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‘Firsts’ can be defining moments for young entrepreneurs

David Wilkin

Special to Globe and Mail Update Published on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010 1:24PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010 1:30PM EDT

Building any business is an evolutionary process with many influential forces, and the ones from my early days as an entrepreneur were my first adviser, my first client and my first team member. Each of these “firsts” provided ripe opportunities to listen and learn.

The first client

Signing my first client was a huge milestone in starting my company. Not only was I getting our brand out there, I had finally proven that my innovative idea had a place in the market. Once I had that first paying customer, I started to understand the value of my company and how to bring that value into other industries to build my client base. My first client gave me the opportunity to execute our mission and became a powerful learning opportunity, helping us refine our vision and business. Setting clear goals is crucial when learning how to understand what maintaining and exceeding expectations looks like – turning new clients into new evangelists for your brand can pay off big time when trying to land client No. 2 and beyond.  

My first client also helped me develop a better understanding of what people will pay for, making it easier to identify the parts of my business that create the best value proposition for future growth.

The first adviser

My first adviser was a crucial relationship that played a large part in how I created my company and shaped my business. Like many aspects of starting a company, perseverance was key to getting out into the industry to meet seasoned entrepreneurs who could become mentors or advisers.

With every event I attended, every cold e-mail I sent and every potential client I chased, I continued to keep focused on what was critical in starting a company: building strong relationships. As you build relationships with like-minded individuals, you can focus on learning about the decisions they made and the processes that helped them to better understand how to navigate decision-making and startup pains. By listening to your mentors’ stories, feedback and advice, you will undoubtedly be shaping your vision and plan of attack.

The first hire

This might be the most exciting part of your startup process. This is one of the first real signs of growth, provided your vision is contagious, as someone else also sees it and wants to contribute. It is also the time when you get to finally share the vision with another like-minded individual, and get someone on board to work toward growing your vision into a profitable and sustainable company. By sharing with your first employee something you are really passionate about, you are also connecting with them on a deeper level. It is your employees’ faces that are going to greet you every day and keep you motivated to get up at six in the morning with a smile on your face, ready to start the day, so their stake is critical to the startup process.

In order to keep your employees living your company’s brand every day, it is important to create a culture that is challenging, disruptive in the innovative space, and that sets the tone for your new team members. If you do not actively work to set a distinct culture in your company, your employees will set the tone for you, and it could veer from your ethos as an entrepreneur. Your relationship with your first employee is the seed that will grow and shape your organizational culture.

The relationships you build with your first client, mentor and employee will get you through the hard times as you struggle through your first roadblocks. The relationships you build with these stakeholders will never end, even after your company expires or your first idea evolves into something completely different. It is never worth taking shortcuts or undercutting the time and effort required to building these key relationships.

The value of your company, especially as a young person starting a career, is never going to be solely the value on your balance sheet. Starting your first company at a young age is definitely a learning experience, and as a young entrepreneur I make building and maintaining these “first” relationships a crucial part of continuously growing my business. At the end of it all, you will walk away with knowledge and experience you can bring to your next business venture, and you will remember these key “firsts” more clearly than the amount on your first paycheque. No entrepreneur hits home runs every single time, but the ones who do are the ones who surround themselves with amazing people and those relationships that benefit them and their companies greatly.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dave Wilkin, a Gen-Y entrepreneur, works in the digital and experiential marketing space. Mr. Wilkin has combined the latest technologies and new marketing approaches to build the “social technology” behind Redwood Strategic, an integrated marketing company. Mr. Wilkin previously started a number of non-profit initiatives, mentored young leaders across the country, and continues to work with emerging entrepreneurs. You can follow him on Twitter @dwilkin. This is one in a 10-part summer series Mr. Wilkin is writing for Your Business. The columns appear every Wednesday.

From The Global and Mail published on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010 1:24PM EDT