Do A Business You Don’t Hate (& Other Lessons From A 2 Year Old Entrepreneur)

hanging up my stethoscope

by David Janner

Most of you know that in a previous life I was a medical doctor. It’s always pretty vague when I try and think back, but if I remember correctly the date I hung up my stethoscope and left the prestigious hospital doors was in June or July 2011.  So, if my maths is about right, I’ve been out of the system for about 2 1/2 years… Wow it felt kind of longer.

I want to share with you the lessons that I’ve learned in business so far.

It’s not that I’m saying that I am a stellar success, but I have managed to grow my business quite nicely. It still doesn’t feel ‘stable’ to me and I always feel that I’m still in survival mode.

I’ve been muddling my way and fumbling in the dark through the business world and I’d like to share any realizations that I’ve had through my half blind journey in the hope that it might make your journey maybe a tad easier.

I’m writing this for you – my friends, family, readers; but also for me in order to help me crystallize my meta lessons and take action on these lessons (which I am already doing).

A Bit About Me…

I guess before I delve into the concrete lessons part, it’s probably worth giving you a bit of a background about my journey.

I wasn’t in business on day 1 when I left the hospital and I certainly wasn’t in the App Store yet.

I think I had a vague idea that I wanted a web based business, but the initial thing I felt and knew and what dominated my day to day was… Utter Terrifying FEAR (UTF).

I knew I had to make money and I didn’t have the patience for the as yet unknown web business to start generating revenue, so I resorted to what was most familiar and what it thought could generate pretty much instant cash…

Business can be scary

Business can be scary…
…a bit like a cute zombie girl.
Photo by Grmisiti

I remember when the idea first came to me…

I had just finished up a run with a friend along a beautiful cliff top above one of the most stunning beaches in Tel aviv and we ended up outside a kind of defunct hotel which now had a little shopping center, which included one of the most well known and media-famous plastic surgeons in the country.

And my friend told me… “You know, any doctor can inject Botox…. Good money…”

Beach runs and bad business ideas

Beach runs can breed bad business ideas…Photo by kxande2 

So the idea was born and I was on (almost) the next plane to London to take an aesthetic medicine course and start raking in the cash.

Botox destroyed my soul.  At least that’s how it felt.

I didn’t like the patients focus on vanity. I just didn’t like them full stop.

Potential legal liability was constantly on my mind (even though everything went smoothly and my patients really liked me, any phone call from a patient set me on edge).

What was supposed to be a lucrative ‘side’ gig to use my professional background so that I could focus on my ‘muse’ business ended up sucking all my time – even here the focus was on survival, trying to drum up clients.

(Funny side note: I was my own first patient – I injected myself with Botox to get some extra practice in and so that I could experience what my patients would feel.)

What I did find was that I avoided anything to do with the actual botoxing and I would spend the bulk of my time creating my business website (myself), deepening my knowledge of SEO and using that knowledge to rank my website and set up PPC campaigns.

To cut a long story short, after I think almost a year of soul sucking botoxing I made the leap…

While SEOing my main business site, I had managed to build a network of sites that they in themselves started to produce income (I created an informational site for doctors interested to learn Botox injection techniques – to this day the site is still ranked #1 in Israel and still brings in a small side income, which comes from referring potential leads to these high-priced courses).

After my pretty horrendous first business experience, one thing really became clear to me – that in general I definitely knew now that I wanted to be in the internet / mobile space…

And this led me down the path to creating MAKE APP magazine (initially just on the iPad, now only on this blog), which in turn led me to interview leading entrepreneurs in the app space…

I took the lessons that I learned there and put them into play in my own app business, which is where I am now…

Business Lessons Learned

The first app ever that I produced was with a good friend and my current business partner.

The Men in Black 3 movie has just came out and we wanted to capitalize on that trend, so we created our own app from scratch which was a replica neuralyzer from the movie…

We didn’t really care too much if app made money or not (secretly we hoped we became millionaires from it of course :) ) the main aim being just to have the experience of creating our first app and learning from the process.

We didn’t become millionaires of course, although the app was bringing in about $300 per month, so we were getting close :). Not amazing, but it let us understand what sort of return we could expect and now we understood the process. Even though this app didn’t let us retire, the experience we gained from publishing our first app was invaluable.

