Many of you who read this blog are probably aspiring entrepreneurs. I count myself among your number. What we all know is that “aspiring entrepreneur” is a tough gig*.
We have to spend a lot of time and thought to find out what problem we want to solve and how we want to solve it. It’s a process we all have to go through, and it can take years. Even if we know we have the skills and tendencies for entrepreneurship, we’re never entrepreneurs until we actually start building, so this “purgatory” period can be frustrating.
While we’re waiting on the muse to strike, though, we can take some positive action toward making our business ambitions less murky. Here are two questions I’ve found helpful and clarifying in my thinking about my future business(es):
1. What kind of business would you start if you could start anything, had unlimited capital, and the ultimate skillset? (You can speak in general terms if you aren’t sure. What industry? What type of product?)
Be creative and imaginative here, as long as you’re staying true to your own likes and dislikes in terms of scale and focus. Here are some examples – I won’t tell you which ones are mine:
- Company that builds rockets that carry astronauts to space (SpaceX, basically)
- Company that builds a marketplace app for connecting people with pets with depressed petless people
- Company that provides PR services to international Fortune 500 brands
- Company that provides marketing and distribution services for independent recording artists
Now for a different question – one to bring you back down to earth.
2. What businesses could you start right now, today, without cofounders, without VC funding, and without much additional training? (Be as specific as you can.)
Take several days to work on this part. Let the answers stew in your mind – they might not all be immediately apparent.
Here are some examples of what a 20 year-old with average skills might write down:
- Landscaping company
- Small organic farm
- Home cleaning service
- Food truck
Take a look at your own second list. Are you satisfied with what you see there? As you can tell from the list above, the average 20 year-old (I’ve drawn heavily on my own work experience for this example) obviously has a long way to go to founding a SpaceX.
This is probably true for you as well, if you’re being honest. The real danger with postponing entrepreneurship to your vague, distant future is that you never have to identify where you are on the entrepreneurship skills timeline.
Even if you are disappointed, you should be happy you have a list that you’ve written out. Knowing that you have so many options for creating value should give you the confidence you need to not feel fully dependent on your job for your livelihood. The point of writing this out is to define what your skills are and whether you could be an entrepreneur if you had to start today.
Most importantly, though, you need to find out what you need to do to get to your moonshot ambitions. Which leads me to my challenge:
Pick an item (or several, depending on your ambition level) from your first list. Write out the steps you need to take to get to your first tier ambitions (your first list) from your current skill level. Write down how you can use your second tier skills (your second list) to get you to your goals.
For example, the average 20 year-old aspiring tech entrepreneur with the manual labor skills, equipment, and experience to start a landscaping company today can resolve to learn how to code (or get to know someone who already does) in her spare time. She can use her present knowledge of what it’s like to work in landscaping and farming to identify pain points that her software could solve. She can use her social and financial capital gained from manual labor to fund her learning.
If you’re serious about a goal like that, your list will probably be much longer.
Keep refining your ideas by writing them down. Get them out of your head. Take the first steps toward making them real. You don’t have to commit yourself right now, but thinking clearly about what you want to do with your life is half of the battle when you’re still in “aspiring” mode for anything.
And if you’re serious about the kind of thinking it takes to build a company, challenge yourself to complete this sample of one of the personal development programs our participants create. It’s full of questions and challenges like these, and you’ll be forced to know yourself as an (potential) entrepreneur better at the end.
*Real entrepreneurs, I’m totally joking.Your job is much harder, and actually exists. Please forgive me for my glibness.