Sunny Desai is president and CEO of the Mississippi-based Desai Hotel Group (DHG), which specializes in developing and managing hotels in the southeastern United States. Desai started the company six years ago, when he was just 23 years old; last year he was named to Hotel Management magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list. The company is currently working on building a 220-room, dual-brand Hilton hotel in the Memphis market, its largest and most complex project to date.
Being a young entrepreneur has its advantages, Desai says, but it also means learning a lot the hard way, as he explains below.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”
I got this advice from one of the company’s early investors. There is no reason to try to re-create a process or idea if it already exists. This does not mean stealing or copying other business models; it simply means that you can get inspiration from established sources to build your own business system. I found this true in hotel development, and I believe it can be used in any industry.
In my case, I wanted to find out what the most successful companies in my industry had in common and what made them different, so I started researching. Once I knew the basic route I wanted to take, I added my own touches for improvement and pushed forward. You have to figure out what makes your company different than others. What is your secret ingredient? What is your competitive advantage? You have to stand out.
What did you learn from your biggest mistake?
Don’t try to be Superman. Learn to delegate, and learn it early. I think one of the biggest hurdles for entrepreneurs starting out is realizing that you cannot do everything yourself. It is easy to think that things only get done right if you do them yourself. On the contrary—attempting to do it all yourself inevitably leads to mistakes and setbacks. Spreading myself too thinly led me to miss important details and make mistakes.
Most important, I learned not to be discouraged or hide it when I did make a mistake. Making mistakes is part of the process of becoming a better leader for your team. You just have to realize you made the mistake and learn from it. In the end, you will be better for it, and your team will respect the fact you admitted to it.
What one piece of advice would you pass on to aspiring entrepreneurs?
My favorite saying for entrepreneurs is that there are a million ways to make a million dollars, you just have to pick one. The true meaning behind that phrase is that you have to be passionate about what you choose to pursue from the countless possibilities out there. I truly believe that being passionate about your business is the key to the success of your company. If you go into a business or industry strictly for the money, odds are you will jump at the next opportunity to make more money, and never reach your full potential.
Sunny Desai is a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, which has partnered with MONEY.com to help produce this series.