Over the course of the last 11 years, many people in my professional and personal circles have asked me “Why did you start DSM?” and I always gave the same normal, jerky answer. “I was sick of dealing with stupid people.” Turns out, I was the idiot.
This 11-year journey through entrepreneurship has taken me to ridiculous highs and crushing lows, spanning an unfathomable range of emotions and experiences that I never thought were possible. In short, being an entrepreneur is the easiest and most difficult thing anyone in business can do.
While you do get to call your own shots and make your own rules, you also have to ensure that you’re doing the absolute best you can for yourself and all those that count on you. It is a responsibility of epic proportions.
Five Crucial Lessons All Entrepreneurs Need to Know Now
1) Learning Never Ends.
Whether you want to or not, you will learn thousands of new things throughout the process of starting your own business. It will never end and it’s a blessing.
If you’re not learning, you’re failing. As an entrepreneur, every day I wake up and literally never know what is going to happen with staff, clients, vendors, etc. It’s the most rad feeling any business owner can have because you are always learning something new and it’s not “learning” as you might think.
As the founder of a business, you are a team leader and a cheerleader. You get to be “in the process” as well as a “part of the process” in real time as life unfolds.
2) Relationships Are Key.
Not only are relationships crucial for business development, they are the trophy at the end of the game. I can say unequivocally that every success this company has ever had is because of the folks (both past and present) that have graced its halls.
To me, the relationships that I’ve made are the greatest gift that DSM has provided. I don’t care who you are or how much “success” you’ve had, every successful entrepreneur is good at relationships.
Relationships are my fuel. They are my passion. At DSM, we preach family. To friends, clients, vendors, even the delivery dude from UPS… if you’re at DSM, you’re officially part of the tribe. You’ll know it and feel it when you’re with us.
No matter the highs and lows, we share meals together and beers together and laugh and cry together. It’s who we are and what I am most proud of with our group. I have brothers and sisters now that I never had growing up. They help me to be better every day of my life.
3) Friction Fuels Success.
You must fail to succeed. In my opinion, it was a great blessing that I learned early in life that I wasn’t the smartest tool in the shed. I just knew how to read people and push buttons to get a result – good or bad.
Ask my mother and trust me she will attest to this. Putting it bluntly, I know how to get stuff done and I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind in a room. It’s an art form and in some ways, that friction fuels my drive.
I love the back-and-forth of an argument: point and counterpoint. I thrive off the tension in the argument. Honestly, as I am writing this I am thinking I missed my calling; I should have been a lawyer. (Eh, maybe not. I don’t have the patience.)
My entrepreneurial journey has taught me that there is only a “select group” of our species that is willing to face this friction head on.
Only a few people will nut up and jump on an out of control locomotive barreling towards a cliff with no way to stop it from hurdling over the edge. Then, somehow, someway…they figure it out. Those are the people you want by your side.
4) You Can’t Control Everything.
Anyone who thinks they can control everything around them is an asshole. The hardest part of my day-to-day is trying to control my unquenchable thirst for controlling the elements. Guess what I’ve learned the hard way many, many, many times: You Can’t. Yet, I still try.
I still push forward in a quest of unimaginable disappointment each day to direct a narrative that other smart and wonderful people have entrusted me with. Just when I think “I know”, the narrative flips.
It’s never a simple flip, like “You’re wrong” or “That was brilliant. You’re awesome.” It always requires the organization of a thousand moving pieces. This is the ultimate entrepreneurial challenge.
Dude, when sh*t goes pear-shaped at DSM, let’s just say SH*T. GOES. PEAR. SHAPED. In those moments, that’s when the learning that I was talking about earlier happens. You have two choices with pretty much every situation in entrepreneurship. 1. You can turn tail and shrink or 2. Take the weight (no matter how big the decision is) and throw it on your shoulders.
Either way, you’re still on that locomotive heading for that cliff with those few crazy people. How am I going to stop this train from derailing?! You just figure it out, folks.
No matter how happy, sad, tired, frayed…you get the idea. People are counting on you and you have to be on point, even when you’re not. Trust the process and you’ll get there.
5) Culture Matters.
If the people around you make or break your entrepreneurial experience (and I believe strongly that they do), then the culture you build for your business is just as crucial. I’ve been fortunate to win a few awards over the last few years with regards to our growth and success. Not going to lie, it’s cool.
These awards, however, do not compare to something that was said to me recently by someone who I look up to immensely: “You have built something really special at DSM and I am proud to be a part of it.” These 18 words strung together are the best thing I could have ever heard. Drop mic. Deuces. Leave the room. In my opinion, that trust is the most astounding part of the job.
The only way I get through each and every day as an entrepreneur is by talking with, listening to and watching your team. At DSM, it’s startling to me just how solid our group is… How did a group so diverse and talented come together under one roof?
I hate the word because it’s so cliché these days but for the purpose of explanation: culture. Culture drives our marketing agency. Suffice it to say that I am an acquired taste. That’s also true for our merry band of misfits at DSM.
That is the common thread that binds us together as a group. Our clients love us. Our friends love hangin’ with us. Our peers want to be us. We’re like a real family…with a bunch of client deadlines and deliverables.
I had never previously spoken that into existence and when I do, it makes me proud. As a group, we’ve been able to transcend our real families to create something unique and real in another completely separate environment. All of this achieved as a result of our culture of open communication, our philosophy of “best idea wins” and a few beers.
My Final Thoughts
In closing, heed the advice above and understand these points come from a place in your best interest. I had to take it on the chin already to learn these lessons. The hard work is done. In the early days of DSM, I should have talked less and listened more but I can’t go back.
I’m sharing these lessons with you so you can understand that this “entrepreneur game” is way more about the why and so much less about the what or how. You are going to find a groove that suits you and when you do, run with it.
You are going to make mistakes, but don’t let them crush you. You are going to hit proverbial walls where you think you can’t do one more thing. In these moments, look to those around you for support. You will see that this is not rocket science.
It’s another aspect of a life well-lived. A life that is difficult and messy, but one that is so freakin’ rewarding if you decide to embrace the challenge. Along the way, reach out if you need an ear or a sage bit of advice.
Me? I’m still dangerous and I’ll be your wingman anytime! Deuces, folks.