Don’t Repeat The Mistakes That I Did
A former pro skier breaks down the lessons learned from two failed businesses.
I approached my journey into private enterprise the same way I did my professional career as a skier: by dissecting what the best were doing to gain insights. I sought direct contact with the likes of Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin while becoming a student of the industry itself.
I assumed that the qualities required to be a world-class athlete were necessary for any kind of success. But the will to succeed in sports also blinded me as I entered this next chapter of my life.
In the past five years I’ve launched several businesses: an online ski school, an e-commerce store, a marketing agency that has brought me the lion’s share of revenue… and then there’s my graveyard of less notable attempts.
Here are the lessons learned through my initial, and less-than-stellar, efforts….
1. Know your biases
Willpower comes from a bias. It is an unconscious tendency to overestimate our ability to accomplish any task.
In my case, it led me to be unable to see that I didn’t have a product that fit the market with my first business until I invested a large portion of my capital, time and energy into something that wasn’t viable. I refused to believe it and moved on.
My second mistake was the sunk cost fallacy. I thought that since I had invested a large amount of my time, money, and energy…. I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. If I tried harder? I would succeed.
My prejudices blinded me as I continued to invest in a product that had no viability. I became too attached to my initial idea instead of remaking a business that actually brought value to the market.
Quickly identify your biases so you can protect yourself from them. Gary Vaynerchuk, former Belarusian wine critic and current multi-million dollar digital marketing guru, often talks about how the key to success is self-awareness. Seek advice from veterans who can help you hone your ideas to avoid self-imposed traps.
2. Test assumptions
I still believe there are millions of businesses in the U.S. alone that need better designed Web sites.
But instead of relying on my then-vague assumptions, I should have focused on the real numbers: How many businesses are there in the U.S.? How many, on average, have a decent Web site? How many have enough money for the kind of URLs I design? How many are going to actively seek out someone to help them with their domain?
When you test each hypothesis separately, you have the opportunity to analyze the data and understand the market before letting biases lead you to make questionable decisions. I found myself stringing together a list of assumptions that “had to be true” to create the belief that I could do it.
If I had gained knowledge with a data-driven approach, I would have actually enjoyed the process, rather than constantly silencing the questioning voices inside my head due to delusions of grandeur.
When I began to view business as a series of hypotheses to be scientifically tested, I learned a lot about how to accept failure and move on from my many mistakes.
Related: Why Failure is Necessary to Succeed as an Entrepreneur
3. The more you rush, the longer it will take you.
In the beginning, I wanted things to manifest in unrealistic time frames and it plagued my ability to produce tangible results. That sense of urgency made me overly confident in my idea and that it could happen on the fly.
After succeeding on the World Freeski Tour, I lived under the illusion that my athletic trajectory could easily be replicated in the business world. This was largely due to my overconfidence.
I set very unrealistic expectations for myself. It seemed to work on the track, so I assumed it would work with a startup company. Unfortunately, that slowed my progress and created friction in moving toward the end goal.
Rushing the process of hiring outside agencies (or internal employees) can be deadly. Do your due diligence on whatever route you choose while understanding that you can’t rush the process.
4. A solid product trumps all-in-one solutions.
When I first changed careers, I didn’t understand that once you have a satisfied customer base it is much easier to expand laterally. The key word is “happy.” That’s why you hear so much talk about reducing the number of clients. It’s more important to have a repeatable system that generates happy clients than to have “boutique” solutions for every client.
Advice like “say yes and learn to do it later” is a dangerous perspective to live by depending on your level of competition. Learning to narrow your niche is one of the hardest things to do as an entrepreneur.
I used to question whether I should take on a project and kept saying “yes” regardless. That led to a lot of late nights, stress and barely satisfied clients. Lately, I’ve found that limiting my service offering to a repeatable system is the most effective decision I can make.