There was never a single eureka moment that set up the idea of Trustpilot.
The website, which is a platform where businesses and companies are reviewed and given a rating, was founded in 2007 by Peter Mühlmann, but is actually the result of many people’s ideas.
“Most people expect there is this bathtub moment, you sit there and you get one magic idea, and that turns into the company,” Mühlmann told Business Insider. “I want to emphasise it’s very rarely like that.”
In fact, it took nine or 10 years for Trustpilot to become the brand it is today.
Mühlmann was in his early 20s when Trustpilot was founded, and he’s learned a great deal about being an entrepreneur by going in head first. He was at business school at the time, but dropped out when he realised he could learn more by starting a business for real.
He spoke to Business Insider about how to lead successfully from a young age, and what he’s learned along the way. These are his six pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs:
1. Seeing is believing
The number one rule is to believe in yourself. Mühlmann says that if you don’t really believe in the idea, then nobody will.
“Often I say to young entrepreneurs that your greatest limitation in life is what you think is possible,” he said. “If you think something is impossible, almost by definition it becomes impossible. Often, seeing is believing.”
2. Formal qualifications aren’t everything
Mühlmann had been at business school for three and a half years before he dropped out. While he did learn some important lessons, he said he probably wouldn’t recommend it for people who want to set up their own businesses.
“I really don’t think it’s a requirement at all,” he said. “You learn something, so it’s not a waste of time but there are so many other things that are so much more important.”
For example, making your own mistakes, and working out how to get through them.
3. Prepare to be tired
As you first start to grow a business, Mühlmann says you’re very inexperienced, and so your brain goes into overdrive to compensate for what you don’t know.
“Your brain just accelerates and spends an enormous amount of energy to devise solutions to these new problems,” he said. “I’ve seen that happen time and time again in young entrepreneurs, and it’s perfectly normal, it’s all perfectly ok. But when you experience it, then that’s an exhausting feeling. You’re absolutely drained by it.”
You’ll be running into problems that you’ve never thought about before, which is mentally demanding. It’s a bit like when you’re doing an exam, and you feel exhausted afterwards.
Mühlmann says you get used to it, but you also have to prepare for this being your mental state for the next 10 years, at least.
4. Don’t compare yourself
Celebrity founders such as Kevin Systrom and Elon Musk dominate the social media coverage of businesses. With these success stories so prominent in the media, it can be hard not to compare yourself to them, Mühlmann says.
“You always see yourself naked in the mirror and you see everybody else dressed to party,” he said. “So whenever you see others, and they’re out there celebrating their fund raising, or recent wins or nominations, and they look so great… I think it’s very important to realise that you always see others at their best.”
Most entrepreneurs go through the stages of sitting at their desks late in the evening, wondering how they are going to find the money to keep their best employees. The stories of Facebook buying businesses for a billion dollars are actually incredibly rare.
“People have enormously unrealistic expectations about the timeline involved,” Mühlmann said. “The only things you read about are the things that are interesting, and by definition, that’s things that are unusual. So that creates a certain bias, and everybody thinks that everything you read about, that’s the norm.”
5. Learn to say ‘no’
With every new business, when it starts to be successful, there comes a time where more experienced people will want to join you.
While their experience is very valuable, Mühlmann says you shouldn’t be blind-sighted by it. You have to remember that you also bring something very important to the table. Try not to hire “debate champions.”
“A lot of these very experienced people, they can win any debate against you easily, because they have done this for the past 20 years,” he said. “They have all the right words, and the right PowerPoint slides, and ‘I tried this,’ and ‘I tried that.’ If it becomes more about just who’s winning the argument, then it can get really dangerous.”
Just because they have been in business longer than you have, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. As long as you are mindful of this, Mühlmann says, you can have a much more valuable conversation.
As a general rule, Mühlmann says you can have three major disagreements with your management team over the course of a year. Any more than that and something needs to change.
6. Raise more than you need
As you are inexperienced, you need wiggle room to make mistakes. Mühlmann says the best way to do this is by raising more money than you think you’ll need.
“We often have a full year where things didn’t go according to plan,” he said. “But because we raised more money, we had the time to figure it out and then get back on track.”
Also, he recommends spending the money you have slower than you think you should.
“Your mindset should be: I’m inexperienced, I’m going to make mistakes, so I need a fund if things go wrong,” he added. “If you don’t make mistakes, good for you — you win. Whereas if you’re more experienced, you can optimise it more, and tune the engine a little bit more.”
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