So now I’ve been “in business” for about 2 and a half years. While I’m still very young in industry , here are the lessons Ives learned….

MAKE THE LEAP

Make the leap

Photo by Binomialphoto

Starting a business will probably never be easy. For me it is a bit like diving into a pool of cold water.

I initially thought that I could work on and develop a business on the side while I was still working in the hospital, but I found that with my work hours, even though they weren’t too bad, I just didn’t have enough hours or energy at the day to do any real damage.

While you hear of stories of people who manage to grow a side income will working in their day job, I can’t do this. I needed to make the leap and devote myself full time to business making.

I also wanted the feeling of hunger that would come by leaving stability behind and I think this worked for me, although it is extremely stressful.

EVALUATE THE WORST AND BEST CASE SCENARIOS

Of course before you make the leap into the unknown, you need to assess your worst case scenario.

I has been working for quite a few years at a good paying job and had managed to save up a sizeable sum so that I knew that even if I didn’t have any income I could probably pay my bills for about 2 years.

And even though I dreaded the thought, at the very ‘worst’ I could take on hospital shifts or go back to a full time hospital job if I really had to, so I knew that I probably wouldn’t end up on the street.

If you look at the flip side, the upside potential was huge.

I could become financially independent, learn new skills, expand my horizons.

It’s sometimes hard to step back and logically assess your situation when you’re in the thick of it, but for me the knowledge that my downside risk was limited really helped me move forwards.

BE DETERMINED

While knowing that my downside risk was limited helped me, on the other hand I didn’t really care. I was going to succeed no matter what it took – the thought of ‘failure’ and going back to work was not an option. If this is the last thing I did. This HAD to work and I has to make it work.

That was and is my attitude and I guess having ‘made the leap’ and experiencing the hunger it brings helps.

In fact I’m not the only one who thinks that determination is the key to success. Angela Lee Duckworth, in her fascinating TED presentation, reveals that quality of grit is the best predictor of success in any field (watch this awesome talk below – its only 6 minutes long and pretty inspiring).

That really makes sense to me.

I don’t actually view myself as particularly intelligent.

I think the main reason for my success academically has been simply my motivation, determination and for want of a better word, grit.

TEST DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS

This might be a bit controversial, but it’s what I did and I guess it’s kind of worked for me.

Initially I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in business and I certainly had no idea of what would work, so I tried lots of things as you saw above.

Botox, multiple lead generation websites, Newsstand magazine, original app development, reskinning apps – and that’s not even a full list.

Some things didn’t work at all, some things had moderate success and some showed great potential.

Some of these I liked more and some less.

But it’s only by going through this process that I was able to come to a point where I’m in a place that I’m fairly happy with and that is generating revenue.

Jim Collins in his latest book ”Great By Choice” calls this process ‘firing bullets, then cannon balls’, and it is one of the elements that he found characterized 10x companies (companies that stood out from their industry during tumultuous times).  What’s interesting is that I’ve heard of this approach of validating ideas quickly in the start-up realm, but it’s interesting that Collins discovered that the same approach is one of the elements that distinguishes great, established companies.

So, summing up all these approaches, I think that this is something that should be constantly applied, not just at the beginning of a business but throughout its life cycle.

In our case we are constantly testing different app themes, different types of app development, different app markets (we’ve had various “experiments” in BlackBerry, Windows Phone and other alternative markets – more on these in another post).

Through all these experiments we first of all learn, then we double down on the winners and discard the losers.

The extreme opposite of this would be to set a plan and focus on just one thing, which I believe I has a very important place, but perhaps not at the very beginning of an entrepreneurial journey.

HAVE A PLAN AND STRUCTURE YOUR DAY

Leaving a ‘normal’ job behind, I knew structure in my day was going to be one of my biggest challenges.

I’ve been ‘institutionalised’ as I think most of us have been.

We are taught throughout our lives to follow a set path, to listen to your parents or your teacher or your boss.

We are used to others telling us to come to work at 9 and leave at 5, or to study for the test next week.

No wonder that during my holidays I would wonder around aimlessly not knowing what to do, since I didn’t have anyone to direct me.

And it HAS been bloody hard.

