Ed Dean is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in London and is CEO at Woodseer, a Fintech business that uses algorithms to create global financial forecast data. As an entrepreneur who has founded businesses both in new countries and new industries, we asked Ed for tips on how he gets up to speed quickly in a new sector. Here's what he shared.
If starting a business is a bold risk, then what is starting a business in an industry where you have no experience? To me, it's the ultimate challenge. I've always been more of a generalist than a specialist and―like many entrepreneurs―I thrive on learning and variety.
In 2003 I moved from London to Shanghai, where I spent 10 years building a business in the retail and hospitality sector though I had no prior involvement in the industry. I moved back to London in 2015 and am now CEO of a Fintech business, again, with no direct finance industry experience.
Here are five best practices on how to survive, and hopefully thrive, in spite of the perceived challenge of inexperience:
1. Reframe inexperience as a competitive advantage
Attitude is everything. Initially, I see a fresh perspective as one of the biggest advantages I have in a new sector. Having no understanding of "how things are meant to work" and having no idea "what everyone else does" allows me to generate ideas and move in directions that more established players would eschew, or might never even consider. There is great freedom and opportunity in not knowing the rules of the status quo, and with time it becomes easier to see where the edge-space exists―areas you can move into, and which may be invisible to your more experienced competitors. It is, after all, extremely hard to disrupt yourself.
2. Make like a sponge
In Design Thinking methodology, the first step is "observation" or "sensing." Sensing, for me, is about absorbing as much information as I can, from as many different sources as possible―meetings, articles, conferences, books and conversations―while at the same time avoiding the shortcut of jumping to early assumptions. This is much harder than it sounds because as entrepreneurs we are conditioned to solve problems quickly and then move on. I try to let my conclusions and related decisions bubble up to the surface over time so that they're fully considered and not too hasty.
3. Be prepared for some failure
As humans we are hard-wired to fear failure, and yet we learn faster and we learn more through our challenges and failures than we do through our easy successes. Making little bets and trying experiments which don't always work as planned are the best ways to learn what works and what doesn't. It is scary to invite opportunities for failure, so when I feel fearful I take it as a sign that I'm making progress.
4. Network, network, network
Partnerships and relationships are crucial to success. Let's be clear: The biggest disadvantage to working in a new sector is the lack of contacts or any network. So, I'll take any meeting with anyone I can, however senior or junior they may be. I pummel LinkedIn and connect with everyone I meet, and over time patterns start to emerge of who knows whom, and who some of the key people are. I check in with certain key people every few months and try to ask them the questions no one else is asking. I also run any recent ideas by them to gauge carefully how they react and what I can learn from it.
5. Maintain a beginner's mindset
Being an expert is great, and at the same time, it's deadly to believe you already know all the answers, even more so in today's world of accelerating change. Limiting beliefs with thoughts such as, "We could never attempt that," is also dangerous, especially when it holds people back from considering new ideas or exploring new directions. Underlying everything I do is an effort to keep an open mind, to keep myself receptive to new thoughts and approaches, and to meld these concepts together in unexpected ways.