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From Corporate Ladder to Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster

When I graduated from University it was an era when entrepreneurship was not cool for academics and climbing the corporate ladder was the thing to do. Consumer marketing had become my religion and Procter & Gamble was the bible back then, so it wasn't a big surprise to friends and family that I started to work there. I really enjoyed corporate life, but I also liked all the other beautiful opportunities that were not on my career path.

The more years I worked in big corporations, the more "distracted" I got. There was the move to Holland for a boyfriend, the raves of the 90's, the year sabbatical to travel the world, then write a book and of course the, now looking backwards, inevitable and ultimate "distraction": starting my own company.

In my last job working for a boss at eBay we had just acquired Marktplaats for 235 million euros. The internet was flourishing and was changing so many industries. I wanted something for myself, and it did not take me very long to figure out what I wanted. Something with internet, something with education and travel... I thought: "How hard can it be? I am an ex BCG consultant and have an INSEAD MBA ... I can do this." I just need to do for myself what I have been doing for others for many years." I had a vision and a plan....... I just needed to implement it.

Boy, was I naive..... Entrepreneurship in reality turned out to be very different than corporate life. We launched mYngle as a marketplace, and very soon found out, that something was wrong. We were spending so much on Google Adwords, but we were not growing fast enough. Something had to change.

I had always learned since my first job to 'listen to the customers.'' After asking them, they they told us: "we want quality". We followed that wish and started to adjust our services for the people that had the highest ''need'' for them. That brought us to a position where companies more than consumers were interested in the services we were offering.

We listened carefully to this newly found target group to understand what they wanted. We implemented everything they wanted over the last 3 years. Step by step we moved away from our initial direction into a completely different one.

And it worked. It was difficult to let go of the initial idea, but necessary.

Letting go of old ideas and constant adaptation to customers proved to be our key to success. That is how we have evolved into a different company that is now widely successful.

So if you are ready to take a ride on the entrepreneurial roller coaster, I have the following tips for you to make the ride more enjoyable:

1. If you don't succeed at first, try again (and keep on trying)

As an entrepreneur, you have to believe that there is always a way to solve a problem, to move forward, to go further, no matter what. If you believe that, there is (almost) nothing that you cannot achieve. Keep on trying, and if the hurdle seems to high, or the goal too ambitious, split it in smaller steps.

2. Don't stick to the plan

What I did not know when I started, is the huge difference between "The plan'' and "Reality". You learn about strategy at school, you write long term plans in corporates, but that is not how a start-ups work. We tend to get attached to our initial ideas and well-thought plans, because change is often difficult, and inconvenient. Keep on evolving till you get it right. Change is an essential part of being entrepreneur.

3. Talk to your customers (and listen)

This can never be stressed enough. Everything you do should revolve around your customers. You, as founder, have to listen to them (not your marketers, or sales people, or...). Make it a habit. Read the surveys and the mails they send to CS, talk to your largest clients regularly, go out selling yourself. When you start, as well as when you are a billion dollars company. It is one of mYngle core values, the first and most important.

4. Stop comparing

Not all start-ups are successful over a fortnight, not all of us are Mark Zuckerberg. In fact most are not. The stories you read about the few that ''got it all'' are rare exceptions of a very different reality. Stop comparing yourself with anything you see around you. Also, women in particular tend to do injustice to themselves. If we are not perfect, we feel we are not good enough. This is particularly damaging as entrepreneur, as you have to deal with uncertainty and take many leaps of fate.

5. Learn from mistakes, yours and others'

Making mistakes is good as long as you learn from it. Sometimes however, the price of those mistakes can be really high. Find a mentor, surround yourself with the right experts, so that you can learn also from the mistakes that others have made before you.

I would be interested to hear about other experiences with entrepreneurship, whether similar or totally different. Share your comments here below. Thanks!

Marina Tognetti was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community.

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