Top 10 tips for up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs
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By Simon Swanepoel
1) True entrepreneurs will always value their customers higher than profits and value providing solutions to their customers ahead of making money.
It was at my first official job that I realised I care deeply about customers and I wanted to add value by providing them with solutions that bettered their lives. My thing is that I’ve always loved interfacing with consumers. It’s much easier to influence a consumer than it is to influence a business. There are so many loopholes and challenges in turning a business around, but the quick wins and real impacts are with consumers. Consumers are the decision-makers; they have the buying power.
2) Be a student for life. Read and learn and have mentors.
I can teach you that if you run in front of a car that you’ll get hit by a car and could die, but why make the same mistakes that you can read and learn from others? If you can have a mentor, awesome. But if you don’t have a mentor, you can get mentored on Kindle by the thousands of mentors that have written books. Read from the people that are successful in life. You don’t have to make the same mistakes they made.
3) Bend the rules, as long as you don’t prejudice somebody else’s rights to getting the same things you want.
Entrepreneurs are always looking for innovative ways to provide solutions. You can’t do this by always following the rules or taking no for an answer. My mentor Simon Sinek shares a cool story about a bagel that you can check out here. Go after what you want in life, do it differently from others if you need to, but don’t hurt others in the process.
4) Stay humble and always be learning.
Don’t ever think that you’re more than another person. Admit when you’re lost. Be open to the journey of discovery. Ask for help. Don’t always be the guy that uses acronyms and don’t know what they mean. Stay teachable.
5) It’s not always the strongest or the most gifted that win, but those that see the benefit of embracing teamwork.
If you look at the US Marines that get through Hell Week, it’s not the jock from school, not the biggest nor the strongest but the skinniest guys that are working as a team that come through it in the end. The skinny guys know they have to work together as a team to get through the different challenges and to overcome the obstacles. Likewise, in a business I believe people should always feel like they’re part of a family. Everyone should feel connected and loyal to each other because it will be that connection that will allow them to overcome the difficulties faced in business.
6) Have faith and vision for your dreams.
You’ve got to have the belief and knowing that what’s going to come is going to come. You just believe it, and it will happen. You don’t always start with the how you’re going to do it, you just believe that your vision is going to be realised. Open yourself up to opportunities and make yourself vulnerable. If you don’t do, if you don’t go, if you don’t put yourself into that situation, nothing will happen. It’s about vision, making yourself vulnerable and just doing it. Never be scared to bring yourself down in order to open yourself up to new opportunities.
7) Develop your leadership abilities.
All successful entrepreneurs are leaders. Research shows there’s one characteristic that entrepreneurs have that sets them apart, and that is prudence. All leaders have prudence. Prudence means the quality or fact of providing for the future; the ability to have judgement. Entrepreneurs look at situations and prudence allows them to make decisions using reason, skill and good judgement in the use of the resources available to them. They see the possibilities and create a vision for the future to take advantage of those possibilities. Individuals that are primarily or naturally only technically or operationally inclined will sometimes lack prudence, getting stuck in the pitfalls and challenges, unable to see the bigger picture, or the opportunities available to them.
8) Work smarter, not harder.
As an entrepreneur, I don’t believe in working 100% of the time. Entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily the hardest workers, but they are often the smartest workers. You will never get to a Bill Gates level if you don’t know how to delegate; if you don’t have prudence and the ability to make decisions. I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but I know how to hire the best people to get things done. The true entrepreneur knows where to work, where to hire, where to place people and what decisions to make in different areas of the business.
9) Get into an environment that nurtures your entrepreneurial abilities.
I don’t subscribe to the narrative that entrepreneurs are born not made, but rather that entrepreneurship can be learned. It can be an upbringing, but more than that I think it can become learned behaviour. I don’t believe entrepreneurship is waking up one day at age 18 and realising you want to be an entrepreneur. It’s conscious learned behaviour, I think. South African entrepreneur, Robert Gumede overcame significant obstacles and challenges like lack of access to opportunities during Apartheid to become a successful entrepreneur in South Africa. Robert used to be a golf caddy as a young boy and learned from the environments he exposed himself to until he one day become the founder of successful IT company, Gijima. You can work for and surround yourself with people that have those entrepreneurial traits. Environment does matter and you can place yourself where you can be challenged to learn and grow as an entrepreneur.
10) Don’t be afraid to try things yourself and not wait for a rescuer.
The skills I learned to run RocketNet were self-taught and gleaned from talking to people in the industry. I pioneered my way and figured out the tech space I’m in by taking initiative. It was a hell of a learning curve; it would be so difficult to try to replicate that again as there are a lot of intricacies involved in such a technical space. Bu don’t allow the size of the task to keep you back from it or to cause you to wait for someone else to do it for you. One day you will look back and be so grateful you did.
Simon Swanepoel is the CEO of ISP, RocketNet.