Business lessons from an entrepreneurship programme

As any entrepreneur will admit, every start-up reaches a stage where a major shift is needed to get to the next phase of organisational growth and success. We call these “inflection points” – a stage in a business’ journey where it has proved its business case, secured funding, established partnerships and appointed a strong management team, and now wants to significantly scale using the current infrastructure. The inflection point needs to capitalise not only on the track record and success of the organisation so far, but also on prevailing market conditions and broader macro trends to achieve economies of scale, product diversification and globalisation of the organisation.

Our business is at that point. We’ve built a strong product offering and have a solid customer base. We’ve done much of the hard work in establishing a profitable, stable business. We have a great team. We have reached our inflection point, and now need to move quickly in order to reach the next high-growth stage.
This is, partly, what led me to participate in the selection process of Endeavor, a global programme to support high-impact entrepreneurs. Through my participation both locally and at the final selection panel in San Francisco, I have met some truly inspiring business leaders who looked at my business through a microscope and asked tough questions about all facets of the company. The experience was invaluable, not least because I learned four critical lessons about what it takes to build and lead a truly successful business:

Innovate broadly
It’s easy to equate innovation with technology, but ‘innovation’ actually applies to every facet of your business. How do you provide your staff with the latitude to innovate within their specific roles? How lean and agile are your internal processes? How do you recruit talent? All of these are critical aspects to the organisation’s success. Competition is fierce, so the ability to apply innovative thinking to every business problem gives you a massive advantage.

Be humble
There were many highly talented and successful entrepreneurs participating in the local Endeavor programme. But the common character trait of those who failed to make the cut to the next stage? An inability to take criticism, which negates their ability to improve. When you’re an employee, the ability or inability to learn affects only you. As the leader of a business, however, the effects of ego can be devastating. This taught me to be humble, to learn, and to strive to improve.

Understand your weaknesses
This lesson ties back to the second lesson. It’s about being open to discovering your weaknesses, and then taking steps to improve them. For me, this lesson is mainly to do with removing myself from the operational side of the business so that I can focus on the larger vision. More specifically, knowing that my day-to-day involvement in operational matters may be hindering rather than helping the business makes it easier for me to step away.

Trust your team
Entrepreneurs tend to involve themselves in all facets of the business during the start-up phase. When you start out, you may not have all of the skills and people you need to take care of various tasks, so you end up doing a lot of it yourself. What’s more, because your financial future literally depends on it, you tend to operate at a very high level. But as the business grows and more people join the team, it becomes essential to delegate effectively and to trust that your staff will uphold your standards. Great leaders know that people perform at their best when they’re trusted with important tasks. Inspire your staff to do great work, leave them to get it done, and the rewards will be immense.

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By Dov Girnun, founder and CEO of Merchant Capital, and Endeavor programme scholar

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