Many would like to think of themselves as born leaders, but most don’t really know if they can truly lead until they are put in a position of leadership. Can they handle the pressure? Can they inspire their team? Can they gain the trust of investors?
Leaders find themselves navigating various situations, mostly challenging ones, with more ease and confidence than others. They are in control. They convey trust. They are reliable. Being a leader is not easy, but what is even more difficult is being an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are the ultimate leaders. They find themselves taking all the financial and business risks, putting immense pressure on themselves, asking their family to make sacrifices, putting their social life on hold, and having to prove to the world on a daily basis that their business is worth believing in.
When people become entrepreneurs, they are making the tough decision of putting everything on the line. They typically have a thin financial cushion and expose themselves to a high rate of failure. It’s high stakes. The perfect example of “high risk high return”. And if they want to navigate through this risky environment, they need to exhibit exceptional leadership skills.
Entrepreneurship is the best business class in the world. It’s also where you learn the best lessons in life. Nothing in the world prepares you for what you are about to face. No matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, the rollercoaster ride you are about to embark on has the most unexpected turns, drops and loops.
As I finish my third year as co-founder of experiential eco-lodge management company, ENVI Lodges, along with my business partner Nöelle Homsy, and having raised our first two rounds of funding, launched the brand, secured eight projects worth US$100 million (with three about to open), and spent sleepless nights, I wanted to share with aspiring entrepreneurs 10 lessons that I learned on the first ride of my startup life.
- Talk to everyone: You never know which doors will open. Help can come from unexpected places. Even strangers. Outside of family and close friends, the biggest support I received was from the people who were not on my list. They had a profile and a network very different to mine, and hence I never thought they could be valuable to me. I was wrong. Reach out to everyone. You never know who can really be valuable.
- Don’t listen to everyone: When you’re creating a startup, everyone around you becomes a consultant and an expert in launching companies, including those who never did. While they all mean well, what they say may not apply to your business. We all read business books, but your business plan is not necessarily a typical MBA project. It’s ok not to agree with people or follow their advice. You have the vision, so follow your guts.
- Drop the ego: An investor didn’t show up on a call. I rescheduled it, then he cancelled again. I thought he wasn’t serious and decided that I won’t contact him again. I was offended. But for some reason I changed my mind, I got on a call with him few days later, and he ended up investing in the company and introduced me to another investor (who also invested).
- Don’t give up: It’s ok to have doubts. It’s ok to wake up at night feeling that you want to drop everything and go back to a safe corporate life. Many entrepreneurs go through this phase. But don’t give up. Entrepreneurship is about courage and discipline: you need courage start your entrepreneurship journey, and discipline to consistently work hard and control your emotions.
- Stick to your story: You don’t need to have tech innovation to be an attractive start up. While most investors will only put their money in tech, many opportunities lie outside the tech world. A start-up can fill a gap in an underserved market, without being an innovator or tech oriented. Don’t get influenced by incubators or VCs, by trends and buzz words just because everyone else is into them. Don’t push your company off track to please investors. Stick to your story.
- Focus on what matters: There are never enough hours in a day to do what founders need to do. You get pulled in all directions. Your days are like a roller coaster: you jump from major tasks to minor ones. You switch hats constantly: from finance to marketing, sales to IT. You spend many hours on endless Zoom calls. Everyone wants to meet you (hopefully). Don’t try to do everything. Focus. Go only after what adds value in the short/medium term, and what is crucial for survival.
- Don’t do the norm: People told me that I have to show a proof of concept otherwise noone will invest in the company or sign contracts with me. It’s called an MVP. That’s probably the normal thing to do in tech. But what if you’re not in tech? What if you can do things differently? I didn’t listen. I knew we could sign several deals without having an MVP. And we did. If I had followed the norm, I would be three to four years behind my business plan.
- It’s all about marketing: Marketing wasn’t always taken seriously in business schools. But with the rise of the digital world, marketing overtook many disciplines and became crucial for start-ups. When working on your budget, make sure you allocate enough money to spend on digital marketing and related areas. It’s all about your brand image, your ability to reach investors, and the need to create a community around your company.
- Be your authentic self: People invest in you rather than in your idea. Anyone can copy the concept. But not everyone is you. It’s all about the founders. You need to be honest with your investors. It’s ok not to have all the answers. It’s ok to show some weakness. But make sure you show commitment, passion, hard work, and demonstrate an ethical behaviour.
- Make time for family: It’s easy to get lost in your job. There is so much to do. While you are doing this for your family, for their future, you may negatively impact their present. You tend to put work first because every minute counts, every penny counts. But nothing is more precious than family time. Know when to pause, when to spend time with your kids and life partner. Talk to them about how they’re feeling about the change. Their life is impacted by what you do, so make sure they’re included in the journey.
There is nothing that can prepare you to becoming an entrepreneur. And it’s never the right time. You just have to try. The business idea has to be well studied. The numbers have to be compelling. The team has to be carefully selected. The investors’ deck has to look good. The rest, is all up to the founder(s); the ultimate leaders that are embarking on the ride of their life.
About ENVI Lodges
ENVI Lodges is a luxury experiential eco-lodge brand and management company born in the Middle East. The company operates eco-friendly lodges that are immersed in nature and located in remote destinations, with properties signed to date located in Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Oman and Zanzibar.
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