Lessons from Two Years as an Entrepreneur

Agricultural Food Systems, a company three friends and I started after graduating from John Brown University, celebrated its two year anniversary of incorporation yesterday!

Last year, I shared three lessons I learned during my first year as an entrepreneur. Since last May, AFS participated in the first cohort of the ARK Challenge, began testing of the TenderID in conjunction with the USDA, and was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek and Arkansas Business (article 1 || article 2).

As I’ve continued on my entrepreneurial journey, one of my personal mantras has been “never stop learning.” If for some reason AFS doesn’t work out (which hopefully won’t happen) and I learn nothing in the process, then the whole experience has been wasted. However, if it fails and I have some valuable takeaways, then it was a worthwhile (though costly) endeavor. As Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

That being said, here are three lessons I’ve learned in the past year:

Don’t Let Work Define You

Too often we let our work define who we are instead of letting who we are define our work.

Think about that for a second…

While occupation has always been an important part of individual identity (hence last names like “Farmer” and “Butler”), a person is so much more than what they do for a living. A person’s identity also includes their passions, hobbies, gender, relationships, religion, family, etc. Developing a well-rounded sense of identity is much more satisfying in the long run then hanging your hat on one aspect. What if that one aspect changes or disappears? It is likely an identity crisis will follow.

Let me illustrate: if you have been around highly skilled athletes on any level (but especially in high school and beyond), you know they often embrace the jock lifestyle: affecting what they wear, do, drive, listen to, etc. They become known as the quarterback or the basketball star. Unfortunately, athletes sometimes suffer devastating injuries that prevent them from participating in sports for an extended period of time. Now that one identifier that they built their whole persona around has been removed from their life. As a result, they either become depressed, try to reinvent themselves, or remain stuck in their old identity forever (think Uncle Rico).

Instead of defining yourself by the work you do (or sport you play), let your unique personality and interests dictate what you work on, how you work on it, and who you work on it with. Arrange your priorities around is truly important. By doing so, you will be able to add value in ways you never thought possible.

Delay Gratification

If you’ve ever been around young children, you’ve probably noticed that when they want something, they want it now. Any perceived delay usually results in at least a pouty face if not a full-blown tantrum. As individuals mature emotionally and psychologically, most of them grow out of this and begin to grasp the benefits of delayed gratification. However, with a world of increasingly “on demand” finances, technologies, and services, more and more people slip back into the “I want it now” mentality.

The same is true for business. Too often founders (or any businesspeople really) expect their project to be an overnight success. In reality, many ventures take much more time, work, and often money than planned for, leading many to give up on what may have been a valid idea (This is especially true with a company that has quite a bit of development and testing to do on the front end of the business like AFS does). On the flipside, rapid success can lead individuals and organizations to make rash and unwise decisions (Bryson Moore has some great thoughts on this side of instant gratification).

No matter what you’re working on, be willing to put in the hard work up front in order to reach a desired end goal. Once you reach your goal, continue to use your head to avoid the dangers of premature gratification.

Collaborate to Innovate

One of the best aspects of the ARK Challenge was the opportunity to be around other innovative people on a regular basis. Being around entrepreneurs and mentors with different backgrounds, skill sets, and experience levels taught me the value of collaboration. In fact, some of the major turning points in the different startups occurred as a result of collaboration.

Why does collaboration often lead to innovation? Primarily because it allows others to add input to your problem-solving process. Often founders don’t let others know what they are working on which leads to “tunnel vision.” Inviting others in to the process through collaboration adds new perspectives, challenges norms, and provides accountability. “It takes a village to raise a child” and often it takes collaboration to bring about and implement innovation.

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned during your entrepreneurial journey? Share them below in the Comments section.

-Lawson
Learn It. Love It. Live It.

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About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

3 Responses to Lessons from Two Years as an Entrepreneur

  1. jjaggie says:

    Great post. I found Delay Gratification to hit most close to home for me. Most of us who dare take on the challenge of entrepreneurship are A-type personalities who are used to going after what we want and being successful most of the time.

    What I have to keep reminding myself is it took years to become a good soccer player, it took years to learn solid marketing strategies etc. So while I hope for instant success, it does not always work that way. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Pingback: Entrepreneurship Isn’t Sexy | Lawson Hembree's Blog

  3. Pingback: Lessons from Three Years as an Entrepreneur | Lawson Hembree's Blog

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