My Top 7 Hard Won Lessons Learned As An Entrepreneur

Success is not final. Failure is not final. It is the courage to succeed that counts. - Winston Churchill.

I've failed more often than most people I know. I'm actually proud of that. It just means I've taken more risks and learned more along the way. Still, it doesn't mean that learning is easy. On the contrary, learning is damn hard and admitting failure is even harder. But I believe that if we can admit to our mistakes, we can turn them into lessons that help us avoid them in the future.

It's easy to take credit for our successes, attributing them to internal factors like hard work - that way we can talk ourselves into believing that we deserve it. But failures, well those we'd rather blame on external factors like luck. So for the purposes of personal growth and a desire to help others learn from my experience, I'd like to share what I consider to be my top 7 hard won lessons learned (to date) as an entrepreneur.

1. Don't let failure make you less generous. I think of myself as a giving person, but at times, especially when my personal bank account suffered from company expenses, I found myself increasingly selfish. In only thinking about myself, I pushed business partners away and snuffed out good opportunities. Now I work to maintain my otherwise natural sense of abundance.

2. Step off the emotional roller coaster. I'm a passionate, enthusiastic person and that usually serves me well, but in the daily roller coaster of emotion that is entrepreneurship, it's kicked the crap out of me. I've blown both my wins and setbacks out of proportion. It's made me lose my even keel and that has caused me to run out of gas when I really needed it. Now I find passion in success, not just my ideas.

3. Don't always react, but do listen. When people have told me that my products wouldn't work, it just made me want it more. Entrepreneurs are contrarian by nature, but I found that not following other people's advice shouldn't mean not listening what they have to say. In reality, some of my products ended up being solutions looking for problems. Now I hear what trusted sources have to say and make adjustments accordingly.

4. Always believe in yourself. Rejection and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. You're trying to do something new that most don't yet understand. I used to take a lot of that rejection to heart and lost self-confidence along the way. Without confidence, things fall apart. Now I'm better prepared for the rejection and don't take it so personally.

5. Be naive, but not too naive. To some extent, entrepreneurs need a little naiveté. Truly seeing the immense amount of work ahead causes most logical people to run the other way. However, too much naiveté and our assumptions are almost certain to crumble in the face of adversity. Now I invest a lot more in due diligence before diving head first into an industry.

6. Find a complementary partner. I've thrown myself at ideas and pushed relentlessly to make them a reality. In that process I've worked with several consultants, advisors and vendors, but not with enough true co-founders. For me, finding a great technical partner has been my biggest challenge. As I've ridden the emotional roller coaster of entrepreneurship, I've also wished that I had a partner that I could lean on when things seemed bleak. Now I don't act like a cowboy and never go it alone.

7. Don't lose your patience. I'd like to say that I've lost my patience, but the truth is that I've never had much to begin with. Looking at events only from my own perspective, I expected others to have my same sense of urgency, which they often do not have. There's a fine line between determination and annoying the hell out of people. Now I see the line more clearly and am less likely to cross it again.

By no means is this list exhaustive! I've made plenty of other mistakes and learned a ton along the way. It's true that entrepreneurship has sometimes challenged my otherwise positive thinking. Then again, realizing that we have challenges and having the courage to solve them is the very definition of optimism.

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