Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To Be a Successful Entrepreneur

During this week alone I will meet with eight different entrepreneurs who are all looking to start businesses. Some are building mobile apps, some are starting publications, some are going into manufacturing, and one is creating a TV show. Yet even though they’re all over the place with what they are focusing on as a business, my advice about how to be successful as an entrepreneur was just about the same to all of them. Here are some of the key ideas I shared with them for what I feel it takes to successfully create and grow an entrepreneurial business.

1. If you really want to be a serial entrepreneur, you have to create a mindset of looking at everything through the lens of: “What is the business idea here? Where is the pain in the marketplace, the frustration, the opportunity? What can I do to build a product or service that will take away the pain or take advantage of the opportunity?” In every interaction, all day long, in everything you do – keep asking these questions over and over again – and surprisingly you’ll find that you come up with dozens of business ideas every week.

2. Once you start creating dozens and dozens of business ideas, the next step is to be brutally honest in assessing which ones are truly viable. In other words, what will people actually pay for? Where can you really build a product or service that is unique and differentiated and has significant value in the marketplace? Great ideas are really cool – great products and services that solve real problems are what businesses are built upon.

3. Now that you have filtered all of your ideas down to a handful that truly represent a great business opportunity, the next step is to build the best possible team you can put together to take your ideas and turn them into products and services. The quality of your company will be determined 100 percent by the quality of the people you can get and keep on your team – and the level of engagement you can create within your team. Excellent entrepreneurs are connoisseurs of talent and masters at collaboration, teamwork, innovation and creating an energizing and compelling organizational culture. ** By the way, and this is important, these people do NOT have to work for you – they don’t have to be on the payroll. They can be outsourcers, consultants, vendors, contractors, mentors, smart people in your network, friends of friends – and they can also be authors or people who put videos on YouTube… Anybody and everybody you can connect with to help you bring the best possible product and service to an eager market.

4. You’ve got a handful of super cool ideas, you’ve built an amazing team of highly talented people… now it all comes down to the last piece of the equation which nearly every entrepreneur struggles mightily with… Disciplined Execution. Ideas are useless if you can’t turn them into products and then take those products into the marketplace and SELL them to REAL customers. Build a prototype, chunk it, rollout a beta-test, sell some vapor-ware, stand on the corner and sell something to someone – the key is you must get real products into the hands of real customers who are willing to pay real money for them!!!! Then you can get market feedback and figure out how to improve and adjust the product to make it even better more valuable – that’s why they invented the idea of “version 2.0” – there is no such thing as getting the product perfect before it goes to market… get it close and then ship it!

5. Last but not least – if humanly possible never give away ownership. Take investment money, but to try to take it is a loan that will be paid back so you retain complete control of ownership. Giveaway generous salaries and bonuses if you’re generating profits, call people your colleagues, your associates… even call them your “business partners” but do not give them major ownership of the business. I have been working in the business world for nearly 30 years and I can count on one hand, with a few fingers left over, the number of truly successful and long-lasting business partnerships that I’ve witnessed. The vast majority of all business partnerships that I’ve seen, where companies go from zero to wildly successful, typically end in lawsuits. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth, or at least that’s what I’ve seen over and over again – so much so that I have made this one of my business rules: no outside partners/owners.

This short list of five things is surely NOT everything you need to know to be a successful entrepreneur, but they are some of the core ideas. I look forward to feedback and additions to this list – there are a lot of really bright people who read this blog and I’m sure you and they will have many comments to add to this list. Perhaps if we get a nice conversation started we will end up with a very robust and comprehensive list of everybody’s best ideas for being a highly successful entrepreneur. That would be fun and valuable.

So… what needs to be added to my “starter” list?


  1. Thanks for sharing this, John.

  2. Love and be passionate about your product or service. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. BTW, John, since we last met at GAWN, I’m starting a new business. Thank you for these awesome tips.

  3. Bryan says:

    People often ask; What is it that they need to go after or start as a business? Tell them to go after the one thing that they continually wake up to in the middle of the night which they cannot keep from their mind. What keeps you up? If you can answer that, then you have found your answer.

  4. Ted Fannin says:

    I think a big one that is a must is the customer service. A little politeness goes a long way. I shop alot of places not because of the deals I get, but the service I have received in the past.

  5. In relation to your point #5, in my experience, one of the big reasons a startup can fail is because one founder retains an excessive amount of equity but does not put in an excessive proportion of the work. Business partners eventually feel slighted/unappreciated by the “greedy” president/ceo/owner. (Ironically, distributing equity evenly is just as bad.)

    In fact, many founders, especially in tech circles, have various “matrixed” approaches to distributing initial equity. See this link for example: It’s not exactly what I use, but similar in concept.

    Also, if you pick your co-founders seriously and carefully, instead of your drinking buddies or your out-of-work siblings, you will find that you do not need to let them go. If you do pick those types of “founders”, and outgrow them, then you have to let them go or buy them out. Valuation becomes an almost certain opportunity for major discord, and is usually when lawsuits fly.

  6. Excellent advice, John. Right on target – and so needed, given the number of people who try to start a business, do their learning on the job, in the process losing a lot of money getting their “education”. Better to study John’s advice and do it right!

    Barbara Brand mentioned above, “love and be passionate about your product or service.” I agree whole-heartedly. If the business idea is something that calls to you, that makes you excited, that you love, take it seriously and follow it. You still have to do the mental work of analyzing the market and creating the business model, etc. But, as the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    The entrepreneurs I know who have been successful are passionate about what they do – and why they do it. This cannot be understated, for the opposite is a formula for failure I believe, and that is relying totally on the Mind. Someone who does all the calculations and steps forward only with the Mind in gear but not the Heart, is lacking a critical ingredient for success. Of all places in business that the Heart is needed, being a start-up entrepreneur has to be at the top of the list.

    I know for example several serial entrepreneurs who felt called to create their businesses to serve not only customers, but their employees and/or vendors as well. Several of them (along with corporate examples) will be included in a book I’m working on about the role of Heart in Business Success.

    Keep up the good work, John!

    • Darwin — Thank you for your wonderful comments, very much appreciated. By the way, for all of you reading this blog, if you have not read Darwin’s book – Noble Enterprise – it is absolutely one of my very favorite books on leadership and creating an amazing corporate culture. It’s one of the few books I enjoyed so much that immediately went out and bought a dozen copies to send off to clients because I felt they would find so much value in it. I give Darwin’s book my highest recommendation.

  7. John,
    “A fool with an executable plan beats a genius with no plan……every time.”

  8. A Judge to Judge your idea`s needs to be added.

    Powerful stuff ……… I … liek et

    Now that you have filtered all of your ideas down to a handful that truly represent a great business opportunity.

    who is the Judge?

    Once this is out of the way then you know you can be passionate about your product or service.

    successful = passionate about what they do + why they do it has to be the dual fuel required to achieve and smash any set goals.

    It is not what keeps you up or down during the night, its what can you do with it once you find the creation point of your imagination/idea.

    It was lovely to read all your comments.

    Kindest Regards


  1. […] these 5 concepts that my good friend John Spence brought forth in his recent blog, you can read the entire article here, but in the meantime, here are the […]