3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need Both Events and On-Going Training

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need Both Events and On-Going Training

Accelerators skills

Entrepreneurial events like Startup Weekends, multi-week programs and fourteen week accelerators are exciting events that can give startup companies a boost toward success and the startup community a reason to engage with one another and celebrate our progress.  In my opinion, these events alone are not enough to build a sustainable entrepreneurial community.  We must also have long term skills development and knowledge acquisition.

I use many sports analogies because playing sports was a big part of my life growing up and many of the things I learned playing sports I use every day in business.  In sports, you practice far more than you play games.  Practice is where you develop your skills, knowledge and work ethic to be able to compete and win in a game.  The game is a test of our skills, knowledge and effort in a competitive environment.  The games are fun, especially if you win, for the competitors and coaches and entertaining for the fans and supporters.  Although games do teach us how to compete with an opponent, games don’t develop our basic skills, knowledge and work ethic.  That is the purpose of practice.  It works that same way for learning to play an instrument – lots and lots of practice before you’re ready for a recital or a gig.

Identifying Talent is Not Development – Startup weekends, pitch contests, and business plan competitions are like sports games.  These are all great activities for getting people into the entrepreneurial community, making connections, building confidence in the participants, and they can certainly be entertaining.  Many of us refer to these as “big end of the funnel” activities.  The concept of the funnel describes a process whereby many ideas and teams enter the big end of the funnel, but only a few companies will have all the right attributes to pass through the narrow end of the funnel and become successful.  These “big end of the funnel” activities serve to identify, but not develop, potential talent.

Short Term Programs Are Focused More on Testing Than Training – Multi-week and multi-month programs like accelerators can be very valuable activities.  In sports terms, these longer events are much like a tournament where contestants compete in a series of preliminary contests leading to a final, with little time in between to actually improve their skills.  Most sports teams don’t get better during a tournament.  Most accelerators, for instance, provide a combination of a little bit of skill and knowledge acquisition in a competitive environment, a series of small competitions, and a final contest at the end where the winners receive investment of some sort.   These type of events also provide an opportunity for advisers and mentors (we use this term too loosely – see my previous post) to engage with the teams more frequently and for an extended period.  That type of engagement is important for both the advisers and the participants.  The shortcoming is that most teams don’t come into these accelerators prepared to take advantage of the boost that the accelerator, and programs of this type, can give them.  In addition, the advisers and mentors aren’t there to train them or develop their skills.  Simply put, most teams aren’t ready to play at a level where an accelerator will give them a major boost toward success.  Reason – not enough practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice – Sports teams and athletes who compete in individual sports typically don’t practice on their own.  I know few athletes who love practicing more than playing.  Competing with an opponent was the reward we received from working so hard to develop our skills and knowledge in practice.  If we thought we could compete and win without practicing, we would.  However, we all knew that we couldn’t compete and win without structured practice, good coaching, focus on specific skills development, team building, game strategy, and physical and mental conditioning.  This is what practice is for.

THE TAKEAWAY:  I refer often to Malcomb Gladwell’s book “Outliers” , especially the 10,000 Hours Rule.  The 10,000 Hours Rule states that it takes approximately 10,000 (20 hours per week for 10 years) hours to master a skill set.  90% of this time is spent in practice developing skills and knowledge, and only 10% in games or competitive events.  Startup Dad is dedicated to coaching and advising parents, young entrepreneurs, and their supporters, in an effort to build entrepreneurial skills and knowledge every week, for years in preparation for success.

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

Communication Parenting Relationships

As our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, and I became more intertwined in business, issues began to arise regarding our communication as a family.  Joshua and I talked about business frequently.  Those conversations began to replace family conversations about school, friends, and how things were going with others in the family.  Compounding this issue was the fact that we were speaking the language of business, a foreign language to my wife, our daughter, and many of our friends and family.  Joshua and I had unintentionally isolated ourselves from people we loved and the world around us.  This was clearly not sustainable and we had to make some changes.

