.
I had to be able to sell my dream, my vision for my company. I had to convince people to see the road ahead through the same lens, to believe that the path was viable and exciting.
But I also needed to convince the talented people I was seeking to win over that I was an executive who would trust not just their abilities but also their judgment.
For a startup, this ability is even critical to your ability to raise financing. When investors look at startups, they ask: Is this business model sound? Is this company going to succeed?
But they also ask questions about the CEO: Will the CEO be able to raise capital in the future? Will he or she be able to attract the talent needed to grow the company? Will the CEO be able to work with and learn from the people who will join the team?
Confidence and humility are also critical in another key job requirement for the entrepreneur CEO: the ability to make difficult decisions fast, and to just as quickly change course if the decision turns out to be wrong.
In many cases, being able to course correct quickly is way more important than being able to always make the right decision -- which is actually impossible.
Making decisions only gets tougher as your business grows, partly because people will pull you in multiple directions. You have to develop the ability to receive and process advice and then make your own decision and say ‘No” to other suggestions once you’ve made up your mind.
But here’s one important tip: never, ever fall in love with your decisions. You must have the courage and willingness to admit it if you’re wrong.
I’ve found myself in this situation a few times. I’ve made decisions that I decided later were, to put it simply, stupid. We once built a new feature for our financing platform. It was my idea and we pursued it even though some of my team members didn't agree with me. Eventually, I came to realize they were right. When we pulled the plug, I said "What was I thinking? I’m sorry."
Some CEOs would balk at the idea of admitting a mistake. But arrogance should not be mistaken for confidence. To be an effective CEO, you must be able to show your team that you are there both to lead and to work with them as a partner and teammate.
Ask yourself questions about how you feel about your life
Start with questions. Are you satisfied with your job, with your schedule? Are you surrounded by people who care about and support you? What do you love about your life and what makes you miserable? Those questions seem to be easy and you may frequently ask them to yourself, but usually, we don’t pay that much attention to them simply because we’re busy or frightened to face the truth.
Make a list showing what you love and hate
Write down in a column what you love and hate about your life, including the smallest details. Now, as you have it in front of your eyes, try to do more of what makes you content and avoid those things (or even people), that upset you.
Take a test to find out what you’re good at
Of course, you’re aware that you are good at math and have no ambitions to become a pop-star. But sometimes people tend to over- or underestimate themselves. That is why it is useful to take some tests, which can help to reveal your strengths and weaknesses. Try StrengthsFinder assessment or VIA Character Strengths survey, for instance.
Combine your strengths and interests
As you have found out what distinguish you from other people, combine your strengths with your interests, and think of how you can benefit from that.
For example, if you’ve decided that tying work schedule is not your style, and have started to work as a freelancer, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is valid. Only after you’ve found your niche, you can build a strong personal brand, which will speak for itself.2 There are hints that monitoring and designing your online presence should be one of the first steps of your personal brand establishment.
Say yes to odd opportunities
Do you remember the movie “Yes man”, in which Jim Carrey, as the main character, challenges himself to say “yes” to every proposal the entire year? That is a great trick to get out of your comfort zone and to add some adventures to your life.
Follow your own dream instead of someone else’s
Your mother may be sure that you’re going to be a brilliant lawyer, but if you just don’t feel like that, you’ll never be satisfied with this position. No matter how much money you’re going to earn and how fancy your apartment will be. If it’s not your passion, it’s not going to work.
Surround yourself with motivated and successful people
Undoubtedly, our environment influences us a lot, including those people around. How smart, motivated and successful your friends and relatives are? Do you see them as role models? It doesn’t mean you have to avoid your family and stop answering your friends’ calls. Instead meet new great people, who will inspire you and share your vision, an English business magnate Richard Branson, recommends.3
Embrace every possibility you might have
Life has its own plan for you. So stop grieving your unfulfilled goals and set new ones. Do not worry if you get off track. Eventually, it’s an imaginary one.
