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What I Need to Learn to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Identifying important skills crucial to developing as an entrepreneur

Jack Mara     |     Aug 23, 2015

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Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my six months of running 10Thoughts (or whatever date 10Thoughts officially moved from a class project to a company) I have learned a lot about the skills you must develop and the concepts you must embrace to be an entrepreneur. I certainly have not fully developed or embraced all these skills… but at least I can now identify them! Here are five important ones:

1) Dealing with lack of structure – Can you learn how to thrive in an environment that is unstructured? In many MBA roles you are handed clear workstreams and follow specific processes. In the entrepreneur world there is no clear workstream. There is no system – it is your job to figure out “the system.” People always ask me how I know what to do every day. The answer is I often don’t. There are endless things I can do – but figuring out what to prioritize and what adds the most value is difficult.

To add value as an employee in an early stage startup you need to be able to figure out how to push for results rather than following a proven system to achieve the results. For example, when I describe a priority to Jeffrey I say something like: “Figure out how to get people just reading in the weekly email to visit the website more often.” If he says “how?” I’d offer some thoughts, but at the end of the day I do not know, his guess is as good as mine. He needs to not only figure it out, but he needs to figure out HOW to figure it out.

2) Grinding through unglamorous work – in the news you hear about the glamour work in startups. But in reality you need to grind through tons of work that is not exciting, every day. Right now for me the thrill of a startup is that 25% of the work is by far the most exciting of my career. But 75% is less exciting than work I did in my first six months as an entry level employee. 75% is still a big number, that number 6 months ago was 95%.

During this grind huge success is not “right around the corner,” if it happens ever it is years down the line. Are you willing to do all this grinding for a small chance of success that is far off in the distance?

3) Willingness to cold call – cold calling sucks. But if you want to be a successful entrepreneur you need to be willing to pick up the phone and call people. You need to proactively make things happen. You do not need to like it, but you better be willing to do it and learn how to get good at it.

4) Dealing with failure – You fail all the time in the start-up world, people say no all the time. You need to learn to deal with it and just keep trucking. There were times when I first started where the rejections caused me to lose steam or beat me down to the point where my productivity was temporarily diminished. It used to bother me when people said my idea will not work. Little comments threw me off and rattled me. But this experience has given me so many reps with failure. I learned how to keep on pushing and mentally handle the setbacks.

5) Bothering people – Are you worried about bothering people? Probably. But if you can’t get over it you will not be a good entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to bother people, they need connections, they need sales, they need users, they need feedback, they need tests and they need money. If there is a person that can potentially help that you don’t call because: “You don’t want to bother them” you will struggle as an entrepreneur. It is uncomfortable, it is annoying, you need to be incredibly savvy about it, but at the end of the day you need to be willing to be a little bit of a pest.

In the B2B sales effort right now I am the guy that pops up in an inbox that makes people say “how the hell did this guy get my email address? I’m the guy whose number no one recognizes when I call. There is a guy I know fairly well who I want to speak with. Scheduling time through email has not worked. I now call him once a week and leave a voicemail and I will be doing that until he speaks with me. At the end of the day, if 10Thoughts does not work out I never want to look back and say I left stones unturned because I was too afraid of bothering people.

If you think I sound crazy in that last paragraph you will be interested to know that my mentors – battle tested entrepreneurs that actually succeeded and know that they are doing – are pushing me to ask family and friends for money in my raising process. They say that is where original seed rounds typically come from. I push back and say I am not even close to comfortable putting that pressure on my family and friends unless they approach me. They say ask them and make them say no, that is what real entrepreneurs do. Ouch.

In their blogs talking about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur they probably write about how you need to be willing to ask your family and friends for money…

Written by Jack Mara - Please submit all responses to jackmara@10Thoughts.com

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