The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part I: Starting from Scratch

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

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PART I: Starting from Scratch
You recently had the epiphany you want to be an entrepreneur, but really haven’t gotten started yet.  Here’s what to do…

1) Is this for You?

When you first decide you are really interested in entrepreneurship, the key is to get informed.  It’s easy to say you love startups, but it’s another thing to truly understand what you’re saying.  The best way to determine if it is for you is to start reading.  Read inspirational articles written by entrepreneurs like Ken Morse, Paul Graham and Mark Cuban.  Still interested? Talk to family and friends and try to find people who are entrepreneurs that you can talk to about what it’s like.  After hearing about all the challenges, long hours and risk of failure, if you still want to be an entrepreneur, read on…

2) Try EVERYTHING…Be Curious

A key trait of being an entrepreneur is a desire to learn. When you’re getting started, you should try to take in everything you can to learn about different types of startups and roles you can fill in a startup.  Fill your Google Reader with industries you’re interested in and blogs in areas you want to learn more about.  You don’t have to read every article, just the ones that interest you; simply reading the headlines of the other articles can help you to grasp where different industries are technologically.  There are also great websites, magazines, books, and presentations you can check out.  Ask other entrepreneurs what they read.  Add what you like to your list and leave the rest.

3) Overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start?

If you really need a few starting points, here’s a few sites, blogs and items I personally like best (note: This is somewhat Boston biased, because that’s where I live. Find things in your area to get a view of your local entrepreneurship scene):

Websites:  TechCrunch, Venture Beat, Silicon Alley, Gizmodo, Xconomy
Blogs: OnStartups, Innovation Economy, Startup Lessons Learned
Magazines: Inc Magazine, Popular Science, Technology Review

The takeaway from this is not to copy me; instead, notice the diversity. There are newspapers, tech focused media, business sources and established entrepreneur blogs.  The idea is to get as many perspectives as you can. Try to build a similar list based on your passions and location.

4) Study those you Admire

As you immerse yourself in all of this entrepreneurial content, you’ll start to find certain personalities and businesses keep coming up.  Find the ones that resonate most with you and follow them more closely. If the founder of the company has a blog, read it. If they have a book, buy it. If they’re going to be speaking and you have a chance to see them live or on video, watch it. And if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with them, make the most of it.  Focus on how they got where they are. Learn from their mistakes and try to understand what made them successful and emulate that.

Still in love with entrepreneurship after starting the learning process?

Now Available: Part II: Getting Out There
See Also: Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and Following & Part IV: Working on Your Idea


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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!

BYE Event: Upstarts: Gen Y Entrepreneurs Panel

Last night, Boston Young Entrepreneurs (BYE) hosted a panel at Emerson College to promote Inc. Magazine contributor, Donna Fenn’s new book: Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success. The panel was comprised of a trio of impressive young entrepreneurs:  David Hauser from Grasshopper; Brendan Ciecko from Ten Minute Media; and Brad Weinberg from Shape Up the Nation. Despite their very different backgrounds and company types, they shared very similar thoughts on entrepreneurship.

There are many different key roles an entrepreneur can fill in a startup. David and Brad both emphasized the need for a partner to compliment their skills for theirs; these partners fill in for roles and responsibilities that they are neither proficient nor passionate about.  David described the difficulty he experienced in hiring leaders; he found that leading the company as a whole, person to person wasn’t in his interests and that they were hiring many “doers,” but no one was leading. It wasn’t until he left for his “first vacation in 3 years” and didn’t answer emails that a few people started stepping up.  When he returned, he recognized this and worked to cultivate those that emerged.  As David said, “If you [stink] at doing something, hire someone who’s good at it.”  Not every entrepreneur is necessarily the inventor, the salesman, or the visionary CEO.  Find someone to fill the role(s) you’re lacking and make sure they’re as passionate as you are about the company.

Another major topic of discussion was money.  They generally advised against pursuing significant outside funding (although Brad has received Angel investment).  Their greatest concern was in taking VC money, because those investors usually aren’t keen on letting young entrepreneurs learn (i.e.- they’ll reduce your role / replace you with more experienced people).  Also, getting money can lead to bad habits; if you have a lot of money in your corporate account, problems can be too often solved by throwing money at it (hire, try every option, etc) instead of digging down to the core.  While it can be stressful bootstrapping your company, they emphasized the rewards are much greater and you’re much more focused.

The greatest point of the night related to two concepts: Focus and Growth.  They all mentioned times when their companies took on more than they could handle or tried to scale too quickly.  When this happened, the company either had difficulty delivering on all the business they had taken on, or worse, ran into serious cash flow issues.  The best anecdote for these issues came from Brad Weinberg regarding a business opportunity called, “Fresh To You.”  A woman had an idea for a startup and asked him and his company for help.  What began as simple, quick assistance started taking away serious amounts of time from Brad and his employees.  They finally had to say no to the company and refocus all of their efforts on their then strained business.  To this day, when Brad’s company is concerned about whether an opportunity will affect focus, they ask, “is that another Fresh to You?”

Overall, this was a great event. The three young entrepreneurs brought unique, valuable experience that they shared with the audience.  Donna also sprinkled in some interesting statistics related to her research such as the fact that only 1 of the 64 Gen Y companies she profiled went out of business during the recession.  These are exactly the kind of events to motivate and inspire young entrepreneurs. I look forward to future events like these.