Learning from mistakes is great. Avoiding them completely is better.
By Lisa Falzone (CEO & Co-founder, Revel Systems)
Whether you’re considering launching your own business or are in the throes of securing your Series C funding, there’s no guidebook for how to be an entrepreneur. It’s not traditionally taught in schools, and few have access to influential mentors who have started and grown their companies from the ground-up.
As the CEO of Revel Systems, I founded the company with our CTO and co-founder Chris Ciabarra by identifying a market need at the right time, working hard to build an innovative iPad POS platform and a stroke of luck. Our products are built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs and this mission rings true with all we do. We want to provide technologies that help people start and grow their own businesses.
With this in mind, we created a new program called Revel Scholars to promote entrepreneurship for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Revel Scholars blends a traditional scholarship with a mentorship program to help cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit and provide selected students with monetary resources and guidance to turn their business dreams into a reality.
If you’re looking to break out of the daily grind by starting your own company, here are the most impactful things I learned from starting Revel:
1. You Don’t Have Laser-Sharp Focus
There is a silent focus I learned from swimming competitively since the age of 5 — the feeling of waiting on the block before diving into the cool water, the rush of adrenaline as I waited for the pistol to sound and as I sliced through the water. That rush fuels my life every day as an entrepreneur since much of what I do means diving head-first into the unknown.
To build a great business, entrepreneurs have to embrace the same laser focus, discipline and adrenaline as professional athletes. Every day, athletes capitalize on that burst of adrenaline to drive towards their ultimate goal.
Translating that drive, passion and precision to business has been imperative to Revel’s success and having discipline and a competitive spirit helps you achieve great things.
2. You Embrace Self-Doubt
When I was securing our first round of funding for Revel, the gender disparity was jarring. In pitch meetings at venture capital firms, the receptionist was generally the only woman I saw, and it was rare to see female associates and partners. Though it was impossible not to notice that I was different, I didn’t doubt myself or my abilities. Sure, I was an outsider, but I didn’t let myself feel like one.
Self-doubt is insidious. It can prevent bright, talented people from advocating for themselves. Whether it’s gender that makes you different from the others in your field—or race or ethnicity or even language—it’s important to trust in your instincts and talents to focus on your ultimate goal.
This also has the added benefit of shifting the paradigm over time. As more diverse entrepreneurs create successful companies, the next generation of entrepreneurs will have more role models to look up to. It’s not easy to quiet self-doubt, but things worth working for rarely are.
3. You Don’t Listen to Your Customers from the Get-Go
When Chris and I first partnered to build a business, we wanted to create an online restaurant delivery and ordering app. But when we went to speak to local restaurant owners, it quickly became clear that that wasn’t what our targets customers really needed. By listening closely to our customers’ pain points, we pivoted from our original approach to a completely different product. Had we been married to our initial approach, we wouldn’t have founded Revel.
It takes some pretty serious humility to admit that you might not know what your customers want or need from the onset. We learned that you can’t and shouldn’t spend too much time developing a product before going to market; it’s key to listen to customers first and tailor your product to their actual needs. Trust that your customers might know more than you do.
4. You’re Not Comfortable with Ambiguity
As a History major at Stanford University, I learned a surprising amount about how to run a company. Many people assume that history is a collection of facts, but it’s really a blend of stories and divergent perspectives. It’s up for debate and full of grey areas and so is running a company.
Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty will save budding entrepreneurs a lot of heartache in the long run. There are no guarantees, and things can change on a whim.
Listening to others’ perspectives, maintaining a cool head, and embracing ambiguity sets entrepreneurs up to make smart decisions even under near-impossible circumstances. When it’s crunch time, accept that there may be no right answer. Listen to your gut and go.
5. You’re Too Quick to Hire the Wrong People
My background in liberal arts is hugely important because I understand the customer and the human element of running a business. But I also know that I needed someone on my team with killer technical skills like Chris to advise me on the product-side and in management decisions.
A lot of entrepreneurs are dissuaded from entering the tech field because they assume they have to have a background in computer science to be successful. But that’s simply not the case anymore. With the beauty of the internet, you can learn technical skills or partner with someone who has the right technology expertise.
Running a tech company is as much about the technological backbone as it is about sales, customers and connecting with people. It comes down to building a diverse team that complements your strengths.
Being an entrepreneur has been a fulfilling path for me and countless others, but it’s not always easy. It requires a unique blend of grit, tenacity and humility to build a company from the ground-up.
Few people learn those qualities through traditional educational programs, which is why mentors are so crucial. Mentors allow us to learn from those who have carved out their own path before us. Now that I’ve started Revel, I can hardly wait to provide that support to other budding entrepreneurs.
Which startup mistakes have you learned from?
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.