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!

Russ Wilcox, Mass High Tech All Star

As I was following my twitter stream today on TweetDeck, I noticed an announcement about “Mass High Tech All Stars”. What really caught my attention was the mention of Russ Wilcox receiving one of the awards.  Russ is very deserving of this and the other awards he and E Ink have been amassing recently.  I’ve had a number of great experiences with Russ, so I’d like to share a few here.

As you may recall from my first entry, there was a seminar my freshman year at Northeastern that included local entrepreneurs coming in to discuss their start-up experiences.  Russ was one of those entrepreneurs, and to this day, I remember his presentation.  He showed us his VC pitch and talked about his passion for changing the way we interact with books. The innovative nature of the technology and the passion he showed really stood out and definitely contributed to my growing interest in entrepreneurship at the time. From that day forward, I followed E Ink in the news to see how they were doing.

When I graduated 4 years later, it only seemed natural to apply for a position at E Ink; by working there I could learn more about a great local start-up firsthand.  Fortunately, they hired me for a summer job that got my foot in the door. During that time, Russ was constantly being taped in interviews, interacting with employees and talking about making E Ink a success. His passion seemed to spread to others and his demeanor made everyone feel confident and comfortable. After overhearing he got to talk to one of my all-time favorite entrepreneurs, Mark Cuban, on the phone as part of something Mark’s HDNet was reporting on, I decided I had to get a chance to talk to him too.

I won’t lie…I was scared. I thought to myself, “this is a man running a 100+ employee company that is just starting to gain traction…he has no time to talk to me.”  Luckily, I didn’t let those thoughts get the best of me,  so I emailed him explaining my passion for entrepreneurship and asked if I could talk to him about his experiences.  To my delight, he was more than happy to and we scheduled a meeting.

The meeting was everything I hoped it would be and more.  He started out by telling me the story of E Ink; how they almost went bankrupt and the extreme situation he was handed the day he was named CEO (6 weeks of cash left, no established product) and how they made it to 2008.  We then talked about his personal background and how he ended up at E Ink.  The discussion then turned towards me and I explained to him what I hoped to do and he gave me a lot of great advice.  He suggested a ton of reading and explained his philosophy for all that reading (essentially…there’s something to learn from all of them…the key is recognizing those key nuggets and combining it with the others).  The meeting was scheduled to be 45 minutes, but we ended up talking for an hour and a half. During that time, he never looked at his watch or hinted at all that he had anything to do but talk to me.

It’s experiences like these that inspire future generations of entrepreneurs.  I hope one day I can be the type of leader Russ is and hope he can continue to guide E Ink to a successful future.

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I’ll leave you with a quote from Russ that speaks deeply to his beliefs and what I think entrepreneurship is really all about:

“You live to your fullest potential when you pursue a challenging dream that builds lasting value for others. ” -Russ Wilcox, CEO E Ink