12 Mental Shifts That Helped Me Enter the Business World at 19
Left: My-cofounder, Right: Me (Source)
I recently recounted how being a good student harmed my entrepreneurial success in the early years. I’d been a good student for a long time but never did I realize that it would hurt my business success.
After a couple of failed attempts at starting businesses, I knew there was something wrong with me — the industry, the market, and the product were all secondary. It’s what’s inside the entrepreneur that counts first.
I spent a lot of time reading about famous entrepreneurs to learn how they think. Gradually, I started picking up on some of their traits — that had to happen after reading Steve Jobs’s biography five times cover-to-cover.
Even still, the next level in my growth came when I started hanging out with other founders. I saw that the same fire was burning inside all of us — the fire to learn and do something different.
I spoke with all kinds of founders, from those who were just doing something in their studio apartment to those who’d raised multiple rounds of funding. Using all those conversations and my (failed) experiences, I understood some of the mindset shifts that were imperative to make it in business.
Here are a few of those I’ve picked up along the way.
Continuously Learn and Fire Yourself
I read somewhere that the only purpose of the founder is to do a job well and then fire yourself from it.
When I stepped into the world of business, I had no money. For months, I kept dwelling on my “startup idea” while saving little bits of cash from here and there. When finally I had enough money to hire a developer, I hired one and gave him some equity to come on board.
That was by far the dumbest decision I could ever make. First, as a commerce student, I had no understanding of what makes a good programmer. Further, I had no experience in hiring. I was just too happy that a strange is interested in my idea.
Both I and my co-founder lost all the cash we gave to the guy. Perhaps, we should’ve understood why he was asking cash upfront along with the equity!
From then on, I realized that I need to do the job first myself before hiring someone else. So I started learning how to code and build the whole product myself. I consider this to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life to date. And then, when I was doing fine, I started the process of firing myself and finding someone else who could do it better.
Armed with my deeper understanding of technology, I could find the best intern or employee I needed to get the work done. And then what did I do?
I moved on to something else. I took care of sales, marketing, and growth. Because that’s what founders are supposed to do — reinvent themselves over and over again.
This process went on until we shut the company down. At the end of the wonderful ride, I knew more skills than people twice my age and learned how to work with all kinds of people.
Paul Graham rightly said, startup = growth. And not only the growth of your company but your growth as a founder.
Concentration Is Paramount
Concentration is one of those things that everyone wants but few are willing to work hard enough for. In a world that favors multitasking, we’ve forgotten how to focus on one thing for a long stretch of time.
In the case of founders and entrepreneurs, this problem compounds fast if not controlled. As a founder, there are a zillion things on your plate. You can’t possibly be “done.” That’s just a fact of life we have to get accustomed to.
But that is not an excuse to stop working on your focus and concentration skills. In fact, if you lose focus, the whole company loses focus. That’s what I learned in the first few months of my journey.
Every time I was burned out or distracted, it would hardly take a week for everything to come crashing down. It taught me to take a step back, sharpen the saw and take things one at a time while keeping the big picture in mind.
Working on my productivity was one of the most important things on my mind as a founder. I had to be efficient, there’s really no other choice.
Relationships Are More Important Than You Think
I wasn’t necessarily the person who thought of succeeding alone. Yet, I wasn’t also proactive about building relationships. Still, if I had a dime for every time one of my business connections has helped me, I wouldn’t need to work!
A company is nothing but a group of people. When you operate from that reality, you start to care more about who you’re working with instead of what you’re working for.
I’ve always had the tendency to be a “go-getter” and start working on things myself. But lately, I’ve realized that the only true shortcut to achieve your goals in life is to learn from someone who’s already done it.
Connect with new people, provide value and you’ll have a meaningful relationship in your hand.
How to do it:
Don’t think of relationships as an endless cycle of “I owe you” and “You owe me now.” Give first — selflessly, without expecting anything in return. Opportunities will come to you on their own time.
