What is your biggest advice in obtaining success as an entrepreneur?

Serena Blasing ‏@SerenaBlasing: what is your biggest advice in obtaining success as an entrepreneur?

Answer: There is no such thing as success as an entrepreneur.

If you ask ten different people what success means you might get ten different answers. Financial freedom, paying down debts, building a big company, personal freedom, etc and there might be psychological goals as well: proving everyone wrong, proving my parents wrong, proving that I can make the impossible possible, and so on. Many rich people become entrepreneurs even though they have financial freedom already. Many poor people become “lifestyle entrepreneurs” – they never get rich from their business but their business sustains their lifestyle.

But one thing is in common with anyone who truly is a successful entrepreneur: they set out to create a solution that would make people’s lives easier.

If you always have the affirmation in your mind, “I need to give to receive“, and force all of your thoughts to coalesce around that affirmation, then over time and experience you will create a product or service that will make people’s lives easier or better or wealthier. This is a service that people will pay you more than cost for.

I’ve been involved in many successful businesses. I’ve also been involved in many unsuccessful businesses.

I’ve written about many of them here. For instance, I thought I had a great idea once: 140love.com. I created a dating site on top of twitter. I thought it was brilliant and I even had investors. What could be better: a dating site (which is a universally accepted successful business model – bringing two people together so they can kiss, have sex, have great pleasure, get married, have kids, prolong the human race, etc) combined with twitter, the fastest growing social network at the time. I was single then and heavily using both dating services and twitter. Plus twitter was “cool” in the tech community and I wanted to be cool.

The idea would be that people can’t fake it on twitter. My service would match you with people similar to you and then you could judge whether or not you want to go out with them by their tweet feed. No bullshit profiles. You’d see the real them with their tweets.

Here’s the problem. The very basic problem. On dating sites people like to be largely anonymous. On twitter, people weren’t anonymous. So I wasn’t helping anyone. If anything, I’d hurt anyone who signed up for 140love. Failure. I spent $40,000 developing it.

Here’s another failure: Junglesmash.com. I wrote about it here but I’ll describe really quickly. I wanted to crowdsource advertising. Typically a big brand hires an ad agency and pays them millions of dollars to create and then spread an ad campaign. I love a good ad.

So I set up a site, I picked a random brand (Crest) and offered $2000 to anyone who made an ad that I liked. Hundreds of people submitted ads. PROCTER & GAMBLE EVEN SUBMITTED ADS. I knew this was going to be a success because:

A) I was helping people make money

B) I was helping people have an outlet for their creativity where they can make money

C) I was reducing the costs of creating an ad campaign by the major brands. I always think when you take out the middleman that’s a valuable service you can offer as an entrepreneur.

D) I was reducing the costs of distribution since the good ad campaigns could conceivably grow viral and create brand awareness

E) Finally, I was getting results. Both people and brands were responding.

So why did this fail? Because I personally failed. It’s still a good idea. But precisely those months I was going through a separation, moving houses, I was trying to start a fund that was failing, the financial crisis was scaring me, and I was slipping through the rabbit hole leading me into depression, despair, and a black hole of desperation that would take me awhile to get out of. When I came out the other side I was better for it, but I no longer was doing it.

Other businesses I was involved in that I consider successful:

– Reset, Inc. – Back in 1995, very few companies had a website. My only competitors were companies like Razorfish that would charge a million dollars for a 5 page website. I was able to compete on price and quality and grew my business until I sold it.

– Stockpickr – a financial site that was pure stock ideas. No news. In order to pick stocks you have to avoid the news. I’ve been involved in the management of several public companies. What you see on the inside is a lot different from what you see on the outside. It’s like a black hole. Nobody knows what really goes on inside a black hole because information would have to escape the gravitational pull at faster than the speed of light. Same thing with a public company. So I created the one website that had ten different ways to come up with stock ideas, combined it with community, and did away with all news. The result was millions of unique visitors per month plus good advertisers like Fidelity.

– a mental health facility – The mental health space is very regulated. And it’s all about filling beds. This particular facility treated teenage addicts. They had a way of getting through all the regulations. They also had a way of quickly expanding their number of beds by buying cheap hotels and converting them. There were no other facilities in their state so they had a monopoly. So once again, helping people in ways that the people could not otherwise be helped. The business sold for a huge multiple of earnings.

There are others but when I look back on the ones that were successful versus the good ideas I described above that was unsuccessful I can think of two common denominators:

A) Help others. You have to really make sure you’re not just coming up with a “cool” idea but that you are actually solving a problem that many people have.

B) Persistence. In every business I probably thought I was going out of business over a hundred times. Or my investment (in cases like Buddy Media) was going to zero many times. You have to constantly problem solve and not judge yourself so harshly on your bad decisions that you give up. I’ll have another post on persistence. But at the very least have this checklist before you start a business.

If you have just these two things then success will be achieved, whether or not it matches your definition of success.