What are the things young entrepreneurs should know? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Do your research: You may have come up with a great idea, but is it original? Who are your potential competitors? Does it solve a problem facing the general public or just you and your friends? Do you have the skills to bring your idea to life? How much will it cost and how will you fund it? These are the questions you must ask yourself and the answers are to be found in your research. Get comfortable looking into academic research and case studies on the topic related to your business idea, ask questions - get an advisor or mentor, invest in market and consumer research, take classes or perhaps go back to school to gain those skills.
Get comfortable networking: As in all things in life, relationships are key. Most of the opportunities I have had in life came about as a result of a relationship I developed. And while networking often has a negative connotation for being transactional, the best networking is not. It is about building a genuine relationship, and from there, building a community. Often, it is about leaving a good impression, connecting with someone on a genuine level about a shared experience, passion, or goal and then reconnecting with them about an opportunity. Networking is not a race - it takes time to cultivate a relationship from a connection, and it is unpredictable when or if that relationship will result in a business opportunity. What networking means to me is being open, friendly, inclusive, and purposeful - the characteristics necessary to be a good friend, a resource, and a community member.
Retain your optimism: As an entrepreneur, you will hear "no" or never hear back at all so many more times than yes. Be prepared for that and do not see it as a negative but a fact to face. Collect a list of entrepreneurs or luminaries you admire and look into their pasts. Read interviews about their path and what got them to their current position. You will find that most of them faced challenges and adversity that they had to overcome by a deep belief in themselves and their purpose. Also, when you are at the stage where you are seeking customers, investors, and validators, you will need to show how passionately you believe in yourself and your business. If you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
Ask for help: None of us know all of the answers. For this Session for example, I have consulted at least ten different sources to help me answer these questions! There is nothing shameful in needing help and asking for support. We all need this, in business and in life in general. Moreover, it will never hurt you and only help you to ask - you never know what can result from asking but the worst response you can get is "no." However, it is important to recognize not just that you need help, but to be specific about what you need help with and why. It is even more important to be prepared and strategic in the ask. The first step is to do your research. What is the problem you are facing? Be thorough, thoughtful, and dive deep. Why do you think it's occurring? Next, think of what subject matter expert(s) could help you solve this problem. Clearly and concisely identify your problem, the scope of your ask, and what you are willing to do to solve the problem before you reach out to people you think can help. Find a mentor and advisor, someone you can regularly consult who either works in the same industry or has the skills you'd like to develop. Honor the ask. If someone is willing to help you out, don't waste their time. As a mentor and advisor, my most productive sessions occur when the client has sketched these steps out ahead of time. Finally, act on the advice. Inevitably you will need assistance again, perhaps on a different issue, but if you do not follow up and follow through then the person you asked for help before may not be inclined to assist again.
Know when to push through and when to step back: There will inevitably be setbacks or challenges on your entrepreneurial journey. It is important to develop discernment about what challenges are worth overcoming and what obstacles are better avoided. This requires discernment that is developed through experience but also advice. Consult entrepreneurs or advisors in similar sectors. Read case studies on similar businesses or specifically on the challenge you are facing. Be open to adapting. Be flexible in your approach to facing a problem, as the solution may require a change in a component of your business. Finally, stepping back or away from an idea is not a defeat. Sometimes it is the smartest thing to do. Avoid pitfalls by learning from the examples of others - there is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially when it comes from making mistakes. The best way to learn how to deal with a problem is by learning from others who have faced it.
Check your privilege: When we think about how wealth, resources, and opportunities are concentrated, nepotism and exclusive networks of privilege are real. It is important to recognize where we individually fall in these categories, and what spaces we are able to occupy. What many overlook is that exclusivity and homogeneity in business are not just signs of bias but also of a scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset reinforces the idea that there are not enough resources and opportunities for everyone so they must be hoarded and protected. Reinforcing this mindset is at the core of existing institutional inequities that persist to business and society's detriment. Identify and dismantle the scarcity mindset by making space for others. Whether that's in adapting more inclusive hiring practices, expanding and diversifying our networks, or testing for bias built into products, advancing equity and access result in better returns for business but also better outcomes for consumers and society.
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