Exactly one year ago, I became an entrepreneur in Sri Lanka. I gathered a decent amount of savings (plus corporate experience) and ventured out alone.
Here’s a brief account of my journey so far and what I have learned.
Why I wrote this: There’s so much of activity + glamour + hype around start-ups and entrepreneurship now, I wanted to provide a realistic (zero-BS) account of what it really feels like to start your own business. So here are the top lessons I have learned so far from my journey.
I just have so much of regret not doing enough during my university days. So much of wasted time. Ah! How much I wish I could rewind time and do so much more. Start early if you’re passionate about something or solving problems. You don’t need to quit your day job immediately or drop out of college and go all out. Just put in the time and be dedicated. Find a way. Things will fall in place.
Don’t Fall in Love with Your Idea
When starting up, your focus should be to objectively validate your idea first and test it for market potential. This is basic 101 stuff, but it’s amazing how you can get sidetracked. Find actual customers who will use or pay for your product or service. Test your market in the leanest possible way. Your idea may be groundbreaking in your head, but if the market thinks otherwise, there’s no real business case!
Understand the Game Before You Get In
Understand entrepreneurship is minimum a 3–5-year setback with no guarantee of return. If you are up to it, hop in or else please get a job. Stop fooling yourself by the million dollar exits and glamorous IPO’s which only a few companies manage to achieve.
Be Realistic with Yourself Every Single Day
Be as brutal and honest with yourself and your ideas every single day. Be realistic and know where you and your idea stand every single day. It’s easy to trick yourself and everybody else around you, but the only person who will be losing out is you!
Prepare to Sacrifice. A lot.
While all your friends may be making strides in their careers, you may just be stuck trying to figure out how to build something from scratch. Stay focused and don’t ever — ever — ever compare yourself to others. You will only be left with self-doubt!
Also, the number of outings, trips, leisure activity you have to skip will be tremendous. Prepare to also lose out on family and social life. And even some close relationships may fall off.
It’s a Mental Battle & It’s Going to Get Lonely.
Am I doing the right thing? Am I wasting my time/life? Pressure from family. Pressure from peers. Pressure from all the Facebook and Instagram posts of how others happen to have a better life than you. (Although most of it are fake posts with tons of filters and what not.) All these can and will challenge your mental state.
Remedy = Cut out Noise > Stay Focused On What You Want to Achieve.
It’s also such a pity there’s so little conversation happening around the downsides or the psychological impact around being an entrepreneur.
It’s Hard Work. Day-In-Day-Out
Respect the game. Don’t expect to achieve what the top 1% have achieved by simply choosing to work from 9–5 even if you become an entrepreneur. There’s so much of work to do. It will eat up so much of your time. If you don’t work on it, no one else will. And guess what — there’s no boss behind your back to push you to stick to your deadlines. So keep procrastinating and the market will eventually push you out of business!
Try to get an accountability mentor who will take no nonsense and can critique your work week in-week out. (Good luck finding one of these though!)
Play to Your Strengths (Accept Your Weaknesses)
The biggest benefit of taking this entrepreneurial journey has been the amount of self-awareness I have gained. There’s no better way that would teach you what your strengths are and what you suck at than putting yourself right on the front lines.
Step one is knowing who you are. Step two is accepting who you are. Step three is going all out with your strengths and finding the right people to fill in for your weaknesses.
Patience. (Ahhh! So important.)
Growth takes time. Success takes time. But for some reason, we all tend to believe that we need to achieve so much in such little time. This is mainly due to external pressure and you comparing yourself to others. Get out of this trap and live your own life.
Think Macro. Stop dwelling on what you couldn’t achieve in one year. Think about what you can achieve in 10 years.
Entrepreneurship is like playing chess. It’s played slowly with loads of strategic thought. Winning takes time. Play well, get the right moves and you win. Or you get check-mated no matter how long you played the game for. But this is just how the game works. So either you play it or you don’t!
Time is Money.
Time becomes your most important asset when you become an entrepreneur. Manage it well and you’ll see progress. Managing time well and staying focused once again requires making loads of sacrifices. The opportunity cost of things you have to forego increases immensely.
Prioritize on the Most Important Tasks.
Prioritize the most important activities you need to get done for your business and do them as soon as possible. Very often, it is natural to postpone the harder tasks (e.g sales calls) that pushes your comfort zones. But trust me, where there is fear, overcoming them brings growth.
Every day lost not generating some revenue, is a day you could have earned much more doing a day job. Every moment you delay doing things, someone else is making progress. Which is why speed is so important! Speed in everything you do. Speed to get things done. Speed to test out ideas. Speed to deliver value. Speed, speed, speed!
Value Will Speak. Hype Fades.
You can pump a lot of money, build a brand and get a lot of attention. But, soon the fad fades and reality sets in. The only thing that sticks is the value you create. Customers are not dumb. They eventually realize who you are and how you do things. Focus on creating tremendous value and the market will reward you.
Marketing vs. Selling: Know the Difference
Stop thinking that it’s enough to just do some Facebook marketing, SEO optimization, schedule some daily posts on various platforms and then customers would just flood in. Every business is different. Some businesses gain enormous traction on social media. Some just won’t. Which means you need to go out and actively sell.
Selling = Talking to as many people and pitching your product. Engage as much as possible with your potential target market. Use this to gather as much data and insights and use that to your advantage to pivot and improve. Talk to as many people as you can. Talk! Talk! Talk! Sell! Sell! Sell! I just cannot emphasize how important this is.
Stay Away from Fake Networking
I call this, ‘networking just for the sake of networking.’ Focus on building solid relationships where value is created both ways. Try to be of value in any way as possible and genuinely serve people. Guess what — they’d bring you much more opportunities than you ever thought they would!
Getting Funded = Sh** Gets Real
When someone pumps money into your business, that’s exactly when the game gets real. Getting funded is just a fleeting moment of temporary success, so don’t get too distracted. There are millions of businesses getting funded day-in-day-out. Your potential competitor may also just outwork you with zero funding and capture the market.
Get out of the Colombo Mindset.
Simply put, there’s so much of problems and challenges that also need to be solved outside Colombo-across Sri Lanka. Stop limiting yourself to solutions within Colombo. Think beyond Colombo and increasingly think beyond Sri Lanka.
Overall, when I look back now, I feel like I have gained so much in one year. Before this journey, I experienced corporate life and now I have experienced what entrepreneurship feels like. I know exactly how being on both sides of the world feels like.
But most importantly, I know what I want. I have understood the game. I have learned to adapt. Learned to believe in me. Learned that opportunity is everywhere and if you really work hard, nothing can stop you.
All in all. All I can say is.. I’m just getting started!
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