“You have two minutes to convince me why I should invest in your company,” my professor said.
About seven years ago I delivered my first pitch. I was a sophomore in college back then. Never had I ever imagined I would spend three consecutive weeks practicing for a two-minute presentation. I was scared to death.
My brain was so exclusively focused on this presentation that I didn’t even ask or think why I was experiencing that much worry for a class assignment that meant to simulate a Shark Tank-like pitch. I did well, but most importantly, from all my research and mentor meetings, I learned a very important lesson: Nobody is born confident.
Even the most successful speakers and leaders lack confidence at certain times, but anyone who is willing to work on it can master it. Today, I speak about entrepreneurial confidence; about what it takes to have faith in your own decisions and actions to execute on your ideas. These strategies will help get you there.
1. Embrace worst case scenarios
How bad could it be? Lack of confidence is often a fear of failure. Overcoming it starts with figuring out what the problem is.
Identifying the possible negative consequences of our decisions and entrepreneurial initiatives and then naming their potential solutions reduces uncertainty and increases confidence.
When I was in college, everyone I knew—family, friends, professors and academic advisors—asked me to wait until I earned a degree and gained experience working for an established business before starting my own.
When I asked why, they talked about security and return on investment from my college years. They talked about the importance of having a plan B and how I still had the time to pursue my passion in the future.
They were concerned I would drop out of college and regret my decision. Dropping out was never an option for me. I never wanted to quit school. I just had bigger goals than just earning a degree. Today, in fact, I am almost done with my doctoral studies.
When I considered their worst-case scenarios, I observed that the corporate environment was very competitive and the only way to stand out from the crowd was by doing more than just getting good grades and earning a degree—extracurricular activities.
As an entrepreneur, instead of looking for an internship or part-time job while at school, I found that leveraging the available collegiate resources such as professors’ advice, library, connections, and things as little as a printer to pursue a startup venture was a great extracurricular activity.
It not only helped me figure out what it really meant to build a business but also to build a stronger resume in case I decided to look for a job in the future. Although I never sought a job after college, building a business while in college certainly helped many of my classmates on that front.
What my parents thought might lead to the worst-case scenario: not earning a degree, not finding a job, retaking classes, regret, and so on, turned out to be a competitive advantage over other students who focused entirely and solely on studies.
Spend time thinking about the worst that can happen. It’ll help you be more at ease when you start your entrepreneurial endeavor because you’ll have thought your decisions through completely.
2. Keep a cash cow: Your monthly revenue goal
Successful entrepreneurs maintain multiple streams of income—something easier said than done. Specify how much revenue you need to be generating from your startup for you to let go of other responsibilities (such as a part or full-time job) to be able to focus entirely on your new business. Is it $2000, $3000, five, six, or seven clients per month? Identify the magic number.
Setting a benchmark will help you quantify milestones so you’ll know when you get there, but most importantly, it’ll help you clear all doubts by proactively accounting for all your financial concerns about transitioning to running your new venture full time.
My cash cow was my scholarship. An amount barely enough to pay for my living expenses, but more than enough for me to not worry about paying the bills while running the business. Luckily for me, by the time I finished school, I had already met my target monthly revenue goal, which kept me focused on growing my venture instead of looking for a job.
My experience taught me to never forget to celebrate even the tiniest milestones. For instance, I never appreciated the work I put to build a landing page, calling and interviewing a few people, making the first sale, or even designing a logo, until I learned what the small milestones meant to the bigger ones.
Confidence is gained incrementally, and it’s the small successes that take us from one increment to the next. So, quantify progress by highlighting the small accomplishments on your way up to the bigger ones.
3. Keep mentors in the loop
From every business dimension, the best mentors have been shown to make a significant impact in entrepreneurial success whether by boosting new business initiatives, increasing revenue, funding, acquisitions, partnerships, and more.
According to MicroMentor, mentoring boosts idea execution and business survival rates by 42 and 83 percent, respectively.
Finding the right mentors was a challenge for me, as I was living in an area where startup development culture was and still is just beginning. I was surprised by how willing experts were to answer questions when I reached out over LinkedIn or email. I learned the great power of simply asking.
When Steve Jobs was 12 years of age, he called the co-founder of Hewlett Packard, Bill, to ask for spare parts to build a frequency counter. Bill offered him an internship that summer. Jobs says, “Most people never pick up the phone and call, most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them.”
4. Launch—don’t wait for perfection
Groupon, the second fastest company to ever reach a billion dollars in valuation, started with a WordPress blog. During a design conference, Airbnb founders saw a need for lodging when all the hotels in the city were booked so they approached attendees for bed and breakfast.
A product is never perfect so we might as well start with nothing. Start selling as soon as you find a need, and don’t hesitate to get paid for a mediocre or even a simulated product (like Groupon) in the beginning. Starting with an MVP (minimum viable product), one that only includes the core version of the product, can help you go to market quicker, test faster and evaluate the potential of the idea without investing a lot of capital.
Validating an app idea starts before building the product. After failing to ask for a commitment from those who expressed interest in my first startup’s product, I made sure I didn’t make the same mistakes again.
For instance, before launching my latest venture EntrePerks.com where entrepreneurs, marketers, designers, and programmers can access over $21,000 in free and discounted tools and services from some of the best products in the market, I pre-sold access which generated a few hundred dollars—but it validates the concept.
Validating the need for your product as early as possible removes a lot of the guesswork and consequently boosts your confidence about the potential of the idea.
5. Learn continuously
More specifically, learn what’s relevant. I bet half of the things you learned at school are forgotten. This is mostly because education is based on a collegiate curriculum that, most of the time, is irrelevant to a work project or any of the stages in the entrepreneurial journey.
Start by identifying the areas you need to learn more about and then focus on reading or watching videos from two to three of the top experts in your industry. Keep in mind that the most educated are not necessarily the best people to learn from. Those who got their hands dirty and lived the ups and downs of running, failing, scaling, and successfully building a business can offer better advice.
It is true that most business decisions cannot wait weeks or even days, however, investing as little as a couple of minutes to read a book chapter, articles or even attend an online course or lecture, can tremendously improve decision making, boost confidence and most importantly, make sense of the acquired knowledge.
Ultimately, entrepreneurial confidence is about making calculated choices and being proactive about reducing risk. Remember that taking small steps—finding a mentor, launching an MVP, or reading a book on innovation in your industry—can have a big impact over time.