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What No 40-Year-Old Can Tell You About Modern Entrepreneurship

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Today, the word “entrepreneur” holds more meanings than ever before. For some, it implies running a multimillion-dollar company. For others, modern entrepreneurship is about building new relationships and living the life you’ve dreamed of.

Two years ago, I couldn’t have even dreamed of calling myself an entrepreneur, let alone speak of a life full of speaking gigs and exciting freelance projects. All I had was a blind ambition strong enough to make me overcome my fear of sending an internship request to a company I admired.

Related: 10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free

Fast forward 24 months, I’ve established a website with a healthy readership and landed many first-rate consulting projects. I hate to brag, but I just want to show you how much can happen in a mere two years. For me, the path to success has always been paved with trial and error. In my first 23 years of life, here are the key learnings that will help you become an entrepreneur in the modern world.

1. You don’t need any capital to get started.

More important than any investment are two things no money can buy: ambition and determination.

As you begin your journey as a young entrepreneur, you’re going to have lots of downfalls and setbacks. There will be highs and lows. During the hardest of times, it takes a lot of persistence to push through and believe it will all come together in the end. Most of the time, things will work out just fine.

When I first decided to take the leap and switch from a secure full-time role to a freelance career, I lost my team and didn’t have enough projects to sustain myself in the long-term. The way I survived the first months of no work was by keeping myself busy with learning and building my blog. Eventually, the blog started to get noticed, and new freelance projects followed.

Paul Graham, co-founder of a wildly successful startup accelerator Y Combinator, named determination as the No. 1 skill he values from startup founders. As long as you’re over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is perseverance — you’ll have to be able to survive the low periods in life.

If you’re confident in your plan and put your soul into it, the money will follow. The hardest part is motivating yourself while receiving no positive feedback for the first months (or even years). To get through this hardship, keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the best work you can and rely on your ambition to make it through.

Related: 8 Success Habits Learned Building a 7-Figure Business by Age 17

2. Most of the time, you don’t have anything to lose.

Have you ever feared to hit the “Send” button of a life-changing email or to reach out to potential mentors? Especially when young, there are so many seemingly intimidating actions that will become second nature later in life. What matters is that you’ll have enough courage to execute those things right now and push your limits on the way.

As you take risks and see them pay back generously, you will gradually learn a new rule: People are generally friendly and supportive. If you ask someone a question or look for some help, he or she will mostly respond with guidance and suggestions. This doesn’t mean you can expect everyone to stop what they’re doing and put your requests first. Whenever you ask another person for help, make it clear why they should help you.

The good thing about modern entrepreneurship is that while you’re young, you don’t have much to lose. Most of the time, the greatest enemy stopping us is our fear of failure. Author Tim Ferriss suggests that you ask yourself: “What is the worst that could happen?” By looking at your anxieties from this vantage point, you’ll be able to eliminate many artificial worries and take bold steps toward greater success.

Related: Attention All Millennials: You Need This Advice to Be Successful

3. You just need to put yourself out there.

Becoming recognized in any particular industry is not going to happen while you keep waiting for the world to discover you. You’ll have to make the world see you. In my experience, the people you look up to will start contacting you on their own. But, only if you first raise yourself to their level and beyond.

Cutting through the clutter in today’s noisy world is one of the greatest challenges you’ll have to embrace. The good part is that making a name for yourself is easier now than it was 20 years ago. Many entrepreneurs, myself included, choose a website as the primary promotional channel. Alternatively, you can build up a strong social media presence or advance your career as a keynote speaker or book author. The key to building your online presence is focus — don’t strive to be active on all platforms.

As you’re able to secure your first gig, make it your core priority to excel at the job. Remember that promoting yourself should go hand in hand with doing great work and proving that you can deliver on promises.

Another way to grow your career faster is to hunt down a job that is way out of your league. That’s precisely what I felt while hitting the “Send” button on guest blogging requests, fighting off my impostor syndrome. Psychological research shows that as other people place high expectations on you, you’ll feel more compelled to rise up to those expectations.

Related: Where to Intern If You Really Want to Be an Entrepreneur

4. It’s all about storytelling.

If you think about successful entrepreneurs, they’re mainly known for one specific characteristic, company or trait. On a personal level, those people have a variety of interests, characteristics and skills. However, it’s the one key story they’re known for.

