Millennials: 10 Things Old Farts Won’t Tell You About Entrepreneurship (Second in a series) | Peter Mehit


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2. Nobody With A Job Can Help You Become An Entrepreneur

If you spend two seconds thinking about that statement, the truth of it becomes evident.  Unfortunately, if you want to become an entrepreneur, the most visible sources of help are the least helpful.

It doesn’t matter how much information you have about how businesses are launched, the missing element is the courage to actually take risks.  The entrepreneur, while reducing risk, must embrace it to make their goal a reality. If you need a steady paycheck, you are not an entrepreneur.  So why would you get direction from someone who does?

The SBDC, SCORE and other SBA programs

We have enjoyed a long association with a several SBA funded Women’s Centers and Small Business Development Centers, even developing training programs for them.  There are some excellent people in these organizations whom have started their own companies and have tremendous insights for people looking to get started.

But it’s not most of them. Most of the counselors have always been employees. They simply don’t have the insight to instruct people about what to expect when they’re getting started.  Add to this that they are typically working programs where the primary metric is the number of people they ‘help’ or some vague ‘economic impact’ stat, not the quality of help they provide.  Because they are required to see so many people, making a real impact is difficult.

For example, the typical ‘starting your small business’ seminar will focus on getting your business license and insurance, making sure you pay your taxes and a few will spend time on why accounting is important.  Very rarely will they spend any extended time focusing on what we think is the most important thing you should focus on when starting: who is the customer and why will they buy?

In fact, training careens between being so general it’s useless to so specific it’s incomprehensible.  I once took a basic small business accounting course from SCORE. The instructor, who had impressive corporate credentials, presented information so dense it rendered many of the small business owners in the room unconscious.  The room was two-thirds empty at break.

That does not mean that you can’t get some great stuff from these agencies. I’ve seen some amazing classes taught by some true Ninjas.  But you will have to hunt for them.  Don’t be afraid to ask a counselor or a teacher about their background.  If it’s all books and jobs, move on.

Colleges and Universities

What can a tenured professor teach you about risk?   About how he found his team and kept them motivated through tough times?  About the balls it took to walk away from an unfavorable term sheet?

Most likely, he will tell you what he learned from books or listening to someone who did.

To make up for this, universities supplement their curriculum by bringing in mentors.  Some of these mentors are actual entrepreneurs but a lot of them got their money by inheriting it or by pulling off a massive corporate deal that landed them on easy street.  Neither of these two events qualify them to coach anyone on how to start a business, but there they are, dispensing wisdom they’re guessing at or learned by listening to the entrepreneur echo chamber for the latest buzzwords.  If you’re in these programs, maneuver yourself so you’re working with someone who’s actually launched something.

This is not to say that there isn’t value in college programs.  There is a lot to be learned in them.  But it’s dubious to say that a college can add value to something you can do for yourself by simply picking a company, or entrepreneur you admire, and talking to them.  Better yet, go to work for them.  Learn the business, the industry.  Be part of a team that’s doing something, not learning about it.  Cut out the middle man and college loans.

Unless specific knowledge or degrees are required, there is probably no reason to get an undergraduate education prior to starting a business.  It’s far better to apprentice in the field you want to be in and then launch. Take specific classes or training where you have gaps.  You are more likely find the team you need and they will understand why they should come with you.  Coincidentally, you’re also more likely to meet the people who will fund your enterprise.

Friends and Family

You will get all kinds of unsolicited advice about your life choice from the people closest to you.  Be prepared.  Most of it will be an attempt to discourage you from starting a business.

The reason for this is simple: fear.  The primary concern of someone with a job is keeping it.  If they don’t have one, their primary focus is finding one.  To take a path that doesn’t involve the supposed security of a job is something they can’t even imagine.  Coming from a place of love, most of them will try their best to stop you from doing something they see as foolish.

And it gets worse before it gets better.  As you succeed in pursuing your dream, they will feel threatened, inferior or left behind because you stepped out and they stayed in their jobs.  Overtime, with the exception of a few, you will speak less and less with them.  It’s not that they don’t love you, or you love them, it’s that your values have shifted to a different place.

An employee strives to follow the rules and still have their job at quitting time, when they can go home and enjoy their life.  An entrepreneur’s journey is her life.  The struggles, the victories and the experiences are her motive and her reason.  She’s like a mountain climber, the higher she climbs, the stronger she becomes and the farther she sees.

And the best way to become a mountain climber is to climb a mountain with the assistance of someone who has done it before.

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