I’m an entrepreneur. I ran 2 headhunting firms for over a decade. One of which won several awards. In 2013, I received the Singapore HR Institute Entrepreneur of the Year Award. (which I’m eternally humbled to have received)
To an outsider, it looks like I have a great life. I can take as much leave as I want. For a while, I drove a nice BMW X5. Today, I have 4 wonderful kids and a loving wife. It all looks plush and comfortable.
Many of my friends and acquaintances say they want this “entrepreneur lifestyle” for themselves too. But they always lament “I don’t have an idea”. Are you one of those people who constantly ask the question how to become an entrepreneur but don’t know where and how to begin?
Today I’m going to give you, to the best of my ability, a guide on how you can start (and hopefully win) at the game of business.
1. You don’t need an original idea.
Please forget all that noise you’ve heard about how valuable ideas they. They’re not. Business ideas are worthless. It’s all about the execution.
Good ideas help, yes. But even the most important companies of this era were not founded on crazy original ideas. Starbucks sells high class coffee in chains. Facebook built a better version of friendster. Google built a better search engine than Lycos. Apple built a better smartphone than BlackBerry.
The best ideas are incremental innovations – not quantum leaps.
2. Competition is good.
People are always scared to start businesses where there’s already another competitor. But they don’t realise that competition is a good thing. It shows there’s a market for those services. And sometimes, competition helps grow your business.
One story that comes to mind is the Jalan Tua Kong coffeeshop located in the east of Singapore. In that 1 tiny coffeeshop, they served some of Singapore’s most famous Mee Pok and Fish Head Curry hawkers. I found it really odd that 2 of the best hawkers ended up in this tiny hawker centre which only had 5 stalls available for rent.
I once spoke to the mee pok stall owner, he said that having another competitor beside him, the fish head curry shop, actually helped his business. His competitor’s stall would attract a different clientele, who occasionally would try his mee pok too – and vice versa. Despite being fierce competitors, they were actually complimentary businesses.
Don’t fear competition. Sometimes they’re actually helping you.
3. Do something you understand.
I personally recommend trying to deliver something that you and your friends would buy in a heartbeat. You’ll know more about your field, you’ll understand your customers, and you’ll be passionate about what you do.
For myself, I understood headhunting having worked there for a few years. I loved what I did and knew the customers and product well. Is it any surprise that we did well?
People think entrepreneurs are risk takers. Sure, some are. But the most successful ones are incredibly risk averse.
Please don’t quit your day job to start your company. Instead, start it small. Do it over the weekends. Slowly watch it grow. Once it’s large enough and can provide you with a small paycheque, quit your job and commit full time.
Hedge the risk. Play it smart.
5. Stay small.
Singapore’s society today is incredibly materialistic. It’s all about the car you drive. The posh postal code of your office. That branded watch. All these material goods are worthless. They don’t help you grow your business.
Stay frugal. Protect the wealth you’ve earned. Don’t rush to move into that swanky office. It’s time will come. Make sure you have a fat cushion of cash for the tough times first. (the tough times will definitely come. Best to be prepared)
6. Make yourself redundant.
As the founder, you’re the commander in chief. The main driving force but also the main bottleneck. All decisions have to go through you.
Initially, when you’re small, this will be easy. But once you get 2 or 3 staff, it will get very messy very fast. People say entrepreneurs need to learn the art of delegation. I don’t think that sufficiently captures the sentiment. I prefer saying make yourself redundant. The business should be a machine that accelerates without you.
Once you’re redundant, you can truly start to scale.
7. Continuously invest in training.
I’m a big fan of football. (though I play more often than I watch these days)
There was an interview I recently saw of Jurgen Klopp, the German manager of Liverpool FC. When asked about which players he’d like to buy, he replied:
“Everyone talks about buying new players. What about the players I have now? These are great players. I need to spend time developing them further. Make them into stars.”
Every single business is about the talent you have. It’s so important to continuously help them improve. Find great books, buy it for them. Over lunch, talk about great ideas. Find great training providers, pay them to do workshops for your team.
Invest in your colleagues. They’ll reap huge returns for your firms profitability.
8. Love your family.
Building a business empire is really fun. I’ve gotten massive kicks from it. But don’t forget that family is what it’s all about. People talk about happiness. Let me tell you that while my businesses made me happy, nothing came close to the happiness I got from my family. Don’t forget that they’re your pillar of strength through the good times and bad times.
I’ll end this blog with one of my favourite song quotes from the Beatles. It was the last line sung on the last song of their last ever album.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”