Running a business is probably one of the most intimidating undertakings to think about. No two journeys end up looking exactly the same, and each business can provide unique insights on what they believe led them to success. Although every approach is different, at a very simple level, it’s all about setting goals and executing on them as much as possible.

As the founder and managing director for The Portal — a non-profit dedicated to helping students gain real-world experience while providing business services to local companies and startups — we experienced all of these challenges firsthand.


Executing a Task is like Running a Sprint

The most important, and perhaps the most difficult part, of starting a business is actually getting started. It’s one thing to think about running a business and acknowledging all of the things that need to be taken care of. Actually taking care of the tasks on your list is another thing entirely.

As you start to take the first step, remember that you can’t be afraid of failure. In fact, prepare to embrace it as you start working toward your goal. Even if your first few attempts don’t work, you’re at least guaranteed to learn something from the process.

Splitting the greater task of building a business into tangible sprints, no matter how small, like creating a landing page, taking surveys from your users, talking to prospective customers, and gathering valuable data about your market will help push you and your business in the right direction.

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With each failed sprint, you’ll have the opportunity to refine your goal along with the method that you use to achieve it. With every success, no matter how small, you’ll find both the motivation to keep going and will have proof that you can execute, not just that you have ideas.

In The Portal’s case, we began with the mission of providing entrepreneurial exposure and experience to the students at UCI and the Orange County community in general.

From there we set about putting together a number of events that we thought would be valuable for students: tech talks, career fairs, workshops, and a variety of other events that brought students and local businesses together.

Although the students seemed to be enjoying the events that we hosted, none of the things that they learned or heard about seemed to stick. Our events weren’t helping them learn in the way that we hoped they would. Even though we were faced with a new problem, identifying it with each iteration of every new event also gave us the chance to address it. These first sprints actually gave us invaluable knowledge and prompted us to find the solution we needed.

Gearing Yourself Up for the Marathon

Once you’ve completed — and failed — a series of sprints both large and small, you’ll have come a long way from a list of things to do and an idea. Hopefully you’re well on your way to continuing to grow and expand your business, or at least have a better understanding of the problem you want your business to address.

Completing a series of sprints will also leave you in a better place to take on the marathon of maintaining a successful business. It isn’t about small sprints on smaller single tasks anymore, but about setting milestones in order to execute on much larger, long-term tasks.

Committing to a business for the long run will be a lot like the series of sprints, but without the immediate satisfaction or continuous feedback. Maintaining focus and keeping your big goal in mind will help you make it through the longer process of reaching your larger milestones.

Even as the going gets difficult, your experience with previous sprints will ensure that you’re prepared to keep pushing and learning from any of the roadblocks you encounter.

In The Portal’s case, our different events helped us realize that we needed to come up with another way to help them achieve the learning and exposure that we were going for.

We finally decided on focusing our efforts on experiential learning. We wanted to give students real experience working on actual jobs while helping them develop the kinds of skills that would help them succeed in the job market after graduation.

Now, The Portal is in the middle of our own marathon. As part of our mission, we’ve been able to identify some of the most talented students and have them work under professionals and industry experts for over a year and a half to provide technical development and content marketing services. We’ve become a core part of powering the local business ecosystem, and we’re continuously expanding and refining what we can offer.

A business is no simple task, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. With preparation, agility, and an openness to trying and failing, you’ll be well on your way to starting your business. The more sprints you’re willing to run and stumble on, the more lessons you’ll learn and the more tasks you’ll be able to execute. If you pursue your passions, the marathon won’t be nearly as long as it seems.

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