2014 Recap – 5 entrepreneurial lessons I learned the hard way

2014 for me is what I’d like to call a “catalyst” year. Those who know me know that I like putting myself in tough situations on purpose, just to see how I can handle them. That’s my own little way of evolving – by throwing myself into the deep. Last year I took the biggest plunge ever, by turning my back on a financially secured life of an employee and founding my own company.  I will never forget the unique combination of anxiety & fear, but also hope & curiosity, which fuelled my motivation for change. Now, a year later, stability is still a word I cannot freely use in my daily life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and here’s why.

Teddy TonevaThere’s the old debate on whether entrepreneurs are born with a set of skills or if this is something that can be learned. If my humble experience is any indication, I would say all entrepreneurs I met last year had one key trait in common – bravery. They were brave enough to dream big and to pursue those dreams with everything they got. I became part of a community of individuals where I could exchange ideas, discuss problems and grow our businesses together. And I’d like to think that I’ve slowly started adapting the mindset of these lunatics, experimenting with different fields and business concepts and seeing through those, which I’ve been able to grow into actionable plans. So what’s the conclusion? The skills you need to be a good entrepreneur are skills learned in the right setting with the right environment, as long as you’re crazy enough to give it a shot.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. 2014 was full of challenges, both personal and professional, and I am so grateful to have come out of it stronger and with a clearer vision for the year to come. Here are 5 lessons about entrepreneurship from my own experience, which I learned the hard way (not that I would have it any other way!).

  1. Actions are always louder than words – It’s easy to get caught into the “think tank” mode, constantly exchanging ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. But ideas are just that – ideas. A good business partner is the one that acts on them in a systematic order and has a clear plan of the steps that need to be taken to get things done. If you have a great idea but cannot imagine the whole process from A to Z, then perhaps you should put it back in the think tank for now and focus your energy on more viable projects.
  1. Choose your battles – If you’re striving to be a flexible entrepreneur with good contacts and the right partners, chances are you will attract many new friends who want to do business with you, because of your background/ profile/ field, etc. One of the hardest things I had to learn in 2014 is to say “no”. Prioritizing is key. Have a clear idea of the pipeline of projects for the year. Which project will take the most of your energy or resources, which will yield the most return on investment and when? What added value will this project bring in the long run? Those are all questions you should try to answer for yourself before you take on more work. You will soon start recognising the good opportunities from the ones you should politely say no to.
  1. Long VS short term goals – this one is tricky. How do you balance your projects in such a way to not lose focus of the short-term deliverables, but also to keep thinking about the bigger picture? My solution is – learn to think in phases. Each project I divide into primary efforts / execution/ results & growth. This way I don’t lose track of where I am and where I need to go in 3, 6 or 10 months. Set best case and worst case scenario goals for each phase and monitor how well you are performing in each. Chances are, by mid-phase 2 you will know which project to drop and which to focus more energy on.

Choosing the right partners

  1. I’m lost without the right team – When I started my first business a year ago, I did it all on my own, which was frustrating, to say the least. Along the way many people wanted to work together on various ideas and through a trial-and-error approach I was able to find the right mindset for my company, making it easier to find new partners, when you have a clear idea of the profiles you are looking for. Don’t underestimate the process of funnelling business partners/ employees. I don’t find the right people for a job, I find the right mindset and create the job around it.
  1. Self-analysis is key – We tend to overanalyse projects and businesses, thinking about ways to better the product, the marketing efforts or the scale model. However, we often forget to do the same about ourselves as entrepreneurs. I like applying the same criteria when working on a project to my own self. The person I was a year ago and the person I am today can’t be further apart, but I choose to analyse each change. When and how did it occur and am I a better person for it? Thinking about my skills as a separate business has really helped me drill on what I need to improve or change to keep growing.

All that being said, I am very grateful for the amazing people I met in 2014, the cluster partnerships I founded with the great companies I work with and the variety of projects I have the chance to be involved in. 2015 is the year of scale and the goal is to take my core business to the next level, by doubling the internal team and the accounts we work on. I believe that if the right foundation was laid last year, this year should be twice as challenging and twice as rewording as a result. I am excited about the opportunity to keep learning every day and I cannot wait to see what this year brings on the table!

