What I Would Tell My Younger Self… Advice from Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs must make crucial decisions; however, these are often shaped through experiences of both success and failure. Will Szabo explores the valuable lessons that entrepreneurs learn and inspire them to develop the resilience necessary to create and innovate.
“My main mistake was to value the input from advisors more than my own life experience” - José Cornejo, Entrepreneur, Venezuela.
Entrepreneurship in Bahrain is on the rise, with an increasingly diversified economy to complement the once dominant oil and gas industries. According to the World Bank, Bahrain is on target to deliver one of the Middle East’s highest rates of economic growth this year. It predicts that the country’s economy will expand by 2.6 % during 2019, rising to 2.8% in 2020, ahead of many of its neighbours.
While I was fortunate enough to attend the 2019 annual GEC in Bahrain, I was surrounded by hundreds of successful entrepreneurs who have plenty of experience in their respective industries. With this in mind, I set out on a mission to delve into the intricacies that make a successful entrepreneur, specifically the advice that they would give to their younger self.
Jonathan Ortmans, the president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) opened the Congress offering an insight into his experiences, where he stressed the importance of building a network. Networking “establishes a mutually beneficial relationship with other people and potential clients and/or customers.” This point was reinforced in a workshop I attended titled What Founders Wish They Knew Beforehand where entrepreneur Dave Moskovitz stressed the need to “have a good team and accept that it will likely change as the needs of the business evolves”.
So, are networking and team-building always the crucial ingredients to entrepreneurship and to overcome the liabilities of newness?
The next entrepreneur I spoke to thought differently. Armando Viteri, an experienced venture capitalist, has had his fair share of entrepreneurs walk through his door. He summarised his advice down to three points;
- Figure out what is your “solution” to the problem in hand.
- Then, decipher who your audience is and understand your capital.
- Finally, ensure you have a good mentor.
His third point, the concept of ‘mentorship’ has been discussed frequently during the GEC 2019. A “mentor” is an individual who has experience and expertise that you can emulate and learn from. Mentors come in all shapes and forms and have proven to be very beneficial. From a survey of over 180 business owners conducted by UPS, 70% of the entrepreneurs that underwent mentoring had businesses that survived for 5 or more years. That is double the rate of businesses that didn't have the advantage of a mentor! But, a mentor isn’t a consultant, a lawyer or an institute that can make money and take advantage of you. A true mentor won’t charge you a fee for their advice.
The next entrepreneur I spoke to was Garrett Johnson, co-founder of LINCOLN based in Silicon Valley. He emphasised one point: “be customer centric.” Customer centricity is an important factor in the success of a business. Focusing on your customer creates a mutual engagement, adding competitive advantage to your company.
Whether it be teamwork or customer engagement, every entrepreneur has their own intricacies and biographies that they pay homage to and use to advise the next generation of entrepreneurs. Some like Ortmans refer their success to personal characteristics. Whereas others, like Garrett Johnson, credit the strategies used.
But despite all this, many entrepreneurs like Jonas Kjellberg, the co-creator of Skype, embrace the importance of failure and note that it is equally valuable in shaping future directions and knowing your limits. In his keynote speech at the conference, Jonas said “you need to have a culture of failure when it comes to developing the start-up ecosystem”. The nature of business creation is synonymous with risk, and according to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy 2018 around 20% of businesses don’t survive their first year. After all, failure is a notable trend for entrepreneurs. So, is the aspiring entrepreneur meant to aspire to fail? Accepting failure and the consequences both personal and economic that are attached with this are crucial in developing a risk-taking and opportunity driven entrepreneurial ecosystem. Alongside team work, mentorship and strategic thinking, the ability to become resilient is an enduring entrepreneurial trait and one that will no doubt remain a constant in the entrepreneurial story.
Will Szabo is a second year BA Business Management student at the University of Sheffield and policy analyst at the GEC. This post is part of a series from the Global Leadership Initiative's team of eight students at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2019 in Bahrain from 15th to 18th April.
Image credit: Georgie Pauwels via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)