For business connections, I can’t think of anything better than LinkedIn (hit me up!). Another alternative that has worked well for me is online communities.
Find where these people are hanging out and be there. Block a chunk of time every week to do this. If it’s not on your calendar, you’ll not do it.
Defining Success on Your Own Terms
The word “success” itself is weird. It can be writing a NY Times bestseller or making an app that gets millions of downloads. For some, it can be earning bucketloads of cash and for others, it can be landing the cover of Entrepreneur.
Whatever it is that you define success with, make sure it comes from your heart and not imposed by your environment. Let me explain. As a high school kid, I watched and read about famous entrepreneurs. I binged on SharkTank every day.
Naturally, the model of success was clear in my mind: Making something cool, raising tons of money, and going to work in jeans and a T-shirt. But that wasn’t what I really wanted. Unfortunately, it took me two years to realize that!
I was more passionate about personal and spiritual growth than about earning a lot of money. I cared more about impacting lives than getting covered in a magazine. This changed my life forever and is the foundation of my career ahead.
Question your own vision of success. If it doesn’t resonate with you, you can achieve it as many times as you want, but you’ll never be happy.
Living with Intention
It seems corny to write this, but one of the core beliefs that I had to ingrain was simply this: “I have the power to create my best life.” Most people live life on autopilot never thinking about their long-term goals and what they’d like to achieve.
If we don’t intend to live our best life, it’s easy to roam from job to job, making meaningless contributions and questioning ourselves — “How the hell did I land up here?”
Once you decide to live intentionally, you can take your energy and time away from things that are not aligned with your purpose. This is when your journey of growth will begin. And there’s only one direction you can go from there — up.
Think More About Serving
It’s easy for entrepreneurs to become too self-centered — “My business,” “My time,” “My finances,” and so on. It’s understandable, for you’ve built it from the ground up.
But being self-centered isn’t going to help you work with others. As the founder, I had to realize that I was working for the people in the company and not the other way round.
When you remove yourself from the equation, when you forget about your needs in the service of others, everything works out. They will see your pure intention because you cannot hide true compassion and kindness. Gradually, all of it will come back to you.
It’s incredibly mind-expanding to start seeing things from everyone else’s perspective. Focus on giving value and find out what others want from you. If you help them get where they want to go, they will help you get where you want to go; it’s simple.
Your environment casts layers on your true self. The layer of expectations, prejudices, and doing things the way they’ve always been done. These layers are false identifications you need to work to remove.
No one in my immediate family or environment was into entrepreneurship. Till I was 15 years old, I wanted to become a lawyer. Thank God, I had enough self-awareness to know that my path is entrepreneurship and doing my own thing.
When you don’t know who you are, everything seems exciting. And everyone seems to be doing good. But once you know your path and get crystal clear on your purpose, you can ignore all the noise to follow your bliss.
It’s not about finding your passion. It’s simply about knowing what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, and what you want in life.
Accountability Is Happiness
Taking responsibility hurts. Admitting you messed up hurts. But it hurts even more to take responsibility for someone else’s mess-ups. But that’s our job as leaders and founders.
Whatever happens is your fault. If an employee messes up, you hired them. If the campaign wasn’t released, you made the process to do that. But it’s not as grim as it sounds.
You see, embracing responsibility is freedom, and escaping it is, well, just running away. When you blame it on others, you can’t do anything — you feel helpless and lost. Only once you accept the responsibility for whatever happened, you can work to find the solution for it.
Bouncing the ball to someone else makes you lose control. And not being able to improve the situation even though you want, hurts more than taking the blame.
Reaching Your Goals Won’t Make You Happy
If you’re not happy right now, you’ll not be happy ever. Often we think that once we achieve our targets we’ll be happy. That’s couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the Arrival Fallacy.
