6 Lessons From 4 Years In Business

by / ⠀Career Advice Entrepreneurship Startup Advice / May 12, 2016

Recently my business, Idea Lemon, celebrated its 4 year anniversary. I use the word ‘celebrated’ loosely because really that meant Linkedin notified me it had been 4 years since I first added Idea Lemon to my profile, and I looked up at my Cofounder, Martin, and said, “Hey, apparently its our 4 year anniversary today.” He replied with, “Oh really? Cool,” and we got back to work.

While there wasn’t much by way of celebration, I did stop and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned on this journey of starting your own company and trying to make a significant impact in people’s lives. This article is my collection of reflection. A few things to understand about the 4 year anniversary and this piece:

  •  Idea Lemon started as a side project in 2012, then a side business, and it wasn’t until about March of 2015 that we decided to make it a full-time business.
  • By that standard, we have only officially been a business for just over a year (and truthfully we didn’t even have our LLC until July 2015 soooooo…). While it’s only technically been a full-time business for a year, it’s been my dedication for all 4 years, and I was only able to learn the lessons in this post because because of the cumulative time.
  • That said, Lesson 1 applies to all 4 years, and Lessons 2-6 were primarily learned over the past year. And on that note, Lesson 1 is naturally the longest, while the others are much shorter.
  • These are the things I have learned. Take this information and use it how you will, but understand I’m speaking from my own personal experience, and not claiming these lessons as universal truths (though I do think they do have merit beyond my own experience).
  • For each lesson, I’ve included a link to one of our podcast episodes which pairs well. Sort of like pairing wine and chocolate.

Now, if you’re wondering why on Earth I chose 6 lessons for a 4 year anniversary, your curiosity is warranted. I don’t have a good answer, but my answer is that I started writing this and before I knew it I realized I had 6 lessons down. I didn’t feel like cutting any of them, and figured to continue to 10 lessons would just be stupid.

Alright, here ya go!

 

LESSON 1: Find a cofounder who thinks differently than you, disagrees with you, and focuses their energy in different places than you, but who ultimately shares the same vision as you.

We’ve all heard a million times over that good cofounders have complementary skill sets, and that’s absolutely true. But what’s never discussed is what I’ve found to be equally, if not more important, and that’s having a cofounder who essentially has a different personality than you.

My cofounder Martin and I are interested in a lot of the same things, but we think very differently, and that’s led to breakthrough discoveries. When your cofounder thinks differently than you, there are bound to be disagreements–and you want disagreements. If you’re always in agreement, then you both have blinders on.

I don’t care how smart you think you are, if you’re not constantly being challenged to hold your ground on a particular belief, then you’re destined to make poor decisions that carry a lot of severity to them down the road.

When your cofounder thinks different, and disagrees with you, then you’re in a great position to focus your energy in different places. This creates a relationship rooted in trust and honesty.

Why does this work? Because although these differences exist, we share the same ultimate vision, and the constant need to challenge one another is fueled by our commitment to making sure we’re making the right decisions to achieve the shared vision.

This is why the beta test of our online course was more than an elevator pitch class (which was my original idea that Martin challenged), the reason why our podcast exists (I hit ‘record’ in a conversation one day unbeknownst to Martin, who has said he would have spent months planning how to do a podcast had I not done that), and the reason why there’s no jealousy when I get press attention or make connections with influential people (We do many things in tandem, but there are a lot of instances where I get the nod instead of him, or get introduced to a high-profile person and not him, but he’s said it’s his job to put me into the spotlight as best as possible).

We’re both smart enough to know that we’d be equally unhappy if I was getting buried in the background, and he was put out as the ‘face’ of the business. That comes back to having our energy focused in different places, as a result of thinking different and encouraging disagreements in order to achieve our shared vision.

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “How Do You Keep From Killing Your Coworkers?”

 

LESSON 2: Don’t buy into the hype of location-independence

I bought into it hook, line, and sinker for most of 2015. There are a lot of outlets who glamorize the notion of being a ‘laptop-preneur’. “Work from the beach, travel the world,” etc. We were ready to move to Costa Rica for the winter (I had already purchased my flight ticket) when, 3 weeks before the flight I called Martin and said, “You know how we always talk about being honest and upfront with each other? I don’t think Costa Rica is a good idea.”

