As a serial entrepreneur and promoter of youth entrepreneurship through the non-profit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) I have pulled together my nine favorite lessons in entrepreneurship. These nine lessons I hope to impart on the next generation of youth entrepreneurs have been compiled based on my experience launching two businesses: EmptyLegMarket which fills empty private jets with paying customers and Sun Polish, a cosmetic brand that captures the colors of the sun in Southern California and puts them in a bottle. 10% of profits from Sun Polish are donated to organizations that empower women in Los Angeles.
One of the best vehicles to make positive change is through entrepreneurship. I am an avid supporter of people following their entrepreneurial passions to write their own destinies and to become their own CEOs. So, what does it take to become an entrepreneur?
Some people are “born” as an entrepreneur, but for most people they can be taught the skill-set to become an entrepreneur. I did not come from a family of entrepreneurs. Though entrepreneurship is in my blood as my great grandfather started an open-air fruit market in Oil City, Pennsylvania when his truck broke down on his way back from a produce wholesaler and so the produce didn’t rot he opened up the back of his truck and quickly sold out of all his produce realizing an unmet market in Oil City.
Here are my 9 favorite lessons in entrepreneurship:
1) When launching a business create a “Strangers” Log. Every week ask for meetings with 5 people you did not know before (strangers) and ask them questions related to a particular subject of your business. Meet with a distributor, a marketer, a patent attorney and just ask question, after question, after question. At the end of the meeting ask if there is anyone else you should reach out to, and in a few weeks, through your “strangers log” and documenting the lessons learned you will have met with dozens of people within your business or industry who provided you with valuable insight you can leverage to launch your business.
2) Remove yourself from the process. One goal for most entrepreneurs is to create a stable cash flow – so what can you do to automate or remove yourself from the process? Figure out how to make yourself disposable and empower others to run the operations. A great resource is “The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss.
3) Learn to hone your elevator pitch. A fast pitch is an incredibly valuable tool for getting investors, customers, and press. You don’t need to share everything in your fast pitch, but enough to get the person interested to ask a follow-up question and get a conversation started.
4) Determine the most immediate next step. Most people get overwhelmed figuring out how to get to their end goal – launch a business. But, if you continuously focus on what is the most immediate next step (for example send email) then you continuously get one step closer to your end goal.
5) Just do something and learn, learn, and learn. I have seen numerous business wait and wait and wait until the product is just right before launching it to the public. Many times, missing the business opportunity all together.
6) Create an MVP or a minimal viable product you can get to market quickly with and then iterate. It is more helpful to have feedback from real customers.
7) Leverage the “student” card. If you are currently in school, leverage being a student if you are starting or have a business. Everyone wants to help students learn and you will be amazed the access you can get to corporate leaders by pulling the “student” card.
8) Talk to everyone. You will be surprised by the unexpected connections people have. Genuinely get to know people and what they are interested in. You will be astounded how 5 years later those connections may come in handy for you or your business.
9) Write physical thank you notes. Very few people write thank you notes, let alone physical ones. Therefore, the few people who do stand out are remembered. Get into the habit.
However, if there is one take-away from this article, remember this Chinese Proverb to get going with your start-up, your idea, or your change you desire — “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now”. Realize your potential.