How an engineer became an entrepreneur

Despite many mishaps, this cofounder turned a dream into a cycling business. Here are his tips for success

Like most engineers, I learned to think on my feet and execute plans fast. It’s one of the qualities that primed me for entrepreneurship. But despite my penchant for planning, I still walked away with a few bumps and bruises.

Venturing out of my cubicle and into the entrepreneurial unknown allowed me to flex the problem-solving skills I picked up as an engineer. It took a few botched attempts to finally get it right, but the failures only made me more resilient.

Surviving the first-year business woes with my twin brother was nerve-wracking. A typhoon hit our factory, a container ship stocked with our products crashed, and our web servers continually went down, among a string of other disasters.

We stuck it out in the end, and our passion and engineer ingenuity helped keep our heads up as we navigated the murky entrepreneurial waters.

In any industry, building a solid startup brings a distinct set of challenges. Here are four universal lessons we had to learn firsthand before triumphing with our business:

1. Follow your passion

A successful entrepreneur doesn’t only enjoy making money—everyone loves that. You need to have passion for your product or service. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t compete at the level it takes to make it.

I always enjoyed designing and working on big projects, but after graduating from college, the thrill quickly vanished. I realized it wasn’t AutoCAD drawings that I hated; it was working the 8-5 grind for the benefit of someone else. Every waking hour at my day job was a vivid reminder of how badly I wanted out. When we finally pursued our passion with FLO Cycling, it no longer felt like work.

2. Devise a plan B

You should always follow your dreams, but be smart about it. If you fall flat on your face, you need an exit strategy so you can move on to something else. Failing doesn’t mean you have to quit. Take those lessons learned and apply them to your next venture.

Our first business was a complete flop. We knew how to plan and design, but neither of us had the business acumen to run a startup. Without marketing expertise, proper accounting practices, and solid business operations and administrative knowledge, we simply couldn’t function. Recognizing when to cut and run gave us time to hone those skills before starting FLO Cycling.

3. Don’t rush it

We took time to build FLO Cycling and nurture it the right way, but as an impatient person, this wasn’t easy. It took nearly five years of blood, sweat, and tears to get it right. People often go for low-hanging fruit, but nothing of value comes easy. You need to work hard, seeing minimal to no progress, before you can feel a hint of success.

Don’t quit your day job the moment your sales outweigh your salary. A secure paycheck is hard to come by, and the ebbs and flows of business can hit hard if you’re not financially prepared. Let a few steady paychecks come in before you cut off a source of financial support, especially in this tough economy.

4. Collaborate with consumers

We’re so accustomed to hearing about confidential or proprietary company knowledge, such as Google’s SEO algorithm, that we try to keep our business a secret. But that’s counterproductive to your actual goal: to spread the word and build a base of potential customers.

If you have a great idea, ask people if they would buy it. Learn what features and benefits they look for in your product or service. Huge corporations pay an arm and a leg to collect and analyze market research, but you can go straight to the source. Gauge audience interest to determine whether you should build a prototype to show people a functional design.

It wasn’t until we sought consumer feedback and let people play an active role in the development process that we succeeded with FLO Cycling. By the time we went to market, we had thousands of interested followers.

A flourishing cycling business

With proper planning and a resilient mindset, my brother and I successfully steered our startup toward success. Our mutual passion for cycling motivated us to focus on the marketing and business skills necessary to bring our idea to life.

Executing those plans (and weathering the storms they created) is something only an entrepreneur can do. I couldn’t stomach another 40 years working in a cubicle. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

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