Your biggest barrier to starting a business
This article first appeared on the website Penelope Trunk in April 2012
Last month I gave a speech at the Natural Products Expo in California, and I took my son with me. Everyone’s an entrepreneur in my family, and my son’s first thought was that this would be a good way to expand his egg business. He knows the eggs he gets from our chicken coop garner a high price from natural food types.
“This isn’t where you sell regular food,” I tell him. “This is more like a convention for processed natural food. People can charge more money for processing eggs than selling just the eggs.”
“Maybe someone can process my eggs,” he suggested.
So I encouraged him to look around for someone to partner with who could process his eggs.
Mostly, though, he just found a lot of free samples.
But it was great practice for him. Because the biggest barrier to having your own company is finding a great partner. This is true for my son, and it’s true for you. Really. You probably think getting your business off the ground is more complicated, but it’s not.
Let’s say you don’t have an idea. You just need to find an idea person. (Look for an ENTP.) Let’s say you have a million ideas, but you never act on any of them. Partner with someone who is phenomenal at getting things done, day in and day out. (Find an INTJ) Maybe you already wrote the code, but you can’t figure out how to market the software. You need someone who understands what people want and how to sell it to them. (Look for an ENFJ.)
See how it works?
That said, I am not a big fan of the idea that everyone should run their own business. It’s simply not true. Running your own business is very risky and makes each day full of disorder and uncertainty. Also, running your own business usually puts your family on the line.
That said, the majority of people say they want to start their own businesses. What they think they want is to work for themselves. The benefits, of course, are clear. You don’t get fired, you work whatever hours you want and starting your own business is the only path to becoming a gazillionaire.
So here’s a plan for overcoming the biggest hurdle to being an entrepreneur.
1. Know your shortcomings.
An extremely wide range of personality types are able to be successful entrepreneurs. Research from Saras Sarasvathy at Darden School of Business found that the single, common thread among successful entrepreneurs is their ability to compensate for their weaknesses by finding the right people to fill in the gaps.
So, you need to really know yourself. It’s the only way to understand your gaps. The process of knowing yourself is difficult. Take the Myers Briggs. You’ll probably be disappointed but the good news is that there is no weakness that cannot be overcome with a good partner.
2. Grow your network.
I shouldn’t even need to tell you this, but people hate networking, so I have to say this. You should know, by the way, that introverts hate networking for sure, but everyone hates networking too.
Look, imagine you are the hot ex-cheerleader with an Ivy League degree and a six-figure salary. You still have to meet new people, right? And it sucks because all the men hit on you, so all the women hate you, and it’s difficult to find someone who could actually help you because you are performing at a level that’s much higher than most people.
See? Even the person who you’d think would adore networking actually thinks it’s a pain.
But you have to do it in order to have a roster of people to call on to help you fill in for your weaknesses. The key people in your network, according to the LinkedIn strategy department (which is from ancient times, when people looked at LinkedIn and asked what the purpose of the site was) you need 30 people who significantly different than you are—as in, not in your close circle, not in your industry, not your Myers Briggs type.
Finding those people is hard work, which is why entrepreneurs spend a lot of time networking. There are lists of startups that help founders find co-founders for their startups, but you still have to network. There’s no way around that.
3. Typecast yourself.
It’s not enough to know the person who can be a great partner for you. You have to be able to attract that person. Of course, you should go after a superstar, or something who is rising to that position. And the best way to attract these people is to differentiate yourself. You want to attract someone who has a special quality that you need, so you have to show the special quality you bring.
It’s harder than you think. You have to typecast yourself.
Ten years ago business schools started publishing research that the same rules of Hollywood apply to the workplace, and you will be more successful in work if you tell people what you do not do. You cannot be a star performer at everything, so if you don’t specialize then you can’t be a star performer at anything. You have to specialize to be a star at work.
Here’s a great example of Scarlett Johansson doing just that. TMZ reports that a sex shop near the US-Mexican border used her image on their business card without her permission.
You might expect a response from an A-Lister to someone stealing their image is to have no comment. Because it happens all the time and who cares?
But watch what Johansson does: “I actually have not played that many sexy characters! . . .the characters I play aren’t really traditionally sexy, I don’t think. I think it’s probably a reaction to the fact that I’m curvy and confident about it, maybe.” She can’t be a “sexy vixen” because it’s a cliché and also because she will be unemployable as she ages. But non-traditionally sexy, that’s a good one. That gives her some leeway. And “curvy and confident” makes her almost sound like a plus-sized model rather than a gorgeous Hollywood icon.
You need to be like that too, of course. Every time someone asks you “What do you do?” you need to reinforce your genre and your differentiator.
If you take these three steps, and take them seriously, you’ll be well on your way to having your own business. But during this process you are likely to discover that you don’t really want to run your own business. Are you an ISTJ? You could start a business. Anyone can start a business. But it’s likely that you’ll be happier being at an office that has a system and has rules and pays you to keep things in order.
The good news is that these three steps make everyone’s worklife better. Because if you don’t want to run your own business, you still need to stay employable. In fact, you need more than ever to stay employable if you don’t want to make your own company. And the best way to stay employable is very similar to the best way to be an entrepreneur. So there’s no getting around the work of doing these three things: know yourself, know other people, and define who you are so other people understand your value.