In many ways, we are all entrepreneurs. Whether starting a company or building your own career inside a larger company, everyone is now arguably faced with the challenge of standing out, building a brand and creating value.
When I moved to America in the 2000's after just finishing college, I was given one piece of advice: Do what intrigues you and what you love. Don't worry about who you think you are, what you've studied and what you've been telling people that you're going to be. You'll naturally gravitate towards your strengths, and the rest will take care of itself. I had no idea what this person was talking about, but he was the only one dispensing advice, so I took it.
It turned out to be hugely helpful. Based on this, here are three things I wished I would have known when I first landed at JFK with my suitcase.
1. Chase What you Love
Most people won't know this about me, but I spent most of my childhood and teen years wanting to be an actor, and for a time right up until my early twenties, that was exactly what I did. I loved it -- it was the most fun thing you could possibly do at 16. In my time I have played many forgettable roles on Australian TV including The Nurse, the Handmaiden, the ex-girlfriend and the Japanese Surf Instructor. But after a few years I realized I wasn't in love with that world -- with the people, that life. So, when I graduated from college I realized I had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. So far I have owned a small chain of vintage clothing stores in my hometown of Sydney, been a lawyer, developed online video content and once had a conversation with Harvey Keitel about an underpants sponsorship during the course of business.
Point being, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the one you love, and the same thing is true in business. You know it when you find it, and if you're not sure, keep looking. Years pass before you know it, and you don't want to be that person that we all know, who's always talking about leaving their job, but never does. Before you know it, the role you took that was meant to last you two years has gone on for five, then ten, and the life you expected to have, is no closer to you.
2. Jump Before You're Perfectly Ready
Andrew Carnegie once said, "the gods send thread for a web begun."
Jumping is probably the most important skill of all. It involves moving outside of your safety, and making a leap even if you don't have all the blanks filled in. I speak to a lot of budding entrepreneurs who tell me that they just need these few things to happen before they can bust out on their own. But the truth is, those things will never happen, as long as they stay in their current situation. You have to just have faith and jump.
I resigned from a great job to start Shareablee, and many of my friends thought I was insane. I probably was -- I had no idea how to raise money or how to scale a company on my own, but I knew that I would never learn those things if I kept on doing what I was already doing. And that first morning after I'd quit and I woke up and went downstairs with my coffee to work on my company, I wondered why I'd taken so long.
At that stage, my idea for the company was to post social content on behalf of small businesses, because I figured that the enterprise space must already have this social thing figured out. I was wrong on both counts. I learned quickly that I knew nothing about SMB's -- I didn't know how to sell to them, how to service them, even how to hire the right people who knew these things. And after a very emotional business owner called my cellphone at 1 a.m. to fire me for redirecting his customers from Facebook to this site called Bit.ly -- who he assumed was a competitor -- I accepted that we had to pivot.
The great thing about getting it wrong the first time was that in the process of trying to execute, I learned the marketplace needed. I learned how freakishly hard it was to decide what to write and how to tweak content, and how to do all that with a lens on your competition. So instead, we went out and built that product, that became the company that we have today.
Jumping also meant sharing the data, sample insights and really unpolished betas well before I thought it was my best work. I had to get comfortable with 'scrappy and functional,' and remind myself that building a business is not a school project that I was going to get graded on. As one of my investors told me, this is binary, ones and zeros. People would either buy it or they wouldn't, and that would be that. No pressure.
Luckily for us, they bought it, and we grew faster than we'd imagined. But none of that would have happened if I hadn't tried to sell a social media posting service to small businesses and got yelled at.
3. Tell Everyone Your Ideas
I often hear people say about their ideas or their new companies: "I can't talk about it yet." Usually, this person believes it's possible for someone else to steal an idea, as though there is anything intrinsically valuable in an idea worth stealing in the first place. I'm going to go out there on a limb and say that if your idea is so flimsy that someone can hear it once and go execute on it as well as you could have, it probably wasn't much chop to begin with. I know that can sound harsh, but I believe it to be true.
When I began Shareablee, I told everyone I knew about what I was doing. You never know who can help you, and it turned out that one of the people I told became our first client. Others ended up working for us, or referring us to great people who we since hired or consulted with, or went on to become clients too. People want to help, and talking openly enables that to happen.
The other benefit of telling everyone what you're doing is you get leverage on yourself to follow through. It can be scary to openly declare what you want to do because you're opening yourself up to judgment and very public failure. But that's a great motivator. No one wants to be that person who says they're going to do something and doesn't do it. So say what you're going to do, and make it really painful for yourself to go back on your word.