5 Habits of Exceptionally Successful Founders
May 4, 2015

5 Habits of Exceptionally Successful Founders

by Brian de Haaff

I never set out to be an entrepreneur. The word still sounds a bit funny to me because I never felt like I was taking on greater risk than others. It just sort of happened because I liked to build products and realized that I was good at it. It’s not that different to build companies. And it’s true, I have a certain mindset about what it takes to make things great.

So, I have been fortunate enough to start a few companies and have larger companies want them enough to acquire them. And just two years ago, I started Aha! with my co-founder, Chris, because we saw a need for software that would help companies build better products themselves.

I am glad we took that risk together. It has been an amazing adventure so far. We have been humbled by the feedback and growth.

Because this week is National Small Business Week in the U.S., I wanted to take a moment to salute the millions of small business owners who took that first step in following their own dreams. More than that, I also want to encourage those would-be entrepreneurs who are seriously considering stepping out and starting their own company.

But before you take that audacious first step into business ownership, here are a few humble words of advice. This has worked for me and may for you as well. For you to start a business (and make it successful), here are five habits that I hope you will consider developing:

Take a goal-first approach Why are so many New Year’s resolutions made and then unmade almost immediately? People do not map out how they will achieve their goal, so it’s always hopelessly out of reach. If you want to be successful in business, you need to develop a high-level plan with key milestones that are achievable. In that way, you can mark your progress toward reaching the goal, celebrating the small successes along the way.

Be a realistic optimist I have not met many pessimistic entrepreneurs who stayed in business for too long. The same goes for the eternal optimist, with pie-in-the-sky dreams and no real way to achieve them. It’s best to be a realistic optimist: telling yourself that you will be a success, but not kidding yourself about how hard you will have to work. Realistic optimists dream big and change their path as they need to.

Experience the customer’s pain If you want to be successful, you need to get close to your customers and experience what they feel. Get comfortable talking with people who could be your potential customers. What do they value the most? What is standing in their way? The closer you get to walking in their shoes, the better you can define how you will serve them.

Solve one simple problem I like to say “This one first, that one free.” Focus on solving one problem first, and the second one will come along for free. You may be tempted to solve a myriad of problems for your customers, but you can spread yourself too thin and lose track of where you are headed. Just take on one problem at a time. New problems will start revealing themselves, showing you more ways your customers need your solutions.

Know what you do not know You are most likely a confident person and well-aware of your strengths. However, you will not be an expert at every aspect of running a business. Identify your weak areas and create a plan to make up for those deficiencies. That could mean taking some business courses to brush up on business basics, meeting with legal or financial advisers, and making a list of key players you will need to hire as soon as you can.

Starting a business is an audacious adventure, and it’s not for everyone. It is a serious investment of time and resources that demands careful deliberation and planning.

If you are still serious about hanging out your shingle after careful consideration, go for it. When you find success, do not forget to share your story with others. In so doing, you may inspire others to take that first step into business ownership as well.

What other advice do you have for company founders?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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