Forget Silicon Valley for a second. Utah’s Wasatch Front, a thousand miles from San Francisco, is home to 86 of the fastest-growing companies in the United States. John Richards is the shepherd of these ‘Silicon Slopes’. His impact on the local startup ecosystem and his penchant for lean startups make him a force to be reckoned with.

Richards is, amongst other things, the co-founder of several ventures leading to high-multiple exits, and he’s an active angel investor having directly invested in scores of new and mature ventures as well as hundreds more through investment funds. 

Today, he shares 5 wisdoms that will make you a more successful entrepreneur. Startups.be claimed a spot in the front row for this riveting SXSW session on cutting-edge entrepreneurship (Richards is in the advisory board of SXSW). Here we go! 

#1. Entrepreneurship is like surfing

Impressive and seemingly unattainable, until you actually get on that board and give it a go. Entrepreneurship, like surfing, is a skill, which you can actually learn. People are not born as entrepreneurs or business geniuses, their skills are honed, trained and shaped.

That’s right, you don’t ride the wave of success by accident. You need to learn to recognize when the right wave is coming, look down the pipe and prepare to catch it when it comes. Timing is everything. The smallest deviation will cause you to miss your window. By the time you take the leap, you should have learned the skills needed to actually ride that wave, and you will look so frickin’ cool doing it.

#2. You don’t have to be a college dropout to get that edge

We all love a good underdog. College dropout turned billionaire sure has a nice ring to it, but you don’t have to be one of the cool kids to make it as a successful entrepreneur. If anything, college is a place where likeminded people gather and develop ideas together. Loose thoughts and impulses get merged, combined and strengthened. Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are just a few companies that sprouted after the right people found each other in college and started working on something that transcended individuality.

#3. Get cracking on those books

You’re never too old to learn, and never wise enough to stop gathering knowledge. A lot of interesting stuff has been written about lean startups in the past couple of years. Some of these are essential to becoming successful as a modern-day entrepreneur. Read these books for a complete overview of all things entrepreneurial, and start distilling your own insights from them while you broaden your horizons.

1. Alex Osterwalder: Business Model Generation

2. Steve Blank: The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual

3. Nathan Furr: Nail it then Scale it 

4. Eric Ries: The lean Startup

#4 Entrepreneurship is like a pair of eyeglasses

To be a great entrepreneur, you have to focus on two overarching elements, not unlike two parts of a pair of glasses. On one side, you have to create and deliver a product that will change the world as we know it. It has to be something you’re truly passionate about. Those who are only in it for the money will fail eventually. On the other side, we do have to create wealth by growing our ventures.

These two elements nurture each other in a symbiotic relationship. We can’t focus on just one of the two, we have to purposefully pay attention to both. Then, and only then, will we be able to foster successful, lasting businesses.

#5. Investors need to practice lean startup principles too

A lot of investors are stuck in a rut, still falling back on business principles that started failing ten years ago. They need to put their old equity term sheets to pasture and get up to speed with new, lean, startup principles.

Great entrepreneurs who are validating solid business models, customers and users will still fail if they are put in front of a stuffy investor with an outdated approach. In order to become a more successful entrepreneur, seek out investors who know where it’s at. Find yourself an investor who will give you the freedom to grow and make the right calls for today’s businesses.

So in conclusion, it’s up to us to hone our skills and never to stop learning. New and improved business principles have come and gone, but Steve Jobs’ words from 2005 still hold merit: stay hungry, stay foolish. On top of that, we need to surround ourselves with people that are doing the same thing. And lastly, we just need to be wildly passionate in all our endeavors. Because that’s where the magic happens.

Magali De Reu 

Figuring out how to start with fundraising? We're organizing investor readiness workshops all over Belgium in the next few months. Join us and become an expert!