So you want to be an entrepreneur? Well, I may have news for you: The first step toward entrepreneurship is the biggest one you’ll have to take. Why? Because of the overwhelming uncertainty that comes with it—an uncertainty that deters many before they even start. But in my experience, the act of going headfirst into the unknown changes you for the better.
When I was at the University of Texas, in Austin, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I wanted to differentiate myself from my peers—create my own path. I realized that entrepreneurship was the way to achieve this. But I had no idea where to start. And my jumping into the entrepreneurial abyss opened up a whole new world of challenges. However, it allowed me to find my own way, and that provided me with the fuel to dive even deeper.
I started my software company, Lion Mobile, in August 2013. One of our first projects was the unWine app. The idea was that wine should not have to be complicated—people all over the world could use the app to post reviews about various kinds of wine, helping others discover new varieties and figure out what to buy.
We made several mistakes in the beginning. Instead of studying and surveying our target audience, we dove right in to developing the app. In the end, that cost us more time and money, because the first version of our app didn’t address all our customers’ needs. We also didn’t raise enough capital from investors, so I wound up having to invest my savings in the project to keep the company afloat.
Despite all that, not only did we complete the app, but also the number of downloads has continued to grow each year since it was launched in 2014. This is the nature of entrepreneurship: You go into the unknown with a vision, only to come out on the other side beat up and worn out, but with a new perspective and hopefully a finished product that meets the customers’ needs. Embracing uncertainty is the first challenge of entrepreneurship, and how you handle it could define your level of success.
CREATING YOUR VISION
Having a vision is essential for leading a company. If you don’t have one, how will you stay focused when you lead a team? I’ve outlined below the key questions, and answers, for creating a sustainable vision for yourself and your team.
Why do you want to start your own company?
It’s paramount that entrepreneurs be conscious of the real reason. They must dig deep and figure out what’s driving them. If you can’t understand what drives you, then how can you understand how to motivate others?
Who can you reach out to for knowledge, talent, and funding?
Given your present situation, what or who is within arm’s reach that could help you launch a successful business?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
As an entrepreneur, you must know your strengths as shown in your business plan, then work to enhance them. Find a person—whether a business partner or mentor—who can help you overcome your weaknesses or make up for what you lack.
Where do you want to go from here?
When you know why you are pursuing a business of your own, it’s easier to determine where you want your business to go. The key is setting benchmarks that motivate progress. If the goals you set are too easy, your team will quickly become bored.
GUIDING A TEAM
When I started Lion Mobile, I found it challenging to keep my team united and focused. Getting the team to prioritize and work on the most important tasks first was difficult. It was evident that we lacked direction, because the team would bring up new app ideas at every meeting instead of focusing on the growth of our most important apps—the ones we’d already developed and launched.
In the midst of those challenges, I would question my decisions. Did I recruit the right people? Why did they seem incapable of seeing the big picture? The team needed something to keep it from drifting off course.
That is when I had an epiphany: The vision I had for myself helped me but not my team. My mistake was thinking that the others thought the way I did—that they saw the big picture and could align themselves with it. So I drafted a single statement that defined our desired future. After showing it to the team, we became more stable and focused. We finally had our North Star.
When you have a vision, it should resonate with your employees. Your vision must lift your team emotionally and provide the power to move into action. If it doesn’t, then you must probe deeper and ask once again, “Why am I doing this?”
Without a vision, your team is vulnerable and fragile. People without direction are easily distracted. For a young company, that could spell disaster. A new startup does not have the luxury of time. An effective entrepreneur must keep the team members focused by uniting them to work toward a common goal.
Don’t expect your vision to become clear instantaneously. Like much in life, it takes time and reflection. You might even stop thinking about it for awhile. When you return to it, your mind will be fresh and you’ll feel energized. This energy will set you on your path. And then you must keep strengthening your vision as you move toward making it a reality.
IEEE Member Devon Ryan, founder of Lion Mobile, a mobile app development company in Austin, Texas, is IEEE-USA membership chair. He is a regular blogger for The Institute.
This article appears in the March 2017 print issue as “When It Comes to Entrepreneurship, a Vision Is Vital.”