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!

Inspiration

Many have written about their experiences as emerging entrepreneurs to great effect. These books, blogs and articles all serve as inspiration to me and fellow young entrepreneurs.  One of my favorite items I’ve read is Mark Cuban’s insight on that journey.  It’s easy to look at him and say, “Wow. He has everything. He’s a billionaire. He owns the Mavericks. He has a gorgeous wife and a great family.”  But did you know he slept on the floor of a cramped, trashy apartment for a few years while he was trying to get his first company off the ground? Or that he read computer manuals in his free time so that he could become an expert with them? Behind every success story is years of hard work and sacrifice…

http://blogmaverick.com/2009/05/13/success-motivation/
http://blogmaverick.com/2009/06/09/success-motivation-2009/

Now Mark Cuban is a great personal entrepreneurial “hero” of mine, but if we’re talking about inspiration to pursue your goals, nothing compares to Dr. Randy Pousch. At age 47 this Carnegie Mellon professor was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  Randy decided cancer could kill him, but not his spirit. In his “Last Lesson,” he shared with everyone his life story and lessons learned.  Below you’ll find the full video of this “Last Lesson.” It’s about the length of a movie, but I dare you to find one as powerful and moving:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5700431505846055184&hl=en#

I saved a number of quotes from Dr. Pausch for myself, but I’d like to comment on a few that resonated the most with me and others I showed the video (approximate time in the video listed in parenthesis):

(18:40) “When you see yourself doing something badly and no one is saying anything anymore…that’s a problem. It means they’ve given up on you”

I think this emphasizes the fact that feedback is so important. You always want to improve yourself and sometimes it’s really hard to get constructive criticism out of people. It’s often because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but they’re only doing you a disservice.  Of course, if they just don’t care, you have a bigger problem.  If you ever have constructive criticism on my blog, please comment!

(1:10:35)“Decide if you’re a Tigger or Eyeore”

As my father so eloquently put it, “I always thought Tigger was an airhead.” Yes, in the most literal sense that may be true. But to me, this is about optimism and hope vs. pessimism and acceptance.  Tigger sees all the great in the world and pursues his goals of being happy in life, while Eyeore is always depressed about something and never does anything to change his situation. To me, the Tiggers of the world are those that see problems in the world as opportunities to make a difference.  I’m a Tigger. Are you?

(53:00) “If you do anything that is pioneering, you have to put up with the arrows in the back”

This quote relates to entrepreneurs in two ways.  First, there will always be doubters, critics and haters.  You have to know when to listen to them…is it constructive criticism, or deep down, do you know they’re wrong? In general, I’ve found the best way to know if I believe in what I’m doing is simply to have someone try to encourage me to go another way; if I strongly disagree with their suggestion, I know I’m fully committed to my decision.  The second way this affects us is competition.  There is always someone else with the same idea.  Even if you get a head start and have more customers, better market presence, or superior technology, they’re gunning for you.  As I learned in running cross country, if you aren’t passing someone, someone else is likely passing you.

(26:40) “The brick walls are there for a reason.
The brick walls are not there to keep us out.
The brick walls are there to show us
how badly we want something
The brick walls are there to stop those
who don’t want it badly enough.
They’re there to stop other people.”

When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the track team.  Since my father ran track in college I thought I would be good too.  As it turned out…I wasn’t a natural.  At the end of the year, we had a banquet and the coaches honored all of the best athletes, which obviously didn’t include me. I decided I wanted to be one of those guys.  My coach told me I should join the Cross Country team and so after that banquet, I told him I was going to try to make varsity that fall.  He’s a nice guy, so he didn’t tell me no way, but he basically shrugged me off. He knew I ran a 7:30 mile as my best time that track season, and that pace wouldn’t even be good enough to make varsity.  Little did he know how badly I wanted it. All summer I got up every morning and ran 7.5 miles in the morning and 2.5 miles at night.  By the start of the school year I had run over 600 miles and was doing my morning run in under 7 minute mile pace.  I made varsity, to the great surprise of my coaches and my teammates.

When I set a goal, I passionately pursue it with everything I have and refuse to give up.  It hasn’t failed me regardless of whether it’s an athletic, academic or professional challenge.  I see a few “brick walls” in my life right now; I look forward to breaking them down.

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Despite only living half of the average American life, Randy Pousch accomplished a laundry list of lofty and challenging goals including working for Disney Imagineers, experiencing zero gravity, and writing an article for World Book Encyclopedia.  I have a list. Do you have a list? How are you working to check them off?   Don’t be afraid if they’re lofty. Randy’s mentor put it best:

“It’s such a shame people see you as arrogant…it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish” -Andy van Dam