Learn from your mistakes
Stop perceiving your mistakes as failures. As Scott Berkun says: “We’re taught in school, in our families, or at work to feel guilty about failure and to do whatever we can to avoid mistakes. What’s missing in many people’s beliefs about success is the fact that the more challenging the goal, the more frequent and difficult setbacks will be.”4
Learn how to let people go
You may think, it has nothing to do with finding your life calling. Well, you’re wrong. When you forgive old grudges and get rid of anything that is weighing you down, you realize how much energy you’ve been wasting.
So finish burdensome relationships, stop contacting with people, who constantly hold you down, and start something, you’ve always dreamt about but never had enough time. Take a course of French or go to the salsa class, for instance.
Stop thinking and start acting now
“Thinking is the thing that prevents people from acting,” YouTube star and filmmaker Casey Neistat has told Entrepreneur.5 While thinking too much, you are creating lots of blocks in your mind. Remember, until you start the engine the machine will not move, so the more activities you try, the bigger is the chance to find the one for you.
Be consistent and never give up easily
Whether you’re learning how to play guitar or starting a blog. It’s like physical training – the result comes with regular exercising. Once you decided to find your calling in life, make a little effort every day, getting acquainted with an interesting person or reading a book about self-improvement.
Use Reminders not to forget to set daily goals and to carry them out.
Think out of the box to be creative
You may start with something simple like cooking a new recipe or creating a mood-board. Why would you need that? One creative process gives rise to another. Especially, if you’re working in the creative industry, you just never know where inspiration comes from.
Read books or at least watch videos to get inspiration
There are so many people in the world, who have been already dealing with the problems, you’re dealing right now. Maybe they are going to become your role-models or mentors in your search.
For example, here’s a TED talk of Adam Leipzig, who claims to know how to discover your life purpose in just 5 minutes.
Enjoy the process of searching for your passion
Don’t make a race out of your search. Remember you’re looking for passion to be happy, so make the search itself an exciting process.
You may not realize that, but the day you’ve decided to change something in your life and to find your purpose is the beginning of your journey itself. A strong desire is the first step to success. The second one is action. So start from this exact moment and, no matter what, try to have fun.
In the past, I have written about some of the reasons why entrepreneurs venture out on their own -- more flexibility, the ability to pursue their passions, freedom to make decisions. However, the road is not without its bumps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over two-thirds of businesses survive at least two years, but only 50 percent make it to the five-year mark; and only one third last at least 10 years.
While there is never a guarantee that a business will succeed, knowing the "10 business commandments" will give you a compass to guide you through the rough times.
Rule 1: Thou shalt turn a profit.
No matter what type of business you own -- a "mom and pop" shop, a tech startup or a home-based business, you must turn a profit. This seems like a given, but sometimes people are so immersed in pursuing their dreams that they forget they need money, too. And if you’re not turning a profit, your "job" becomes a hobby.
Recently, I did a TV show on MSNBC which featured a young entrepreneur who brewed tea using only local ingredients. The company had signed a few distribution deals with notable supermarket brands in the Midwest, but after eight years had yet to turn a profit. When I was asked what advice I would give this startup founder, I said, "She needs to fold it up.” I admired her persistence and tenacity, but eight years is a long time to live off of credit cards and savings.
Customers need to fully understand the value of your product before they give you their business. You don’t necessarily need a unique product to succeed, but what you have has to set you apart from the competition. That is the value you provide your customers.
Think of companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Apple offers customers the latest technology, making people feel they’re on the cutting edge. Facebook makes it easy for people to get in touch with family members, old friends and even colleagues. Google allows you to have a great amount of information at your fingertips, almost in real time. That’s the value each company provides.
You don’t have to be an industry giant to provide value, either. If you’re a local eatery that serves only locally grown ingredients, that’s your value. Or if you're a family-owned laundromat that delivers to people’s homes, commodity is your value. Whatever makes you stand out, use it as your calling card.
Rule 3: Thou shalt invest in thy business.
