[This post is part of a series on four main myths that discourage entrepreneurship and how to overcome them. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Let’s replace the second myth with something productive.
Productive belief 2: Starting a venture prepares you best for starting a venture
Columbia Business School’s entrepreneurship department surveyed a number of entrepreneurs on their success as entrepreneurs as well as many personal and professional characteristics (no link now, but I’ll look into it). Among the questions they asked was what characteristic best correlated or predicted entrepreneurial success — an interesting question if you are considering becoming an entrepreneur.
I remember first being surprised by the characteristic, after which it made sense. Can you imagine what the characteristic might have been? It’s hard to build tension without a list to choose from, but consider: family connections? size of venture? market entered? age of entrepreneur?
The greatest correlation with entrepreneurial success was the entrepreneur’s age when starting his or her first venture. That doesn’t mean his or her first venture was successful — only that he or she was more likely to have succeeded eventually as an entrepreneur the earlier he or she started.
Cause and effect aren’t easy to establish and I’m hardly presenting this scientifically. Nonetheless, my first potential conclusion is that experience is the best resource and the earlier you start the more experience you have. It might be that some other characteristic, like preferring to manage your own risk, living out your dreams, or leading others when you don’t have many resources, propels some people both to start early and to succeed — that is, both properties are effects of the same cause. I can’t say.
I tend to believe that experience brings about success and that your first venture isn’t the most important one. Of course you want it to succeed, but you’ll have more chances if it doesn’t. Likewise, if entrepreneurship doesn’t resonate with someone, finding out early, when the stakes in your life are lower, lets you pursue other dreams more confidently.
In any case, your first venture doesn’t have to be where you achieve business success. One thing is for sure — you will learn skills, connect with people, and develop experience things directly related to entrepreneurship. No other course of action guarantees building that experience.
Working at an established company may build skills, networks, and experience, but not all relevant to starting a venture.
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