 

xo,

 

Teddy T

Losing weight on national television – the journey

I am not sure how to begin my story, so let’s go to the very beginning. Back in August, I was moving out of a place, because me and my boyfriend got our own apartment. As I was packing, I had the TV on in the background. And that’s when I saw the commercial: “Do you want to change your life, do you feel like you are not realising your full potential?…” I didn’t make much of it, but I snapped a pic of the show and the e-mail for submissions.

The beginning:

The studio!

Two days later, here I was, taking “before” pictures and writing my motivation letter. An emotional ordeal in itself, as I poured my soul into it. All the setbacks, all the injuries, the depression and the excuses I made for myself over the last 4 years… all in 1 sheet of paper. But I was determined. I had already lost 10 kg over the past year or so, I had 20 more to go to get back to my normal self. I soon found myself invited to the official casting, where the team got to meet me, we shot a couple of scenes and that was my first exposure to the whole business and what was to come. At that point I was just one of the many who applied, no idea that I would eventually get selected.

The journey:

But sure enough, a week later I got the call and the adventure began. Looking back at it, I am so incredibly grateful to the team for all the opportunities they gave me, but I am also proud of myself for having the courage to take them. This is what Zdraveto Otblizo on BNT is all about – giving you the necessary tools to change your life, what you do with them us entirely up to you. That was the push I needed. The incredible support system the team provided me, paired with the healthy fear of disappointing not only the people close to me but an entire nation watching at home, was my recipe for success.

Make no mistake – none of it was easy, none of it was handed to me on a silver platter. I had to shed sweat, blood and tears to get to where I am today. But most importantly, I had to be ready for the journey. I have been preparing myself for over a year. I had stopped smoking almost 6 months ago, I had already changed many of my consumption habits. It was time to level up!

What followed next was weeks of hard workouts with a personal trainer, as well as group workouts emphasising on cardio. I was introduced to cross-fit trainings and using your own body weight to shape and tone yourself. I was always sore, my muscles burning from the tension.  However, during the 3d week I started feeling stronger, faster…better! My knee, which had sustained a very serious injury in the past, was feeling stable. Nothing could stop me! All this was combined with a custom-tailored daily meal plan, meant to help my weight-loss process.

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Perhaps the most helpful part of the program was the access to a psychologist, who helped me work on some of the deep-rooted issues, the hidden reasons for my initial weight gain of 30+ kg. I feel so much more self-aware today, then I was 3 months ago and that is what truly makes me stronger than ever before.

And that is not even all! I was able to get out of my comfort zone, to try out new things, like free-fall flying in an aerodome, like carting races with the team, like alternative mind and body therapies. And the people…I met so many, so different and so amazing individuals along the way. The memories we made together, this is what was truly beautiful about this whole experience.

What’s to come:

I am finally myself again – confident, full of life, full of hope for change. I can’t believe that I let myself get lost for such a long time. Thanks to the show I now know what my purpose for 2015 is: I want to help others feel as good about themselves as I do right now. I want to help teenagers in my country understand that they are beautiful, amazing individuals, just the way they are! I was bullied a lot while growing up, I never quite fit in anywhere, because I was a bit different, the way I perceived my surroundings was different. At the time I didn’t know that was OK. It took me 10 years of self-discovery to realise that each person is beautiful just the way they are!

Me :)

This is my new mission. I have an incredible team behind my back, we have conceptualised the idea and are on our way towards founding and NGO that will travel the country, going to schools and talking to young minds about body image and promote anti-bullying. We are confident that we can grow this idea into a community with the help of our friends and supporters. BNT gave me the strength to dream again, and this wild dream of mine, I am yet to make into a reality! Wish me luck 🙂

xoxo,

Teddy

How shaking things up affects productivity – both personal and professional

Time for change

Productivity is one of those words that have different meanings to each individual. For example, I never feel ‘lazy’, I simply strive to find quicker, more efficient solutions to problems. I never used to mentally go through my tasks of the day, I simply try to accomplish as much as I can, as fast as I can. Some might not understand my definition of productivity, but I’ve recently found a formula that works for me and I think it just might work for you too.

