Podcast of the Week

Entrepreneurs go out of their way to interview other people, listening more than speaking – Chris Sacca


“You shouldn’t focus on why you can’t do something, which is what most people do. You should focus on why perhaps you can, and be one of the exceptions.”
~ Steve Case, co-founder of AOL

Lessons Learned from Entrepreneurs

One of the best ways to become a better entrepreneur is to talk with other entrepreneurs.  If you want to learn something the goal should be more than just to visit, but to ask good questions. What are good questions to ask entrepreneurs?

Ask entrepreneurs about the hard stuff.  Don’t dwell on the stories of great success, but learn about what it was that was required to get to that point.

Ask about skills.  What are you really good at?  How did you get good at it?  What are you working to improve?  What skills do you admire in others?

Asks about habits and disciplines.  Do you read books?  How do you allocate your time?  How do you prioritize?  What things don’t you do that everyone else does?

Tim Ferriss does a great job asking questions that come from the perspective of personal improvement in his podcast, often interviewing entrepreneurs, investors, and others involved in startups.  Examples of his questions:

  • What are your favorite books?
  • Which book do you gift most often?
  • What do the first 90 minutes of your day look like?
  • Which famous historical figure do you most closely identify with?
  • What do you wish you knew 20 years ago that you know today?
  • When you hear the word ‘successful,’ who do you think of of?  Why?
  • Do you have any rules you follow when evaluating new opportunities or investments?

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview many entrepreneurs, and now I get to meet hundreds every year through my activities at the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative and through the ~200 interviews students in my entrepreneurship course write about each year.  Without attribution to any individual entrepreneur, some of the significant lessons I’ve drawn from others include the following.

Work with people you like – One of the most sunny entrepreneurs I’ve ever met uses this rule across the spectrum of his professional life.  He does everything he can to avoid working with people he doesn’t like, whether a hiring decision, a business he buys from, a customer, or even an investor.  This seems an easy rule on the face of it, but is much more difficult to practically implement.  You meet with a prospective investor, for example, who is really interested in a piece of your latest deal.  The issue: Something in your gut tells you that you just don’t like the guy/gal.  Advice: Follow your gut, don’t take the next step.

Don’t skip opportunities to meet new people – A very successful entrepreneur I know offers this networking advice to others.  Sure you can’t give up all your evenings to go to this or that event, but you can make some of them.  Find ways to attend events you might not usually attend, and to overcome the very understandable hesitation to go to places where you know few if any people.  It’s the people you meet that will change your life, so find ways to meet more of them.

Work on stuff with significant upside potential and limited downside potential – A friend tells aspiring entrepreneurs that it is really a lot of work to start any business, so you might as well work on one with significant upside potential. If it’s just as much work to start a small, crappy business, try for something bigger.  The flip side of that coin is to avoid projects and businesses where there is huge downside risk.  There’s risk in anything new, but pursue opportunities where you can limit that downside through one means or another.

Don’t look at the averages, look at the outliers – A friend has spent a career and built a huge company on this principle.  If you look for products, services, and businesses that float around the average the results will be average (not very good).  Rather, look for results and issues that are the the boundaries of the bell curve, the outliers.  This contrarian search for outliers will result in outcomes that far exceed the average.

Dare to be different –  This is certainly a composite that I’ve learned from lots of entrepreneurs, but work on issues, think about things, and develop opportunities that not a lot of others are thinking about and working on.  One night we had an Entrepreneur’s Roundtable event where a handful of entrepreneurs shared dinner and conversation with students.  Three of the entrepreneurs were visiting with me at the end of the event and it came up that all three had struggled in grade school with dyslexia.  They laughed about their grade school struggles, teachers who held them back a grade, etc. in light of their extreme business success.  What occurred to me after the conversation was how each of them looked at the world differently from most other people at least in one way because of their disability.  Knowing each of them, I could see how it shaped their character in being secure even if different from others.