I’m often asked, “I have a bunch of great ideas about X, but how do I start a company?” I’m sure many books have been published on the subject, but the answer is quite simple: just build. An MBA - or any degree - is definitely not required. Now, some people are not meant to start companies, but if you have a great passion for changing the status quo and are willing to sacrifice A TON to get there – really – here’s how:
- Start building a product. You can plan all you want, but no one reads business plans. Your product should speak for itself, and those who understand the space you’re building in will know when they see something great. If it’s not great, iterate until it is. (Usually that’s when people outside of your family start using it. The industry jargon is “achieving product/market fit”).
- Spend as much time as you can learning about the space you’re building in and experiencing the pain you’re solving for while you’re building the product. Talk to potential customers, partners, and other companies in the space. The better you understand the pain, the better and more focused your product will be. The best test for how well your product solves a real need is how much someone will actually pay for it (or some part of it).
- If you can’t build it yourself, find someone who can, or learn to do it yourself. I’ve seen many great companies where the person with the initial idea was not technical (a coder/builder). If you decide to go looking, find one as fast as you can, and make that person your partner. Outsourcing the initial product development generally does not work. Why? Because you can’t sit next to the person and collaboratively iterate at 3am until you reach product/market fit. Also, you want that person to be as hungry for success as you are.
- If your ambition is to build something huge and you need capital to do it, launch your product and iterate until you have measurable traction – defined as users, growth, and engagement –, then pitch an Angel/VC for financing. You can pitch me here. Most professional investors will not be interested until you can demonstrate that what you have is interesting to your customers. Many companies can grow into big successes without raising any venture capital at all. If you can achieve this, more power to you, because venture capital is some of the most expensive capital available.
And that’s it. The sooner you start, the better. There’s really no downside for someone a few years out of college to do something like this. And it will probably be the greatest learning experience of your life.
When I graduated, the majority of my classmates took one of two jobs: consulting or investment banking. The pay was top-notch, the competition, fierce, and the learning and “networking” opportunities, seemingly abundant. What’s not to like for a type A personality?
A year later and most of my friends who took these jobs are miserable, bored, exhausted, and wondering whether $400 bottle service is really a worthwhile price for entry to mediocre clubs. Quite simply, their approach to maximizing their life - an idea most of us have had hammered in from the womb - was a complete failure. Why? I believe it’s due to the local maxima, or “hill climbing” problem.
A good way to understand the local maxima problem is to imagine being blindfolded in the middle of nowhere, and told to find the highest point around you. It may take a while, but you could do it: simply feel the ground around you and move in the direction of elevation. You reach the top of that hill, however, only to remove your blindfold and see that out in front of you is a valley and a huge mountain.
Recruiting sessions, expensive dinners, and pressuring parents led my classmates - and me, for a time - to believe that a higher starting salary meant a better outcome for the future. Unfortunately, this is entirely false. If you think about it, the point of graduation is for most people the time in their lives when they have the least responsibility and expectations. It is therefore the best time to take risks that could potentially lead to great gains for the rest of their lives. So why not take a risk and head for the valley first? The common response is that one needs to learn a skill-set out of college, and that such a job is just a stepping stone. Complete bull. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs, world leaders, and people who just generally enjoy their lives, have relied on less than a high-school diploma. Learning from doing is exponentially more useful - because you learn from failure and are forced to survive. And failure is much easier to stomach when there’s nothing to lose.
So to those with the luxury of youth: take a risk, and do something you’re passionate about. Preferably something that creates much more value for people other than yourself.
comments. 21 notes.
I’ve had several conversations with close friends recently on career moves, getting ideas off the ground, and following passion instead of pay. I’ve always been a believer in the paramount importance of relationships in pursuing opportunity, and in each of these conversations the significance of meeting the right people came up again and again.
But I strongly believe that meeting people, whether in the context of business or otherwise, should be an end and not a means. I hate the phrase “making connections” or “networking” because it implies that you are connecting with someone to do something, as opposed to simply making a friend - who may or may not be able to provide value to you in the future.
I love meeting people, but I love it because it’s amazing to see into someone else’s world, into their interests and passions. If I can help them in some way, even better, because it gives me pleasure to do so. If they can help me in some way, that’s nice too, but it’s not at all why I establish a relationship.
I’m simply a big believer in the fact that if you’re a good person, and if you surround yourself with good people, great things will happen.
Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: working on something really neat....
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid. Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Blaze (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce), Klout, Indiegogo, Enterproid, ShowMe, LocalResponse, and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.