Storytelling is an excellent way to develop your personal brand and raise awareness of your product or service. The younger your target audience, the higher impact your brand will have. A strong brand is also what differentiates you from the competition and allows you to monetize for a premium service.

Consider some of the most successful products of modern times: the iPhone, Airbnb rentals and the GoPro camera. Every single one of these products tells a story — iPhone’s owners are well-off and tech-savvy, Airbnb travellers are daring explorers and GoPro users are hunters of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

It is a lot more challenging to be different than go along with the crowd. Yet, following the crowd does not make you successful — you’re likely to be as successful as the average member of the pack. If you want to succeed, standing out and keeping true to your brand should become indispensable parts of your strategy.

Related: Why Your 20s Is the Perfect Time to Start a Business

5. Don’t forget to live.

Once you’ve achieved a fair share of success as an entrepreneur, new opportunities start to find their way to your doorstep. For many people, that’s also when impostor syndrome kicks in — the fear of not being as good as people think you are. This can lead to a vicious cycle of overworking and trying to grow your business further and further. Believe me, I’ve been there.

According to Psychology Today, our close relationships keep us grounded and make us happy. As you spend your entire life working toward an imaginary better future, it’s easy to overlook the presence and grow old without ever feeling content.

The nice thing about modern entrepreneurship is that you can be the master of your own time. Sometimes, it’s normal to work 12- or 16-hour days. However, don’t take too much pride in exploiting your energy levels — compensate for stressful work with proper rest and spend quality time with people that make you happy. Also, make time to read and grow your capacity to empathize as it will have a positive, long-term impact on your career.

The sooner in your life you realize what entrepreneurship means to you, the higher quality of life you’ll reach. You don’t have to wait another five years to get where you want to be. You can start right now by taking small but consistent steps toward the future you’ve dreamed of.

Related Video: 7 Lessons for Young Entrepreneurs from a NASCAR Solopreneur

A daily source of inspiration and information, Entrepreneur.com fuels the spectrum of game-changers that define what it means to be an entrepreneur today. That includes business leaders who launched something from nothing, content creators in the social influencer space, athletes pushing the boundaries of performance, and internal thought leaders innovating inside major corporations. Entrepreneur.com offers strategic insights and how-to guidance for the people that make things happen.

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Steve Jobs Shares the Secrets to Successful Team Leadership in This Throwback Video

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Though Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died six years ago, his outsized influence is certainly still felt. A recently surfaced video interview with the late CEO — which based on his haircut seems to place him in the mid-1980s — shows him sharing his views about best practices for hiring and what makes a great manager.

Up front, he says that the greatest employees are the ones who have the ability to manage themselves. But they can only do that if the leadership at the top is clear about what they want. “What leadership [is] having a vision, being able to articulate that so the people around you can understand it and getting a consensus on a common vision,” Jobs says.

Related: Steve Jobs Systematically Cultivated His Creativity. You Can Too.

Jobs goes on to explain that one of the most important jobs of someone in his position is recruiting new employees. He notes that he isn’t necessarily looking for someone who is an industry veteran, but rather someone who understands where technology is and where it could go in the future. He also recalls a moment when as the company was growing, that he and others executives thought they needed “professional managers,” but that ultimately turned out to not be the case.   

“We went out and hired a bunch of professional management [and] it didn’t work at all. Most of them were bozos,” Jobs says with his characteristic brutal candor. “They knew how to manage, but they didn’t know how to do anything. If you’re a great person, why do you want to work for somebody that you can’t learn anything from?”

Related: What the Creation of Apple’s iPhone Teaches Us About Innovation

Ultimately, he notes that the best team leaders are the ones that aren’t angling for power for power’s sake. “They are the great individual contributors who never, ever want to be a manager,” Jobs says. “But decide they have to be a manager because no one else is going to be able to do as good a job as them.”

Do you agree with Jobs’s assessment? Let us know in the comments and check out the full video below.

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How to Keep Introverted Employees From Quietly Leaving Your Company — in Droves

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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has been around for decades. Employers use it to uncover job candidates’ personality strengths and place them in the right role. MBTI results also help identify natural leaders and great communicators.

Related: Introversion Is Not A Weakness, So Why Are You Treating It Like One?

Yet, there’s little talk about how people’s results impact their satisfaction once they’re in a job. When leaders ignore employees’ happiness, it’s hard to keep productive talent around.