According to CB Insights, one of the reasons why businesses fail is cash-flow problems. Twenty-nine percent of startups fail because of a cash crisis. As a result, business owners may be a little gun-shy about spending a lot of money on the latest software or gadget, but (as the saying goes) if you’re going to run with the big dogs, you've got to learn how to pee in the tall grass. (That’s actually our company’s motto).
Not investing in your business -- whether that means new equipment or even good employees -- could stifle your growth. A well-run business can survive on low cash, but you need to be smart when making an investment. Invest in software that will simplify things, and above all, invest in people.
Rule 4: Thou shalt surround thyself with what's right.
In business, and in life, there’s very little you achieve on your own.
Entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Chances are, your success today has come about as a result of someone else giving you the benefit of his or her expertise in the past.
For me, it was my mentor, Mike O’Connor. I started out in the printing industry and Mike owned a print shop. He gave me the benefit of his experience by teaching me how much I needed to sell, how to set up metrics and KPIs and how to hit the targets I needed to hit. I still use all the tricks of the trade he taught me.
Through my journey, I’ve made it a point to surround myself with people with skill sets different from mine. Also, people who are passionate about what they do. You can teach skills to anyone, but you can’t teach passion. Passion and talent will take a company further than talent alone. That’s the kind of people I look to surround myself with.
Rule 5: Thou shalt never stop learning.
No matter how old you are or how long you’ve been in business, you never stop learning. It’s not just about reading books, it’s about talking to people (sometimes even younger employees), attending seminars and conferences and stepping out of your comfort zone.
In my book Think Big, Act Bigger, I refer to stepping out of your comfort zone as, “pushing things to the edge of the table, not off the table.” Stepping out of your comfort zone is always a challenge, yet it's one effective way to grow and keep learning. The moment you start settling in to a comfortable routine, saying things like “We’ve always done it that way,” is when you stop growing and start putting your business at peril, too.
Rule 6: Thou shalt execute.
Every entrepreneur has great ideas up his (or her) sleeve; however, your idea won’t matter one iota if you’re afraid to pull the trigger. Idealism is what makes the American engine run, but idealism alone is nothing without a healthy dose of realism.
If you have a business idea that you’re certain will be a success, take the chance. Your idea has to be accompanied by facts, solid business plans and research, not just buzzwords like “unprecedented” and “revolutionary.” Everyone thinks his or her own product or service is the next best thing, but chances are it’s not. If you’re too afraid to go for it, someone else will execute, and you’ll be left holding a bag full of ideas. My advice: Don’t be shy, pull the trigger, work hard and EXECUTE.
Rule 7: Thou shalt not forget about marketing.
Small businesses don’t think marketing is as important for them as it would be to a Fortune 500 company. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Marketing (and sales) are just as important to every business, regardless of size. Businesses don’t fail because they lack great ideas; they fail because they’re not promoting and selling themselves. An idea might be innovative, but if no one knows about it, your efforts are wasted.
Branding represents who you are and what your company stands for, your values and principles. I once wrote, “Principles mean something only when they are inconvenient. As a small business owner, you must prepare to live your brand promise in good times and in bad times.”
Rule 8: Thou shalt be flexible.
Building a business is not easy. You’re competing with millions of people for attention; therefore, you need to be flexible with your plans. Every entrepreneur starts out with a plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only plan you should always follow. The plan must be flexible enough for when you encounter setbacks like a social media campaign gone bad, a defective product, lack of inventory or worse. Customers will be quick to give you their feedback. You must listen to that feedback and pivot accordingly.
Word to the wise, pivoting doesn’t mean changing strategies every time you receive a bad review or receive a customer complaint. Those events will happen, no matter how many zeros your business is worth. It’s about observing what’s working and what’s not, with a critical eye; it's about adapting your business model accordingly.
Being too rigid and set in your ways is a critical mistake; and even if you break all the other "commandments," this one must prevail.
Rule 9: Thou shalt strive for excellence.
