Being an entrepreneur means more than just building a business. It’s about the journey as much as it is the destination. The entrepreneur life isn’t exclusive; it’s available to everyone. And while it demands a lot of you, if you stick with it, it can be very rewarding.
Over the last decade of building a startup, I’ve learned through trial and error. If I had to do it all again, there are four major things I wish I knew before I got started.
1. Find Your Unfair Advantage
The word “passion” gets thrown around a lot these days by career coaches and influencers, but for me, passion is simply the fire that keeps you going. The life of an entrepreneur isn’t always glamorous; it’s full of hard work that often goes unnoticed because it doesn’t make the headlines. Anyone starting a business or building a side project must be driven by their purpose, but, more importantly, they must be passionate about the problem the product or business is solving. I will add a caveat to an entrepreneur’s passion by saying that some people have it from day one, and that’s great. If that’s not you, don’t get discouraged. Some people learn to feel the passion as they dig into the product or issue at hand, and the passion builds over time.
Your passion also brings with it an added benefit: it gives you an unfair advantage. What do I mean by this?
You need unfair advantages when you're a founder. If you have the same insight everyone does and are using similar tools, what sets you (and your company) apart? Why do you matter? Having that passion will make you work harder and go that extra mile to identify solutions for the problem your product or business is attempting to solve.
A young entrepreneur that exemplifies unyielding passion is Blake Martin, Founder of Billight, a first-of-its-kind pool table lighting and gaming system.
“It's a balance of me going through college but also working on [Billight] because this is what I'm passionate about,” shares Martin.
Having that extra fuel of passion led him to contact a famous pool player to test his product, and to his surprise, Martin got a response. “I flew to [a world famous pool player’s] house in Vegas. I put [my pool lighting system] on his table, which was the validation [I needed]. He was blown away by it. He thinks that this is the next generation of pool,” Martin shared.
Now, Martin is working to secure the patent for his product. (To learn how Martin successfully built his lighting and gaming system, read his story.)
2. Understand The Problem; Find the Solution
If I could put something on a billboard for everyone to see, it would be: “Be attached to the problem, not the solution!”
Focusing on the problem rather than the solution rings true for any leader but especially for entrepreneurs. A lesson I learned—and one other founders around me also had to learn—is not to latch onto the solution you think you have. Instead, as an entrepreneur, you should be attached to the problem and be dogmatic and stubborn about the problem you’re solving. Be willing to alter your solution based on feedback or market changes.
A great example of adapting to solve a business problem is Saksin Chongolnee, the CEO of Bangkok-based CCM System, which offers solutions in Engineering Applications and Location-based Services (LBS). As the owner, he wanted to implement app development into his practice, but traditional coding wasn’t the way to go. He understood the value of adding it, and it was definitely a problem he knew he had to solve for clients, but learning to code or hiring someone to do the development work were both undesirable options. So, he turned to an easy-to-implement solution with less of a heavy lift and more accessibility: no code mobile app development. To understand how Chongolnee and his team were able to build apps quickly, increase profit margins, and deliver what their clients needed, you can read his story.
Pivoting is a great skill every entrepreneur should hone. Adaptability is the name of the game in an ever-changing business landscape.
3. Expand Your Horizons
When my co-founder and I were building our business, a lot of the advice I heard was to “cut out all distractions, buckle down, and just focus.” And while execution and determination are very important and critical to laying the business’ foundation, shutting yourself out can be isolating. You need to get out of your own bubble. But what does that mean?
If you work on an idea in isolation or keep it to yourself, you miss out on valuable feedback you can use to improve your idea, business plan, or product. You need to socialize your idea and constantly receive feedback. Sure, you may get some nays along the way, but negative feedback doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward. You should leverage constructive criticism and use it to make your product better. In addition to socializing your idea, you need to socialize yourself.
Getting caught in an echo chamber won’t allow you to get the full scope of how your idea or product will be received. For example, our team started Thunkable, a no code native app builder, as a research project in the educational space. It wasn’t until we sent a survey to the community using our platform that we realized a large percentage of users were using our platform to build a business. If we had kept our platform exclusively within the education space and spoken solely to educators, we never would have made the shift to building Thunkable as a business.
Another great example of expanding your horizons comes from Thunkable Creator Nathan Burley, a Senior Field Services Engineer by day and scientist by night. Determined to incorporate emerging technologies to improve business operations, he began experimenting with assisted and augmented reality. Burley is in the first stages of building a voice-controlled AI no code mobile app integrated with a headset to get into the hands of the engineers to train them faster and better.”
Burley is sharing his prototype with a wide community to receive feedback. He hopes his experimentation of pushing the boundaries of technology will benefit the masses. To understand how he utilized a drag and drop app builder to integrate AI capabilities with his headset, take a look at his story.
4. Embrace Your Unique Perspective
Finding problems only you are uniquely positioned to tackle is going to be your biggest asset as an entrepreneur, a founder, and a leader. Not only will this keep you focused on constantly finding the best solution to the problem you are trying to solve, but using your own personal experience gives you that added benefit of being your own user. Being your own user and beta tester will set you up to know whether you built an effective solution.
A great example of someone who found a unique perspective for his business comes from Thunkable Creator Barrie Fox, the creator of Caravan Mate. Fox built his business to help individuals who caravan around the globe but need to meet strict weight requirements to be properly covered by insurance. If caravans (a vehicle equipped for living in, typically a trailer towed by a car) exceed a certain weight limit, they are considered illegal and risk losing their insurance coverage.
“It started out as just as a thing for me; it grew to, ‘All right, let's put it out there and try and to save some lives and help people make them safe,’” Fox said. He’s gone on to build several apps to better assist caravaning groups with tire pressure measurement, towing, and much more. As a member of the community he serves, Fox is prepared to create effective solutions.
Now, Go and Do It!
Never let perfect be the enemy of done. Begin your journey into entrepreneurship and be confident in your abilities. But most of all, don’t get discouraged. You’re foraging your own path. Challenges will arise, but as long as you stick to your passion, adapt your solution, receive feedback from others, and lean into your unique perspective, you will be set up for success.
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