I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I started an odd-jobs business in high school, founded a collectible comic-book business in college and launched my first capital-backed startup — an adventure-travel company — in my 20s.
My entrepreneurial endeavors continue today. I’m in my late 40s, running Red Rocket, looking for groups to buy and advising hundreds of early-stage businesses. My approach to managing businesses today is very different than when I was younger. The experience I now bring to the table has materially mellowed me as a leader. But I didn’t have that background or that perspective when I was younger.
Experience collects wisdom.
I’m no longer a freshly minted CEO trying to figure it all out and making a lot of mistakes in the process. Decades of battle scars have sharpened my business thinking. With that hard-earned experience, I’ve accumulated years of learning. Not much thrown my way today is new. Chances are, I’ve already seen some version of it in the past. I simply dust off the old playbook and adjust from there, without having to think about the challenge as a first-time obstacle.
Wisdom drives confidence.
Business decisions are like anything in life: The more you’ve done it, the more comfortable you get. With that comfort comes a sense of confidence that you’re headed in the right direction. First-time entrepreneurs often lack that insight and second-guess their paths. Tom Brady didn’t become the greatest Super Bowl-winning quarterback overnight. It took years of practice, memorizing playbooks and logging game-time experience. Those combined effects propelled him to success, and he’s now one of the most confident quarterbacks in the game. Entrepreneurship is no different.
Confidence leads to efficiency.
The better you know your subject matter, the more efficiently you can execute your plan. I don’t necessarily need to stay up all hours of the night trying to figure out how to do something. I can make decisions faster now, and I know how to best invest my time. I don’t get bogged down in the weeds. I’ve discovered what actions lead to the maximum ROI on my time, research and energy.
Efficiency thrives on data.
In the old days, I’d get all excited about the features and functionalities of the product or service I was building. Today, the product doesn’t matter so much. I’m more focused on the economics around that product or service. What is my average ticket? Gross margin? Repeat sale rate? Churn rate? Cost of Customer Acquisition? Lifetime revenues? Return on marketing investment?
Without solid business economics, the rest is just noise. I’ve become increasingly data-driven in my decision-making. I’m always looking for the profitable levers that I can pull to help scale a business.
It all adds up to better leverage.
Age has taught me I’m not in this battle by myself. Surrounding myself with the smartest people I know also will make me a more effective leader and executive. I go so far as to say I hope my direct reports are a lot smarter than me — and no, that doesn’t intimidate me. So many young entrepreneurs need to feel as if they’re the smartest person in any room. I empower my team members to do their jobs, and then I get out of their way. I don’t need to micromanage every one of their decisions as I did when I was younger.
Most important, I no longer panic when things start to go wrong. Many first-timers sound the alarm early and often. That’s doubly unfortunate because panic typically creates unnecessary chaos and stress right when an organization needs to be its most focused on solving the problem at hand. Take a breath. It all will work out in the end.
Here’s my message to all the first-timers: Gather up experience (directly or through mentors) to help bolster your confidence and make you a more efficient, data-driven decision-maker who’s comfortable leading a team of wicket-smart and empowered executives. And for goodness sake, don’t panic when things start to go wrong. There’s always a logical fix.
If you follow this guidance, you can stop pulling your hair out in the wee hours of the night. Instead, you’ll get that time back and can transition to living a well-balanced existence — all while watching your bank account grow along with your thriving business.