You want to start a company and you have no idea where to begin. What should you do?
Take a step forward. No matter how small, it will be better than doing nothing. Reading and talking to people is an important part of knowing how to move forward, but alone will not do anything for you.
Let’s make a pie
Well first thing, forget that you want to start a company. Instead, you want to make a blueberry pie. How do you do it?
Most of you would look up a recipe. That sounds reasonable. There are many people out there who have made decent enough blueberry pies, and it’s likely you’ll find a recipe within your reach in a short amount of time.
Let’s say that in 12 months time, you will be asked to make a pie and it’ll be the most important pie anyone has ever made (probably). Your very livelihood depends on it. What do you spend your time on?
You might look for great ingredients or awesome recipes. You’ll make lots of pies. TONS of pies. Maybe you’ll travel the world, studying with pie masters who can show you the ways of the pie-making elite. Pie-making is a skill, so the more you do it, the better you will get. Like with any skill, you will grow faster if you study the theory in combination with practicing your craft.
The majority of your time will not be spent on: reading baker blogs and publications, tweeting about how good your pies would be if you were to make them, going to pie-making meetups and talking to others who also want to make pies but just “haven’t found the time,” or talking to all of your friends about this pie recipe you dreamed up but have never touched.
However, now imagine a situation where there is an extremely steep barrier-to-entry for starting your pie-making adventures. You don’t know how to use an oven, you can’t reach the countertop, you don’t know where to buy flour, you’ve never used a rolling pin, etc.
Where should you start? Most people wouldn’t answer this question. If they do anything, they’ll read some, attend meetups, and talk to their friends about their pie ideas, and not much more. This is much easier than answering this question.
You’re lucky. I told you that you don’t know how to use an oven, that you can’t reach the countertop, that you don’t know where to buy flour and that you’ve never used a rolling pin. You don’t have to waste time discovering that you didn’t know these things.
You’re also unlucky. I didn’t tell you that you didn’t know you can buy pie crusts. You wasted a ton of time making crusts when you could’ve made twice the amount of pies with pre-made crusts. They don’t taste as good, but you’ve would’ve gotten gained a big-picture understanding of the process faster had you gone the easier route. Then, you could’ve perfected the hand-made crust.
And why didn’t you try to use a chair to prop yourself up over the counter? That would’ve made rolling that crust a bunch easier. Hard to learn how to use a rolling pin when you can’t see what you’re doing!
This is very basic information that you could’ve learned easily had you talked to some practitioners. You can talk to these people online, in person (meetups), or what I like to call one-way conversations through books and blogs.
However, there is a huge danger lurking in the shadows that you must avoid…
Learning by itself does not deliver results. Reading does not lead to learning if it is not practiced. So many people get stuck in the “meetups and blogs” stage and never progress from there. I call them “wantrepreneurs.” If you’re here, the best thing you could you can do is get experience. You’ve read enough, you’ve talked enough… doing is the only thing that will shed light on where you need to go next.
How does experience help? Back to the pie analogy…
You know some of the pieces you’re missing to make this pie, but not all of it. Rather than costing yourself time by learning it all on your own, you get a job at a bakery baking pies under a well-seasoned baker. You very quickly learn all the things you never even knew you didn’t know.
What?!? But these aren’t YOU’RE pies? How are you at all making progress?
Well, guess what… not only have you learned how to make pies on someone else’s dime, but you know what you don’t know, you have connections in the industry and you have a track record. You’re in a much better position to make that pie you’ve been dreaming of than you were before.
Suddenly, you see it. You know how to get there. You’ve found a viable pathway to actually do what you want to do. That’s great!
However, you’ve just taken the first step. Entrepreneurship is all about pathfinding, and there will be many more inflection points where it may not be obvious which path to take. You may not even be able to see the path at times. This brings me to my last point…
The Pathfinding Cycle
(CONTENT WARNING: I cannot further guarantee safety for the metaphor/simile-adverse.)
You are at location A. You want to get to B, where your dream company is, but you don’t know how to get there.
You need CONTEXT. Context is like a lantern that illuminates your nearby surroundings. The grass and trees are irrelevant, but the pathways are what will get you places. Build context starting from where you are (location A) until you can see a path that looks like it’s going to location B. Then, take a step.
Notice that you can see more of the pathway when you’ve moved forward. Is it curving? Is it a dead-end? Does it fork? Your next decision may take you in a different direction than you’ve been, but as long as you have a direction (location B) and are MOVING, you are on your way there.
You can’t build context without theory and practical experience. You need both. Theory is easy because it doesn’t require courage to acquire; all you have to do is read, really. The latter is difficult because it has a risk of failure. The latter is also more important because it is what will move you forward.
This is a cycle. Once you know what you don’t know (experience), you can decide what is worth knowing (pathfinding). Then, once you’ve built up context, you then know more of things you don’t know!
Do what will move you forward. That is the difference between an aspiring entrepreneur and an entrepreneur. Execution.
There’s no reason why baking startups can’t be like baking pies. So get rolling!