A couple of months ago I made a life-changing decision, which had an astonishing effect on how I go about my activities. I stopped smoking. There’s a lot of health-related research on the continuous effects of smoking tobacco, however I must admit that the psychological and behavioural effects of quitting took me by surprise. Suddenly, a habit that took up to 25% of my day was eradicated. The result was a dramatic shift on productivity and efficiency, both professionally and interpersonally. I believe you can draw your own conclusions based on my experience:

Week One:

  1. I started counting my time, I was more aware of the present. Result: I was able to efficiently draw mental notes on how much time it took me to complete specific tasks.
  2. I began noticing ‘gaps’ in my time – those were the times I would stop and have a smoke. Result: I tried to fill these gaps with errands or small tasks, so I wouldn’t have the time to think about the habit.

Week Two:

  1. I became more eerie about what I put in my body. Result: Started a cleanse that cleared my mind and boosted my concentration on the work place.
  2. I stopped drinking coffee, because I associated it with the habit. Result: After a couple of days of adjustment I was able to achieve better sleep in less time.

Month One:

  1. I noticed a continuous growth in energy. Result: It started taking me half of the time to complete previously tiresome tasks.
  2. I started wanting to do more, to be more. Result: The ‘additional’ time allowed me to focus on other projects, grow my partnerships and my client base.

How to step out of the box:

We all have our vices. I’ve begun to understand that our habits are an embodiment of our com
fort zones. They seem like essential parts of our being, until we decide otherwise. 

Shaking up those habits forces us to step out of the box we so comfortably inhabit. Now I try to change small routines on regular basis, because that keeps me on my toes. Being on your toes, especially when you are running your own company is essential. So why not try to change something in your own routine?

  • Take a different route to work one day of the week
  • Change a regular drink (let’s say coffee) with something you wouldn’t normally get for a couple of days
  • Try the YES approach for one week – whenever someone asks you to do something (go out to a party, meet new people, do a task, etc.) simply say YES!
  • Talk to a complete stranger at least once this month – gives you perspective on your own life and your path to personal success
  • Get out of your regular circle – go out of town, take a hike or a walk alone and use this time to contemplate

In the end, my simple advice to you is – Keep growing, keep aspiring to do better and don’t be afraid to shake things up. You never know how changing smaller details can help you gain sight of the big picture.

Playing the Marketing game the smart way

A good marketing campaign is like playing chess against the whole world. If you’re in it to win it, you have to think at least 3 moves ahead. So why is it that some companies keep on wanting to play on the whole board? We all strive to get brands noticed on the market, but I believe genius ideas are born in simplicity.

I’ll give you an example. If you’re familiar with the UK market you will know who Innocent is. A couple of guys had the idea to create natural, vitamin pumped smoothies and juices to be enjoyed by everyone. And instead of giving loads of money on extensive market research and analysis, they went to their potential consumers and conducted the simplest form of a taste test at a music festival way back in 1999. Essentially they asked the question: ‘Do you like our smoothies or not?’ If yes, people had to put the empty cup in the ‘YES’ bin and vice versa, of no was the answer they had to put it into the ‘NO’ bin.  And that was the breaking point for these two fellows to decide to quit their jobs and get to cracking. Now why was this move genius?

  1. The brand is 100% relatable. It has a great story behind it that people can appreciate. It’s staying away from the cold corporate image and striving towards your ‘next door buddy’ kind of vision. Simple, relatable, efficient.
  2. They went straight to their clients. No fuss, no big charts with market shares, projected data, etc. No big budget to get that wow factor. They spoke a language their potential consumer would understand and want to listen to. Hey, we’re one of you guys, what do you think of this smoothie? And voila! The magic was born.

The moral of Innocent’s story is that to get your brand where it needs to be, it’s not always about how complex your marketing strategy is or how many communication channels you’re gonna hit to toot your own horn. A brand always starts with the consumer. The era of push marketing has been dead for a while now. It’s all about valuable interactions with your customers and letting them pull the chain. And that’s why you have to choose your battles carefully. As the wise CEO of a very successful marketing communications agency in Israel once told me: ,You can’t be everywhere! You don’t have the time and you don’t have the resources!’

So my advice to you would be to figure out who your consumer is first. Figure out where they live both online and offline, what their habits are, what their needs are and most importantly, what kind of problem your product/ service can solve for them. Only then is it appropriate to discuss a communications strategy and channels. Don’t only play chess, but learn to play it the smart way. That’s how you stay at least 3 moves ahead. Simplicity is the new trend and my friends, it’s here to stay!

 

Till next time,

 xo

Teddy T