I never expected to be an entrepreneur. My first business, the mobile user interface (UI) company The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), was set up by six friends who wanted to work with something we loved and learn from our own mistakes rather than from others’. I am not even sure that it actually felt like a startup. TAT became a completely unexpected giant success both personally and financially (the business was bought by Blackberry for $150 million).
When I started my second business, I wanted more than financial success; it had to mean something to me. I believe that an entrepreneur’s true purpose is to try, learn, and experiment rather than follow more conventional ways of achieving success. Therefore, there is more room for failure, which is why in my eyes there are only four ways one can really fail as an entrepreneur. They are as follows:
- Complete and utter personal bankruptcy: If you take loans or borrow too much money from friends and family and don’t succeed in financial terms—and a startup fails as a rule—it may mean that you and your nearest will be in a poor financial situation for a very long time. Avoid it.
- Emotional/relational bankruptcy: Some entrepreneurs ignore everything and everyone that doesn’t contribute directly to their business’s success. But remember, without your friends, family, or good health, you won’t have success in anything. Sleep, eat (without a screen in front of you), and ensure that you meet every week with people who have nothing to do with the business.
- Not trying hard enough: If you don’t put enough work into your business, you have no one to blame apart from yourself. You decide and you’re responsible for your own choices.
- Being an a**hole: Some founders become unpleasantly indifferent to how their business manages. They glorify venture capital and The Valley and decide that the only people who matter come from that world.
In 2000, I developed Crohn’s disease and was in hospital for 6 months. When I was first admitted, I believed that the doctors were the wise ones. They hurried in for 10 minutes in smart doctors’ white coats and pronounced judgment. But the people who actually saved me didn’t wear these white coats. They were the nurses. Underpaid women with a short education to whom the doctors didn’t show much respect. The nurses who took care of me made me realize that it isn’t always the most “skilled” or those with the highest status who contribute most, but those who listen, learn, and sincerely want to help. The nurses carried out most of the work, as is the case in a business where the employees do most of the hard work, while the bosses and the founders get all the credit and a hundredfold higher pay. My simple point, therefore, is that if you preserve your health and your most important relations and value your employees instead of being an asshole, then you’re already a success.
Starting a business is like lighting a bonfire. Most of the time you’re trying to keep it going. You’ll often make mistakes. You’ll believe in things that few others will think possible—that people will rent out their homes to strangers or watch others play games online. On some days, it will feel like you’re standing naked on a stage.
Others will think you’re crazy. You will have doubts about yourself. Many doubts. I did in both of my startups. There will be days when everything is wonderful and mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed. Find local entrepreneurs with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings. They are your co- psychologists. Between you, you can build a team that you’ll be glad to see every single day—people with whom it is pleasant to discuss and share the burdens. Understand that you won’t be able to plan everything at the beginning. The only thing that has any importance in operational terms is learning from your users and building something scalable that serves them.
Entrepreneurship is difficult, but it is also a wonderful way of learning, of developing, and it may perhaps have a positive effect on the world. But it is rare that a startup grows large, becomes well known, or is looked on as a success by the rest of the world. The only way of being successful is, therefore, enjoying the journey just as much as the destination.
Author’s bio; Hampus Jakobsson is a Venture Partner at Blueyard. He co-founded The Astonishing Tribe (acquired by Blackberry in 2010 for $150m). He is also a contributor to The GuruBook: Insights from 45 Pioneering Entrepreneurs and Leaders on Business Strategy and Innovation https://www.thegurubook.org/