Who Are You?
The first step you should take in your new startup is to figure out who you are.
(This post is part of this week’s Startup Edition, which poses the question “What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?”.)
As you head out on this journey, you’ll notice that there’s one common denominator in all of your successes, failures, challenges and celebrations: you.
You are the founding entrepreneur. You had the idea and you had the guts to take on the risks attached to running a startup. You also had the vision and the belief that you can conquer the world against all odds.
Looking at those words (and the prevalence of “you”), it seemingly becomes a no-brainer for your first startup steps to be getting to know yourself.
“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.” - Pythagoras
As an entrepreneur, you are the life force of your new startup. And on Day 1, that’s the only thing you have: yourself, your idea, your vision to execute on that and ultimately your drive to make it a success.
If I take all of that away, your startup fails right there and then.
As such, knowledge (of yourself) is power. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can make (better) decisions based on that: you can leverage all of your strengths and find workarounds for your weaknesses. At the very least, you’ll be conscious of your weaker areas, which means it’s not like there’ll be any nasty surprises.
Whilst I don’t think that it’s impossible for you to grow your startup and build your business without knowing much of yourself, I don’t think it’s wise doing so.
The way I see it is that the less you know about yourself, the more cracks eventually appear. Customers, revenues, investors, mentions in the press, and more may plaster over those cracks, but those cracks remain there. That in turn jeopardizes the longer-term sustainability and profitability of your business.
The best example I have for this is working on an idea or startup that you are inherently not passionate about. If you’ve chosen the idea based purely on the market opportunity, you’re likely to reach some point in the future where the idea doesn’t stimulate you anymore; regardless of how well growth or revenues are at the time.
That’s where knowing yourself and knowing what your true passions are becomes helpful in picking ideas (or generally making decisions) that are viable (to you) in both the short & long term.
For me it ultimately comes down to maximizing that one thing that makes my startup truly unique: myself.
That’s not about being arrogant or ignorant, but it is acknowledging that I’m at the core of both the potential success and failure of my pursuits. And as a human being, I’m already unique, which means knowing myself (and how that influences the strategy and tactics of my startup) also impacts the uniqueness of my startup.
Within that mindset is the ultimate competitive advantage and defensible moat. None of your competitors can replicate your vision, your passion, and your way of thinking about.
Think about the significant impact that Steve Jobs’s way of doing things had on Apple. Or how Elon Musk is almost rewriting history with his own brand of semi-delusional passion and ambition.
That’s what entrepreneurship is about.
Know yourself, be unique, and double down on the things that will give your pursuits that defensible moat.
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PS. I write about this – and how that relates to your personal and professional branding – quite a bit in my upcoming book, Brandiing. Sign up to the mailing list and get a free, sample chapter of Brandiing, which will be released on 31 July.