It’s easy to believe that your business idea or invention is great. After all, you thought of it. However, determining if your product or service is actually something your audience wants and needs is critical to your success as an entrepreneur.

Starting, running, and growing your own business is a major goal for many people, but there's often a lot of trial and error involved in the process. Those who are looking to start their own business can learn essential entrepreneurial skills from the triumphs and mistakes of successful entrepreneurs who have paved the way before them.

Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

As we developed the course Entrepreneurship Essentials, we asked the case protagonists featured in the course — the entrepreneurs and investors interviewed — what advice they have for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s what they had to say.

John Osher Video

1. Don’t Fool Yourself


John Osher, a serial entrepreneur behind the SpinBrush toothbrush and many other successful consumer products, highlights that entrepreneurs need to relentlessly seek the truth about their ideas. Osher points out that willful blindness to negative feedback from customers can lead to costly mistakes.

Osher explains that the most important thing as an entrepreneur is finding and listening to the truth, no matter how hard it may be. You may think a product is a hit until you put it on the shelf and consumers tell you otherwise. It’s much easier to accept the truth in the beginning stages before you have a total emotional investment in the product or service and you are out of financial resources.

“If an entrepreneur puts truth first, they will always find a way to solve the problem,” Osher explains. “Putting your personal feelings and passion for the product ahead of the truth is a recipe for failure.”

Scott Cook Video

2. Savor Surprises


Openness to feedback from customers can not only prevent entrepreneurs from leading their ventures astray but it will also guide them to unforeseen opportunities.

Scott Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit, explains this lesson from a critical moment when his company was in the development stage of the company’s Quicken bookkeeping software. Cook also highlights a key theme in Entrepreneurship Essentials — “the power of structured experimentation to guide new ventures.”

Cook explains that Quicken was built as a consumer product for personal finance. What they didn’t realize was that their customers were actually using it for their business rather than their personal finances. By listening to its customers, Intuit identified a much bigger opportunity.

We said, “Wait a minute, there’s a giant market of businesses who need the kind of thing we built, but we just never built it for business,” Cook said. “So that’s why we run experiments, and run them early, so we can get those surprises early and see the things you only can see when you run an experiment to learn.” It’s critical to listen when the market is trying to speak to you.

Jenn Hyman Video

3. Use “No” as a Springboard for Conversation


Jenn Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, developed a service for customers to rent high fashion clothing and accessories at a much more accessible price point than purchasing them outright. The venture’s business model challenged the status quo for designers. Many said “no” to working with Rent the Runway. For Hyman, “no” became the start of helpful conversations.

“I don’t believe in the word ‘no,’” says Hyman. “To me, ‘no’ does not mean no; it means no for now.” By viewing ‘no’ as an invitation for a conversation, you just might turn the no into a yes. But if you never achieve a ‘yes,’ you still at least learn why they said no, which can be equally as valuable.

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It takes time for a new concept to receive wide acceptance, and Rent the Runway’s business model is no exception. The concept of renting vs. buying dresses hadn’t been introduced yet, so it was met with initial skepticism. However, once designers took a chance on the model, they saw its potential. By being open to understanding why designers were apprehensive and then adapting the model to fit a designer’s needs, Hyman was able to sell in her idea and gain widespread adoption.

Jennifer Fonstad Video

4. Challenge Yourself to Be Challenged


Osher, Cook, and Hyman all highlight the critical importance of listening to external feedback to fuel their understanding of opportunities they were pursuing. Jennifer Fonstad, founding partner of venture capital firm Aspect Ventures, encourages the early-stage ventures she works with to bring a mindset of openness to internal hiring as well.

By hiring colleagues with differing perspectives, you foster new ways of thinking that can aid your business. As Fonstad explains, “Those who embrace being challenged and those who embrace different perspectives tend to be more successful and make better decisions over time. So we encourage teams to think about how to bring in those different voices, whether it be through your employees and your co-founders, or whether you bring it in through your finance partners or your other board members.”

Abe Ankumah Video

5. Hire Builders, Not Joiners


Beyond hiring for skills and perspective that complement an existing team, Abe Ankumah, co-founder and CEO of IT operations firm Nyansa, highlights the importance of a builder mentality in hiring for a startup team member.

You try to find old classmates who you have worked with and trust and those who know how to work. At some point you will run out of these personal contacts and you will need to look for ones who can join your team. You must find the right culture for your team.

Startups need to look for a certain type of personality — those who roll up their sleeves ready to build, versus those who want to join an established company, as Ankumah explains: “You want to find people who want to build the next Google to make it Google, versus people who want to join Google because it’s already Google.”

Preparing for Entrepreneurial Success

Learning from others is central to the HBS Online learning experience, and the individuals represented here are just some of the many protagonists and experts featured in HBS Online courses. As in the Harvard Business School classroom, participants of HBS Online courses dive into case studies of real-world companies and, together with a cohort of peers from around the world, master essential business concepts.

HBS Online offers a four-week course, Entrepreneurship Essentials, where participants can master a proven framework for building and financing new ventures, and learn to speak the language of the startup world.

This article was originally published by StartupGrind on Medium.

This post was updated on August 7, 2019. It was originally published on February 13, 2018.