7 Lessons I Learned My First Year as an Entrepreneur

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One founder discusses the lessons she’s learned transitioning from an employee at Microsoft to starting her own business. 

By Maria Dykstra (Co-Founder, TreDigital)

It’s been roughly 18 months since my last day at Microsoft where I had close to 14 years of a pretty amazing ride.

I got to be a part of the growing online advertising industry, work with the most brilliant minds in tech, sales and marketing, travel the world, and launch really cool products.

My last day was one of the scariest and most liberating experiences I have had. Leaving my paycheck and benefits was frightening: But I am not going back.

In the last 18 months I have grown beyond what I imagined was possible. I have met even more exceptionally talented people and have got to be a part of fascinating (and growing) companies and products.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I work long days and face a lot of challenges. However, there is one huge difference: I am in full control of the choices I make – I get to choose which 18 hours of the day I work.

At this point, I cannot be more excited about what’s ahead of me. This is what I have learned thus far in my journey.

It’s Not About Where

…it’s all about who and how. Many years ago I read a story about three self-made millionaires who made a bet. They were to leave all of their money and assets, move to Canada (ensuring them a fresh start), and try to make another million within a years time. All of them succeeded independently.

Pure luck? Don’t think so. I’ve found that it is possible to succeed in my new setting by applying the same strategies and approach I used at Microsoft in my own company. Success is not about pure luck, or landing in the right place at the right time. It is about who you are and how you go about it.

Working Hard Does Not Equal Results

One of my former bosses and mentors, used to say, “You do not get an ‘A’ for effort.” This is true. I’ve learned that working hard means nothing unless you have results. In the world of an entrepreneur, if you fail to deliver results, you do not get paid.

High Speed, Low Drag

I first heard this saying from my mentor, who was an air force pilot. This military term refers to doing precise work when minimal backup support is expected or desired. It’s all about executing quickly and efficiently. Many great decisions, products and companies never saw the light of day. They were plagued by overthinking, overplanning, and complex support systems that hindered their ability to keep up with change. Create simple, repeatable processes – processes that can be easily modified as market changes.

Priorities and HVA

I thought I was overwhelmed at Microsoft…I had to think twice as an entrepreneur. I found myself drowning in the manual tasks. One day, when I was feeling beyond overwhelmed, I asked some other amazing women entrepreneurs, ‘how do you keep it together?’ They responded in unison, “HVA,” meaning  ‘High Value Activities.’  All those years of Six Sigma, productivity and project management training immediately re-surfaced in my head (duh!). Prioritize all of your tasks and focus on the ones that are critical to success.

If You Take it on, Do it Well

I’ve heard this from one of our newest clients and it got me thinking. Steve Jobs was frequently criticized for his maniacal approach to quality and design. Besides reinventing the ways we consume media, from magazines, to music and videos, to gaming and advertising, he set new standards for quality and perfection. I’ve learned that in our day and age, the quality of the work you do is the best competitive differentiator.

Relationships Always First

Technologies come and go but what the great Dale Carnegie said still rings true. No matter where you are, or what you do, building relationships always come first. I truly believe that social media did not eliminate the need for direct human interaction, it simply provided us with a platform to enhance tried and true methods of winning friends. Connect with people first, sales will follow.

Ask for Help

Every single successful entrepreneur has at least one advisor; most have a number of mentors and advisors. I am eternally grateful to the mentors, partners, co-workers, customers, and friends that I have met throughout the years. It is the people at Microsoft that I still miss the most. The first thing I did after leaving Microsoft was establish a network of mentors and supporters. I also found a new networking home filled with awesomely successful entrepreneurs – it filled the void of “socializing at work.” I’ve learned to never stop looking for mentors, there are many valuable lessons left to learn.

WHAT ARE SOME LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED IN STARTING YOUR NEW BUSINESS?

 

Maria Dykstra

Maria Dykstra is a digital media strategist with over 15 years of successes in the advertising industry. Her background includes customer and market research, as well as product and marketing strategy for digital advertising tools covering $2 billion in annual advertising revenue. In February of 2012, she co-founded www.TreDigital.com. Follow her on Twitter @TreDigital.