"If you just work on stuff that you like and you´re passionate about it, you don't have to have a master plan with how things will play out", said Mark Zuckerberg. Over the course of my career, I’ve read and received endless advice on how to succeed with my business. Most of that advice reiterated that passion was the motor that keeps everything moving along; that and the ability to adapt plans on the fly. There is a vast array of other tips to be given because getting started is not easy, and sometimes it feels like you are flying a plane while blindfolded. That's the reason I'm not going to give you advice here but rather just tell you about my own experience.
I, too, believe that starting a business is about finding a passion and transforming it into an idea that has impact. In my case, the trigger was to create a cloud-based platform to multiply flexible work opportunities for millions of women. But the story of my business undertaking is, like so many other stories, a road that takes effort, motivation and permanent courage to walk, and I feel like each step I take is easier when I think about the 3-Results Rule of my business approach: #people, #profit and #planet.
The year 2020 was a strange one for global entrepreneurship. Although many businesses were affected by the pandemic, there was, paradoxically, an increase in activity. Truth be told: uncertain scenarios are a field that is ripe for risk, and this makes them an ideal time to pursue the passion that drives us forward when the rest of the world comes to a halt. In this context in constant flux, I spoke with March Violante, in Entrepreneur Masters, about the challenges of starting a business.
- 1. To be an entrepreneur, you have to get over your fear.
The first thing you need to understand is that everything you ever dreamed about lies way beyond your fears. Fears are overcome by dreaming big, by thinking that there is nothing we can't achieve if we are determined to do so. Fears are overcome when, as entrepreneurs, we are convinced that the most important opinion is the one that we have of our project. Nonetheless, confronting fears is important. As Philipp Berger says in his book, The Role of Fear for Entrepreneurial Venture Creation, the entrepreneur's root fear is the fear of failure, which is very common but can also be very paralyzing if we do not know how to break it down and face it.
- 2. Personal branding is essential to pushing the project.
The starting point is to find the cause that makes your heart really race. And you have to work the narrative and the online platforms you are going to use to get your message out there. I also think it is important that we let ourselves be known by others because sharing knowledge will help you position yourself as a reference in a certain specialty or area: analyze what forums you should participate in, decide which awards you should apply for, find out which talks to attend. But the most important thing is to offer something of value to the audience. A personal brand is built through the correct channels but, above all else, it is built with a genuine message.
- 3. From an investor's perspective, it matters that you think that you’re worth it.
When it comes to positioning our personal brand — the most valuable thing we have— entrepreneurs have no recourse but to put in the work. Only then can we build relationships with mentors or sponsors that can help us defend that brand. I am convinced that business is a contact sport, in the sense that creating relationships and social capital is fundamental for success. When pitching the project to investors, entrepreneurs have to present themselves as winners. The key in all of it is understanding what your business is and how to tell the story. You have to show leadership and you also have to show them that you know what you are doing and that you will work very hard until you achieve the picture you are painting for them. Because, at the end of the day, entrepreneurs have a great responsibility: with society first, to create companies that resolve important problems, but also with their investors, to fulfill the promises they make. In business, it is essential that we build credibility.
- 4. Before asking about it, READ up on it.
Rich Father, Poor Father, by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechterme, made a big impression on me because it made me change the way I looked at things. In this book, the authors talk about how there once was a time when working as an employee was people’s Plan A and becoming an entrepreneur was their Plan B, which was a step they took only when there was no work to be had. Nowadays, however, things are the other way around: Millennials believe that working independently is Plan A, and a dependent relationship has been relegated to Plan B.
Blitzscaling, by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, is like a basic manual of what needs to be done when you want to quickly escalate a project.
Thrive, by Arianna Huffington, is a book that I liked a lot because it redefines the metrics of success, which has nothing to do with money. I, too, believe as she does: that success is not about money; it's about being able to change people's lives for the better.
Ben Horowitz’ The Hard Things About Hard Things is a tremendous and very honest book about how difficult entrepreneurship is and all the work it entails. The author tells us that starting a company means pulling yourself up by your bootstraps time and time again.
- 5. In order to survive, you have to adapt.
The biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is to give up. Resilience is a decisive element in the success of a startup. When a founder finds their passion project and is able to defend it, the only thing left is to sustain it, which is an art and will involve many changes and adaptations along the way; it means you have got to do everything you can for it not to fail. Because, as a path, entrepreneurship is fraught with constantly shifting economic scenarios, with shareholders who turn on the pressure because they are feeling the pressure themselves, and with cautious clients. To found a startup you have to be, above all else, flexible and creative. You have to find ways to present the project and adapt it to the needs of the market.
- 6. Entrepreneurship during COVID
There is a saying in Spanish that, loosely translated, affirms that "churning waters are a fisherman’s boon.” I think the post-pandemic panorama is bound to reveal the opportunities that any crisis brings about. The pandemic accelerated a digital transformation process that was already underway. Nowadays, with a minimum amount of money, we can start up a company in Google Cloud or Amazon; we can hire talent remotely with flexible models and try them out; we can use short-term infrastructure, and we do not need any office space ... In short, the current panorama is very favorable to those looking to start a business. It has essentially made everything easier. To boot, the pandemic has opened up the markets because technology allows us to build exponential, more agile and more inclusive companies. Thanks to the Internet, the market has now been expanded to include the entire world, and there are no longer any geographical barriers nor barriers of any other nature.
When I left a corporate career to pursue my own dream of being an entrepreneur, a man with whom I worked and who was very important for me asked me a question but told me not to answer him immediately, to let some time go by before I did. He asked: after achieving what you have set out to achieve, are you going to consider yourself successful? I did not know how to answer. Finally, he helped me out: I would like to hear you respond that you consider yourself successful because you are happy. I became an entrepreneur because I was looking for a dream.