How to get started in business


With everything I've ever learned, I've had to learn to walk before I could run. Examples:

  • Skiing: I had to be able to go down the bunny hill before I could do a black diamond.
  • Computer programming: I started by writing a program that prints "Hello, world" to the screen before I wrote any complex web applications.
  • Guitar: I had to learn "Smoke on the Water" before I could learn the entire "More Than A Feeling" solo.
  • Skateboarding: I had to learn how to ollie before I could kickflip a four-stair.

And so on. If you've ever done anything that requires any skill, you know that you have to master the basics before you can do the hard stuff. Is it the same or different with businesses?

If it's not the same with business, why not?

If it is the same with business, what's a good way to get started? Would it make sense to start with a small "practice" business simply for the sake of seeing encouraging results? (Example: lemonade stand)


asked Nov 13 '10 at 02:58
Jason Swett
555 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • After reading both your questions and all your comments I am a little curious. You seem earnest and eager, however the content of your responses is troubling. I think you need to open up your mind a little more - or at the very least figure out what it is you want from a business/life. There seems to be a mismatch in what I read. Entrepreneurship is not an easy road - nor is it something that can be experienced by watching. You have to jump in with both feet - usually in over your head and out of sight of land with no life preserver, etc. (A little over the top with hyperbole... but not much.) – Tim J 13 years ago
  • Find a copy of "Founders at work" and read it. Running a business is a roller coaster ride. It is hard. It can be exhilarating. It can be lucrative. It can bankrupt you. It can be overwhelming and depressing. You will learn so many things about so many issues and a lot about human nature. You will grow tremendously. And that is only a typical half a day... – Tim J 13 years ago
  • You're probably right about opening my mind up more. Here's my deal in a nutshell: I've been working on a business (Food Near you, for about nine months and it feels like it will probably be years before I even know if it was all worthwhile (i.e. profitable). Success feels so unattainable that it would be nice to know that I at least CAN succeed at SOME form of business. It's more of a psychological thing than logical thing. – Jason Swett 13 years ago
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I'll look it up. – Jason Swett 13 years ago
  • I have an iphone app on my phone called "farmshed" that is doing the same thing as your website. Keep at it. SO many of successful people today "failed" at their first N ventures. Just expect that it will take time and persistence. The trick is knowing when to let go of one and start another... – Tim J 13 years ago
  • Believe in your project (learn), and master your project. To compete within any industry, you must offer something different, and you must be unique. I have started several businesses from one educational background. Starting a business take a lot of work and effort. Its time consuming and hard. But remember, hard work pays great! – Kiamona 11 years ago

5 Answers


One difference I see between the skills you've listed and running a business is the irreducible complexity inherent in the latter.

The mere act of playing guitar makes one a guitar player, even if you've only learned some simple licks. If you can cook scrambled eggs, you can cook.*

But to be an entrepreneur -- even a lemonade stand entrepreneur -- requires some level of competency in lots of sub-skills -- product development, marketing, operations, etc. etc.

There's also a "time" factor. The act of guitar playing can be expressed in a five minute performance. Being an entrepreneur is an ongoing, twisting and winding path that unfolds over months and years.

I think this all puts a lot of value on giving yourself wide and varied real world experiences to learn from, whether in an apprentice role or off on your own trying to make a business fly. Not against the book/training route by any means, but I'd view those as supplementary to 'learning by doing.'

*To be clear, there's a world of difference between expert and novice musicians, chefs, etc. But the barrier of entry to becoming a "novice entrepreneur" seems much higher to me.