Interestingly, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based publisher of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, CCP, Inc., conducted new research that dove into how personality impacts workplace well-being. It looked at five aspects of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments.

After surveying 3,113 participants, the company, in a September report, revealed that introverts have lower well-being in all of these areas. This isn’t all that surprising: An introvert is less likely to speak up about what’s negatively impacting him or her.

It is shocking, however, that employers aren’t being more proactive. If leaders don’t find a way to improve the workplace happiness of introverts, those people will leave and take all their unique skills with them.

Want to avoid that happening to you? Here are some ideas to help connect with the introverts in your office and better understand their wellness-related needs in the workplace:

Be a chameleon.

Many leaders make the mistake of managing everyone the same way and assuming the results will equate across the board. But there’s a huge flaw in that logic: Every person, in fact, perceives and processes guidance differently. Some need more help in certain situations; some need less. So, it’s up to leaders to customize their approach.

Leaders ignoring the needs of their introverts can hurt their overall workplace well-being. The reason: Introverted employees will feel less engaged and have a harder time reaching their goals. This may then lead to feelings of isolation and disappointment, negatively impacting these workers’ mental health.

Related: 6 Truths on Why Introverts Make Great Leaders

When managers recognize introverts’ differences, on the other hand, they can help those employees succeed, and feel more accomplished. For example, as New York-based co-founder of the digital agency Ready Set Rocket, Aaron Harvey, pointed out, introverts have trouble speaking in front of people. “If someone struggles in brainstorming sessions, simply stop by their desk in advance and ask them to be prepared with a few ideas around a specific topic,” Harvey advised in an email. “This can help them feel confident, joining a conversation that organically leads to real-time ideation.”

Consider other situations when introverts might feel that they are out of their element. For instance, consider ways in which shy employees might meet new people.

Talking with new clients, after all, probably makes them nervous. So, reduce their stress by having an extrovert they’re comfortable with tag along. Having a familiar face present will help get them through the situation.

Scrimmage employees’ skill sets.

Extroverts’ strengths are obvious. They’re good communicators, enjoy building relationships and freely share their ideas — all skills that contribute to their well-being. These traits make it easier for them to create a support system at work and to speak up about what skills they have to offer.

Introverts’ skills are more hidden, so leaders don’t always see what they bring to the table. Since introverts are less likely to communicate what responsibilities they’d like to take on, they’re left feeling unfulfilled.

Skills-assessment tools, like the MBTI, are a great solution. They reveal natural strengths and help managers assign introverts more meaningful work.

After realizing your introverts’ skills, give them more opportunities to use them. Assign tasks and projects that allow them to maximize their strengths. Fully and effectively contributing to the team will improve their feelings of meaning and accomplishment.

Arlington, Va.-based Greg Wester, senior vice president of marketing and business development at the mobile content discovery platform Mobile Posse, likes to mix it up with his employees. To help everyone on the team develop his or her skills, Wester told me, the company poses team challenges that mix introverts and extroverts.

“We’ve found that people are super competitive about winning,” he said by email. “The different types of exercises give people a variety of ways to participate, get involved and hopefully boost their well-being.”

Currently, Mobile Posses’ employees are working as teams to create themed videos. Each team has eight cross-functional, cross-personality employees. They’re all challenged to use their individual skills to create a video representing their perspective on a company core value or vision.

This approach to skill-building, Wester said, helps introverts connect with the entire team and gives them more confidence about their value in the organization.

Keep kindred spirits together.

While it’s good to have both types of personalities working together, introverts may become stressed if they’re paired only with extroverts.

For instance, imagine walking into a room where everyone is talking loudly and the words don’t make sense. The situation is overwhelming. This is how introverts feel when they’re surrounded by extroverts. It’s as though no one is speaking their language, and they feel isolated as a result.

What’s more, iIntroverts and extroverts communicate differently. To maintain well-being, introverts need to find like-minded people they can connect with and recharge their energy with.

Rick Gibbs, a performance specialist at the Kingwood, Tex.-based HR services company Insperity, pointed out that following personality assessments, introverts can find people who are like them and make healthy connections. “The process itself can help improve communication, build teams, and expand office friendships,” Gibbs said in an email. “More introverted employees will be able to identify others with similar communications styles.”

