Background in business is a 'nice to have', not a 'must have' for an aspiring entrepreneur. I had no solid business background when I founded Mollom or Acquia (I launched them roughly at the same time).

Other than the standard things (an idea, passion and the willingness to act), the most important thing that aspiring entrepreneurs need is the understanding that 80% of entrepreneurship is sales and marketing. If as a founder, you're not obsessed with sales and marketing, you're a liability rather than an asset.

You don't have to be the best sales and marketing guy (I am far from that), but you better enjoy getting other people excited about your project, company or product. It will help you not only with finding customers, but also with recruiting a world-class team, raising venture capital, and more. So if there is one thing you should learn before starting a company, it is "sales and marketing" (in the broad sense) — and you better be passionate about it, because you'll invest years of your life to selling and evangelizing to make your company a success. Without customers or a team, you won't need any other skills, because you'll be out of business.

You need to be talking about your idea all the time. Too many entrepreneurs believe that if they build a killer product, customers will come. It almost never works like that. Smart entrepreneurs do it backwards; they find customers first and build their product only when they have customers ready to start paying. Not testing the market by selling from day one can lead to months, if not years, of wasted time and money. So stop being so secretive about your idea. You will never find your product-market fit by keeping your idea secret until it is perfect. If you're afraid of people telling you that your idea is stupid, chances are you may not be ready to be an entrepreneur.


Ryan (not verified):

Hear, hear. We need a subtle shift in focus from "build a cool product" to "take a product to market" (which necessarily involves building it, just maybe not the "cool" version of it you first envisioned). Sometimes, you get to do both - enter Oculus Rift. : D

Justin Winter (not verified):


This is really good advice and falls inline with a lot of the business education I've had, formal and informal. I've seen too many people focusing on building the "first of it's kind killer app" without first doing any market research.

Analytics are your friend, measure everything, shadow testing is critical.

Your post reminds me of the Personal MBA book by Josh Kaufman - definitely a must read for anyone trying to build a company.

Hope all is well with you and your family!


Justin Winter
Winter Creative

Justin (not verified):

Ah, the p-word - "passion." Yes, very convenient isn't it? You should take a look at Scott Adams' take on that in his chapter "Passion is Bullshit."

Paul Carter (not verified):

Your comment "Smart entrepreneurs do it backwards..." hits the nail on the head. Nothing beats going out an asking people what keeps them up at night, what would their perfect solution look like, and what would they do to get such a solution. Sometimes you can get hints at this through web analytics, but face-to-face conversation yields the richest information.