Entrepreneurship is probably one of the biggest hypes in the 21st century. From Snapchat and Youtube stars to the all-famous, Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to found Facebook… we’ve seen the successes. But it is for sure, not a rosy path with the numerous statistics of the failures that occur along the path. The term, “survivorship bias”, also suggests that we are often only aware of those who survive (and thrive) but not, those who failed often in the shadows.
As we celebrate the successes of these “survivors”, let us also be realistic to know the necessary sacrifices and costs that one has to pay in the road of entrepreneurship.
In this coming column on ‘Career INSiders’, I speak with Paulius Stankevicius, Founder and CEO of Stankevicius MGM Consulting. As a twenty-something entrepreneur who helps companies like Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Merrill Lynch in their digitalization efforts, we find out from Paulius on how he starts out and blossoms on the road as an entrepreneur.
1. Tell us your story (in brief)
My interest in entrepreneurship arose in 2013 summer when I decided to build a gaming company. In 2013 I also built my first mobile app. A year later, I started my university studies as IT developer. I started developing several IT projects. Same year in the fall I joined international project ran by my university, later created a startup out of it.
In 2015 I registered my first company, got my first client and started 4 new startups. This year was a massive one for product and business development as well as networking. The following year, I flew to Hong Kong for 8 months and it opened up incredible opportunities. I learnt about commodity trading. I was involved in very interesting trading deals worth up to 3 billion €. Also in the same year, I changed my study line from IT developer to UX designer.
Finally in 2017, I created a unique digital service for large enterprises, which helped me to reach out to Fortune 500 companies. I also managed to accomplish great deal with my education startup. We did several events in collaboration with large companies like Google, Microsoft and EA. We are planning on having a massive event this fall in Finland in collaboration with NASA.
2. What is entrepreneurship to you? And what is it not?
Entrepreneurship is like a game of startups. Fighting small sales battles to build up your portfolio and get yourself ready for a war. Building your own brand from absolutely nothing, making sure everyday more people know about you. Entrepreneurship is literally a long-term war where in the end, you end up a king or you disappear.
Entrepreneurship is an attitude for building your future, an ability to see 10 steps ahead, and a strength to keep yourself moving when you lose those small sales battles but still going after the big war, and you just do it because you know that there is nothing left behind and you literally have no other choice. What stands between you and success is 9,000 km of concrete wall. How you manage to pass it through is up to you. Some people manage to climb on top of it and walk over and some actually dig the whole wall with a pickaxe to get to the other side.
To me entrepreneurship is building an alliance of strong individuals with unique capabilities. Entrepreneurship is for people who feel fire inside their hearts, who seek for more than just financial returns. I seek power.
Its definitely not about telling to people “hey, I have a business”. Nobody really cares about it. Entrepreneurship is not about planting your dream flowers in the garden, instead it’s more like putting a cement on top of your existing flowers just to make the surface stronger. Entrepreneurship is about dedication, survival and sacrifices, it’s just making your skin thicker.
The hardest part is to keep the motivation up. If I had my personal motivation/happiness chart it would look as a very volatile Bit Coin stock chart.
3. Over the past 3 years, you’ve founded 5 start-ups. 2 of them have taken off. What have been the key lessons you’ve learnt?
Your team is very important. A team, which says “do it until you make it”. Nothing more. Nothing less. Quality people are extremely difficult to find these days. Quality people are open minded, take criticism and failures as feedback to improve themselves, don’t complain, understand things without detailed explanations and totally back you up when needed. A team, which doesn’t ask too many questions instead, they search and deliver answers by themselves. A team, which takes initiatives by default. A team to which you don’t have to tell what to do, instead they know what to do. A team, which frequently over performs. This type of team is the gold.
Most importantly you have to do your part in the business. You have to perform execution at it’s finest. Executing tasks one by one. No shame, no blame, no scarcity, no nothing. Just pure execution. The world is a place for people to create and innovate. Be the one to add your innovation to the world.
However, to be able to develop and run a business you must have a competitive mindset. By a competitive mindset I mean, you need to be a relatively competitive individual. You need to aim for the best results, you need to aim to be better than others. A competitive mindset will allow you to create more unique solutions for your product or service, by being competitive you will develop better Unique Value Proposition (UVP) and outwork your competition.
By having competitive mindset you start to think differently. You understand the importance of time. I understand that for some people it is hard to do, because many 20-30 years old entrepreneurs like to enjoy their weekends doing fun activities but if you are really after the power, you know that it takes much more effort to get it, so investing extra time in your personal development is more proficient than going to parties.
But I have to say that probably the most important thing why I am still an entrepreneur is because I really try to accomplish things. You must really take massive action to make it happen. I know so many people who keep telling me that they want to be successful but still are not doing anything about it. There is a fine line between talking and doing. You want to make sure you spend less time with people who talk and spend more time with people who do things.
You must truly understand that nobody is going to bring success to you. You have to go and take it yourself by doing a lot of things including the ones that you don’t like. Even if you are an entrepreneur and you work on your own idea you still going to end up doing things which you have no control over but life doesn’t really care what you want or like, you have to do it anyways.
