Six Lessons On Entrepreneurship And Innovation

Parna Sarkar-Basu

October 10, 2022

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This article first appeared in Forbes.

The path of entrepreneurship is scattered with successes and failures, long days and hard work. There are days you wonder why you launched the company. On other days, you are so glad to be bringing your idea to life.

In reality, starting a company is easy. But building and growing a company is tough.

As someone who has worked with dozens of tech entrepreneurs over the years, I can totally relate to this sentiment. I have been part of highly successful companies and a couple that didn't do so great. But each experience taught me some valuable lessons. Each interaction with the founders and the innovators was a learning moment. I now try to emulate those learnings as an entrepreneur.

Here are some key takeaways:

1. Believe In Your Idea

Most entrepreneurs can share at least one time in their journey when someone said their idea wouldn't work. As Jeff Bezos said in this interview, when he told his boss he wanted to start selling books online, his boss was skeptical. But Bezos's company became a key player in the e-commerce revolution. In fact, he totally changed the shopping and reading experience for countless people around the world. And now he has branched out into space exploration. As entrepreneurs, I believe we should take feedback respectfully and gently ignore the nay-sayers and skeptics. Don't let skeptics squash your ideas. As Bezos said, "If you cannot afford to be misunderstood, don't do anything new or innovative." And I say that if people aren't encouraged to innovate, we won't have all the innovations that save lives and make our lives easier.

2. Think Short-Term

When you're starting a company backed by investors, you'll typically have to draft a five-to-10-year business plan. That's what investors like to call a "vision" of where they see your company going. In reality, a lot can change within five years. So, when it comes to execution, it's often better to think short-term - consider what you'd like to achieve within a year, what shifts you must make due to social changes or features that you need to add to your product due to customer demand. But definitely don't lose sight of your long-term goals.

3. Pick Your Mentors Judiciously

Startup founders, especially first-time entrepreneurs, are often desperately looking to learn about running the business, pitching effectively to investors or the best way to fundraise - and they want to do so quickly. In the process, they are talking to dozens of people, participating in multiple pitch contests and sitting in on audio rooms such as those on Clubhouse, hoping to catch the attention of an investor or learn for free. Yes, learning is good. But make sure you are learning from experts who have a track record of success - entrepreneurs who have successfully built businesses or exited profitably. Vet your mentors well so you don't waste time or get advice from "self-proclaimed" experts. Remember, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (via Investopedia), 45% of businesses fail within five years. So, be judicious about your time, pick the right mentor and build your team well.

4. Build A Purpose-Driven Brand

One of the first questions I ask every entrepreneur is their reason for starting a company - whether I am evaluating a prospect or moderating an executive session. In my experience, the founders almost always have a positive social impact vision. But they are often so focused on selling that they marginalize the importance of showcasing how their product or service will positively help people and the planet while being profitable. Many members of younger generations want to be associated with brands that care about the world at large. According to Nielsen, pre-pandemic, 74% of U.S. millennials said they were more likely to buy brands supporting social issues they care about. In a study (download required) from Deloitte and NEW, 77% of Gen Z respondents said they considered it important to work for a company whose values align with theirs. Remember, according to 2021 data from Gen Z Planet, Gen Z has $360 billion in buying power. So, I believe every brand should be positioned as a purpose-driven company and be bold enough to let the world know the impact they are making globally or locally.

5. Pivot As Needed

Pivots are crucial for success in today's world. When you're launching a company, you may think you know your customer base. But within a year, you might realize there's another target audience that's better suited for your product or service. When I launched my consulting firm, for example, I was convinced my target audience would be CMOs. It turns out that our core audience is CEOs who are looking to transform companies and tech founders planning to raise funds or get acquired. So we had to pivot quickly, update our business model and develop specific programs for this group of clients and meet market demand. As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we have to be agile and prepared to make changes fast. As I wrote about previously, we saw many successful companies pivot when the pandemic hit - for business reasons and social impact. For example, "brands like Zara and Dyson pivoted their manufacturing facilities to design face masks and hospital gowns and ventilators, respectively," while Apple donated millions of masks to healthcare workers. I am quite sure that few companies' crisis plans said "plan for a pandemic." Yet most pivoted.

6. Be Humble

A common trait I've noticed among successful entrepreneurs is humility. They don't want to be seen as the smartest people in the room, even if they are or believe that they have answers to all problems. These entrepreneurs often respect the opinion of their team members, prioritize learning from others, are open to suggestions and thank their employees and consultants for their service. This is the most valuable lesson I learned from one pair of co-founders who I've seen go out of their way to make sure every person they interact with is treated with respect and dignity while making sure the company culture is based on teamwork and gratitude.

Bottom Line

I am super grateful to the founders I've had the privilege of collaborating with and learning from. It's because of you that I had the courage to launch my consulting firm to help tech startups bring their ideas to life.

Here's to entrepreneurship.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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