Most would-be entrepreneurs start off with a dream. But nine out of ten quickly discover that you need more than an idea and the simple wish to “make it big.” The failure rate is staggering because most people don’t grasp some essential truths.
Since starting my first business in my bedroom at the age of sixteen I’ve witnessed many companies crash and burn—largely through lack of leadership. I’ve seen businesses flounder because an entrepreneur didn’t have the character and determination to succeed. I’ve seen the best of intentions go up in flames.
What can you do to boost your chances of being among the one in ten that make it?
Conquer your fears
First of all, recognize that you have to pursue your dreams at all costs. You might not achieve them right away. But you have to persevere. When obstacles arise to block your journey it’s natural to become fearful. It’s natural to doubt yourself. And then you freeze in your tracks while the business collapses around you.
Embrace the fear and channel that negative energy into a fearless determination to do whatever you have to do to make it a success. There are no short cuts. You will have to make sacrifices. It will not be easy. Most importantly, recognize those fears and conquer them.
Know your dream
What is your ultimate aspiration? What is your life’s course? What does the inner you reveal about your role on the Earth? If you don’t have a dream, you don’t have anything. It’s like not having a soul. Your existence is not meaningful for yourself or others. You aspire to become something special and give to the world.
As I told Oprah when she honored me with an entire show about my success, “You’ve got to dream of something that you really, really want to do. Most people are sometimes fearful of living up to their dreams. My dream was I wanted to go ahead and control my own destiny and not be at the whim of someone trying to put me down because of my appearance or who I was. I wanted to become successful and run my own company so I didn’t have to report to anybody. I didn’t have to live up to the stereotypes.” That’s what I wanted and that’s what I did.
There’s not a straight line to success. You don’t step foot on an escalator that effortlessly transports you floor by floor to the penthouse. Sometimes the escalator grinds to a halt. Sometimes it jolts to a halt throwing you backwards. But these are just temporary setbacks. Don’t back down from your ultimate goal.
There’s a famous quote that I love which goes something like, when you don’t get what you want, you get experience. Everything is a learning experience that will build your knowledge bank. Making mistakes is good, as long as you learn from them and don’t make the same mistake again.
Success comes not from just wanting to win. Wanting is not good enough. You must have a compulsion to win. An overwhelming desire to triumph against all the odds—the craving to climb to the pinnacle of achievement in your chosen field of endeavor. Perhaps that sounds over the top? It’s not. People who don’t understand it are the people who don’t do anything except be resentful and jealous. They don’t understand ambition.
I’ve had people tell me how lucky I am and how easy it must be for me. That’s a slap in the face because of all of the struggle that’s gone into getting where I am today. But some people choose to believe that success is handed out like a gift. They enviously ask, why him instead of me? It could be them—if they spent more time building themselves up rather than tearing others down.
The nine out of ten entrepreneurs who fail often do so because they can’t cope when things don’t go their way. They fall apart when the going gets tough. They collapse when their great idea or product gets the thumbs down from their peers or the marketplace.
Some years ago one of my board members actually told me that he thought my company was growing faster than I was. Imagine that. I was the founder of the company. Revenues and profitability were all in the right direction. Everything was running smoothly. The whole nine yards. And then you realize a board member doesn’t believe in you.
How you react says a lot about who you are and whether you will make it to the next tier. I guess I could have started crying (not likely!) or reacted in anger and lashed out at the individual. But luckily I have a thick skin and was able to take the criticism. I accepted that one person felt that way and it made me determined to prove him wrong by even greater performance.
I come from very humble beginnings. My family moved from India to the U.S. just before my fourth birthday. My parents, my siblings, my inspirational grandmother, and I, were crammed into a one-bedroom apartment in the projects of San Jose. Growing up and going through the public school system was torture. I was different. I was the only kid in school who wore a turban. There was verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
But I shrugged it aside, an action made easier by discovering the world of the internet and the euphoria of the dot.com explosion. I quickly spotted an opportunity, did my first deal at the age of sixteen and within ninety days had a real business. It skyrocketed. Two years later I sold it for a substantial sum. Today I’m running my fourth hugely successful company.
One of the reasons I have been able to continue to be successful is because I have stuck to what I am good at. I found my niche but I continue to improve and innovate.
If you stop innovating, your business will wither and die. You must remain open to the latest advances, especially in the high-tech realm where great young minds are conjuring up jaw-dropping breakthroughs at a breakneck pace the world has never seen before.
It also means being open to learning. Although I dropped out of school at the age of sixteen I have never stopped learning. In fact, learning how to learn (a subject not taught in most schools) is the most important lesson of all. And, of course, learning from the school of hard knocks.
When you’re starting out the successful entrepreneur must have dedication almost to the exclusion of everything else in his life. I literally lived in my office. I worked there. I ate there. I slept there. For a while I forgot my family and I forgot my youth. I was obsessed. I was driven. Balance didn’t come until later in my life. As I told Oprah, “True happiness comes when you have balance and success.” You need dedication to feeding your brain or you won’t get anywhere. You must continue to learn and grow. Always look to give more than what’s expected. Challenge yourself. Open your mind and keep it open. Where others see obstacles, look for opportunities. There’s nothing you can’t do, if you put your mind to it. As I’ve said before, Dream big and hustle harder.