4. For young professionals who climbing the career ladder, how do you think being entrepreneurial can be relevant for them?
In general entrepreneurship teaches special values which can’t be taught anywhere else. Our parents can’t teach us that, only give us advice. Schools and universities don’t teach real life experiences at all. Even while being an employee you can’t maximise your learning outcome. Only by doing things yourself and taking full control of your actions, you can only then understand how hard things can be and what you actually need to do to make it work properly and if you do decide to take the journey and learn then you are a step closer to a great personal improvement.
If you aim for management career, being an entrepreneur can benefit you in your job interview. Nowadays, companies search for candidates with entrepreneurial mindset and individual performance skills. Entrepreneurship definitely adds special sauce to your resume and interview. However there might be a downside to it as well. If you ran a business before on your own and you failed it, it might be a bit tricky if you are applying for a management position.
Depending on what you want in life, you can take risks accordingly. If you want to play safe, you can just be involved in a non-profit startup or build a very small business to show you can do it. If you are a risk taking person, you may want to build a massive startup or a company but you also understand that a failure can hurt your future job applications. So there is risk involved in everything we do but regardless of our failures and successes, human can achieve anything and that has been proven many times in history. So if you have failed so badly that you are thinking - that’s it am done. Sorry, no. Think again, you are not done. You are done with your past, and now please start new journey. Start as many new journeys as needed until you make it happen for yourself!
5. You’ve a knack for developing new business and relationships and even cross-borders to Chinese markets like China and Hong Kong. What has worked for you? How do you manage those cross-cultural nuances?
When I came to Hong Kong in 2016 first thing I did was a market research. I did a market research in 1 week. I found out that there was a popular website hktdc.com where you can find almost all companies in Hong Kong. I just literally contacted hundreds of companies a day and booked meetings directly. After about 10 days since my arrival, I had at least 7 meetings a week. Sometimes 2-3 meetings a day.
The next thing I did was massive LinkedIn networking and it did help me to get to the next level. Of course then attending local events was a 3rd thing what I did. I met a company in one of the events, which was located in China but was doing promotions in Hong Kong at a time, so we got well connected and then I travelled to China to make a deal with that company.
Dealing with Chinese sometimes can be tricky. You really need to show them a lot of proof before they actually take you in, especially if you are a foreigner. Chinese companies lack a lot of technical and digital structure in comparison to western companies, so there is a lot to offer for them. The market is massive but it requires patience and strong network.
When dealing with different cultures it is wise to know few things like in China lucky numbers are 6 and 8, so when you give a quote to a company it’s better to quote them 1,868 rather than 1,999. Most of the companies dealing internationally either if they are Chinese, Indian or Arabic, don’t really demand you to show any cultural beliefs but if you show them some respect in their cultural way, they would definitely appreciate you more.
6. In dealing with clients of authority and influence, how do you carry yourself effectively as a young entrepreneur?
I rarely think about the age difference when doing business. The only thing I care about is that I bring value. Regardless to whom I talk to if I know that I can bring value to that person or his/her company, I feel confident and I’m totally relaxed.
Very often people say to me that you look young or you are really young to do business. I mean I’m turning 25 in September this year and it’s not really that young. Honestly nowadays people making tremendous businesses at early 20s, so 20s have become a normal age to do business. Sometimes I get upset when people don’t take younger entrepreneurs seriously, because they calculate experience and knowledge by years spent in the industry. I personally know so many people who have spent 10-15 years in the industry and are so terribly bad at doing business.
When I look at companies these days, it makes me really sad because the recruitment process is so unfair. The way companies measure one’s abilities is just wrong at all levels.
However, when dealing with people of influence they always respect and appreciate young entrepreneurs trying to build something for themselves.
7. We live in a world of rapid disruption and change… What will you suggest young professionals do to remain relevant for the next decade?
I would suggest to learn everything. I mean learn IT, marketing, sales, pitching to investors, media relations, machine learning and network every single day online and offline and follow the latest news. I personally listen to Bloomberg radio every single day.
It is absolutely critical to be competitive and know more than 1 thing. In today’s market you can’t anymore survive by having 1 skill, you need at least 3 different skills to be able to compete.
I think that within the next 10 years, there are going to be so many changes that a simple job position will require you to be a full stack business developer being able to perform as good as a C level executive or else your job will be replaced by AI.
I would recommend to start working on your personal development right now. Learn as much as possible, learn different things, learn at least how to make a simple website or an app, that is like a minimum requirement. Leading skills will be critical, and people who are able to initiate projects and tasks will be in the top.
8. What have you read or come across lately that has inspired you?
I am currently reading a book named 48 laws of power by Robert Greene. It’s a large book but I would say that if you really seek to be a dominant individual you should definitely read the book. The book tells about strategies that great warriors, kings and leaders have used in ancient times. How they tricked their opponents and how they accomplished victory. Very interesting book, definitely worth reading if you’re seeking power and control.