by Joe Runge, UNeMed | March 15, 2016
You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg. Entrepreneurs are not just misunderstood geniuses that leave college early to intensely build their big ideas. They are also professionals that have solved problems for their employers and launched new products. They are employees that have accumulated valuable skills and now want to put those skills to work for themselves.
There is no substitute for on-the-job learning. Running a business is dealing with all the unexpected challenges that present themselves every day. Businesses fail—no matter how brilliant the entrepreneur—when they succumb to the torrent of problems that confront them every day. Zuckerberg learned to solve all those problems as they came, but you can take time to learn the skills to solve those problems first. More professional training makes it more likely that you will solve the inevitable problems that confront your company.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, get a job. It is the best way to get the skills and experience you need.
For example, your second biggest investor is calling and all you have is bad news. The prototype doesn’t work and you can’t say when it will. That meeting with the publicly traded company that you hope is going to buy your startup will have to be rescheduled. You take a deep breath and answer the phone.
The investor hits the roof when you tell him. Pained, you rub your eyes and let him vent, searching through your Dropbox to find the revised development plan. The investor is in for more money than you have ever had in your life. He sits on the board of the publicly traded company that you want to sell your startup to.
A startup company is filled with high stakes moments. If you fail to win the investor over, right now, then that could be it for the company. He could stage a coup, withhold future investment or sour the company you want to buy your startup.
To succeed you need to have more than the technical understanding of the prototype and the managerial skills to create the plan to fix it, you need the interpersonal skills to win over the angry investor as well. It can take a career to build those skills but you do not have to be a retired CEO to be an entrepreneur. Take a job where you have ownership of a project, the need to satisfy stakeholders and an opportunity to make long term plans. Even if it is just for a few years the better our skills the less likely that your company will fail.
The investor lets you talk for quite a while, politely stopping you to ask if you think it will work. After a brief pause you tell him a story about how you used the same approach in a prior job. It was for a different kind of technology than the prototype but for a very similar problem. You are even asking the same contractor to build the parts.
The investor is quiet for a long time. You offer to update him in three weeks and schedule the call. He repeats his displeasure with you but thanks you for your honesty. He is uncertain about your plan but wants to see how it goes.
You hang up the phone and slump in your chair. It went better than you had thought — towards the bottom of your greatest hits of terrible phone calls. After a few minutes you stand up and circle the date on your calendar. In three weeks you better have something good to report.