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Memo to Entrepreneur: You’re Not the Smartest One in the Room

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Entrepreneurship is a conundrum. Deciding to strike out and give an idea a shot is one of the scariest, loneliest things someone can do. But it’s also impossible — absolutely, positively impossible — to do it alone. No one finds success without help along the way, and it’s foolhardy to suggest otherwise.

Yes, every entrepreneur and startup needs investor dollars to get off the ground. That’s true. And few things in life are as thrilling as securing those first investment dollars for an idea.

But this is not just a matter of finding investors. The entrepreneur must also tap the minds surrounding him or her by while trying to transform an idea into a reality: the tech minds, the business minds, the finance minds and the marketing minds, the players that can plug in the holes in expertise to help a founder create a well-rounded, sustainable, successful business. 

Even the most seemingly independent entrepreneurs have received a piece of advice or criticism along the way that shaped their entire outlook and helped them transition from having an idea to creating a successful business. My father-in-law once told me, “The less you bet, the more you lose when you win.” That piece of advice has driven my entrepreneurial spirit ever since.

Here’s a trick I’ve learned over the years: As an entrepreneur, intrapreneur or CEO, I’m not the smartest one in the room. I must learn how to humble myself by listening intently to all the voices present, both positive and negative, to collaboratively create the big picture.

Here are three ways to use the minds around the office:

Obtain a sounding board for ideas. It’s easy to get so close to an idea that it’s no longer possible to see the forest for the trees. I need people who will give it to me straight — why something won’t work and the flaws I’m missing.

Be a sounding board. I always want members of my team to hurry up and give me a lot of ideas that I can react to. Instead of the members of my team trying to iterate on one idea forever, I request that they show me a lot of concepts — even rough ones — so I can tell them which ones I like and the ones I don’t. Even if that is sometimes painful, it’s a step toward our arriving at the right ideas and solutions.

Seek out multiple perspectives. I’m a sales guy at heart. But that means I need help understanding other important aspects of business: marketing, information technology and human resources. An entrepreneur needs varied perspectives to shape his or her ideas — not to obscure the original vision but to hone it with business realities in mind.

The entrepreneur’s admission that he (or she) needs help is not a sign of weakness, of not working hard enough or putting in enough time to understand the big picture. The reality is that no one, not even the biggest and brightest minds in the entrepreneurial community or business world today, can possibly see everything from every angle all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice or opinions. It’s not possible to do it all alone.


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