Dr. Ben-Shahar also explains why Hollywood stars often struggle with mental health issues:
“These individuals start out unhappy, but they say to themselves, ‘It’s O.K. because when I make it, then I’ll be happy,’” he said. But then they make it, and while they may feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. “This time, they’re unhappy, but more than that they’re unhappy without hope,” he explained. “Because before they lived under the illusion — well, the false hope — that once they make it, then they’ll be happy.”
It’s not only that you don’t feel happy. You instead feel hopeless and empty. As Mark Manson argues in his book Everything is F**ked, humans need hope to live. Without hope, there’s nothing to look forward to.
And so in that fleeting moment of achievement, you realize you need another goal. Ergo, the vicious cycle begins.
Break that cycle by being happy and grateful right now.
The Higher the Price, the Less the Trouble
When I was working to sell my products to companies, I quickly got into the bad habit of competing on price. If someone told me “But we’re getting more features with XYZ company,” I’d say, “Yeah, but our rates are cheaper.” Such an amateur move!
A few months of low-paying clients made me realize that the higher you charge, the fewer hassles you have in business. The clients who pay more are way more sophisticated and credible. They’re talking real business. They don’t like to mess around.
I used to run after people for weeks to get them to pay a few hundred dollars. But when we increased our rates, suddenly we didn’t need to worry as much.
Of course, we couldn’t raise rates blindly. We had to work with our clients to provide the best value to them. We had to make sure that we understood their problem better than anyone else in the market. In short, we needed to prove ourselves worthy.
After all this effort, they paid our rates without complaining. As a result, I could focus more on work and less time thinking about whether the person will pay us or not.
Working More Is Almost Never the Answer
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” — Henry Ford
It’s easy to get blindsided by the hustle culture. After all the Vaynerchucks and the Musks of the world are constantly telling us that we need to work till our fingers bleed and eye pop out.
What they don’t talk about is working smart. They’re working incredibly hard and smart as well. But we can’t see that. Thus, in our efforts to emulate them, we just throw things at the wall to see what sticks.
Things in life are mostly not achieved by brute force. You need to think hard on why you’re doing what you’re doing. In his essay on productivity, Sam Altman writes:
“It doesn’t matter how fast you move if it’s in a worthless direction. Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored. So think about it more! Independent thought is hard but it’s something you can get better at with practice. I make sure to leave enough time in my schedule to think about what to work on. The best ways for me to do this are reading books, hanging out with interesting people, and spending time in nature.”
The best leaders and founders are constantly delegating tasks and optimizing their processes so they can spend time on high-value tasks.
When I started writing online, I did all kinds of useless stuff like setting up a website, SEO, and whatnot. Guess what? I hardly wrote two articles a week.
Then I divided tasks clearly between me and my co-founder. I solely focused on writing and he focused on the website and design aspects of things. The result? I was writing ~4–7 articles a week that were generating traffic and building a big enough backlog.
A couple of weeks ago, we again realized that we’re running like headless chickens. We produced content just for the sake of it never thinking about a long-term strategy that will help us achieve a clear target to build a business.
We’re now working on defining clear strategies and processes to reach there. So you see, you have to work backward and reiterate infinitely — it’s an endless process.
Don’t make your business a mindless rat race. Be intentional and think often about if you’re heading in the right direction.
Take Advice From People Who Have Skin in the Game
Two years ago, when we started a retail-tech business-building software for retail companies, we took advice from just about anyone. Then we wondered why the right things were not happening.
That’s when it hit us — we need to talk to someone who’s built a similar business in the same industry and not some random coach on LinkedIn.
We got in touch with one of the board members of a retail-tech company (not a competitor) and asked him for advice. As it turned out, he got on board and invested in us as well.
From then on, we went from talking to companies with five stores to giants with 1000+ stores across the country. The effort was the same. The sales pitch was the same. But the people were different, more experienced, and richer.
That’s how your life can change when you just get in touch with the right people. In fact, knowing the right person is the only shortcut in life.