Ten Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Became an Entrepreneur
(Hebrew version on The Marker)
As far back as I can remember, I had always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. It wasn’t that I dreamt of building a giant company or becoming rich; it was the thought of taking an idea and transforming it into a living, breathing company that excited me. The times were different back when I started, and securing funding was almost impossible, so the dream felt very out of reach.
Two decades have since passed, most of which I spent as an entrepreneur, and the recent years as a venture capitalist. The world of technological entrepreneurship has changed drastically in this time — globally, yes, but in Israel especially. There are many more investors, incubators, and advisors ready to help. However, the challenges and difficulties remain similar.
Following are ten things I did not know (and it’s a shame I didn’t) when I first started out:
1) Don’t go at it alone
Toward the end of my military service was when I began considering my first idea for a company. I felt pretty confident that I had the whole package of an entrepreneur: a strong technological background, managerial experience, and even a degree in business administration. I did not feel the need to look for partners. What value could they possibly add? After a few months, I decided to give up on the idea and move on. It’s possible that the idea wasn’t good enough, but I think I mostly needed someone there with me. Over the years, I have learned that successful entrepreneurship is a team effort. In every company I’ve been involved in, there were partners (yes, even Glilot, which in my opinion is a start-up just like any other). You don’t need too large of a team; two to three people is enough. Establishing a successful company is an extremely difficult — almost impossible — but with the right partner, one that complements your abilities and strengthens you, your chances of succeeding increase significantly. Don’t search for a partner who is similar to you — find one who complements you.
2) There’s no instruction manual for success
Many successful entrepreneurs share their success stories and provide lists of do’s and don’ts. It is always a good idea for an entrepreneur to read their stories in the beginning. However, you should not expect someone else, as talented and successful as they may be, to chart the course for you (this is also true of this blog post…). Over the years, I have learned that there are many different journeys to success. You could raise money from a VC fund and succeed, or you could not raise money at all and still succeed. It is possible to build a successful company based on an excellent technological idea and it is possible to build a prosperous company on a non-technological business concept. If there is anything guaranteed in the entrepreneurial world, it’s that whichever path you take will be unique and special to you. There is no guide, no instruction manual, to success. At the end of the day, you determine the fate and future of your company. No one else will show you a short-cut.
3) Find someone to advise you (1 or 2 people, not too many!)
I must admit — asking for advice is not something I excelled at when I was first starting out. I suppose revealing all your fears to someone takes quite a bit of confidence. If I openly share my fears with someone, it seems to make them more real, more palpable. Perhaps that means I don’t believe enough in my company? In my product? In myself? With time, I learned that asking for advice is one of the most important things you can do. Every entrepreneur knows to expect obstacles along the way. It’s always good to find someone more experienced who has traveled a similar path and can share their experience with you. Their advice may not always be right, but learning from their experience is guaranteed to benefit you. On the other hand, be sure not to have too many advisors; it’s a little difficult to make decisions when you are being drawn in different directions. Find one or two people whom you trust, then set off (by the way, unfortunately, there are many “mentors” and “advisors” who do more harm than good. I’ll expand on that in another post).
4) Be dedicated, and require dedication from others
One thing is common in all the success stories I have experienced: total and complete dedication from the entrepreneurs. A real entrepreneur should feel that their entire world depends on the success of their company. In my experience, people who “try” entrepreneurship because it seems interesting or exciting will have a very difficult time in reaching success. I think this is one of the reasons why entrepreneurs who come from a relatively weaker economic background or who do not have rich parents tend to have an advantage. They have no choice but to succeed. Furthermore, your dedication and commitment must be contagious. Everyone — your partners, investors, employees — must believe in the company and be fully devoted to it.
5) Your family is no less important than your company
In entrepreneurship, as in other fields, the line is often blurred between your career and personal life. Over time, there is a clear connection between the two. You’re going to be in this for the long run, and if you want to succeed, you must dedicate enough time to both. An entrepreneur must find the right balance between family and business, otherwise, it simply will not last. Make no mistake, your commitment to your company must be very strong, but at the same time, you must know how to balance your family life. As a young father, I would try to find time for lunch with my daughters, and nights relaxing at home were a vacation from nights at hotels abroad. Afterall, my family is the biggest reason for all my effort.
6) Ignore the noise. Focus on your customers.
I remember very well the day that my first company completed a major investment round. It was a monumental round. The company’s name (and mine, personally) made headlines — and the feeling it gave me, I must admit, was phenomenal. Throughout a company’s life, there are many days like this: major investments, media appearances, big announcements, etc. But we cannot let these moments distract or confuse us. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that really matters: your customers. They should be satisfied and should buy as much as possible. Make sure to focus on sales, and the chances of your success will grow tremendously.
7) Build the DNA of a winning organization
That’s the sort of sentence that didn’t quite make sense to me 20 years ago. What does it even mean? What is a company’s DNA?
Every company has its own characteristics: How customer-oriented are they? How hungry are they? How flexible or capable of changing? These qualities are established in the first year or two of the company by the founding team, and it is very difficult to change them later on. If you do it right, you will get to enjoy the products of your DNA many years down the road.
8) Create a long-term plan, but don’t take it too seriously
In the first company I built, one of the investors asked for a detailed business plan. We wanted it to be as professional as possible, so we recruited the help of professionals and worked on it for two whole months. That was the summer of 1999. Immediately after that, the tech market crashed and we threw the plan into the trash. Yes, it’s important to plan for the future, but we live in a dynamic world, and conditions are changing constantly. Do not feel tied or fully committed to your long-term plans, as they are likely to change. What’s more, if your plans don’t change in the medium- and long-term, you’re likely doing something wrong. Check yourself again. It’s called being agile, and it means that when the world changes, you know how and when to change it. The ability to adapt to a fast-changing environment is one of the greatest qualities of Israeli culture — do not lose it.
9) There’s one thing you can count on — there will be difficult days
When people see a successful entrepreneur, they tend to romanticize them, believing that they had it easy because they are very talented, or the idea was a guaranteed success, or they had a lot of luck, etc. In all the success stories I personally know, there are many tough days and sleepless nights. If one thing is guaranteed in entrepreneurship, it’s that you will have some terribly difficult days. This is why one of the most important things that you must ensure when building your company is that you are building an organization that could pass through the difficult days (any organization can enjoy the good days…).
10) The journey is long — enjoy it
In the first year of building my first company, I worked like crazy, ‘round the clock. Afterall, it was my company, so I had to work much harder. There is some truth in this: an entrepreneurial team must work very hard to succeed. But you need to ensure that you’re not overdoing it. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We entrepreneurs must learn to find a good work balance and try to enjoy the journey. After two decades, I still work very hard, but always keep in mind to just appreciate the journey I’m on. Had I not learned to slow down and enjoy it all, it would have been impossible to continue.