Related: How Thinking Like an Introvert Can Help You Get Ahead in Business

So think about conducting personality testing at your workplace. Then, hold a meeting where everyone can discuss his or her results. This will show introverts that they are not alone. They’ll be able to communicate better and deepen their relationships — and with them their personal well-being — at work.

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Hard Work? It's Not All It's Cracked up to Be. It May Even Be Irrelevant. Here's Why.

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From a young age, we’re raised to believe that we can accomplish pretty much anything so long as we work hard enough to achieve it. And, for the most part, that makes sense, at least intuitively. If you study for three hours while your roommate studies for one, you’ll probably do better on the test. If you spend 50 hours at work every week while your peer spends 30, you’ll stand a better chance of getting a raise or a promotion.

This idea follows us at every stage of our lives, and it echoes a cornerstone belief of Western culture: As long as you work hard, you’re going to be successful. But there’s a problem with this philosophy: Hard work isn’t always enough.

The Netflix approach

This idea is hard to accept at first, if you’re a hard worker who invests major time and effort to get what you want in life. Perhaps then, it’s best to introduce the alternative notion, using a corporate example.

Netflix (yes, the company responsible for those late-night television binges) has found success in part because it abolished the idea of hard work being the sole determining factor in an employee’s progression within the company.

Netflix formally introduced this idea in a 2009 slide deck explaining the company’s culture, but the idea dates back to 2001. Since her departure from Netflix, the company’s former chief talent officer, Patty McCord, has been on podcasts and spoken in interviews about the rather different work ethic Neflix evolved.

After experiencing financial trouble in 2001, the company made a bold move to lay off a third of its employees — not based on how long they’d worked there or how hard they’d worked, but solely on what they contribute, and how they impact the company’s bottom line. This infuriated some long-time, hard-working employees, but those who remained ended up getting more done because they didn’t have to correct others’ mistakes, or work around unnecessary teammates.

Even after that initial layoff, Netflix paid almost no attention to employees’ hard work. It allowed unlimited vacation time and flexible hours, focusing on results and innovation instead of the number of hours worked or the effort spent. This system resulted in the letting go of many employees who’d worked hard and performed well. But it also resulted in the better performance of the company (and, in many ways, in less stress for the remaining employees).

The problems with hard work

The Netflix example may seem harsh, especially if you’ve based your career around working hard. What if you too were fired after a decade of putting in long hours and genuinely trying your best?

Still, there are three main problems with hard work that an alternative culture or approach could correct:

“Hard work” doesn’t equal “results.” First off, hard work doesn’t necessarily correlate with results. For example, it doesn’t matter if you put 100 hours in to the design of your landing page; if your site doesn’t convert,you may as well have spent one hour.

Hard work isn’t efficient work. Next, consider that hard work isn’t necessarily efficient work. If it takes the person next to you three hours to complete a task that you could have completed in an hour, that extra hard work may have actually cost the company unnecessary time and money.

Hard work doesn’t encourage innovation. Finally, focusing on hard work doesn’t encourage innovation or novelty. Instead, it encourages repetition and persistence. Those factors can be good, but you also need some drive to try new tactics, incorporate new ideas and learn new things in your life.

What to focus on Instead

None of this is meant to imply that hard work isn’t valuable — only that your hard work should be reserved for when it counts the most. So, as an individual (whether you’re a professional or an entrepreneur), what should you be focusing on instead?

Efficiency. Focus on your efficiency. Instead of spending more hours, emphasize doing more with the hours you already have. For example, you could automate certain processes, delegate work beneath your paygrade or find new strategies to accomplish more within a set time frame. You can also work on eliminating redundancies in your workflow, or on abandoning tasks, meetings, and projects that eat up your time unnecessarily.

Results. Focus on results, prioritizing the work that seems to yield the highest return on your time investment. What’s really going to help you succeed? Reduce or eliminate anything that doesn’t fall in line with that vision, and don’t be afraid to make cuts.

Improvement. Focus on improving yourself and your surroundings. Instead of working hard on level one, spend some effort trying to get to level two. Invest in yourself, learning new skills and gaining new experiences, and invest in your environment by training your employees and making sure you have the best tools available for the job.

Hard work is incredibly valuable, but we shouldn’t keep thinking of it as the most important factor for success. Instead, we should see it as one of many factors that can help us, but won’t, in itself, necessarily save our businesses.

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