So, You Want to be an Entrepreneur? Screw up first

As a young, bright-eyed student at Indiana University, I thought the world was my oyster and that if I had an idea, there was literally no way that it could fail. I was so wrong. I had the entrepreneurial bug ever since I was a kid -“ I was bit by the same bug that bit my father. In college, I was promoting parties at nightclubs and making more money in one summer than most adults made in a year. During the tail end of my college experience, I started a cleaning service, and then another business that hired photographers on college campuses across the country to snap college kids partying at bars. Both businesses failed. It wasn’t for a lack of passion, but instead, the fact that it was too much, too quick without the necessary preparation and resources to properly run and maintain a successful business.

I graduated college in 2005 and had already personally bankrupted two companies. Then in 2006, I started ArkNet Media, where I quickly learned that launching a business is not for the faint of heart; it’s a real commitment that extends way beyond the boundaries of normalcy. More often than not, it’s taxing on a physical, mental, financial and emotional level. In the initial stages, the moments of fear and frustration totally outweigh those of confidence and happiness. In the early months, I had nothing -“ no servers, no operations, no staff and no branding. My only choice at the time was to outsource everything. The fact that I was starting an e-commerce company with almost no capital meant many sleepless nights on the phone with developers in India working out the kinks and making sure the website was fully functional and user friendly. Although the company today has grown rapidly since its meager beginnings, getting there afforded me a valuable lesson in commitment and patience that has stuck with me throughout my career.

While I do not claim to be an expert businessman or Obi-Wan of sorts, I do think I can offer some sage wisdom to people just starting out. Here are some tips and lessons I learned along the way:

1. Your Business is like a Relationship:
I liken starting your own business to entering into a new relationship or a marriage. For starters, chemistry is essential. Beyond that, you need to be certain you are ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead and that you are dedicated enough to put in the work. Like any relationship, starting a business has a honeymoon stage. Prepare yourself for when the excitement ends and the roller coaster ride begins.

2. Learn from the Masters:
It’s not wise to jump in feet first without having a clear set path. Remember, you can be the smartest person in the world but not know the first thing about starting a business. Do your research. Attend seminars, read books written by successful business owners (one must read that made an impact on me is “Winning” by Jack Welch). Sign up for workshops where you can hear firsthand from successful entrepreneurs. They obviously did something right, take their advice when mapping out your business plan.

3. Looking to Partner Up?
If you are looking to partner up, make sure that you choose wisely. What does your potential partner bring to the table? Is your partner as committed as you are to putting in the hours and doing the work? You don’t want to be in a situation where he or she is not pulling their weight, leaving you to do all of the heavy lifting. If you’re going at it solo, kudos to you, but just make sure that you are prepared to do it alone. A bad partner is enough to sink your ship.

4. Use Your Time Wisely
There are 24 hours in a day and more often than not, it never feels like enough time to get everything done. For this reason, it’s absolutely essential for new entrepreneurs to be smart when it comes to using and managing their time. Don’t waste your time on anything (plans with people you don’t like, social networking sites that will eat up hours of your day, and most importantly, people who don’t believe in you or are simply trying to hold you back).-¨

5. Get Organized
Organization can pave the way to success. When starting a new business, there are bound to be several moving parts on any given day. My advice: track everything, keep receipts, have a plan of attack and map out your day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, make a to-do list immediately. With all of the technology available today there’s no excuse to be disorganized or let anything fall through the cracks. Some of the apps/tools that I use on a daily basis are MINT, Evernote, and WunWun.

6. Use the Fear of Failure as Motivation for Success
Make a list of your strengths -¦ and your weaknesses. Nobody is perfect and the first step to being true to yourself -“ both in your personal life and in business -“ is admitting you have flaws and that you’re not invincible. Insecurities and fear of failure will only hold you back from achieving your true potential. Facing these fears head on from the get go will increase your chances of succeeding. If things don’t work out, understand that going back to the drawing board does not mean that you have given up.

7. Invest In Your Team
The moment you’re out of the red and you’re starting to see money coming in, take steps toward investing in the most important part of your business -“ your employees. Remember that talent is at the heart of every business. The people who work for you day in and day out can make or break what you have worked so hard to create. Choose wisely, mentor often and lead by example, and always reward a job well done.

8. Find what gets you going
What gets your creative juices flowing? What propels you to take the bull by the horns and bang out your daily tasks? Does that early morning run give you the motivation you need to take charge of your day? For me, I found that working out relieved stress and allowed me to focus on the items that needed my attention most. Likewise, music helps me concentrate and gives me the strength to find solutions. Walk into my office on any given day and you’re likely to hear the theme from Rudy, any of the Rocky movies, or other tracks that’ll get my heart beat racing.

9. Patience is a Virtue
Remind yourself that Rome was not built in a day, and you’re business likely won’t be either. Whether it’s a startup or a large global corporation, a great business takes much more than a great idea, it takes time, perseverance and the will to succeed. Be patient with corporate red tape by reminding yourself that while you answer to yourself and yourself alone, the person you are trying to reach may answer to a dozen different departments. Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes to see where he or she is coming from before you rush to make a judgment.

10. Stop and take time to smell the roses
While it may not always be easy, realize that there is a reason why you are doing this. Take a step back and look at the opportunity that you are being given. The future is wide open and it’s yours for the taking. When the only person who can say “no” to you is the person staring back at you in the mirror, anything is possible. Lastly, always remember to be confident, while remaining humble. Don’t take yourself too seriously and always find time to laugh.

It’s been an amazing journey over the past seven years. There have been ups and downs, good days and bad days and when I ask myself if I would do it all again, the answer is always a resounding yes. I would not be who I am today if I had not taken that risk. While I’m not claiming to have all of the answers, these are some of my Cliff Notes and hopefully they’ll be of use to you. Ultimately though, this is your story and you have to write it yourself.

Ryan Alovis is the founder and CEO of ArkNet Media,, an interactive agency headquartered in Garden City, N.Y., which owns and operates a series of successful e-commerce companies including,,, and