Eight things I learnt from a 20 year old – My Startup Life

I finally got around to attacking the pile of books in the ‘must read’ pile on my desk. I picked up “My Startup Life” by Ben Casnocha first. Not many times you get to read about a 12 year old who started a company and is still around running it. 

The book was a relatively easy read, something you can knock off in an evening. It provides a refreshing young perspective on growing an idea into a real organization. There were times when I wished the author would have shared some of the inner workings of his company and how they tackled some of the challenges they faced. However I think it is a ‘must read’ for any aspiring entrepreneur in high school or college and speaks to the issues that you face balancing the routines of everyday life with the tug of the crazy startup ideas in your head.

Regardless of the type of entrepreneur you might be – whether it is a social entrepreneur addressing a social issue or someone with a mainstream business idea – there are a few key nuggets from the book that would serve you well. Here are the eight core ideas that I think you ought to keep in mind:

  1. Show up. Take risks. Raise your hand. A good part of success is following through on an idea instead of just thinking about it. You should be willing to move forward and take the risk of doing something. When faced with a problem do not be afraid to raise your hand and ask for help.
  2. Finding your passion. Everyone wants to do something they really feel passionately about. Yet most people have a hard time identifying that one passionate thing. Part of finding your passion is exploring the unknown and trying out different things. A neat post at zenhabits.net summarizes this “discovering passion requires a dedication to unstructured exploration”.
  3. Get Customer Feedback. Too often people dream up entire solutions without consulting the real authority – the customer. Test your ideas constantly. Throw them in front of as many real customers. Collect feedback, tweak and change, then repeat.
  4. Don’t let Business plans get in the way. Don’t get me wrong, it is always a good idea to put your plans down on paper. If nothing else it forces you to think through your idea and implementation. Keep it short, simple and realize you will constantly be updating it.
  5. Get things done. Don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap where you try to plan for every contingency. Don’t keep waiting because you want to refine every detail till it is just right before you start to do anything. Start when things are good enough not perfect. Fail fast and learn from the mistakes.
  6. Cultivate a great group of mentors. Figure out your strengths and identify the areas where you need help. Seek out trusted professionals who can complement your strengths and provide guidance. Look for people with different points of view to widen your perspectives.
  7.  Network. Network. Network. Developing your connections increases the probability of something serendipitous happening. You are your own brand ambassador. Know what you want from a relationship before reaching out. Do your research about who you want to contact. Remember the ‘give to get’ ratio – all relationships are a two way street and you need to give in order to get something.
  8. Role of Luck. Random things happen all the time. Try things that are out of the ordinary or predictable. You increase the probability of positive random outcomes. Don’t rely on being lucky – in the long run everything reverts to the mean. Anticipate good luck when you are down, prepare for bad luck when you are up.

There is a lot more than this in the 180 plus pages of the book, and it is worth a read.

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