When I was 21, I left a the stable start to a career in journalism behind and started my very first business.
Back then, I knew nothing of the challenges ahead of me.
Starting a business and growing it, without any experience or money, taught me resilience and performing creatively within the constraints I was operating in.
With $0, I managed to continuously learn lessons, sometimes brutally harsh, by the skin of my own back.
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Those lessons helped me craft a system designed for business growth of the purest kind - an intimate knowledge of customers, an intimate knowledge of the product offering, and an intimate knowledge of the relationship between the two. It also taught me many things about accepting setbacks as lessons, and about which people in general have what it takes to put their mind to an idea and bring it to life.
As a growth hacker, I’ve worked with many founders over the years, helping them become more agile in their business decisions leading to growth. Here’s the observations of traits which all successful entrepreneurial startup and intrapreneurial founders exhibit.
1. You Just Keep Punching When Things Are Tough
While the theoretical endpoint for everyone starting a business involves a storyline with endless champagne and yachts, you have to realise things don’t always go your way. Sometimes, the storm clouds are ominous. The product breaks, customers stop spending, your key staff member leaves you and you’ve been rejected by 120 investors. Simultaneously, you need to manage your personal affairs, your relationships, your friends, and at any moment, these can chip away at your tolerance levels.
In fact, sometimes the challenges are so insurmountable, you question whether you’re actually doing the right thing. At this point, most startups and businesses cease to exist.
The ones that make it though, are the result of a ‘never say die’ attitude of a founder. They readily accept the speed bumps in their way, and in a cool, and calculated fashion, ask people smarter than they are what they should do about it. They solve these issues that are standing in their way of a much bigger, more magnificent picture.
2. You Welcome Negative Feedback
The most significant factor to problems within startups and businesses, is the vision of the founder sometimes takes a beating. We all want to build and create the best business in the world, and we’re happy to inflate our egos with copious amounts of positive feedback. Though real founders understand that too much positive feedback is dangerous.
If no one is telling you what they really think, you have a very big problem. Alternatively, you may get so much positive feedback that you ignore the one or two complaints designed at telling you where friction exists between your customers and your business.
Actionable, constructive, negative feedback has the power to drive your business further than you could have taken it yourself. This is the type of feedback you discover which could change a product feature for the better, your value proposition or even the way your staff handle customers themselves.
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3. You’re Happy to Work While Others Play
Building a business is long hours and hard work, and this isn’t anything new. But seriously, it’s long hours and really hard work. While yes, there are certain freedoms unleashed upon you when you leave the constraints of a full-time job, within those freedoms lurk hidden surprises.
Founders work a crazy amount of time, and use a serious amount of brain power, and it isn’t just brain power for the area of your speciality either. It’s everything else - marketing, legal, accounting, staff, customers, knowledge, growth - that contributes to your workload. This is why a founder’s day isn’t just eight hours with a lunch break.
It’s meetings from 9 am to 5 pm, it’s getting stuff done till midnight, it’s sacrificing weekends to get on top of your workload before you start the next week and relive it all over again. You also have to remember to eat, work out, manage relationships and your family too, all while your friends may be at the beach, on holidays, or partying.
4. You’re Happy With Sharing Control
The best founders are the ones that are aware of their own limitations. No one is brilliant at everything, and therefore, no one should attempt to be everything within their business. It’s the quickest way to get nothing done at all and burn out at the same time.
There’s a reason why experts exist in this world, and you need to be able to have the capacity to relinquish control where you are weak. For example, you could put together all of your contracts yourself, manage your accounting, make sales, manage workflow, manage staff and execute work yourself, but that’s a dangerous manoeuvre. What you perceive as a cost-saving, could cost you exponentially more when your weaknesses in a procedure are exploited.
If you’re happy to surround yourself with people smarter than you in skillsets that offset yours, and walk away from critical aspects of your business and leave it up to these professionals, then you have what it takes to grow a business that’s healthy inside and out.
5. You Accept Change
The market never stands still. Your competitors never stand still. Your customers never stand still. While these things may seem elementary, it’s incredible the amount of businesses which act like time is standing still.
Change, despite how uncomfortable it may seem, is a necessary part of business growth. As a growth hacker, it’s mostly my job to keep track of environmental, geographic, demographic and competitive factors when reviewing how a product attracts and converts users, and then how the product performs while users are trying to extract value from it.
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These types of insights often mean fast, drastic changes to things which may have never even entered the founder’s mind on conception of the business. Yet, the most successful founders I’ve ever come across embrace the notion that their business needs to constantly evolve to stay relevant and profitable.