Currently, there is no professional certification or standardized testing, as there is for accountants and lawyers, to see if you are ready to tackle the rigors of starting a new business. Some of the best entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of school early to start their businesses, which prompts some pundits to argue that there may be a negative relationship to training as a way to prepare for starting a successful company.
Based on my own experience in working with many entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, I’m convinced that the requirements for success may indeed be not so much academic, but more a mindset of confidence, commitment, perseverance, and constant learning. Your own honest self-assessment best gauges these mindset elements against the following questions:
- How strong are your drive and ambition? If you are contemplating starting a business as a way to get rich quick, or as a way to work less, you should try another road. On the other hand, if you are passionate that you can solve a compelling need better than anyone else, I’m convinced that I and everyone else will line up behind you to help.
- Are you happy to make your own decisions? This isn’t about not having a boss. All entrepreneurs have multiple masters to serve, including customers, investors, and your team. The key is a willingness and a conviction that you know what has to be done and are willing to communicate and charge down your path, even when others are in doubt.
- Do you enjoy working and learning from others? Building a new business is not a solo exercise. Every good company is a positive collaboration between many people with different skills and objectives, with an effective leader to bring their efforts together. You need to enjoy working and learning from all the people around you, including customers.
- Can you accept the fact that the buck stops with you? The responsibility of a business is much the same as raising your children. It hovers over your head 24 hours a day, 7 days every week. There are no excuses when the economy or the market changes. The success or failure of your business will impact your family and your future.
- Do you have a baseline of relevant skills and experience? Starting a new business in an industry you know nothing about is fraught with risk. Experience managing projects, people, and finances is as important as deep technical product development skills. Working as an executive in a big company does not prepare you to run a startup.
- Have you built relationships with people who can help? The right connections in business can make all the difference – in finding advisors, investors, experts, vendors, and even customers. As the business matures, your relationships need to change and expand, so you need to enjoy the process as well as the learning from each.
- How do you feel about the value of money in business? Some social entrepreneurs I know are so passionate about their cause that they don’t even want to think about money or profit, and they often fail. I would assert from experience that it takes money to do the right thing, and you can’t help anyone for very long without a sustainable business model.
- Do you have a positive and stable personality? Every new business is a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, which are accentuated by your personal highs and lows. You must be the role model for your team and your customers in selling your vision, and the value of your offering. People expect their leader to be strong and above reproach.
- Have you really analyzed the market and competitors? Too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know are so enamored with their new idea, and they charge ahead, without first doing the homework on the size of the opportunity, market restraints, and competitor alternatives. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient, to drive a business.
- Can you deal with the need for change and innovation? The market and the needs of customers change swiftly and regularly these days. If you find your original dream no longer satisfies the demand, you will need to be able to innovate quickly. Also, what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so you always need to be thinking and planning for the next generation.
If you can answer most of these questions with a resounding “yes,” then I encourage you to pursue that dream of starting and running your own business. Otherwise, you may be smart to work for a startup or other company for a while to validate your mindset and build your confidence. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and that is a good thing.