If you scour the Internet looking for tips on entrepreneurship, you can read forever. Unfortunately, a lot of the advice is of mixed quality and comes from people who haven’t necessarily succeeded at anything. To me, the “who” behind the advice matters as much as the “what,” because ultimately, you have to believe that the person giving you advice has actually been in your shoes.
This is why I’ve built my startup strategy using advice from billionaire mentors such as Mark Cuban and Richard Branson. They are the ultimate sounding board. I can test my ideas with them and feel confident that I will get honest feedback based on their depth of experience and success. Here, I’d like to share the five most important business lessons these billionaire mentors have inspired.
1. Build something that actually solves a problem.
If you want to build a valuable and sustainable business, approach your venture with a problem-solution framework. The most successful companies in the world emerge from genuine needs and consequently create real opportunities and value. “Innovation” is just the process of solving a problem with a creative solution that’s never been thought of or executed before.
2. Fail fast.
Your first attempt to develop something that has the right product-to-market fit probably won’t work. The sooner you understand what’s not working, the sooner you’ll arrive at a working solution. Therefore, the key is to iterate quickly and ship frequently. Building something that provides value to its respective market will require multiple attempts and failures. This was the case with every company I’ve built.
3. Build a great team and you’ll typically end up with a great product or service.
Most entrepreneurs think startups are all about the idea. They’re not. Initially, most ideas are way off base and don’t have product-to-market fit.
Investors such as Cuban and Branson look at the team as much as the product. If you have a team that knows how to problem-solve and persevere, you can brainstorm, iterate and prototype until you arrive at the right idea. The right team has the right blend of attitude, intelligence, perseverance, passion and domain expertise. Investors know it when they see it.
4. Build culture from the start.
Culture is the foundation of your company, and culture comes from people, not theory. Today, I follow the SWAN formula: Smart, Works Hard, Ambitious and Nice. If you hire SWANs from the start, the company culture will be organic and build itself. Ultimately, the culture will give your company the momentum it needs to barrel through the roughest parts of entrepreneurship.
5. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.
Both Cuban and Branson have said that the most successful companies in the world create a legacy by breaking the rules and not following common beliefs or thinking. When you think unconventionally, true innovation and disruption can occur. Call it a “paradigm shift,” “transformation” or whatever term gets you motivated. Take the “road less travelled” if you really want to upend an existing business model or traditional industry.
Now, do your own thing. If you based your entire startup strategy around something I wrote here, you’re contradicting tip number five about pushing boundaries. Mentors and commentators should push you to form your own strategy rather than provide fill-in-the-blank answers that apply to each and every scenario. No two startups follow the same path.
So use these tips, but if you want to create something the world can’t ignore, go do your own thing. Make something we can’t read about in a blog post today. If you really want to emulate Cuban or Branson’s model, go build a company they wish they could invest in. Maybe they will.
Article by Charles Michael Yim, originally published on Entrepreneur.
Photography by Kristina Sereikaite. Photos were taken during the VOYAGE Challenge.