These are some of the things that have helped me…

Working out of an office

I tried working at home (went stir crazy after a while) and at coffee shops (not comfortable).

I’ve been working out of a really cool co-working space for the past year or so and this has been really important for me. I’m forced to get out of the house and travel to work, it gives me a routine and structure without the distractions and isolation of working at home.

It’s not easy to make the leap to work out of an office (I know), especially when you’re starting out and you’re counting every penny.

Many people might work really well from home, but my productivity suffered in a massive way.

If that sounds familiar to you then going to work in an office or co-working space could be an investment that pays itself back many times over.

The Pomodoro Technique

You can look this up here.

This gives me a mico-structure to my day.

Sometimes I do and and sometimes I don’t use this, but it can definitely help focus.

Planning

I’ll go into more detail about the planning aspect another time because it’s worth a whole post in and of itself.

Planning has several layers.

The first is the overall goal for the long term and a detailed Gaant chart which plans out what we’ll be doing week by week over the next 6 months in order to achieve the goals.

I’ll do a weekly plan at the start of each week, where I’ll review what I achieved from last week’s plan and what needs to be done this week. At the start of the week I’ll also fill my calendar with what I plan to do when.

And lastly the daily plan. When I do the weekly plan I’ve already set a general plan for each day, but when I get to my desk I’ll review all tasks and re-prioritize if necessary.

LEARN FROM OTHERS

The problem with our knowledge base is that it is limited to what we know (duh!).

Undoubtedly one of the biggest things I got out of the magazine was talking to others who were more experienced than me. In fact, I’m certain that if I hadn’t done so I would be much poorer for it.

Whether you have an interview show or go to physical meet up events or join a mastermind, I can’t stress enough now important learning from others is.

I don’t do it enough and definitely should do more. The brevity of this point doesn’t do justice to its significance.

I’ve also had a business coach for a year or so and I think that going through the coaching process definitely helped me a lot.

Since there is no real school for entrepreneurs, I found that it really helped to have someone observing from the side with a bit of perspective.

The benefit that each coach brings would be very individual. Where my coach helped me was in stretching my goals and sharpening my planning skills and probably in many other ways.

What I know is that when I started the process life felt very much like a jumble. It still does, but less so.

DO A BUSINESS YOU DONT HATE

If I had to guess, I’d say that a lot of people are looking to monetize their passion and find something that gives them pure bliss every moment of the day. From my limited experience I don’t think that such a thing exists, or if it does it is really really rare.

I think that you definitely shouldn’t do something that you hate (for me that was Botox) and as long as you don’t hate it you’ll find some things that you enjoy and others the you enjoy less, but hey that’s life.

Do I love every aspect of the app business? Definitely not.

But I do find elements that I enjoy and see as a challenge (particularly systematization – will be a subject of a future bog post).

Ultimately I want to do something that I perceive as deeply meaningful, but I think that in order to start your entrepreneurial journey you need to just do something you don’t hate and find meaning where you can.

As you become more financially stable you can look to focus on other projects.

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So that’s it… a few of the major lessons that I’ve learned from my limited experience in the past couple of years.  I hope it helps you out!  Writing it down has helped me see what I need to work on (especially learning from others), so I’m already taking action on that…

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99% of people who do this end up being generally happier in life.

Also, a last thing…

…If you were mildly entertained, amused or informed, then please share this with any friend or family you think should read this…

… and (really) last thing… lets discuss this, because I’m sure you have your own perspective, so leave a provocative comment below.

 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Todd Smith February 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Awesome post David! I liked hearing about your story! Keep these up! Although, you’re ASO posts are gold!

Reply

David Janner February 11, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Thanks Todd! :) And I appreciate you letting me know what you’d like to hear about, definitely helps!

Reply

Dan Dobos February 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm

A great story… I love the grit video! :)

Reply

David Janner February 12, 2014 at 5:50 am

:) Dobes! Yeah one of my favorite TED talks for sure.

Reply

David Janner February 12, 2014 at 7:32 am

You are very gritty

Reply

Emeka Oguh February 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Awesome post David! You're an inspiration!

Reply

David Janner February 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Hey Emeka – good to hear from you! I hope you're killing the ASO!

Reply

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