6 Months Later: Lessons Learned From Being an Entrepreneur/CEO

It’s been 6 months since I started working full time with NextDrop, so I thought it was time to write about the things I’ve learned from my job.

First, I want to start by making an important distinction between the terms entrepreneur and CEO: A CEO is a leader of people, and an entrepreneur is a creator of opportunity and innovation.  That doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive, but I think it’s a mistake to think they are synonymous.

The closest definition of entrepreneur I found (that made sense to me) was actually one of entrepreneurship by Greg Watson:  

A process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value.

So an entrepreneur is someone who identifies opportunities, allocates resources, and creates value.  Where does it mention people?  Leading the team?  It doesn’t.  That’s where the CEO definition comes in (this is my favorite definition):

A CEO does only 3 things: Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders.  Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company.  Make sure there is always enough cash in the bank.

The first part is very important: setting the overall vision and communicating it to everyone means leading your team and making sure everyone knows what they are doing to help make that vision a reality.  If you master that simple statement, you have become a leadership zen master.

So my job is interesting because it’s a combination of both.  I have to try and be a good CEO, and a good entrepreneur.  That being said, these are the main takeaways from the past 6 months:

1.  Admit when you are wrong:  This sounds so simple, but let me tell you it’s incredibly hard.  I remember a situation when I was running a meeting, and describing the course of action I was planning to take.  However, during the meeting, someone raised a good point about how my idea was actually probably not the best for the company at that point.  The first thing that ran through my mind was, “Are you serious?! I just spent a week preparing for this implementation!  All that work going to waste!”  And then I felt…angry I think.  Random anger.  I of course didn’t say anything at that point, and I let the other people chime in and voice their opinions (which were, of course, that my idea was a not great).  I didn’t say anything else, thanked everyone for their time, and let myself cool off.  I was pissed, but pissed because…I was wrong.  It’s NEVER fun being wrong, but it happens all the time.  And I realized that the best thing to do is just to get used to it, admit when others are right, and then move on.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover, but when logically, someone convinced you (with cold hard facts) that what you said was not right, you need to put your ego aside and go with it.  So the next day I sent an updated email with the new plan (the one everyone else thought was great) and that’s what we did.  Which turned out, was the best move.

2.  For an early stage company, there are no magic wands to wave (yes, you must do all your own hard work):  Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something you don’t need.  It’s SO incredibly tempting to bring in external organizations to do things like understanding your customer/marketing your product or service, selling/scaling your service or product, hiring talent, or any other key function.  Here’s the thing:  If you cannot sell your service to your first 5 customers, nobody else can.  And if they tell you otherwise they are lying.  If you don’t understand your own customer, NOBODY else will be able to (so don’t pay a premium to bring on consultants to do that).  It won’t work.  You know the most about your own company, so if you can’t do it, do you REALLY think someone else can?  The answer is no (no matter how much you wish it weren’t so).

3.  Don’t be afraid to say no:  Sometimes, when you are a small organization and nobody knows you, its very tempting to just say yes to any larger organization that wants to partner with you.  The thing is, you are the only one looking out for you.  You must be VERY clear what your company needs at that point in time, and if motives/incentives aren’t EXACTLY aligned, it is best to politely decline, or suggest revisiting the subject at another time.  The thing about partnerships is that they will probably still be there in the future (and if that opportunity is still not there in a few months then chances are it wasn’t the best partnership anyway).  You can lose lots of precious time if you enter into the wrong partnership.  And since in the startup world, time is literally money, just have the courage to be true to your company, and your vision- no matter how scary it is to say no.

These are the beginnings of a much longer list of learnings which I hope to fill out this year

Happy New Year

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