Three Essential Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Owning a startup isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—especially at the beginning.

In fact, many people have to take a few stabs at it before they get to something that works. John Kobs, CEO and cofounder of Apartment List, the fastest growing apartment-search engine in the U.S., cleaned out his personal bank account to make payroll in his early years. Now, his company is raking in $10 million a year. He has a few useful lessons that can help every entrepreneur, whether you are just starting out or running a successful company.

1. Adversity is part of the opportunity.
You will face adversity if you choose to open a business. It’s a fact. Obstacles and hardships are just part of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

“Your success is dependent on how you deal with that adversity and how you overcome those obstacles,” Kobs says.

For Kobs, trying to build a new apartment rental business was frustrating and disheartening at times. Two weeks after he used his personal cash to pay his one employee, the engineer quit. At the same time, the one client he could claim filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But by pushing forward despite the challenges, Kobs learned his next lesson: sometimes your goals will shift and you have to adapt.

In the three years since, Apartment List has raised $21 million in venture capital funding. It now offers as a roommate matching app on top of a more traditional apartment search functionality online.

2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Entrepreneurs have a tendency to get impatient and frustrated if their dreams don’t materialize immediately—or the way they had originally planned. But if you can learn to adapt to the demand and keep up the hard work and determination, you will be rewarded.

“At ApartmentList.com my initial goals were vastly different than they are today,” Kobs says. “I didn’t realize we had the opportunity to reinvent the rental market place.”

Push your company forward through your goals. Keep your goals in front of you—and in writing—so that you know where you stand and where you want to go. But don’t be afraid to shift strategies depending on what you learn.

“Every time you accomplish something new that you didn’t think you could achieve, then you should set your sights higher and hit the reset button again.”

3. It is all about the people you hire.
Customer service is important but the people that you work with are the most important.
“ApartmentList.com is not the John Kobs show’…it’s really about our talented product folks, our sales team and our engineers,” Kobs says.

High-caliber people typically want to work alongside other high-caliber people, so “it’s really important to keep that hiring bar as high as possible,” he says.

Running a business takes determination and agility. One of the best parts about a small business is the opportunity to take new directions quickly; something that may take years for a large corporation. And in the end, you’ll hopefully be working for yourself doing something that you love.


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About Ilyce Glink

Author of 13 books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. Writer of the nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters.” Top-rated radio host in Atlanta. Writer for CBS MoneyWatch.com. Managing editor of the Equifax Personal Finance Blog.
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