This is one of those rules we must always keep front and center. When starting a business, you might find it easy to get caught up in building everything from the ground up. You might even over-promise some things in order to sign up your first client. While you must always strive to provide the best possible service, you must be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver. That’s the easiest way to fail. Providing excellent service should never be compromised at the expense of your bottom line.
Rule 10: Thou shalt think BIG.
Dreaming is part of being an entrepreneur -- imagining how different things will be for you, personally and professionally. But you can’t build what you haven’t imagined. In order to be successful, you must believe you can make it happen. It’s not about being cocky and boisterous about how great your idea is, but about having a quiet confidence that says, “I can do this.”
Being trustworthy, professional, courteous, respectful, honest, transparent, competent, ethical, honorable and confident are staples in business and in life. And with no one sure path to success, having a steadfast set of core values will help you navigate the entrepreneurial road.
As any successful person will honestly admit, failure happens, and we’ve all had our fair share of it. But from each failure, we learn two equally valuable lessons. One, that there was at least one reason we failed; and two, that we can rebound from that failure.
According to Shiv Khera, author of You Can Win, failures most often occur for one of seven reasons. And Harvey Mackay, best-selling author and business speaker, says each one can teach us something valuable, can show us how to avoid falling back into the same hole.
Here are the most common failure-causing problems and their solutions:
1. Lack of Persistence
More people fail not because they lack knowledge or talent but because they just quit. It’s important to remember two words: persistence and resistance. Persist in what must be done and resist what ought not to be done.
Try new approaches. Persistence is important, but repeating the same actions over and over again, hoping that this time you'll succeed, probably won’t get you any closer to your objective. Look at your previous unsuccessful efforts and decide what to change. Keep making adjustments and midcourse corrections, using your experience as a guide.
People who lack conviction take the middle of the road. But what happens in the middle of the road? You get run over. People without conviction go along to get along because they lack confidence and courage. They conform in order to get accepted, even when they know that what they are doing is wrong.
Decide what is important to you. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and doing well. Let your passion show even in mundane tasks. It’s OK to collaborate and cooperate for success, but it’s not OK to compromise your values—ever.
Winners might analyze, but they never rationalize. Losers rationalize and have a book full of excuses to tell you why they couldn’t succeed.
Change your perspective. Don’t think of every unsuccessful attempt as a failure. Few people succeed at everything the first time. Most of us attain our goals only through repeated effort. Do your best to learn everything you can about what happened and why.
Some people live and learn, and some only live. Failure is a teacher if we have the right attitude. Wise people learn from their mistakes—experience is the name they give to slipups.
Define the problem better. Analyze the situation—what you want to achieve, what your strategy is, why it didn’t work. Are you really viewing the problem correctly? If you need money, you have more options than increasing revenue. You could also cut expenses. Think about what you’re really trying to do.
Anyone who has accomplished anything worthwhile has never done it without discipline. Discipline takes self-control, sacrifice and avoiding distractions and temptations. It means staying focused.
Don’t be a perfectionist. You might have an idealized vision of what success will look and feel like. Although that can be motivational, it might not be realistic. Succeeding at one goal won’t eliminate all your problems. Be clear on what will satisfy your objectives and don’t obsess about superficial details.
Poor self-esteem is a lack of self-respect and self-worth. People with low self-confidence are constantly trying to find themselves rather than creating the person they want to be.
Don’t label yourself. You might have failed, but you’re not a failure until you stop trying. Think of yourself as someone still striving toward a goal, and you’ll be better able to maintain your patience and perseverance for the long haul.
A fatalistic attitude prevents people from accepting responsibility for their position in life. They attribute success and failure to luck. They resign themselves to their fate, regardless of their efforts, that whatever has to happen will happen anyway.
Look in the mirror every day and say, I am in charge. You might not have control over every phase of your life, but you have more control than you realize, and you are responsible for your own happiness and success. Your attitude determines your altitude, and you can turn “down and out” into “up and at ’em.”