13 Thoughts On Being An Entrepreneur – From Carrot CEO Trevor

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My (Trevor's) office at our Carrot headquarters in beautiful Roseburg, Oregon.

[post was originally posted on Trevor’s personal blog, check out this and more over there. Oh, and by the way, my personal blog is also on our Carrot platform!]

This past year I’ve been engulfed in entrepreneurship. Yes, I’ve been an entrepreneur since the day I graduated college… but this past year has felt more entrepreneurial for me than any other year in my life.

I’ve learned a lot this past year.

What not to do (still learning). What to do (still learning massively). How to actually start a real company that can scale and be valuable some day (not just a little “income stream”). How to spot the “fake entrepreneurs” and like Mark Cuban says… the “wantrepreneurs” (they’re everywhere). How to build massive mission and purpose into a business like I’ve never known before.

So, I’m sitting down in Chicago in my hotel before I fly back home and want to throw out 9 thoughts on being an entrepreneur. Not “what you should do” stuff… because what I should do has nothing to do with what YOU should do. Don’t copy me, it won’t work. One thing I’ve found is you have to find your own way (yes, mentors help you hopefully find that way faster, but you’ll still make your mistakes along the way… trust me… even ones you swore you’d never make.

Here goes.

Entrepreneurs aren’t made. As Gary V. says… “it’s in your DNA”.  I used to have this idyllic dream that “there’s an entrepreneur in everyone”. I’ve found thats a load of (you know what).  You may not be cut out to be an entrepreneur. A day job may be what you’re cut out for. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What EVERYONE is born for I believe is doing something they love… but most people stick themselves with jobs and day to day existences that they hate. If you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur… get a job at a great place… do your job better than anyone… be passionate about it… and things will work out.

It’s always harder than you think… even when it “feels” easier.  You see the big stories on TV or in the news of the huge successes in business. Facebook… Instagram selling for a billion… on and on.  Those are stories that the media picks and chooses the “sexy” parts of the story… because that’s what people want to hear. Then the world goes out, has an idea, creates a “startup”, maybe raises some money, and realizes this “entrepreneur thing” is way harder than they thought when they actually have to make money to pay the bills. No one ever sees the behind the scenes of the success stories. The 19 hour workdays the first 6 months trying to get a killer product out before the market passes you by, the scraping by eating canned chili and grilled cheese 3 nights a week because your bills outweigh your income (ask me how I know that one), the marketing campaign that doesn’t go as you planned the first time, organizing your day (and life) when you have full freedom and flexibility (way harder than I thought).  Take what you think it’ll take to start a company, times that by 10, and you’re closer to reality.

Legacy trumps profits. My first few years as an “entrepreneur” was about profits. That sucks. No fun. It’s a drain on your soul and a waste of your potential. Now legacy comes first over profits for me.  I want what I create and the impact I make to last… to affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in a positive way… for people 50 years from now to look back and say… “Man, that guy made shit happen”.

Competition is a copout.  Buck up and work harder and smarter… that’ll trump competition 9 days out of 10.

Entrepreneurs are attracted to a mission. It’s built into us at our core. Give us a problem to solve… and we wanna solve it, make it make money, and improve the damn thing before know it.  If you want to make a truly HUGE impact as an entrepreneur… attract other entrepreneurs to YOUR mission and have a community of entrepreneurs work their asses off to make that mission a reality. We’re doing it right now in my small town. If you’re in Oregon and are reading this… give us 5 years and see what Roseburg is like then. It ain’t by accident or happenstance guys… I created a vision… our community turned it onto a mission… and shit is happening like people never thought it would here.

I don’t care what people think I can or can’t do. I heard a quote once that went something like…“when people say you can’t do something… it’s actually their subconscious saying THEY can’t do it”. I used to care what other people thought. I used to not like to ruffle feathers. You’ve gotta ruffle some feathers and bear some scrutiny… and do what most people think you can’t do or you’re wasting your time.

