As not only the year but also the decade comes to a close, I'm taking a look back at 10+ years of entrepreneurship and asking: what are the most valuable lessons I've learnt along the way?
Out of everything I've done, all the successes and failures along the way, there are 3 things that stand out to me. These are my most valuable lessons and insights from the decade.
1) The Solo Myth
Over the last 10 years, I've been the face of many businesses and products. Most people know me as the Thrive Themes guy, because there are hundreds of Thrive Themes tutorials, content videos and sales videos presented by me.
But just because I'm the face of a company doesn't mean I run the business alone.
I've built up many businesses and business projects from scratch. 2 of these grew to generating over $1MM in annual revenue in short order. And it's no coincidence that in both of them, I had a founding business partner.
I would say that I'm pretty good at solopreneuring. I know I can build up a new business from scratch and make it profitable and lucrative relatively quickly - and I can do it completely by myself. But I also know that together with the right people, I can build something much better, much faster and it will also be financially much more successful.
I think it's a myth of our culture that great success stems from sole individuals. We love to put great leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, athletes and artists on a pedestal. And we like to tell a very simple story: this one extraordinary individual made it all happen. Through a combination of raw talent, hard work and sheer will, this one person built a billion dollar empire (or whatever).
This simply doesn't reflect the reality of success. Every one of these heroic individuals can only do what they're doing thanks to partners, mentors, coaches, team members and employees around them.
The people you surround yourself with make all the difference.
And not least, I'd much rather build something together with a group of excellent people (and share the spoils) than go it alone.
So, while I've often been the talking head of my business ventures, I owe most of my success to the people I've worked with. And I feel extraordinarily lucky that so much of my work these days consists of doing exciting, challenging work with teams of people I admire.
Invest resources in finding great people to work with. Look for people who have similar values to yours and have extraordinary work ethic. And when you find someone who's a perfect fit and a high performer, don't be cheap. Don't try to short-change someone who could be a valuable business partner.
2) The Buffett Effect
In 2007, Warren Buffett issued a bet: he predicted that a simple index tracking fund would outperform a basket of 5 or more hedge funds, over the course of 10 years.
The bet pitched the simplest possible form of investment (buying and holding an index tracker) against the most advanced, most optimization focused and most profit seeking form of investment (high end hedge funds run by teams of specialists).
Buffett won the bet. By a huge margin, to boot.
This is crazy. Think about it: teams of people who's sole job it is to make profitable stock market predictions - people who wear expensive suits and have prestigious high paying jobs and write books and whitepapers and such - didn't manage to outperform the simplest, "dumbest" investment strategy there is.
Why do I bring this up here?
Because I've experienced something similar in my entrepreneurial journey. When I spend time around other entrepreneurs and business owners, it's often apparent that I'm less money focused than average. At any given moment, fellow entrepreneurs are pushing prices, cutting costs, running hard-sale fake-scarcity campaigns and finding other schemes to maximize profits, to a far greater degree than I am.
And yet, after 10 years, very few of them have a larger, more solid, more successful or more profitable business than I do now.
Don't get me wrong: many of my more profit-focused entrepreneur friends are also successful. This isn't an "I won, they lost" situation. I just find it interesting that I don't seem to have suffered any disadvantages from my slower, more product and customer-experience focused approach. At least not when viewed on a 10-year timeline.
I hope this comes as good news to you. I know that many people feel uncomfortable when they learn about copywriting, marketing, sales funnels and so on. Most gurus who teach this kind of stuff will encourage you to be very pushy and salesy. And maybe you sometimes feel like you can't succeed unless you create a fake-scarcity webinar funnel with 17 upsells.
My experience shows a different story. If you focus on building a value based business, you can go long on product quality and customer experience.
Short term profit maximizing doesn't necessarily translate into long term success. If you want to play the long game, focus on delivering real value to your customers and keep investing in that. Combined with solid, honest marketing, the slow growth over many years can lead to superior results.
3) Stuck or Not?
There's something peculiar that stands out to me, looking back at an entire decade. Looking at this entire time span in a "before and after" fashion, it's been nothing but a resounding success. My business has grown in leaps and bounds since the early 2010s. And more than that: my entrepreneurial journey has transformed every aspect of my life.
In 10 years, I've become a better person in almost every way I can think of. I've dramatically improved countless skills that are directly tied to my business. For example, I've become a much better presenter and communicator, I've developed leadership skills, I've become a better marketer and copywriter, I'm far more productive and so on and so forth. But it's not limited to business skills. I've also become a more confident, more content and more empathetic person. I've become a faster learner. I'm more knowledgeable and, dare I say, wiser. And not least, I enjoy almost complete freedom. I have the freedom to travel and work from wherever I wish, I can decide what to do with my time, what to work on and with whom and much more.
Amazing, right? Well, here's the weird thing: the moment-to-moment experience during these 10 years was that I often felt stuck, overwhelmed and frustrated. I was often struggling with how slowly things seemed to be progressing. And I cannot tell you how many failed projects litter this decade. I literally can't tell you, because I didn't keep count. But again and again, I had to give up on something because things just didn't work out. Sometimes because I made too many mistakes and sometimes due to factors outside of my control.
In other words: it has been anything but smooth sailing.
Isn't it bizarre how the moment-to-moment experience of "omg, I can't believe how stuck we are!" results in all these dramatic positive changes on a 10 year span?
But this isn't just a curiosity. I'm adding this here because this may be the most important lesson from the decade. My experience proves what you may have heard in different contexts already, such as:
- Nothing beats consistent effort over time.
- Grit is one of the most reliable predictors of success.
- People overestimate what they can do in 1 year and underestimate what they can do in 5.
I'm here to tell you: it's all true.
When the going gets tough, don't let it get to you. Expect obstacles and build the habit of perseverance. To ensure that you're not blindly banging your head against a wall, check the following:
- Are you following a good strategy? Are you still moving towards the same goals, even if progress is slow?
- Are your skills improving? Are the people who work for and with you improving their skills? Regardless of current successes or failures, are you getting better at the work you do?
- Have you moved forward, compared to 12-24 months ago?
If the answer is "yes" to all three of those, keep going! As long as you check these factors, frustratingly slow progress, maintained for years, will transform your life.
Those are my main takeaways from a decade of building businesses. I hope you find these useful for your own entrepreneurial journey.
And finally, let me say a huge thank you for everyone who's been following along, as I sporadically publish poorly written articles on this blog. I'm grateful for everyone who's been a follower, subscriber and customer along the way. I sincerely hope that you get a lot of value from what I do, because I get so much value from the comments, feedback and suggestions that this community has provided over the years.
Thank you and I wish you all the best!