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Here’s what it will take to be your own boss
June 15, 2016

“It’s useful to remember that you’re going to fail,” says Evan Burfield, co-founder of the small-business incubator 1776, in Washington. Anticipating setbacks, he said, builds an ability to fight through them and the frustration they create.

If you can do that, you just might succeed. Burfield, who knows frustration, shared his insights during a State Department webchat.

He works tirelessly to find investors to support the startups he nurtures at 1776. He has learned that many investors are only interested in Silicon Valley– or New York–based startups. Yet he pitches to them about international companies tackling social problems.

For a long time, Burfield met skepticism and came away with no funds. He persisted. “You can’t let your own emotional state get in the way of where you have to lead your organization,” he said. An investor finally said yes, and that one positive response gave Burfield more credibility, opening the door for the next investor to sign on.

He shares these tips on succeeding as a business owner:

Do you have what it takes?

Entrepreneurs take complex problems and create new solutions. Whether or not you become a business owner, these abilities will serve you well. “Teaching entrepreneurship to youth today is not just about empowering them to go build their own businesses,” Burfield said. “It’s about … the skill set they’re going to need to be effective in the changing economy.”

Got an idea? Explain it clearly.


Clear communication includes the basic balance sheet of your business. “You’ve got to be able to talk about how much money you’re making, how much money you’re spending and whether you’re generating a profit,” Burfield said. Even the best idea won’t impress anyone without those details. So talk about them.

How well do you know your customers?

Narrowly defining your customer can bring your business idea to life, Burfield said. If you try to service every customer type, you will fail. Build relationships with people in a narrow customer set, especially as you start your business. In one example Burfield has used, “Facebook started out as a way for college students at a small subset of universities to share pictures with each other. They nailed that use case and that target segment, and they just kept expanding from there the definition of who their customer was.”

Check out more of Burfield’s tips on launching your own startup venture, including creating the perfect pitchraising capital and growing your business.