In my 20 years as a technology entrepreneur, I've been no stranger to the word "no." I've been assured by experts in the business that the solution I wanted to create couldn't – or shouldn't – be created. I've been told by seasoned professionals with years of experience that what I wanted to accomplish, technologically speaking, was impossible. In other words, I've faced constant questioning and skepticism when challenging what everyone had accepted as best practices or rules of thumb, even though I envisioned a better approach – and these were not easy to face.
I didn't let the doubts or misgivings of others stop me, and I even went on to create that "impossible" solution. The journey has not been without difficulty, but I've learned three key lessons from my experiences that I think every entrepreneur should follow.
1. Be resilient.
One of my most memorable "no" incidents was when my young tech company, Nerdio, had just launched its hosted desktop services, and we were working out some of the technical logistics as well as focusing on how to turn a decent profit. I was acquainted with a renowned virtualization expert and published writer, and asked him if he would be so kind to give me some advice. When I explained to him what we were doing and what we ultimately hoped to accomplish, he flat-out told me that it absolutely could not be done.
To be honest, I was devastated. I thought I had an awesome business idea, a real market opportunity, and both the knowledge and passion to build what I envisioned – and this esteemed industry veteran, whom I looked up to and respected, had shot it down. But even though I was bummed out, I couldn't ignore my gut. It told me that my idea would work, and that I just had to stay the course and continue pursuing my dream.
In the end, not only did I prove that man wrong, but this story repeated itself countless times throughout my career. Trust yourself and your instincts, don't rely on affirmation, and stay resilient in the face of naysayers – even when it seems like they do (or should) know more than you do.
2. Be patient.
When I first started my company, the concept of "IT infrastructure as a service" didn't actually exist. To sum it up, it's basically about taking all the pieces of an IT environment that people usually buy separately – servers, email, applications, security, etc. – and packaging them into a single neat, standardized, easy-to-use offering. To me, the value seemed obvious: Who wouldn't want to transform tedious, clunky and cumbersome into streamlined, stress-free and easy? Who wouldn't want to get Fortune 500-level quality at mom-and-pop shop prices?
However, if you're doing something new and even superior, the market won't be ready for it right away. You need to be prepared for a less-than-enthusiastic initial response. This means exercising patience, not only toward others but yourself as well. I know many entrepreneurs who work hard but are also hard on themselves, and it's easy to misinterpret the lack of immediate market response as a failure on your part. Know that it's not. With patience and persistence, you will find that you can transform that reaction to "Wow! Where do I sign up?"
If you are impatient, it can be beneficial to strategize ways to help the people and the market learn what you do. When you're dealing with businesses' IT like Nerdio does, for example, we sometimes have to translate the benefits of our solutions to the end customers, who often know little (and care less) about the specifications of things such as servers and desktops. But in the end, we have to show them that they and, most importantly, their business can benefit tremendously from what we have to offer.
3. Be humble.
When I immigrated to the United States at 13 years old, I didn't speak a word of English. It was tough being thrown into the deep end, especially as a high schooler. Nevertheless, I set a goal of getting an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management so I could learn everything about building my own business, and I ended up doing just that. However, I quickly figured out that the theoretical workings of a business and the reality are two completely different beasts.
When you're young, green and excited about your product and the unique value you believe it delivers, it feels like this is all you need to make it a big hit. But this was a big lesson for me: Just because you have an awesome product doesn't mean that everyone's going to buy it right away. Being humble is not just about having modesty or tempering your ego – it's also about not being afraid to acknowledge what you don't know.
In my case, I learned that my biggest challenges were in customer acquisition and rising above the noise of the industry. While we did discuss these topics in business school, I admit they were not my first (or even second) focus when I started my business. Now I know better. To succeed, many things need to be right, and a great product is just the start.
Whenever you see a successful entrepreneur making headlines or launching first-of-its-kind rockets, remember that their path was not easy or without failure. Stay the course, be patient with yourself and others, and don't hesitate to learn something new.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.