Multiple intertwined businesses is far easier to manage. One of the biggest challenges is staying focussed. I’ve learned in previous years how important it is to focus on “one big thing” and get that business to a point where it’s sustainable and has great systems and a team before you add another major thing on.

Even then it can get difficult and you run the risk of being mediocre at everything vs. great at one thing. In 2009-2012 I owned 4 businesses and invested in 2 others… thinking it was the cool “badge of honor” of a serial entrepreneur.

“Look at all of the things I’m doing! I’m awesome!” But at the end of the day all of the businesses were unrelated (all cool, but unrelated) and I grew resentment for my role in almost every one of those companies because I couldn’t put my all into any one of them.

So each of them was mediocre and each needed a piece of me. No fun. So in 2012 I read the book The Pumpkin Plan which changed my outlook on things. I started “trimming” off everything except my “one big pumpkin” and put all of my resources and energy into that company for that year.

Promising myself I wouldn’t start anything else until a year passed and at that point I’d decide if I was either going to bag that business or focus on it for another year. That business is still my “big pumpkin” today and is one of the fastest growing companies in America. It’s 100% bootstrapped, profitable well into the millions, and a fun as heck business. I gave it the focus it needed to dive deep on it and make it amazing. Amazing is fulfilling. Half-ass is no fun. But, along the way I had the temptation start new ventures and mostly resisted.

One bit of advice I will give is that the three companies I spend my time on now are all related. They’re all synergistic. When one does well, they all do well. And growing one is a direct result of growing the others. Two are offshoot businesses that serve the bigger company — Carrot. They all grow together.

Stop thinking more equals cool. Less is better. Just focus and make sure any new businesses you add to your repertoire are all aligned with your core values and they all feed off of each other as they grow.

Passion isn’t something you find. I tried to look for years. Never found it. Like the cliche goes… sometimes important stuff like passion, love, and purpose just finds you. And it may find you when you’ve given up on it or when you already think “you’ve got it”.  When I forced the issue to think about what my passions and purpose are… I made up a fake one because I “knew I had to have a purpose in life… right?”. Fake purpose is draining and sucks. If you aren’t thinking about whatever it is 24/7 and sacrificing things that may make you a profit today in exchange for living that purpose… it’s probably not your purpose. Go out there and do stuff. And lots of it… take on different projects, meet lots of interesting people, visit places you’d never think of visiting, find a big problem that few are tackling that you know you can help make a dent in… that passion and purpose will hit you and say… “here, THIS is what you’re here for”. Slogging away at your desk or job trying to think of your passion ain’t gonna cut the mustard (as my college baseball coach would say).

I’m not entitled to anything. Neither are you. Stop thinking you are… it’s killing your happiness, success, and putting people off around you. Feeling entitled is just shortchanging yourself for your true potential.

People buy the result of your product, not the product itself. People don’t buy a product. They don’t buy a car or a website or a new home. They buy a status, a dream of financial independence, or a vision of what they want their life to be like in the future. One of the big mistakes I made in the past and I see lots of companies make is they focus too much of their marketing on the product — on the features, the things that it does. But they don’t focus on what their clients life will be like after using the product.

If you don’t want to put in the work to be a GREAT marketer, either don’t be an entrepreneur or stop whining about the economy. Or I guess another option is to hire a great marketer… but you’ve got to make enough money first in order to hire one… and to make money you have to learn to market. Weird the way that works eh?

It’s on you. What you ask? Everything. Using your time well. Making the right decisions (or even having the balls to make a decision at all). Whether your company does well or fails. It’s on you to make things happen.

I collect smart minds, not fast cars. The most valuable thing in life (behind our health) is relationships we hold. I like to connect and collect smart people. Stuff is cool for a second… then it gets in the way and clutters up your life. Smart, passionate, driven people can stick with you forever. I like to fill my life with great people not fancy stuff.

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