Updated: Dec 22, 2022
Last month, we celebrated The Bee Corp’s 5-year anniversary. In the spirit of reaching this milestone, we wanted to share the 5 most valuable lessons we’ve learned in 5 years. These lessons are based on advice we and other entrepreneurs have no doubt heard countless times, but they’re what we’ve found to be the most impactful through 5 years operating The Bee Corp.
Learn through failure
It might be the most cliché piece of advice given to entrepreneurs, but learning through failure is essential for long-term success. If you only dwell on your wins, you’ll overlook the room for improvement. Failing, acknowledging that you’ve failed, and seeking to understand why you’ve failed is a healthy and necessary aspect of growth.
As a founder, you learn to live with egg on your face. You learn to become comfortable with screwing up, apologizing with sincerity and communicating your plan to right your wrongs.
Founders must build a culture that embraces failure. You can’t afford to let your team be afraid to fail, otherwise they’ll hesitate to ask a “silly question” or share bad news (side note: there’s no such thing as a silly question). If your team is afraid to share bad news, you can’t anticipate what might fail and the ripple effect it may cause across other areas of the business.
Interview target customers before building anything
Talk about learning through failure. We spent our first 2 years developing and selling a product without seeking input from the people we expected to buy it. Thanks to an advisor who pushed us to call up 100+ beekeepers and growers to discuss our idea, we quickly realized that our best path forward was to scrap our initial product idea.
Don’t build something because you have a hunch about what the customer might want. Set up meetings with your target customers, discuss the problem you want to solve and how much pain the problem is causing, then ask if they would pay for your solution. This process is explained in far greater detail in Steve Blank’s must-read guide, The Startup Owner’s Manual.
Build a strong network of mentors & advisors
It takes a village to raise a startup. Don’t fall for the myth of the self-made entrepreneur. Those who have achieved success in entrepreneurship are almost always willing to lend a hand to someone maneuvering through the same trenches they’ve successfully navigated.
Every entrepreneur needs a support network. From business strategy to technical advice to moral support, a founder must learn to drop their ego and seek need help from time to time. That said, you can’t take every piece of advice you receive as gospel. Nobody understands your business better than you and nobody else can see the bigger picture. Only you have the information to decide what will and won’t work for your business.
Celebrate the wins—even the small ones
Even after 5 years, I still find it difficult to take a step back and appreciate how far we’ve come. Founders pursue a lofty vision that can’t possibly be realized in months or even years. It’s easy to fall into the trap of discounting small wins because you know there are a few thousand more small wins standing in the way of achieving the vision.
As founders, we’re plagued by an insatiable focus on the future. By celebrating small wins, founders enjoy a guilt-free opportunity to spend time looking backwards and reflecting on the obstacles you’ve overcome. Celebrating small wins is an important practice in gaining perspective and recognizing your hard work.
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst
In 5 years, I can’t remember a time when Plan A ended up being the plan we went with. Things outside your control will force you to alter (or completely toss out) your plans. Needing to make adjustments doesn’t mean you’ve done a poor job planning—it probably means you didn’t waste time trying to build a completely bulletproof plan.
Planning for the best means building your budget and roadmaps assuming everything goes perfectly. Though you’ll want your plans to be realistic and achievable, your planning docs should point the company in the most favorable direction and push you to reach milestones.
Preparing for the worst requires you to take the perspective that everything won’t go perfectly. It requires you to recognize the weakest points in your plan, understand the implications if those weak points fail, and create contingencies so you don’t panic when they do fail.
Ellie and I are deeply proud of reaching this milestone and we’re thankful for the opportunity to spend the past 5 years working to grow The Bee Corp. We’re grateful for the countless individuals who offered their support and taught us these lessons along the way.
We’re excited for the next 5 years of growth and we look forward to celebrating our 10-year anniversary with you in 2026!