Thinking up the product was easy. Building the business was hard.
8 min read
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Imagine how you'd feel if someone told you that your baby is ugly. That's the feeling an entrepreneur suffers when someone tells them their idea "sucks."
Remember Little League baseball when you were growing up? Every player in the league is told they are a winner, and everyone receives a trophy at the end of the season. Entrepreneurship is not like that. Rejection and criticism are part of this game. If you take them personally, your career as an entrepreneur will be brief and miserable. There will be people who will call you a failure and a loser. Discouraging people will remind you, over and over, that the odds are stacked against you.
It's easy to get caught up in all the success stories but what many people overlook is how disproportionate the ratio of failure to success truly is. The purpose here is not to discourage anyone from becoming an entrepreneur — quite the contrary. The intention is to set realistic expectations so that you don't embark on this uncharted journey and immediately find yourself lost.
Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune.
My partners and I were lucky enough to stumble upon a solution to a problem affecting millions of people around the world. After being robbed at the beach, we decided to invent a portable travel safe called the AquaVault. The idea itself is the easiest component of the invention process. The true challenge is bringing the idea successfully to the market.
We began this journey without knowing a single thing about the invention process. We anticipated making a lot of mistakes along the way, and we knew landmines were inevitable. All we hoped for was to not land on one so big we would not be able to recuperate. Early on, to mitigate our risk, we asked the 10 smartest people we knew to give us their brutally honest criticism. We asked each of them for the top two reasons they could envision us failing, then we methodically and precisely addressed those concerns.
Preparation is everything and cannot be emphasized enough. As some anonymous genius once advised, "Don't practice until you get it right. Practice until you can't get it wrong."
Here's what we learned going from an idea on a napkin to an international business generating millions a year.
Related: Five Businesses Born at a Bar
It's never a good time to start an invention.
How much money do I need to set aside to launch an idea? How do I create a prototype? Can I trust a patent attorney to not take my idea? Where do I find a reliable manufacturer? Is China really the best place to manufacture and if so, how do I know my product won't be sold out of the backdoor?
These are all common questions that will run though a person's mind when contemplating an invention. Fear of failure and the unknown are paralyzing emotions that deter many would-be inventors around the world. People are inherently reluctant to leave their comfort zone for something they know little about. This is why an overwhelming majority of ideas are taken to the grave. People are naturally very good at making excuses and talking themselves out of pursuing things that make them uncomfortable, but as Reid Hoffman once said, " An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down."
Stop worrying about all the things that can go wrong and all the hypothetical failure scenarios. The key is to mitigate your risk without crippling your progress. Paralysis-by-analysis is real, so just get to work, learn as you go and make calculated mistakes. Execution is everything. As long as you're making progress and creating a vision, that fear of failure will eventually dissipate as your confidence increases.
Based on my experience, an entrepreneur is better prepared if they can condition themselves to expect the unexpected, be very nimble and embrace the roller coaster they will inevitably ride. The moment you become complacent marks the beginning of the end.
Rejection can crush your heart and leave you in tears
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and when it comes to business, people are cut-throat and desensitized to your feelings. But if you believe in your vision, who cares what others have to say?
Remain hyper-focused and keep your eye on the prize despite what negativity you are exposed to. There will always be naysayers but if you can look past their harsh rejections and focus on the continuous grind of building your business, your chances of success will be much greater. When pitching prospects, keep in mind that they are not cognizant of the blood, sweat and tears that you have sacrificed over months or years. They couldn't care less that you cashed in your retirement accounts, liquidated your savings account and borrowed money from family members to launch your company. They probably look at you as a nuisance and have very little patience for your nonsense.
It is imperative to take rejection with a grain of salt — it is simply a cost of doing business. At the end of the day, it's all a numbers game. Eventually, you will catch someone on a good day. When you do, it's more rewarding than you even imagined. Tenacity and persistence are two qualities every entrepreneur needs — most people fail because they threw in the towel way too prematurely.
If tentrepreneurship was easy, everyone would be doing it. There's a reason that over 90 percent of startups fail within the first three years. There is no rhyme or reason as to why people cave on certain days, other than we are all human. Some days are just better than others. If you catch a buyer on a day that they got into an argument with their spouse, their response to you will be dramatically different than if they received a promotion that morning.
Check your ego at the door and learn when to cut your losses.
An entrepreneur's greatest asset, aside from talent and discipline, is imagination. It's why they accept the unknown challenges of turning dreams into a reality.
Egos are very hard to check at the door when it comes to creating your own blueprint and following your own path. Everyone thinks they're a genius and whoever has a difference of opinion must be intellectually deficient. That mindset will buy you a one-way ticket on a fast train to Chapter 11.
We started our company with one portable safe and have learned from our customers that there is a need for an entirely different product. The original AquaVault, which we believed was forever going to be our flagship product, now takes a backseat to our newest invention, the FlexSafe, which is something we had not envisioned. Our customers' invaluable feedback is the reason we developed our best product yet. Listening to them is how we created a business that went from $ 87,000 our first year to now doing millions.
AquaVault could have continued chugging along producing only one product, but we went back to the drawing board and pivoted away from the product that originally took us years to develop. Pivoting in response to unforeseen circumstances is absolutely necessary in the startup world. Listening to the market is a winning strategy but many entrepreneurs are reluctant to ask for feedback. They are scared of the constructive criticism that naturally ensues. It is never comforting to listen to the negatives but if taken for face value, these suggestions can make a world of a difference. Listen to the people who care and the people who want you to succeed.
Pursuing your passion, beating the odds and creating a business yielding considerable success is a gift beyond words can describe, but never forget what made you successful in the first place. Continue to learn from people who know more than you. Surround yourself with individuals unafraid to challenge you. It is impossible to be a specialist in every area, so assemble specialists exceptional in what they do to create an all-star team that delivers big results. Always remain creative and disruptive because that is what makes most entrepreneurs different from the masses.
Lastly, when times get tough, that's when you have to dig as deep as you can so you can roll with the punches. Never blame others or make excuses for why you gave up. Winners endure the toughest of times because they made the decision early on to never accept failure as an option.