Ten things I’ve learnt from being an entrepreneur (I)

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I was invited by Benjamin and the Spain Startup team to present 10 ideas about my experience as a digital entrepreneur in London. I thought that writing a post would help me structure the points, as they usually do. Here’s my take; I hope you enjoy it.

1) Don’t pay rent – find your place in the world

I remember my days of working in consulting. Even if my professional progression was more than satisfactory, I saw some of my colleagues passing me by – left and right. They just believed. I didn’t. You can be an extremely smart person and a hard worker, but nothing beats passion. I always recommend taking the Sunday evening test. If you don’t feel like going to work on Monday, something’s clearly wrong. You are not enjoying what you do, and life’s too short to be in the wrong lane. Find your place in the world. And don’t worry about money. The strongest motivations are always intrinsic, not extrinsic. Making tons of money cannot be your “reason why”. Walt Disney used to say: “we don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make movies.”

2) Build your own Innovation Center

Quitting PwC Consulting meant also leaving all their corporate resources behind. Being an entrepreneur makes you feel the solitude of the long distance runner. That’s why we need to build our own network. This is one of the ideas in our book Socialholic. Your social network will provide you with three killer innovation applications: Knowledge, Connections, and Courage. But don’t start asking for favors. Start by giving without expecting anything in return. Invest time in helping others. Be useful to your community.

3) Being a visionary won’t prevent you from needing grit to succeed

I like to brag about two visions that I’ve had in my professional career, which became true. One was the rise of the social web. I left PwC to start a company that would create software for online monitoring. It was 2001 (it was my partner’s idea, I just followed along); we thought it was the first software of its kind in the world. We didn’t succeed, but today, there are hundreds – thousands, in fact – of similar products in the market. We were visionaries, but we weren’t able to capitalize on that vision. However, we kept on working, we pivoted. We saw the corporate blogging wave coming and so, I started a blog for my brother and sister’s company. The TcBlog gave Territorio creativo a huge brand name in the Spanish digital world. Our pioneering work in this area provided us with an edge, and with enough credibility to aid us in refloating the company afterwards. We combined vision, hard work and lots of luck.
The second vision I had was the convergence of agencies and consultancies. In 2009, we restructured Territorio creativo with this concept in mind. It was just an idea, and we are still struggling to make it a reality. Today, some of the biggest digital agencies in UK are consulting practices (Sapient Nitro, acquired recently by Publicis), IBM Interactive Experience, Deloitte Digital.
Having the vision (just like having an idea) won’t make you succeed. Working hard towards that vision (or idea) is what makes it happen. With a twist of luck.

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4) Pivot, but don’t follow other people’s dreams

Let’s imagine that your dream involves creating an App to change the way that children learn – don’t let a big company with a big check make you consider changing your step and building a corporate university for them (for example). Being agile – even devoted to the scrum creed – means that you’d better adapt to what the market needs. But a market doesn’t usually consist of one single customer. In our startup days, we struggled to build a software product, but we were constantly asked to provide bespoke professional services. The Product vs. Service dichotomy is almost impossible to solve when starting a company. If you are a professional service firm, don’t dream of launching software products. At least, not until you’ve made enough money and built an excellent team to avoid compromising your “service excellence”. If you are building a product, you should listen to your users. But following the check of one big client will generally lead you to divert your efforts and forget about your own dream. Too bad.

5) Read Books (and write…)

How many “non-fiction” books concerning your professional life have you read in the last year? If I ask you to make me a list of the top business books that changed your mind, would you make it to ten? It’s okay to read posts online, but books give you solid foundations, depth of thinking and help you to become more persuasive – to convince others to join in on your dream. Reading books and practicing what I read have helped me become a better manager. I’ve become someone you could follow, by reading books. On top of that, writing will help you structure your mind, will enable you to be useful to your community, and to acquire leadership. If you neither read books nor write, just give it a shot.

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You can read here the 2nd part of this post.

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