It’s not about having a great idea; it’s about execution. And execution means developing the right habits.
My first startup was a total coincidence: I still needed to learn about entrepreneurship, leading teams, or processes, and all I wanted was freedom, exciting work, and money. Together with my co-founders, we somehow managed to sell the company to an international corporate, and with the money we earned, we founded a digital agency. That was in 2000, right before the internet bubble busted.
In the past 25 years, I founded different companies and led teams of up to 80 people. But as I started, there was no playbook, no blog posts, and only a few books on entrepreneurship. So I’ve learned the hard way that the key to success in entrepreneurship is not about having a great idea but mainly about execution. And execution means developing the right habits.
In this blog post, I share the ten habits that lead to success:
Learning is a lifelong process, and successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of staying informed about the latest trends and developments in their industry. They make time to read, learn and stay up-to-date. They also listen to podcasts, attend webinars and networking events, and take online courses to expand their knowledge and skills. According to research, entrepreneurs who continuously learn and develop new skills are more likely to succeed long-term. I still remember that there was a time when I started to copy myself, but the whole internet thing made a big step forward that I completely missed. I lost customers and motivation and realized that suddenly others have continued to overtake me.
At this time, I learned to learn. Today, I set aside 30 minutes each morning to read and learn, and I do this before starting work or after my morning routine. Another way is to listen to podcasts while exercising or doing other activities. I also set personal learning goals, such as reading at least four business books each quarter.
Successful entrepreneurs understand that multitasking is a myth and that it is impossible to do multiple things well simultaneously. Instead, they focus on their most important daily task and give them their full attention.
“Focus is not about saying yes to the things you like; it’s about saying no to the things you don’t,” said Steve Jobs.
One way to develop this habit is to spend two hours each day working on your number one thing. I have used this method for a while and have seen amazing results. The goal could be sales or reaching product-market fit. During this time, turn off all distractions, such as email and social media, and give your full attention to the task. Additionally, set clear boundaries between work and personal time to stay focused and avoid burnout.
Successful entrepreneurs know when to be stubborn and when to be flexible. A personality assessment brought the proof: I’m officially stubborn, which helped me develop a detector for situations where they tend to be relentless without any reason. Once I realize that I speak less and listen more. Additionally, I seek feedback and aim to grow daily as a person, entrepreneur, and advisor.
On the other hand, it’s crucial to be highly conscientious and demanding regarding adhering to processes and using best-practice frameworks like OKRs. Don’t get me wrong: Your team needs to have maximum freedom, but there are rules that everyone needs to stick to.
Successful entrepreneurs always need more than their current level of success and always look for ways to improve. They define 2–3 ambitious but realistic goals and focus mainly on these. Whether it’s a sales goal or a house in Tuscany, the most important thing is that you want to achieve them.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” Tony Robbins
I use a one-page strategy outlining my one-year goals and key initiatives, and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to track progress to help with this habit. It’s essential then to follow the progress regularly. Every Friday, I set a calendar entry and react immediately when my work initiatives don’t lead to the right results.
Milestones are agreements with your team, investors, and stakeholders. Setting realistic milestones and focusing on reaching them can help to stay on track and achieve goals. By setting clear and measurable milestones, you can navigate the uncertainty of building a new product and company and stay on track to achieving their goals.
I’m a moonshot and need ambitious goals that are often not achievable, and I’m okay if I reach 70%. I learned to communicate only 70% instead of my inner milestone.
Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of testing their ideas and running experiments at scale, allowing them to validate their assumptions and make data-driven decisions. By running experiments at scale, entrepreneurs can quickly identify what works and what doesn’t and adjust their strategy accordingly.
“If you’re not constantly testing and experimenting, you’re likely falling behind.” Reid Hoffman
One thing I know for sure: I don’t know which experiment runs best before starting it. That’s why I run experiments at scale. Only successful experiments become projects or features. Train your team to think like that; you will start investing your resources wisely and become much faster.
Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of culture in a company and are fearless in firing employees who do not align with the company’s values. By hiring (and firing) for culture, entrepreneurs can ensure that their team is aligned and working towards the same goal.
Hiring an outstanding key team is the number one job of a founder or startup CEO, and it builds the basis for future growth and success. To ensure hiring suitable people, I use job scorecards to compare candidates based on what matters and based on data.
Successful entrepreneurs use best-practice frameworks like OKRs to guide their teams and measure progress. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) help to align team members around a common goal, track progress, and measure success.
“OKRs have helped the greatest companies achieve amazing results.” John Doerr
By using frameworks like OKRs, entrepreneurs can ensure that their team is working towards a common goal and that progress is being made.
Since we’ve implemented OKRs at CodeCheck, a shopping app, I would only run a company with it. Suddenly leading a company becomes much easier due to setting expectations and alignment.
Successful entrepreneurs have big dreams and are not afraid to chase them. By dreaming big, entrepreneurs can inspire themselves and their teams to achieve great things.
I probably don’t have a natural personality to dream big, and I always have to push myself to think bigger. What helps is to get evidence that an idea can be enormous due to testing it.
Successful entrepreneurs know how to prioritize and are fearless in saying no to opportunities that do not align with their goals. As By saying no often, entrepreneurs can ensure that they are focusing on the most important tasks and not getting bogged down by distractions.
“The ability to say ‘no’ is a tremendous advantage for any individual. It is the difference between living in a dumpster and living in a penthouse.” Tim Ferriss
I often struggled with having too many options, which resulted in not excelling in any particular area. Having a clear strategy can mitigate this issue by providing direction and allowing for more focused decision-making. Each time a new opportunity arises, it’s important to ask, “Does this contribute to our overall strategic goals?” If the answer is no, it’s essential to be able to decline confidently and reference the company’s strategy as the reason for doing so.
Entrepreneurship is a challenging but rewarding path. To succeed, it is essential to incorporate such habits into your daily routine. Still, you must work hard to reach product-market fit and scale your business.