There are very few instances where a truly location-independent business makes sense, like Matt Wilson with Under30Experiences. But even in his case, he runs a travel company, and lives in Central America, where 1/3rd of their trips are located. So really he’s not location-independent at all, he’s just running an international business.

Location-independence makes a lot of sense if you want to live the life of a freelancer, and your skill is something like SEO or web design. You’ll do work for cheap, but if you choose somewhere where cost-of-living is cheap then it won’t matter.

Your #1 focus in building a business should be on your customers, and if your order of business is to run far away from where your customers are, you won’t survive.

The decision to not move to Costa Rica proved essential when we launched our first product (our online course) in December 2015 and it completely bombed. But, we retooled in only a few days, took down, then re-launched our product, got in front of our audience teaching a workshop, and sold 2 copies less than a week later.

If we were in Costa Rica, we would have been handcuffed. And from that point forward, we’ve emphasized doing as many in-person events as possible (and quite honestly, we really enjoy teaching our workshops so in retrospect Costa Rica made ZERO sense!).

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “What’s The Best Approach To A Nomadic Life?”

 

LESSON 3: Ambition is how you respond when things don’t go as planned

Everyone talks about being ambitious, and hell, I wear a wristband every day that says “Ambition” on it, but it’s easy to be ambitious when things are going well. When our initial product launch flopped, we could have rolled over and said, “That’s it. We gave it our best shot.” In fact, for about 5 minutes I actually looked at job listings for the first time in a year.

But true ambition is how you respond when things don’t go as planned. And we dusted ourselves off, figured out how to right the ship, and turned that initial failed product launch into our first 28 customers, which generated $12,570.

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “What Happens When The Worst Happens?

 

LESSON 4: Set goals, even unrealistic goals, if only for the sake of having a conversation about what’s realistic

In November 2015 I declared our goal for 2016 was $240k in revenue. Mind you, in 2015, we did ~10k in revenue. I declared that goal with hardly any plan for how to get there.

I knew full well it was asinine, but for a long time we had been avoiding the revenue conversation. I knew if I threw out a figure, it would allow us to have that conversation, and set realistic goals.

This ultimately led to us tracking several metrics on a weekly basis, and focusing on our best success levers.

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “How Do You Set Goals?”

 

LESSON 5: Consistency is the key to success

You don’t have to be the biggest, have the most money, be the smartest, strongest, fastest, etc, but if you are the most consistent you will win out.

Whether it’s a blog or a business, too many people give up after a few months because they didn’t gain their dream amount of traction. These are the ones whose level of ambition is tested, because they roll over when things don’t go as planned. Those who stick with it, with consistency, outlast all those who rolled over when the going got tough.

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “What Does It Mean To Struggle?”

 

LESSON 6: Don’t think of it as a business

Obviously, you’re a business, yes. But if you only think about being a business, you’ll make all of your decisions in alignment with what you perceive a business to be.

Look elsewhere for inspiration and emulation. Idea Lemon is a business, but internally we frequently think of ourselves as a band and a tv show.

Our weekly metrics meeting is titled “Weekly band practice” on our calendar. We look at the workshops we teach as ‘going on tour’, and our email newsletter we view as our singles. Our podcast we think of as a TV show, and thus release it in seasons with 13-14 episodes per season. When developing our online course, we treated it like writing a TV show, including script writing and table reads (and once you begin the course, we actually say in lesson 1, “This isn’t a class. This is a talk show, we’re the hosts and you’re the guest.”

Some of our best creative breakthroughs like the above, or rapping while teaching personal brand workshops, have come from not thinking of Idea Lemon as a business, and instead as a band and a TV show.

For more on this, listen to our podcast episode “What is Creativity Anyway?”

….

It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and there is much more to be done. Thank you to my cofounder Martin for being 1/2 of the magic, all of our tribe members who share our belief that every individual deserves a unique voice, our students/customers who force us to be on our A-game every day, all the organizations we’ve partnered with, and the amazing people we’ve met on the journey.

In the comments section below, tell me which of these lessons resonated with you most.


 

Thanks for reading! I’m Rajiv Nathan, Cofounder and Ambassador of Awesome for Idea Lemon. Want to take back control of your career? Get our 5 Questions That Define Your Life booklet over at idealemon.com

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