A good friend and business associate once approached us asking for business advice. “I have $25,000,” he said. “How do I turn that into $50,000? Actually—wait, how do I turn one million into two million in one year?”
We looked at each other, and then we looked back at him and said “You don’t take a million and turn it into two million. It’s not that easy. There are no shortcuts in life, and there are no shortcuts in business.” We recommended he do things the old-fashioned way.
He understood—and we understood—that, of course, some people do double their money in the blink of an eye. It’s not impossible, but it’s incredibly risky. And it’s also not what we are about. We’re not promoting the Bernie Madoff model of Ponzi and phony, get-rich-quick deals; we all know how well that worked out in the end. Businesses have to have a real economic model that is built one brick at a time.
Start, Build, Sell
Growing your business is an incremental process: you start, you build, and you sell. You build more, you sell more. If you have a viable product or service that customers want, they’ll come back to you again and again. They’ll also tell their friends.
Positive word of mouth is as important as the product itself, because it helps you continue to grow. As Albert Einstein once said (and Warren Buffet often quotes), “compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”
Buffet, known as the smartest investor of the past century, invests in management teams and products he believes in through his company Berkshire Hathaway. He is also said to only invest in products that he likes and uses, and that fall in his circle of competence. Therefore, as a big holder of both their stocks, you can assume he loves Coke and McDonald’s. He also eats and drinks both regularly. Keep his investment interests in mind as you build your business.
“The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg
The Value of Viability and Balance
What kind of product or service you decide to build is important, too. You have to be insanely fortunate to have success selling an entirely unique product. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, but always remember it is easier to sell a product that is easily understood. When you’re just starting out, and even if you’re not, it’s much easier to sell something people completely understand rather than an avant-garde product.
Whatever you want to try in business, whether you have a brand-new type of shop or a nail salon in a strip mall down the street from another nail salon in another strip mall, the essence is the same: work harder, work smarter, and constantly improve.
One challenge you may find at this stage of your entrepreneurial journey is the difficult task of finding balance between preparing and over preparing. As you build and sell, focus on the details, but don’t let them overshadow your big picture.
Spilling the Oil
In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes of a boy who wants to learn about happiness. The boy’s father sent him to the wisest man in the world: the sage. The boy traveled for forty days to reach the wise man, finally finding him in a bustling palace. When the boy asked for the secret to happiness, the sage responded by suggesting the boy take a walk through his palace and come back in two hours.
The sage had one additional request: he handed the boy a teaspoon with two drops of oil and instructed him not to let the oil spill as he walked the grounds. He toured the palace, his eyes never leaving the spoon. When he returned, the sage asked the boy if he had enjoyed the Persian tapestries and the intricate gardens, but the boy replied he hadn’t seen them; his eyes were focused on the spoon. Although he had spilled no oil, he had also seen none of the glories of the palace.
The sage refilled the spoon with two drops of oil, instructing the boy to savor the details of the palace. When the boy returned, he realized he’s spilled the oil, but he was able to describe in detail the colors, tastes, smells of the palace that were beyond his wildest imagination. The sage responded, “The secret of happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho
The same is true in business; keep an eye on both the details and the big picture—neither of which you can do if you’re cutting corners or letting the fear of making mistakes stop you from moving forward. Fail often and fail quick. Learn from your mistakes. And, if you are smart, learn from other people’s mistakes, too.