Entrepreneurs win for 10 reasons. Military forces win for different reasons and it might surprise you to learn that these reasons often overlap.

Last week I shared those 10 reasons with members of the Army, Navy and AirForce from three nations at the Australian Defence College.

I’ve seen these reasons play out time and time again in the ventures I’m involved in and through countless conversations with world-class founders. I hope they’re useful to you too.

1. Time Is THE ONLY Currency

The single most important resource available to entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) isn’t domain expertise or their track record.

It’s time.

Time is every precious moment you have from the instant you decide to start working on a new business model. How you decide to use time governs how productive you will be, how quickly you can fail and above everything else, how quickly you will learn.

I was asked about how to manage time if you’re working on a side project while working a day job. The reality is that nearly every new venture starts this way. If you want to know if there is a there, there (i.e. if people want to buy what you’re selling), you’ve got between 9pm and 2am each day to work it out. It’s that simple.

And if you’re wondering how to stop pontificating and starting doing, here’s how to validate an idea in 30 days.

2. Urgent Focus

Urgency characterises Steve Jobs and other immortal entrepreneurs – Malcolm Gladwell

‘Urgent focus’ is the potent byproduct of knowing time is running out and an insatiable appetite to learn in order to move toward.

When you break this behaviour down, urgency drives entrepreneurs to keep looking everywhere to get answers. We look for where the components of our future business models have been tried before and we use every manner of sticky tape to bring them together to prove a concept.

Focus comes from knowing the question we want to be answered and acknowledging the path to the answer will be anything but linear. In other words, it will take time to answer and that’s OK but it doesn’t mean generating activity (picture of a lot of people just doing stuff) in the hope the answer will reveal itself. It means conducting experiments to validate (or invalidate) hypotheses in order to learn as quickly as possible.

And herein lies the litmus test between entrepreneurs and those playing entrepreneur.

The latter is busy doing stuff, unclear on their central thesis and being easily distracted by new opportunities that vaguely fit with a vision they have trouble articulating.

By contrast, entrepreneurs create momentum by continually testing to validate and learn against their central thesis. And it’s this approach that delivers a massive competitive advantage to founders: the ability to determine the difference between an opportunity and a time suck.

3. Think Publicly

If you think you know what people need before you ask them there’s a great chance you’re wrong.

Sharing ideas with others is not only essential to understand the demand for products and services, but also to unveil adjacent opportunities and applications.

And before you think people will be critical of your idea or that it will be stolen, think again.

Whenever I’ve provided the right context for a new idea and given permission to receive point blank and unbiased feedback, I’ve always received it.

When it comes to an idea being stolen, people don’t realise that it takes tons and tons of heart to bring a new business model to life. You have to love it. You can tell when entrepreneurs love what they’re building. It’s a mistake to think that two people will have identical motives and identical drive to see the job through. And even if there is more than one person with a similar idea, that’s fine. It’s called competition. So compete!

If you’re wondering how to think publicly, start with a group of ‘friendlies’. These are people you know and trust, and who have permission to give you feedback and suggest new ways to think about the idea. For me, I either start with my mentors or my mentees, a collective of emerging founders in my private Slack channel who provide rich and rapid perspectives on ideas.

Tip: Develop a group of five friendlies who act as your early sounding board. Given them permission to help you, thank them and develop a habit of thinking publicly.

4. No Original Idea

Someone somewhere has thought of your idea and/or tried to bring it to market.

This is my underlying hypothesis for all ideas and I’m waiting for it to be invalidated.

An outcome which I’ve heard many times before, which is a by-product of identifying wrong competition, ignoring obvious competition or missing previous pioneers is this: “No one is doing what we’re doing.” 

If this is your perspective, remember this from Guy Kawasaki:

This is a bummer of a lie because there are only two logical conclusions. First, no one else is doing this because there is no market for it. Second, the entrepreneur is so clueless that he can’t even use Google to figure out he has competition. Suffice it to say that the lack of a market and cluelessness is not conducive to securing an investment. As a rule of thumb, if you have a good idea, five companies are going the same thing. If you have a great idea, fifteen companies are doing the same thing.

Tip: When you have a new idea, spend $50 doing this.

5. Network Is Essential

Networks are to entrepreneurs what force multipliers are to the military. In other words, the strength of the network often correlates with how quickly an entrepreneur can learn and move forward.

And networks aren’t just ‘business contacts’. They include mentors, friends, family, other entrepreneurs, business partners and investors, to name a few.

Entrepreneurs are weapons at networking and the best ones abide by the 51% rule as they create, grow and nurture relationships in their network. If you think sending thousands of random LinkedIn invitations is the way to go, you’ve missed the point.

6. Bet On Strengths

It’s no secret that people love doing what they’re good at. And while it might not always be practical to do what you love, there is a strong chance you’ll achieve more doing things that leverage strengths when compared to tasks that don’t.

If you overlay this idea with the value of time, it makes sense to double down on strengths and find ways (e.g. freelance talent) to manage weaknesses.

7. Infinite Learners

Entrepreneurs are infinite learners. We consume incredible volumes of blogs, books, podcasts and courses because we are genuinely interested in learning. Our brains are hardwired for curiosity. An interesting byproduct of this obsession for founders is that this knowledge becomes inevitably useful as you continue to fight fires at every turn. Reid Hoffman does an excellent job of explaining the infinite leaner psychology in this episode of his Masters of Scale podcast.

8. One > Zero

Many people have ideas. Very few do anything with them and that’s because convincing someone to buy something you’re selling is tough and getting tougher as people’s attention spans continue to shrink.

Traction starts with getting one person to act and then 10 people to act, then 100 and then 1,000 and then 10,000 and so on. It doesn’t start with 1% of a population doing something (like so many first-time founders misjudge when trying to quantify their target market).

When building a business it’s easy to forget how much fun it is to create a custom experience for the first people who engage with what you’re making. Enjoy and learn from it because there will come a time when this luxury won’t exist.

9. Set The Failure Standard

The byproduct of failure is a lesson. Lessons drive momentum. Momentum creates change.

It is as simple as this and it’s up to leaders to set the tolerance for failure. In doing so, they have two binary choices.

  1. Condemn failure, in the slightest way, and you can kiss goodbye to any implicit desire to improve and evolve.
  2. Establish behaviours that always surface and understand lesson(s) that prevent failures from being repeated.

Option two always wins.

10. Know There Is ALWAYS A Way

There is always a way. Period.

People who disagree do so for two reasons.

The first is they are tired.

The second is they are caught up in their own thinking. They usually aren’t thinking publicly. If you’re wondering what I mean, think about the last time you shared a problem with someone else and they gave you a really simple answer and for whatever reason, a weight lifted from your shoulders. Got it?

There is always a way. Entrepreneurs usually find it.