Expressed opinions Entrepreneur Contributors own.
I founded my first company in 2004 and started six more between 2010 and 2022. These experiences have taught me invaluable lessons that I have shared with the TechStars Accelerator and hundreds of entrepreneurs at the Capital Factory in Austin and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. If you missed office hours, you would hear:
1. Find out what issues (or issues) you care about
I started my last two companies to solve important problems for me. And I’ve noticed that I’ve become much happier – not just successful – as I factor my emotions into my business plans.
That’s why I’m telling first-time entrepreneurs that the secret to success is to consider the most important things. I always encourage them to sit down with a notebook and explore what excites them.
Once an entrepreneur comes up with a list, I suggest that they map out what has been done in each area and where there are opportunities for them to build a business. Generally speaking, you want to ask these questions when evaluating opportunities:
- Is there a big market?
- Is it possible to do what you want in terms of technology?
- Do you have a sustainable competitive advantage?
- Do you have a team (or you can combine) that can capitalize on the opportunity?
- What are the risks / rewards? Does it support investing your time and money in others?
2. Make a lift pitch for yourself
After someone has worked on the above, I recommend creating a personal pitch. It requires an introduction to the skills, interests, ideas, and much more that will take no more than a few seconds to recite. Some things to include:
- What are you doing
- Which inspires you the most
- Your greatest achievement
- Your goals
- What are you looking to achieve
- Your special skills
Here is an example of drawing from my background:
“I’m Ben Lam. I’m a technology entrepreneur who is passionate about developing technologies to combat man-made climate change. I recently co-founded a bioscience company with Harvard Genetist. I am working to reintroduce Uli Mammoth in Tundra. “
A short pitch like this will be effective during networking events, investor meetings and even appointments. It won’t just start a conversation; It can be more than wide.
3. Become an active listener
Meetups are a big part of an entrepreneur’s life, so it’s not enough to understand what you mean. You want to make sure that you are open to what others want you to know. I have always believed that you learn more when you listen than when you speak.
Active listening can help you as a leader. Making room for others gives your employees a sense of listening and can expose you to great ideas. Maintain eye contact, avoid obstructions, refrain from premature judgment, and ask questions if appropriate. Also, be present and keep your thoughts from flowing into your reactions.
4. Know when to say no
Entrepreneurs do not have the bandwidth to say yes to everything. While some business opportunities may seem incredibly tempting, coworkers have taught me the value of staying focused. If someone spreads themselves – or their teams – too thin, will they be able to make an impact in the area where they are most passionate?
I advise people to be polite but firm. And don’t give a reason or excuse, because it can lead to some awkward form of bargaining. If you are not confident of not telling anyone at the scene, tell them you will consider the request and then return to them via email or text.
Warren Buffett probably said it best, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people don’t say almost everything.”
5. Realize when it is time to hand over the reins
For most of my entrepreneurial career, I have founded and sold software companies. However, during the epidemic, I wondered if the company I was leading would help me prevent man-made climate change and prevent or slow down the loss of biodiversity. As the AI firm I founded in 2018 saw success there, I became more and more convinced that my energy needed to be focused on biosciences.
Instead of running two companies at the same time, I looked for an enterprise software executive who would be a good steward for the AI business. I haven’t been able to get the company as far as I can, but I’ve taken it as far as I want to go. However, there are many instances where a company has surpassed the set of skills of its founding CEO, which made me realize that every CEO’s job should find their successor.
Once you’ve hired the right candidate, it’s important not to be late. Overstating your welcome will only confuse the employees that are leading the company. It may also signal to your heirs that you may think twice about them. While retaining a board seat at the company I previously led, I have formulated and honored a reasonable transformation plan.
Use my experience to your advantage
Working as a mentor and keeping entrepreneurs on the path to success is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. I have done amazing things by working on the above, and I hope you will be able to say the same thing.