answered Nov 13 '10 at 05:29
86 points
  • @Jason - I'd be a little more careful about labeling people "jerks". You might want to reconsider the content and advice you got. Just because the response you got was not what you wanted to hear does not mean the responders were jerks. If you are referring to this question ( then I don't see whom you mean, since no one criticized you or were what I would consider jerks. If you take those comments as criticism and are that sensitive, being a small business owner is definitely NOT for you... – Tim J 13 years ago
  • @Jason - Most of the people (I imagine) giving you advice are at a different stage in their lives than you are. I think there is a miscommunication or lack of common understanding. Back up a few steps from the concept of running a business. WHY do you want to run a business? If you figure that out and can explain it we can help you more (and more importantly you can help yourself more). – Tim J 13 years ago
  • Good suggestion. In the the short term, I want to be responsible for my own livelihood instead of relying on someone else for a paycheck. In the long term, I want to retire young (I've already been working toward this for some time by saving heavily) and spend time with friends and family instead of spending the bulk of it at the office. – Jason Swett 13 years ago
  • @Jason - I'd say the essence of the 'learn by doing' approach is, as @Tim put it, to jump in with both feet, try things out, and when those things don't work, try other things out. One suggestion I'd *highly* recommend is to keep a notebook or journal, if you're not already. I often find that I learn much more from 'doing' when I write out what happened and why I think it worked (or didn't) afterward. This almost always leads to new insights. Talking things out can also be immensely helpful. Not sure if you have one, but this can be one of the (many) advantages of a business partner. – Cfrech 13 years ago


Two paths come to my mind. Education or Mentorship.


  • Accounting
  • Basic Business
  • Legal
  • Marketing
  • Mentorship from someone who already owns a business. Asking them questions and working for them. Also get selling something. Sales is one of those areas that education doesn't do it justice.


    answered Nov 13 '10 at 04:14
    John Bogrand
    2,210 points
    • +1 for mentorship. Go work for a small business. – Tim J 13 years ago
    • Hmm, I wonder how the mentor thing could work. I think it's a great idea but I'm curious as to how to find one. I already work for a small business and I don't see what incentive my boss would have to support me starting my own business which, if successful, would result in the end of my employment. – Jason Swett 13 years ago
    • You don't need to say I want to be mentored into starting a new business with your current boss, infact do **NOT** do that. Take on duties that expand your understanding of the business and ask to learn more. People in general love to teach so just use that natural inclintion to your benefit. Also you can befriend other business owners and ask generic questions like hey how do you market this or what made you to decide to go with this product or start a location here. etc.. – John Bogrand 13 years ago
    • It is NOT your boss' responsibility to mentor you. You have to take on more and more responsibility. Find things you can take on and do. – Tim J 13 years ago


    • Read books and learn what it takes to start a company. The best book I recommend is "how to get rich" from Felix Dennis. Very well written and very easy read.
    • Ask yourself - Is there anything that you enjoy doing even if you dont get paid for doing that for next 5 years? If there is such a thing then thats your business playground, if not - rethink.
    answered Nov 13 '10 at 04:23
    Birender Saini
    271 points


    I reduce anyone's chances to kicking off a successful, growth business (meaning not a boutique or hot dog stand) to three core things: Vision, Execution and Luck.

    Now, with those skills you list above, neither the first nor the last applies. It's all just will/desire that fuels the continued practice of the skill. IOW, it's just about execution.

    A corollary is that you can't "start small" with Vision or Luck. Starting small, to me, simply means reducing the level and types of skills needed by reducing the size and end goal of the startup, as per cfrech's observation that entrepreneurs need to rely on a wide breadth of skills.

    So, in a sense, you can "start small", or you could be mentored, or you could try to join a VC-type group and indirectly live startups. But, I don't think anything gained translates into distinctly better chances at success fo you in your first startup, except maybe the mentoring one, because of those two other factors intrinsic to any individual and his/her startup.

    PS: This post, where I say you can start small, may seem to contradict my other answer to you, but it doesn't. You can start small, but IMO don't see the point of it. I guess I am more of a "go big or go home" type. This totally realize may not apply to you. :)

    answered Nov 13 '10 at 06:40
    1,383 points


    cfrech is right that there are a lot of skills you have to master and execute well to run a successful business. So start the learning curve by mastering them one by one:

    • Marketing and sales are crucial
    • Understanding finance
    • Understanding how to work with people - not just as a boss but as a customer, employee, life partner etc.
    • The ability to direct and motivate yourself

    Find work that will cause you to develop these skills. As Tim suggests, be proactive about taking on responsibility as an employee and hang out and learn from people who are doing things you are interested in.

    This way you can develop the skills you need as well as take time to sort out what your own goals and aspirations are.

    answered Nov 13 '10 at 14:41
    Susan Jones
    4,128 points

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