2016 was a crazy busy, awesome year. Much was achieved, some lost, and I learned a ton as an entrepreneur. I got to know some very cool people and traveled to unique places. From meeting some of the innovation leaders of Silicon Valley to visiting with local government of a small American oil and gas town in the midst of reinventing its economy to focus on technology, to traveling on a private jet to Asia with a billionaire, 2016 was full of critical takeaways and new experiences. It was a year of learning and growth. Here are the 2016 lessons I’m taking into 2017 that will make me, and you, great entrepreneurs.
Nothing beats face to face: Innovative technology is created every day that allows us to communicate across the globe, whenever we want via our phones, tablets or computers. A great thing indeed. However, if you want to form lasting bonds, make a great first impression, and be memorable to more people, meet face to face whenever possible. The nuances of a conversation or meeting in person go a long way.
Always show up: You never know which event, lunch or coffee will turn into your next big deal. Don’t blow off meetings.
Investors want a liquid stock more than an undervalued one: Value is in the eye of the beholder. And in today’s volatile global economy, a majority of investors want to know that if shit hits the fan, they can quickly exit a position. Liquidity trumps a cheap stock.
Emotional quotient more important than a good deal: I had a chance to meet the designer of Fitbit this year (also the designer of several other household inventions you know of). It was an inspiring meeting that showed the power of emotions when it comes to consumer behavior. Emotions trump a good deal, always. If you’re an inventor in the process of creating the next big product, play to the emotional quotient (EQ) of the consumer you are targeting. Emotional purchases override the cost consciousness of a consumer. Products that utilize EQ typically have above average margins and cultish brand loyalty.
Trends are worth the effort: While the long view is critical in any business, entrepreneurs need to be on the constant lookout for new and emerging trends; and then capitalize on them. It’s not selling out by profiting from a trend or fad; it’s giving the people/market what it demands. Find a way to capitalize on trends that can be related to your business in 2017. They’re gifts from the heavens for entrepreneurs, and to ignore them would be foolish.
Bullish investor trends in the commodity space in 2016 and the burgeoning marijuana sector added tremendous amounts to my bottom line in 2016, and I started the year with neither of these on my radar. My focus as an investor and capital markets consultant for public companies was, and continues to be, tech.
Quality always sells… quickly: Extra effort to create a quality product is worth it, no matter the market conditions.
2016 wasn’t kind to Calgary, the city I live in and love. It’s an oil-dependant town, so you can quickly understand why it was a tough year. Unemployment hit a 35-year high; the provincial government imposed new taxes, there was a record level of business closures, the commercial vacancy rate hit near 20% and consumer spending was down dramatically. So I decided to buy another investment property near the downtown core…
And after stretching myself to close the real estate investment, I thought it prudent to make it the sexiest rental space possible for that neighborhood, which cost me an extra $50k on top of the purchase price. Even my contractor thought I was over the top with some of the renovations. I remember him saying, “Aaron, it’s just a rental property.” Not to me it isn’t. I wanted to be proud of it, just like my other properties. No surprise, it rented in a day for near top dollar.
Then there was our family home. With two young boys and a big dog, my wife and I decided this was the year to sell our first house together and move into a bigger space with a larger yard. Again, being in a recession, it wasn’t the best time to sell. So we put in a max effort to get it done. I sent the family to Vancouver in the summer for two weeks to spend time with the grandparents while I got the trades in to spruce the house up for showings. New paint, redid the hardwood floors, changed light fixtures, decluttered, and boom – the place looked stunning. Best $9,000 I ever spent.
We listed on a Friday evening and had the house conditionally sold on Sunday for nearly 40% more than what we paid five years prior.
Without balance, you’re poor: No matter how much money made, if you don’t pursue a balanced life (with a focus on health, family/friends, self-reflection) you’re going to be unfulfilled. Life is about pursuits and love, not simply working and acquiring. Find that balance in 2017.
Those moments by the fire or at the dinner table with people you love are priceless. And having those moments throughout the year keeps you energized when returning to your craft the next day.
Love being alone: Moments of solitude are critical. Be comfortable with yourself. Learn to reflect. Learn to appreciate what you have, both tangibles and intangibles. You can’t do that with noise and people around.
People who read are interesting – and that matters in business: Readers are often worldly, thoughtful in response and become reliable for good advice. They also have a wit and vocabulary that commands attention in a boardroom.
When I read a lot (at least 25 books a year), I’m sharper in conversation, more creative with business ideas, a better writer and more relaxed. Why wouldn’t you want to be all of those things?
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
There’s always an alternative way of doing something: How you run your business is just that… your way. It’s likely not the best way.
Never give up. You’re never out of options. I learned this very clearly in 2016 after working with a genius engineer who always looks for better ways to build things, whether the project is rolling along or hitting bumps. Better is better, so constantly pursue improvement and don’t panic when things don’t go as planned.
Let people finish: Don’t cut people off in conversation, no matter how wrong you think they may be.
Cutting people off is when you miss the details. Most importantly, it shows graciousness, respect, and class to let people finish their point even when you have an opposing view. Think Mike Pence versus Tim Kaine in the VP debate this fall.
I’m typically very good about letting people finish before giving my 2 cents. It has been ingrained in me to do so from a young age. And the one incident I remember interjecting in the middle of someone’s point this year I ended up regretting…
I interjected with an assumption of how they would finish the sentence and rebutted the claim (it was a rather personal discussion). However, my assumption was wrong, and they rightfully corrected me. I looked stupid and rude. Never again.
Optimists only: Negative people are toxic for entrepreneurs because entrepreneurs must be eternally long. We have to believe opportunity is right around the corner because we need to consistently create and try new things. If we didn’t believe in the future how could we bring ourselves to take on new risks?
Pessimists don’t see a point in putting in the effort because somehow the economy is going to collapse or stocks will crater, or the government is out to get us. Their forecasts are mostly dark. Kick these people out of your life. You don’t have to say anything to them, just cut ties. Life is short. Pessimists are dream killers.
“Many an optimist has become rich by buying out a pessimist.”
-Robert G. Allen
Invest in entrepreneurs on the side: We work hard as entrepreneurs. And most of us work at maximum output. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could invest in another one of us and reap the financial rewards without the 70-hour a week commitment? The truth is, we can. There are many great, dare I say even better, entrepreneurs than you starting a new business and looking for capital. Put some money into these people and leverage the success you’ve had. If they do right by your investment, it can open the door for a partnership down the road.
Leverage the genius of other entrepreneurs. This was huge for me in 2016.
Sleep well: Go to bed early and wake up early. Simple as that. Win your mornings and the rest of the day works itself out.
Start early and be fresh. A minimum of seven hours of sleep is needed to operate at your best.
I’m a night owl, so rising early is VERY challenging for me. But when I execute, beautiful things happen with my businesses.
Hang out with new people: Variety is the spice of life, and it’s important to seek new perspective and motivation. While your circle of friends surely consists of great people, it helps to meet new entrepreneurs from various walks of life. This is one way great new ideas, and partnerships, are formed.
2016 will have made me a better entrepreneur in 2017 because I learned these 15 valuable lessons. Be conscious of these takeaways, apply them throughout the year, and I’m confident you, and your business, will grow too. Make this your year!
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