The end of June this year will mark 5 years since I officially left my job and started the entrepreneurship journey. It is shocking (and quite scary!) to think how fast the time has gone.
So, how has it gone?
Extremely different to how I thought it’d go, that’s for sure.
There have been many pains, struggles and challenges on the one side, and so much enjoyment, creativity and inspiration on the other.
The truth is, the whole journey, as cliched as it is, is just one big roller coaster ride. If you don’t learn to love the journey, you may as well get off after the first big dip.
Someone asked me an excellent question recently. How do you define success?
It’s quite easy to just define it by finance and numbers alone. However that would be doing the whole experience an injustice.
Taking a step back and reviewing the whirlwind of the past 5 years, there has just been SO much in the way of growth and achievement in that time. It is sometimes very easy to overlook just how much progress there has been — and we often don’t take the time to appreciate how far we may have come. In the past 5 years alone, there have been multiple digital products on Kindle, numerous (20+) physical products and brands launched via Amazon in the US and UK, a smart home technology and wellness product range created and fully funded on Indiegogo (and featured on TV and in retail/exhibitions), putting on a conference with internationally known speakers, an EdTech platform built and created from scratch, a documentary and 12 part educational video series produced, setting up and running a digital marketing agency and the pleasure (and pain!) of working with some wonderful clients and great staff to boot. And of course — not forgetting working with my fantastic business partners along the way. And even travelling to 12 countries across 4 continents, getting married and having two kids, and moving home too! This is just a flavour — and of course doesn’t include all of the undoubted failures and things that didn’t work, too.
What are the lessons I’ve learned in that time? Probably too many to name, but here are the first ones that reel off the top of my head (in no particular order);
1. Know yourself. This is where to start. Get to know who you are and what drives you. What is the change you want to see in the world? What do you enjoy, what are you good at, what can you get paid for — and what work would you do if you didn’t even need to work? Do that. As Socrates famously quoted — to ‘know thyself is the beginning of wisdom’.
2. Always overestimate; things always take longer or are harder than you first expect. With one exception — people — don’t overestimate your own abilities or that of others.
3. With that said, don’t underestimate your own abilities either — you are often capable of way more than you think! Think big. Think bold. What have you got to lose? Once you have confronted a big fear, you go past the point of no return, and it becomes easier to make decisions that would have previously frightened you. In my case — quitting my job without a plan of sorts was super scary. Everything else paled into insignificance after that.
4. Don’t lose your authentic self; trust your gut and do something you truly care about — do not just follow the money. But don’t be a martyr either — money IS important and without it you can’t grow to your full potential.
5. Have faith but be prepared for the long haul. Nothing is ever get rich quick. Even people who I know who were super successful very early, still had major challenges later along the way. If you don’t intend to go all in for the long term, don’t bother. But always retain ultimate faith that you will get there in the end — even when everyone else has lost theirs.
5. The four hour work week is a myth (but a great book!).
6. Who you work with is infinitely more important than the idea or the execution. You can have an excellent concept that fails with bad partners / people. Or an average concept that succeeds with great ones.
7. Be financially literate! Know your numbers. Success really does require you to be fully in control of your budgeting. If it’s currently a weakness… then get savvy ASAP!
8. Sacrifice — if you’re not willing to sacrifice for your vision, your vision is what will be sacrificed. Stick to your vision and do not let it get diluted. At the same time — don’t be blinkered. Consult a trusted handful.
9. Just bloody get it done. Don’t overthink it. 80/20. I was once the ultimate perfectionist and would procrastinate. But you soon realise there isn’t enough time in the world for that. You also learn, nobody really cares. It is ultimately your own ego at play.
10. If you aren’t good at relationships, you’re not good at business. Full stop.
11. Don’t have any expectations. Of people, of results. If you don’t have any expectations, you’ll never be let down. Manage your emotions. Be pragmatic on one hand but grateful on the other. If it happens, it happens. If not, then great. What can you do about that?
12. Be hungry but humble. Stay low key and be aware of your weaknesses but act with fierce intensity in your output. Ultimate success is in God’s hands, not your own — do what you do in full recognition of that. If it’s not meant to be, don’t worry about it. Know your place and also know that your efforts are never wasted.
13. Look beyond your own horizon. There’s some amazingly talented people abroad. Hire according to values, not skills. If outsourcing a commodity task — then outsource hands, not brain (the doing, not the thinking).
14. Always overdeliver — but not to the point where you suffer. Always think win-win and give value first.
15. Master your Energy. This is the fuel. Don’t eat crap. Sleep properly etc. And mental, emotional and spiritual energy is just as important as physical. This is often neglected but it will always come back to haunt you in the end.
16. Balance and the middle path. Give everything its due rights. Building a business at the same time as building a family is hard. Both need your attention to be done right. The middle path is where wisdom lives. Befriend it. It keeps you sane in a crazy world.
17. Solve a problem. Again and again. The key to business is to start with this and this alone. The bigger the problem, the better chance of success. And the more you can charge. You’ll also find the need for problem solving is constant throughout — every day there will be different problems to deal with. Learn to accept this reality and ride it through — be resilient and not rueful.
18. Remove toxicity — of all kinds. Master your mind and fiercely protect your thoughts. Good stuff in = good stuff out.
19. Saying no is important. Have a firm grounding. Sometimes things are not right for you. Don’t try and please others or go against your own policies — it will only break down later.
20. Build systems. Follow frameworks. Create repeatable processes. Automate where possible. Model people or businesses who have already achieved what you want to achieve. It will save you time.
21. Never stop learning. Read read read. Do courses. Watch videos. Travel. Write. Get out there and meet interesting people. Be curious. This is where creativity and ideas are built. But most importantly — implement the key lessons. Write notes to aid retention.
22. The most important lesson of all however, is an ironic one, considering all the things I listed above. But it is simply — FOCUS. I’ve learned you can really only ever do one thing at a time, with the utmost of excellence — despite what you may think you’re capable of. Anyone can water ten seeds in the early days but it’s hard to cultivate ten trees to grow to their full potential. All you really need is one tree to deliver fruit.
Oh and by the way, fruit is always the last thing that grows on a tree. So be patient! It WILL come.
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.