Starting a business is a lot like bodybuilding.
When you start out with bodybuilding, you can jump straight in with a minimal membership fee at a local gym and start training. You train for a month, see if you get results, and tweak your workout as you go. Unfortunately, you can get hurt badly with this approach. Nowadays, it’s common to have a friend (or two, or three, or four) in your group that are carrying injuries – bad ones. If you get seriously injured, you might be out of the game for good.
You don’t want that when you’re starting your first business. They say that you only have to be right once in business, so it doesn’t matter how many times you go back and try. However, if you risk everything and fail, then debt and a desk job will gladly welcome you back with open arms. You won’t be back in the game anytime soon (if ever) depending on how badly you tanked.
You can opt out of learning from literature and other people’s experience, and jump straight into launching your own business and learn on the fly. There seems to be a lot of advice advocating for this approach. “You won’t learn unless you try.” Unfortunately, this has been exaggerated and taken way out of context to the point that I hear of people quitting their day jobs and “going for it.” I think this is premature, risky, and unnecessary.
Like bodybuilding, it’s smart to have a basic understanding of business before you jump in. You want to make sure you don’t arch your back when deadlifting. You want to make sure you market your product. The 101 stuff, you need to learn it – not firsthand.
Be 70% ready
Why 70%? Well, from experience, I’ve learned that you will never really feel you’re 100% ready for any opportunity. 70%-ready tells me that you’ve learned the basics (~50%), and then a bit more. 70% means that, if you fail, it shouldn’t be bad to the point that you “hurt” yourself. You want to be able to come back and try again.
Love your desk job…for now
My first business failed. Luckily, I’m not a madman. I’m not a risk-taker. I launched and ran my business while keeping my desk job.
Why? Read above.
My desk job gave me flexibility. It enabled the opportunity for me to go out and do something a bit risky. I lost my initial investment, and then some. I wasn’t out of the game though.
The 50% is basic stuff. How to build a business. How to find your value proposition. How to market and sell your product. Basic doesn’t mean easy. Learning of their importance from literature is. Doing them is a different story. Then comes the 20%. The 20% is what’s unique about your environment. Launching a business in Silicon Valley is different from Kuwait City. What works there won’t necessarily work here and vice versa. There are three things I wish I knew about business before I jumped into my first venture. They are part of the 20%.
Size up the opportunity
This is why you hear of apps being valued in the billions. They scale. Their total addressable market includes anyone that carries a smartphone phone device. My first business was a laundry startup. While it was an innovative approach in an outdated industry (both positives), the startup was difficult to scale. For me to double my capacity, I would have to double my assets (people and machines). I learned that lesson. It puts everything in perspective. There are businesses that scale better than others. That’s why I screen all opportunities and ideas I come up with for their ability to scale.
Design around your strength
My first business relied heavily on the laundry attendants I employed, and my ability to manage them. Both turned out to be disadvantages. I found out that I’m not the best at managing others (at least not yet). I don’t have that skill. I’m not passionate about telling people what to do and following up with them. That “I’m boss” position I naturally took on wasn’t me. I didn’t enjoy it.
Don’t get me started on the mafia of laundry workers in Kuwait.
Now I take on projects that maximize my strength – that leverage my unfair advantage. I read. Many people don’t. I love writing. May people dread it. I’m good at analyzing, understanding and questioning. I’m not the best at running the day to day. The projects and business I’m building for myself now put me in positions where I have to read and write. I take on projects where I collaborate with people that complement my weaknesses.
Experiment, project, business
This one is a simple mindset hack trick shift. You should never be “working on a business.” That’s never a status you want to be in. In the phases that come before launching and running a business, you’re simply experimenting. When you view things early on as an experiment, then you’re removing all the baggage that comes with the label of being in business. Once you start investing more time and money on the experiment, graduate it to be a project. If people ask what you’re up to, tell them you’re working on project X. Simple tweak, tremendous benefits.