What skills or knowledge do I need to have before thinking about starting a business? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Fundamentally, you need to be passionate about an idea, market, or team before starting any business. There are some important skills that can be helpful as you think about starting a business, including but not limited to:
- Hiring a team -- Can you pull together the best people from a technology or industry perspective to help you build a great company? Building a one-of-a-kind team will differentiate your business, from inception through exit. It is impossible to win alone, and assembling people with varied skills, backgrounds, interests, and experience but who all pull in the right direction will make your startup. Note that it is important to surround yourself with people who are fundamentally good -- who have strong values, respect for others, and incredibly high integrity. These are qualities that are irreplaceable and will not only lead to success but also make your day-to-day life so much more enjoyable.
- Communication -- Whether you're building that team, raising capital, or explaining your idea, having the skill to clearly convey that message will help you as you reach into the community. The nice thing about this skill is that it can be improved over time, with practice, refinement of your message, and advice from others. One amazing thing about the technology community is that a majority of people are willing to help entrepreneurs who need some guidance. Furthermore, you need not be an incredible orator. It is absolutely fine (and in some ways better) to focus on deeply technical topics, especially with folks who have the capacity to understand the topic. Your depth of knowledge will shine through. One person I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years is Paul English, co-founder and former CTO of and currently CTO of . He has an insatiable love of technology but also has a wonderful style of communicating about a variety of topics, from health and wellness to hiring -- some of his recent articles and experiences are .
- Curiosity -- If you can call this a skill, this is definitely something I see in all entrepreneurs and individuals who have a passion for building businesses. A real desire to learn, explore, and investigate new opportunities and markets is a skill that seems to be inherent in successful creators. Curiosity is also imperative as you build, because rapid change and development of business plans and strategies is critical as a company adjusts to ever-changing markets.
- Industry knowledge -- In some cases, there is a distinct advantage to starting a business in an area in which you have expertise or a differentiated perspective. I was lucky to invest and be on the board of the Honest Company, which was founded by Jessica Alba. Jessica had a personal passion for making baby and household products healthier to use, but after trying to campaign with politicians, she realized there are political action committees and unduly influenced politicians who want to keep many cheap and popular ingredients legal to use despite their being harmful. She realized she needed a co-founder with deep domain experience to explain ingredients' impact on society, so she identified Christopher Gavigan, the writer of the book Healthy Child Healthy World, as the best-in-class person in the space and asked him to partner. Together, they realized that the same influences in the political arena would initially impede them in retail, so they decided they needed to go directly to the consumer. They set their sights on Brian Lee, the best D2C entrepreneur in the country, to co-found and lead the company. After some convincing, Brian and Brian's friend Sean Kane (from PriceGrabber) joined, and the rest is history. The story is not over. But Jessica identified the best people with deep domain expertise to build one of the fastest-growing new brands in history.
The bottom line is that many of the skills and a lot of the knowledge is softer than what many of us learned at business school. While strategy, operations, and finance are critical as you execute on your business, those are not usually the decisive things for whether it's a good idea to start a business. Strategic, operational, and financial skills are usually those you need as you grow and scale your company. At inception, it's really all about the idea, team, communication, expertise, and your curiosity along the journey.
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