Peter Davison’s parting advice for UTS startups
With more than 30 years-experience and multiple successful businesses under his belt, Peter Davison’s mentorship has been invaluable to the UTS startups community. Here, the founding mentor of UTS Startups offers his top tips for founders navigating the many challenges of entrepreneurship.
Photo by Guy Degen.
1. Focus on learning, not financial success
Entrepreneurship in business means having a business that’s self-sustaining, that builds profit. But that’s not always what entrepreneurial success looks like - it’s about learning.
Your business has a pretty good chance of not ever being profitable. But, here’s something that you will definitely succeed in if you choose this direction, and that is, learning about the problem space and learning about yourself – how you make decisions, how you deal with uncertainty, and how you deal with pressure.
Don’t get hung-up on trying to become Mark Zuckerberg, forget that. Focus on maximising the opportunities to learn about yourself and about the sort of people you want to make a business for.
Even if you choose to go down a different career path, if you know your strengths and weaknesses, and understand how you make decisions and how you deal with uncertainty, employers will value that learning.
2. This is your journey
When someone gives you advice, listen to it, process it, compare it. But keep in mind that person’s advice is not a formula about what to do, it’s a way to refine your internal compass - you’re choosing what to do and you get to choose how you do it.
If you choose to follow advice you’ve been given, you’re essentially testing that advice with action, but it’s still your choice.
Remember, this is an individual journey and there’s no right way. Don’t look for consensus to justify your action, you have to look internally. So, when you think ‘Do I need to develop a lean startup methodology?’ or ‘Do I need to develop an MVP?’ or ‘Do I need a co-founder?’, maybe you do. But just because nine out of 10 people are doing it that way doesn’t mean you have to. Entrepreneurship is a very personal journey and its okay to be different. In fact, it’s expected to be different and it’s your strength to be different.
By all means, ask people for advice but those pieces of advice are resources not answers about where you need to go. Take advice but don’t blindly follow it.
3. Remember your mission
There are a lot of opportunities for young people in the startup space because organisations and governments are realising this is how we have to think in the future. But don’t lose your core mission which is to understand a group of people and solve their needs.
There is only one foolproof measure of how much you are progressing as an entrepreneur and it’s not your revenue, it’s not your profit, it’s not how much investment you have or even how far your product itself has come: it’s ‘how much more do you know about your customers than three months ago?’. If the answer is ‘a lot’, then you're doing the right thing. If the answer is ‘nothing’, then you're idling.
What do I mean by knowledge of your customers? I don't mean the kind of knowledge you get from reading market research reports about customer segments, although that can sometimes be valuable. That’s not enough. I mean a specific kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge you get watching and interacting with your family or groups of friends. You know what to say and what not to say. You know what they care about and what they don't. You know what they think of you and where you fit into their lives. You know how to get them to do stuff with you. You know what pisses them off.
How do you get this knowledge? Well, how do you get to know new friends better? Talk to them. Go to events with them. Invite them somewhere. Find out what they like to do and buy and when they're free. Hang out where they hang out. Maybe after a while you'll even discover they are not the right group of friends. Great. You're learning more about where you need to be.
Some people talk about an entrepreneurial type or personality. I've never found one and I've met hundreds of successful entrepreneurs. But, the one thing the successful ones all have in common is deep knowledge of their customers.
So, ask yourself each week, ‘what more do I know about my customers than last week?’. That's how to define a progressive entrepreneur experience.
UTS Startups has many experienced mentors, as well as other resources such as networking events, workshops, boot camps, and access to our startup collaboration spaces, all designed to help you launch a business. Apply here.