10 Lessons For Entrepreneurs I’ve Learned Over 10 Years

Founder of Four Sigmatic, a functional foods company making the world’s most nutrient-dense foods more delicious and easier to consume.

I just celebrated my 10th birthday—my company’s 10th birthday, that is. I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past year on what we had to do to get to this place. Studies show that about 35% of all businesses make it to 10 years. In these 10 years of Four Sigmatic, we’ve sold more than 100 million servings and answered over 200,000 consumer questions. We calculated that there had been over 50 million jitter-free workdays thanks to mushroom coffee in the last 10 years. There have been incredible highs (non-psychedelic, of course) and really dark times.

Last year, I wrote an article about lessons I’ve learned that are specific to foodpreneurs, so I thought I would broaden it to entrepreneurs of all kinds this year. Whether you’re one day, one month, one year or a decade in, I see you and am excited we get to support each other.

1. Stay healthy.

Running a business takes a long time, and 10 years is just the start. Take care of your own health before you take care of others. They say to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and this mindset is especially true if you’re an entrepreneur. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t lead if you’re not feeling your best.

2. Remember you’re you, not them.

Don’t chase fads and trends. Stay grounded in why you started your business, and stay the course. If you’re constantly changing your mission, products or services, you will never grow because your team, consumers and investors will be confused and disoriented. Listen to feedback, but remember to have the conviction to stay true to yourself.

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3. Always carry product.

You never know who will be sitting next to you on an airplane, driving your Uber or who you might bump into at the grocery store. If you have a physical product, nothing beats having it on hand to share. If you have a service, carry business cards with a free offering or discount on them to encourage people to try your service rather than stash your card in their desks.

4. Be flexible about when and where you work.

Four Sigmatic began as a fully distributed remote company. I’ve worked in more than 50 countries in the last 10 years! As long as you (and your team) get the job done, no one will care where you are logging in from. This doesn’t just apply to where you work but also to when. The only bad days I have are the ones where I don’t take a mid-day nap. Very few of us are productive from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

5. Make it grow or let it go.

In nature, progress and evolution are important—the same goes for business. You need to evolve, or you’ll die out. Always improve how you operate your business, product formats and offerings. The world will keep moving, so make sure you keep up. Sometimes you have to kill your so-so product to make one that is 10x better.

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6. Find your happy customers.

You don’t need to—or should you—serve everyone, but you do need to find your group of happy customers. And to find a happy customer, you may have to disagree with them to educate them. Take the time to read reviews and consumer help desk tickets. Work from a solution-oriented mindset to proactively solve your consumers’ pain points.

7. Remember to serve nature.

If we want to be in business for the next 10 years, we need to care for the earth. The earth is suffering right now, and ever-expanding, wasteful business practices are partially to blame. Think about the impact your business has on the planet. In what ways could you reduce your impact? Sustainably staying in business for more than 10 years requires being environmentally sustainable, too.

8. Play to win big.

We started Four Sigmatic self-funded and globally. In order to make a real impact on our consumers’ lives, we had to emigrate to the U.S., which was a huge risk. You have to have a mindset of winning and succeeding. If you think you’re going to miss your shot, you will fail. When we have the mindset of defense, things go wrong. But when we approach strategy from the mindset of offense, things tend to go well. Whether or not you succeed, just keep that mindset.

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9. Trust but verify.

We’ve seen a lot of fraud and lies in our 10 years of business. It’s easy to get cynical, but that’s no way to live your life. Try to stay trusting of people, but verify. Put it down on paper. Big or small, whether it’s a contract or a project, write it out and send it to all parties—no matter who you are working with (even if they’re your friend). Whenever I forget this, I am quickly reminded of its importance.

10. Remember that consumers always beat out celebs.

We’ve been lucky to get big press coverage and have celebrities endorse our brand. And those feel amazing. But that high is like a sugar high; it gets you excited for a few hours, but the crash comes quickly. In order to run a business for 10+ years, you need sustained energy, not empty calories. What really fuels our journey is letters from our consumers on how we’ve changed their life. These stories literally drive us forward every day. Do whatever you can to gather those stories.

Running a business for 10 years is hard but worth it. I know the next 10 years are going to be even harder and even more satisfying.

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