Lessons for Entrepreneurial Success (Maybe, with Hard Work and Luck)

Today, we start a 10-part series highlighting the lessons entrepreneurs have learned on their journey towards success.   

Success is relative. Depending on your goals and motivations, success means different things to different people. For the sake of this series, we define entrepreneurial success as the ability to make a comfortable living on your terms, by creating, working with, or selling a product or service. Whether you do it solo, in a partnership, leading a team or as part of a team, you are still working towards success as an entrepreneur.

First, let us talk about the conspicuous parenthesis in the title. The "Maybe" is there as a reminder that the odds are against you. About 50% of new businesses fail within the first 5-years (and that was before the effects of the 2020 global pandemic).1,2 The entrepreneurial journey is unpredictable. It takes tremendous patience, drive, and a willingness to fail- repeatedly. Also, customers, the market, competitions, the political climate, and a myriad of variables all affect the progress of your endeavours.

However, remember that there are very few steadfast rules in business. You are the ruler of your domain. Perhaps these lessons will help you rule supreme.

Think about any business success story you have heard, been a part of, or read about, and there is a good chance they have two seemingly opposing things: tremendous hard work and storybook luck. Hard work is a prerequisite to achieving success in entrepreneurship or anything worthwhile. Most founders can tell you about the unbelievable amounts of work they had to do. They can also tell you about the 1, 2 or 20 times they almost went out of business right before a client, who had turned them down months before, called out of the blue to do business; or the party they almost did not go to, because of bad weather, that led to them meet their business partner. Luck plays an almost uncomfortable role in success. Take advantage of the entrepreneurial tips outlined here so that when good luck strikes you can capitalize on the opportunity and win.

Let’s be honest, this series could be 3 lessons or 300 lessons long. However, after speaking with several successful business owners and founders we have come across these recurring themes. You may have already heard or learnt some of these lessons firsthand, if so, it never hurts to reinforce important ideas.

Lesson #1
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: Sleep is Non-Negotiable 

Gone are the days when it was a badge of honour for founders to work for days on as little sleep as possible.

With notable CEOs like Gary Vaynerchuk and Arianna Huffington espousing the importance of sleep and healthy living,3,4 more people understand the importance of self-care. It’s difficult to hit your targets when you’re sick because you’ve been burning the candle at both ends. It doesn’t matter that you can work into the wee hours of the night, keeping a healthy work-life balance is not only about preventing burnout.

Focusing solely on your business can lead to feelings of social isolation, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders to name a few.

Poor sleeping habits have a dramatic impact our health - from suppressing your immune system, increasing your higher risk of hypertension (show of left hands, who wants a heart attack?), to weight gain and more.5 When we sleep, our body goes into “restore and repair” mode - fighting inflammation and pathogens.6 It also helps to regulate our hormones, protect our organs, lower blood pressure, and manage stress (by resetting out cortisol levels).7,8 Good quality sleep also keeps our brains sharp; affecting focus, concentration, creativity, abstract thinking, and our ability to remember and retain new skills.9 In other words, a good night's sleep = a more effective and successful entrepreneur.


Here are some useful recommendations to keep you operating at your best and healthiest efficiency.

  • Create rules and stick to them. Decide what your work hours are and clock out when it’s time to clock out. The challenges of the day will be waiting for you tomorrow. There are very few “complete” days in business.
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep each night. 7 - 8 hours a night is best. Of course, there will be times when you have to pull all-nighters or work late. However, these events should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Eventually, your body will create a rhythm of winding down and waking up naturally.
  • Reduce the blue light in the evening. Most smartphones and computers have built-in blue light modes you can schedule to turn on around sunset. You can also dim your lights, burn beeswax candles, and turn off electronics.
  • Create an enjoyable sleep routine. Try drinking herbal tea before bed, playing relaxing music, or meditating. Like all of your business goals, plan for sleep success.
  • Don’t drink alcohol right before bed. That’s right, your little “nightcap” is not a good idea. People often mistake alcohol’s drowsy side effects as a potential sleeping aid. Not only can regularly drinking alcohol before bed create dependence, but it also disrupts your REM sleep which your brain needs to get that good quality rest.10 We’ve all suffered the ill effects of poor-quality sleep like decreased energy, increased mistakes, and poor focus. We need REM sleep for important things like our brain plasticity, the ability to learn and retain information.11,12 So don’t be a dummy, go to sleep.
  • Use your body's circadian rhythm.
    1) If your bedroom window lets in artificial light (e.g., streetlights or other buildings) a set of blackout curtains is a great investment.
    2) If you do not need blackout curtains at night, take advantage of the sun’s ability to help wake up on the right side of the bed.13
    3) If you use blackout curtains you might want to also invest in a wake-up light alarm clock that simulates the light of a sunrise. 

Read Lesson #2 of the series HERE

  1. US Bureau of Labour Statistics. “Survival of private-sector establishments by opening year”, https://www.bls.gov/bdm/us_age_naics_44_table7.txt 
  2. U.S. Small Business Administration. “Do economic or industry factors affect business survival?”, June 2012, https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/Business-Survival.pdf
  3. Vaynerchuk, Gary. “How Much Does GaryVee Rest And Sleep?” YouTube, 14 May 2015, https://youtu.be/Kw2ShSnO72w.
  4. Huffington, Arianna. “How to Succeed? Get More Sleep.” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/arianna_huffington_how_to_succeed_get_more_sleep?language=en.
  5. NHS. “Why lack of sleep is bad for your health”, 30 May 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
  6. Eric J. Olson, M.D, “Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?”, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757
  7. Camila Hirotsu, Sergio Tufik, and Monica Levy Andersen, “Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions”, 28 Sep 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688585/
  8. CDC, “How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?”, https://www.cdc.gov/features/sleep-heart-health/index.html
  9. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency”, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
  10. Breus, Michael, and Mehmet Oz. The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More. Little, Brown Spark, 2019.
  11. Ruben Guzman-Marin, Natalia Suntsova, Tariq Bashir, Robert Nienhuis, Ronald Szymusiak, Dennis McGinty, Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Deprivation Contributes to Reduction of Neurogenesis in the Hippocampal Dentate Gyrus of the Adult Rat, Sleep, Volume 31, Issue 2, February 2008, Pages 167–175, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.2.167
  12. “Journal Sleep: Four Days of REM Sleep Deprivation Contributes to a Reduction of Cell Proliferation in Rats.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers, 1 Feb. 2008, https://aasm.org/journal-sleep-four-days-of-rem-sleep-deprivation-contributes-to-a-reduction-of-cell-proliferation-in-rats/.
  13. McClure2, Leslie A, et al. “Effect of Sunlight Exposure on Cognitive Function among Depressed and Non-Depressed Participants: a REGARDS Cross-Sectional Study.” Environmental Health, BioMed Central, 28 July 2009, https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-8-34.


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Photo by Calle Macarone

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Photo by David Mao 

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