I have been around the tech entrepreneurial world for most of my professional career. At a certain point, feeling dissatisfied and removed from my previous aspirations, I decided to reboot and take control of my life. I must confess that this journey has been way harder than I ever imagined. In reviewing some of the mistakes I have made, I have few insights that I want to share, hoping they can help you prepare for your journey.
1. Giving up – when the going gets tough
I started with a blog, hoping to learn more about the industry, find connections, and build an audience. I read the advice of other bloggers and their warnings about how long it takes to start picking up traffic. After blogging for about 8 months, I hadn’t found any connections, I hadn’t grown an audience, and I had a very small list of subscribers. I decided to give it up. I convinced myself that it was not worth the effort. That I would be better working on developing my venture and not wasting time trying to make my blog successful.
How wrong I was! I could have learned so much from just hanging on in there. Looking back at my blog stats, I can see that it had just started picking up when I stopped posting. This trend continued for a few months and then slowed down significantly. What I could have learned is that by being consistent and open to some changes and improvements, I could probably have started to enjoy the fruits of my labor. No doubt I should have made changes to my content, maybe even, as some suggest, finding a niche to focus on so I could reach a more targeted, engaged, and involved audience. Identifying a niche can help, but I think it is more about usefulness, making sure that your posts revolve around solving a problem, mastering your writing, and adapting your content to market needs and to how you can help others.
2. Moving to the next challenge thinking this one will be easier
The entrepreneurial journey is full of challenges. You need to get used to that and embrace it. If you haven't solved your first challenge, what makes you think you can handle the second or the third? In my case, the same challenge I faced with my blog repeated itself with my venture. Reaching new audiences is no doubt the major obstacle for all new bloggers, online businesses, or startups. Don’t get me wrong, not every tech entrepreneur needs to start with a blog, but in my case, it was part of my penetration strategy and a way to better understand my customers' needs and problems.
I learned the hard way that these days blogging is no different from any other entrepreneurial endeavor. Bloggers who don’t treat their blog as a "business" will not keep it up, and by saying "business" I mean: defining your audience and your message, serving your customers, hiring help, building a business plan, and planning the execution. Learning how to improve your ranking, how to make money blogging, how to manage your social media without burnout is all part of the deal.
It is important to acknowledge that your confidence is built from successful encounters and solving challenges, so make sure you do your best to master every challenge before you move on to the next.
3. Keeping it all in your mind instead of confronting feedback
All plans, ideas, and aspirations look great in your mind’s eye. There, anything is possible, everything is attainable, and everyone is receptive to whatever you have to offer. However, all products, services, or ideas that aim to help or be used by others reach the moment when they need to be tested by their target audience. Entrepreneurs understand the importance of finding a mentor, consulting with other experienced entrepreneurs and advisors, and getting their feedback; but that is not enough. The earlier you find adaptors, first readers, and first users or build case studies or proofs of your concept, the better! There is no way around that. You may be lucky with your launch, but you may also encounter hard and bitter disappointment. Forward planning can not only create a soft launch and manage expectations, but it can also improve your product, whatever it might be. Getting into the discussion ahead of time, interviewing potential users, finding real users for usability testing, and building a small group of testers will all result in an improved offering.
4. Postponing the business side of your venture to a later stage
Entrepreneurs who start their journey from a passion tend to postpone the monetization aspect of their business to a later stage. As a blogger, for example, you can always blog for yourself or write a memoir or a diary. But let's face it, your ultimate goal probably isn’t to start a pleasant hobby that you spend over 1,000 hours a year on!
Likewise, B2C entrepreneurs aim to reach a large audience as soon as possible and only then work out ways of making money. Every entrepreneur thinks that they will be different, that they will succeed where others have failed. For example, if you are bootstrapping, you need to think from the outset about how you plan to make money. You cannot just disregard the business side of your venture, assuming it will somehow take care of itself. If you cannot generate a cash flow quickly, then you need to fundraise. Fundraising has also its own rules, and a valid business model is central to this. Likewise for bloggers, if your goal is to turn your blog into a side or even a full-time income, you need to plan it from day one (here is a good blog post to help you get started). Yes, Cinderella stories do occasionally come true, but let's be honest, we don’t want to be relying on fairytales! Planning ahead, considering alternatives, and looking the challenge in the eye is the best strategy that I can recommend.
5. Launching first and only then starting to market
Building more social media followings takes time—likewise your brand's blog. That's why it is wise to build brand awareness through social media and blog maintenance way before you even think of launching your product. Waiting for the launch is a mistake. Here is how you can prepare: start interacting with your potential audience through the relevant channels, try different messages, get feedback, build an email list if possible, and create connections; they will all be ready and waiting when the time comes.
6. Thinking your venture can do well all by itself
Strategic collaborations are a must in our world of ever-expanding screens and information. Through collaborations you can reach new and large audiences and slowly build your market share. In a world which is hyper-connected and overloaded with opportunities, those who find ways to work together have an advantage over their competitors. The key to successful collaboration is making sure there are benefits for both sides. Collaborations can be with potential customers or with other service providers whose product complements yours.
There is one piece of general advice that is applicable to all of these 6 insights: don't just get around the problem but face it head on! We are all inclined to concentrate on solving the problems that are within the comfort zones of our strength and expertise. It's like water looking for ways to flow; it will not crack the hard rock but rather find its way through the sand or the limestone. But that's the wrong way for entrepreneurs to go about things. We mustn’t let stones stand in our way but rather find our way through them. Such obstacles are always an opportunity for growth, and that is where our progress comes from.
Since I haven’t yet reached my goals, I am likely to make some more mistakes along the way. I am sure that these too will be mistakes we can all learn from in order to get better at what we do and be where we want to be. As always, I would love to learn about your challenges and the mistakes you have made that we can all learn from.