This is what we did:

  1. Schedule business conversations – Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business conversations. It all came to a head one day when I praised him for doing a great job at an investor pitch and then proceeded to chew him out for not picking up his room and getting his school work done.  Those kinds of surprise twists and turns that could happen in almost any conversation put us both on edge.  Gwen, my wife and Joshua’s mom, was inadvertently thrust into the role of peace maker.  At that point, we all knew we had to do something different.  Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting.  We did our best not to discuss business at other times and especially avoided talking about business during family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.
  1. Educate those closest to you in the language of business – If entrepreneurship is a major part of your life and who you are, you owe it to those closest to you to involve them in conversations about what you are doing. Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with the language of business.  Even if they have a traditional business background, they may not be familiar with the language of the startup community.  This lack of a common language made Gwen, a great elementary school teacher, feel isolated from the entrepreneurial life.  Had she and Joshua been working together on an education project, I would have had the same struggle.   She felt embarrassed when she couldn’t explain to her friends and coworkers exactly what Joshua was doing.  Joshua and I had to be intentional about involving Gwen in some of the casual business discussions that popped up in normal conversation.  We also made sure that we either explained the terminology we were using or used more common terms to help Gwen be more engaged in what we were talking about.   Once we did a better job of involving her in the entrepreneurial life, she felt more comfortable talking to others about it and we found that she contributed great insight from time to time regarding people, relationships and communication.  Her insight was, and still is, very valuable.
  1. Provide routine updates – In the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom.  There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost. “So when did that happen” she would ask in frustration.  As if that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going.  It was up to me to keep Gwen informed and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.  This had the effect of putting a strain on the relationship between Joshua and his mother and also on my relationship with my wife.  Not good.  As the saying goes, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life.  If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder.  That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in routine updates on business and family matters.

THE TAKEAWAY – Many books have been written and studies done on how important good communication is to being successful in business.  It is equally important with young entrepreneurs and their families.  Raising an entrepreneur is a bit like running a startup company.  It takes a team to be successful and if that team isn’t engaged and communicating with one another, the journey will be unpleasant and the odds of success will be significantly diminished.

3 Ways to Fight Isolation as a Young Entrepreneur

3 Ways to Fight Isolation as a Young Entrepreneur

Relationships

It sounds crazy that isolation would be a problem for entrepreneurs, right?  How could this be when what many people believe about entrepreneurs is that they have a fun and exciting life, meet lots of interesting people, and are popular in the party scene.  Those things can be true if you are successful.  However, starting out as a teen entrepreneur can be quite different than that.

For Joshua, our young entrepreneur, the year after high school was the worst.  In high school he was reasonably popular, elected Vice President of his senior class, and involved in typical high school things when he wasn’t working on business projects.  After graduation, however, he found himself in no man’s land.  His friends had all gone off to college and he was still living at home.  He decided to pursue growing the company instead of attending college.  In order to conserve investor’s cash he wasn’t taking compensation from his company, so he couldn’t afford to move out.  His company was in a trademark dispute with a large gaming company which caused their progress to grind to a halt while they were in legal limbo.  His co-founders had another company to run which was their primary focus. That’s a lot to handle at eighteen.

Joshua felt very isolated.  He was gradually creeping into a dark place.  He didn’t see his friends often. His peers in the entrepreneurial world were all at least ten years older than he was and he felt he had little in common with them.  His relationship with us, and especially me, was deteriorating.  He didn’t want to be where he was, but he felt trapped.

What resources are out there to help with this?

  1. Join a school club or start one – Involvement in clubs either as a member or instructor is a good way to interact and maybe even help others. Many young entrepreneurs I’ve met already know much more about business, product development and technology than the typical high school student in Junior Achievement or Future Business Leaders of America programs.  If that is the case, ask the program director or sponsor about being an instructor for some of the topics.  If there are no clubs like this in your school or area, start one.
  2. State associations and maker spaces – There are a number of associations and networks that provide a forum for interaction with other young entrepreneurs. If you are in a highly populated area, odds are there is an association or maker space located near you as these entities have proliferated in recent years.  If you are in a more rural area, search for regional or state organizations and get connected with them.  The network has value.
  3. National associations and networks – At the national level there are a number of associations and networks for young entrepreneurs including:
    1. Youth Biz 
    2. Young Entrepreneur Council
    3. Young Entrepreneur Academy 

In addition, there are lists of national and international organizations for teen and young adult entrepreneurs.   Teen Business is an informative website specifically for teen entrepreneurs.

As we look back on our experience, as a young entrepreneur, Joshua was always a bit isolated from a normal teen life.  While he was a likeable person with a good personality, his interests and priorities were different from his classmates.  He wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities because most of his time outside class was spent working on his company or other products and projects.  Once he stopped playing basketball and soccer, making things became his sport.

For Joshua, his situation improved when the legal matters were finally settled and he was able to move in with some of his high school classmates who were in college.  That restored his sense of independence and the company could finally move forward again.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Being a young entrepreneur can be exciting, but also lonely at times.  You are only alone if you want to be.  Don’t let yourself become isolated when you are surrounded by resources.  Reach out, get the support you need and stay engaged.