6 Lessons Learned In the First Year of Starting Up

Perhaps this is my calling with TAOpivot.
Perhaps this is my calling with TAOpivot.

As you can probably tell from the title, today’s post is focused on entrepreneurship. I have had TAOpivot since February 2012 and only started going full-speed with the business last June. Today, at the pre-conference talk at Inc. Leadership Forum, Norm Brodsky was telling the crowd about how “starting one’s own business is not easy.” Immediately, I heard my parents telling me the same thing throughout my young life.

So, before I gain more insight into how to be a better business owner and overall leader at the Leadership Forum, here are some lessons learned from this past year:

  1. Listen to the customer – No really; LISTEN. I have read this piece of advice many times from different sources, but I had to experience the lesson firsthand. I had originally priced all my services at a large premium because I did not want to appear “cheap”. However, the way my original pricing structure was organized, I wanted clients to pay the total service fee upfront with no guarantee of success rendering services. After getting rejected many times by different prospects over the price being “too much”, I changed the structure (and the prices) at the beginning of this year to include a nonrefundable deposit of a reasonable amount. That change has helped bring in many more clients than my original process last year.
  2. I do not have to do everything alone – Before TAOpivot came to being, I was already working with my idea coach, ideavist. During most of last year, I continued my work with him because I felt I needed help. There were a few periods of time this past year where I did not have help via ideavist nor intern. I was alone, and I thought I could do it all by myself. Nope. Luckily these days, I have more entrepreneurial friends so we can bounce ideas and advice off one another. Having others around for support and company assistance (interns) has helped me out a lot. I want to wear all the hats of the company, but I know I cannot.
  3. Know my weaknesses well & delegate – As mentioned above, I want to wear all the hats at TAOpivot, but I know I cannot. There are areas I have recognized as genuine weaknesses: even though I studied marketing in undergrad, I know I am rusty with different deliverables and seeing the big picture objectively. Also, the fact that I interact with foreign nationals as part of my business is another weakness I have found–sure, I communicate with all my prospects and clients in English. But I understand that my way of marketing to them is not so effective without someone from that same culture. Hence the reason why I have taken on interns from the majority client base’s culture (in this case, China).
  4. Be wise with my time – The entrepreneur’s forever task on the to-do list. There have been periods this past year where I would inundate my schedule with a lot of meetings. Granted, these meetings were set with good intentions: learn about possible partnerships and basically connect with more businesspeople in the community. However–having so many meetings in a short amount of time is so draining…and sometimes, the meetings would have been best done via email or shorter periods. I have learned that I must be more selfish about my time: set how long the meeting will last, have an agenda mapped out, and talk about just that. Lately, I have been shying away from meetings in general due to my ‘overdose’ early last month. Slowly easing back in…
  5. Agendas are important – I naturally like to stay organized, but somehow the part about meeting agendas had slipped through the cracks this past year. This relates to my time management issue above: I go to a meeting without a somewhat clear vision of what I want out of it and then end up babbling with colleagues over insignificant things. Last week, I had a meeting with my intern to check up on how things were going on his end and what we needed to do next. I drew up a small list of topics we were to talk about; the meeting went so much more smoothly (and faster!) with my preparation.
  6. Stay focused and on my OWN path – I admit, I love going to tech events and meeting tech entrepreneurs in Denver/around the country. There’s this electricity that builds up at tech gatherings that I just want to be a part of. However, over and over, I am reminded that TAOpivot is NOT a tech company. Nor will it ever be (at least, it won’t ever have a primary tech focus as far as I can see). Only a few days ago, I was mumbling about the lack of funding TAOpivot had. A colleague of mine put me in my place: “Your business is better off being a SMB (small- to medium-sized business). You want to be 100% in control, right?” That put my thoughts into perspective: why should I keep striving to be what I know TAOpivot cannot be? Play upon the strengths I know for TAOpivot; stop worrying about the tech industry and “not fitting in” with the crowd. Stay unique and focused.

There are many other lessons I have learned, but those can be for another day. For now, I hope these lessons I have learned will help you with your venture as well.