in Entrepreneur

Learn from failure, find your value


Do you want to start a business but worry you are not made of the Entrepreneurial “stuff”.

Being an entrepreneur is an inherently risky occupation, and business books seem to describe them as different creatures to you.

Perhaps that’s just the media. Perhaps there are successful Entrepreneurs who don’t have the skill you do. Or you may well have skills but just need the confidence to utilise them effectively.

Your skills are the currency for building a business. Skills make you valuable, and adding value to customers is what a Startup is all about.

Therefore align your value with the needs of your customers.

A clueless Entrepreneur

In 2008, I had just finished a lucrative four and a half year IT contract. My time had come, I had read the Seth Godin books, devoured HackerNews articles and had talked compellingly about Startups.

I had a sense of excitement sitting in front of my newly purchased MacBook Pro. The world was my oyster, I could build a business. was born in the following few weeks.
A search engine for prams, buggies and strollers.
Actually it wasn’t that grand. Merely a proof of concept, built using Drupal and a lot of image manipulation.

The market research solely consisted of my own experience, searching eBay and Google for baby transportation. What more would I need to know regarding searches for babies buggies?
I was on a high, and hadn’t noticed there was no value to my potential customers. In fact I didn’t even know who my customers were.

Build it and they will not come

My first realisation that things weren’t going to plan, was my visitors’ refusal to click the site affiliate links.

I pumped more money into getting more visitors. I tweaked the site, and added features such as price comparison. A few visitors clicked here and there, but none purchased anything.

How could they not like the site? The design was based on the John Lewis logo, the buttons were “borrowed” from Amazon. Each picture was bold and clear, and the text was useful and descriptive.

Nothing. Not a dicky-bird. As the weeks went on and more traffic was driven to my landing pages, visitors stubbornly refused to find any value.

Over that year I built more web sites. Some succeeded and made money, however most didn’t. Gradually it turned from a fun project into survival, and my enthusiasm became fear. I ceased to innovate and think creatively. Resorting to consultancy and eating into my cash reserves. I tried everything to bring home enough money each month to feed my small family.

After a while, I found I was working so hard, that I would stay inside for days in a row. Soon my fear became panic, and I started to lose confidence.

Can you add value?

That year was a tough year. I learnt valuable lessons about myself, and a lot about people.

In particular I had tricked myself into thinking I understood my visitors. I foolishly focused my energies on building products, while secretly avoiding, talking to my customers.

On reflection much of it boils down to that five letter word value.

Success comes from taking your skills, and aligning them with the needs of your customers.
Your value, therefore is the sum of the skills you have.

So what is value?

Value is what you can do for other people. It’s something you bring to the party of life.

When I left school, as an exceptionally gormless teenager, I had career advice from a successful businessman. While we chatted he asked me one question, “What do you bring to the party”. Boom – that question has haunted me.

Initially I thought he was asking about networking, or how should I lead people. In fact I think it is much more personal. On reflection it means, “What skills do you have, and how can they benefit everyone at the party.”

Thus skills give you value, and those I learned in 2008 were the most raw and hard won skills I’ve ever acquired.

The magic of skills

The interesting thing about skills is they have a compounding effect. For each skill you acquire you gain more value than that skill is worth. Even better you don’t have to be an expert to benefit from them. You just have to be good enough, and put some time and effort into learning them.

This is one of the tenets of Scott Adams’ s book “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”.

When skills are combined they are greater than the sum of their parts.

This year I have turned my skill building up a level, and have been working on a system for success.

So why not make yourself a skilled machine?

  • Focus your energies on learning how to learn.
  • Communicate better by building that blog and write getting your thoughts out. Even if you Do one thing.
  • Speak publicly and gain confidence.
  • Reflect on what you have learned each day. Jot down your ideas and sketches in a journal.
  • Read voraciously. There are many business and success books out there – surely some will stick.