Question from a reader --
I'm a college student majoring in electrical engineering. I only have a little background on entrepreneurship but I always want to be an entrepreneur. How should I begin to learn about entrepreneurship? Which books should I read first? I live in Vietnam, would this make much difference?
Thanks for any advice you can offer.
Hey V, Vietnam is a great place to be right now. I spent six months there a couple years ago, and the country is growing like crazy. You can look at what infrastructure, businesses, and services exist everywhere that aren't in Vietnam, and emulate one of those at some point. The people that made the "24" chain of convenience stores are doing really well, but they're not doing anything crazy -- just standard convenience store business model.
But ok, you're just getting started? I'd recommend you focus on selling something -- anything. With an engineering background, you've already got a mind for logical thinking and systems. Now you'll want to think about distribution and how to get things out there.
I'd worry less about making a large profit, and more about the experience of (1) understanding people's needs and personalities, (2) learning a way to connect with them, and (3) getting them to choose to use your product or service.
You'll probably want to price your first offering way below the market... you don't need to make a huge profit, even doing a first version for free can make sense if it's service-based. I know a lot of people who started by breaking even or losing money, but they got those initial client relationships and proved out their concept.
After you have someone choose you, give them really really great service, and afterwards make 100% sure you ask for a testimonial and for them to refer you to other people who would want your services -- those are the big ones. The testimonials, and permission to use their name and contact info along with it is huge if you're relatively new in a market.
But yeah, new entrepreneur? Market and sell something, anything. The product is less important for now than learning how to understand people's needs, connect with them, and why they'd buy. Good luck, and yeah, being in Vietnam is a huge advantage and offers many possibilities for replicating something that's been very successful already in other countries, so keep your eyes open for that.
I recommend the book featured at http://100startup.com. I'm reading it now... It's the collected stories of people who started something really small and turned it into a micro-business that now supports their lifestyle. Great little read, available on Kindle too.
In my opinion, one of the worst and most destructive trends in Western society is that entrepreneurship has become a lionized mysterious pursuit.
There's nothing magical about it. You get some inputs (your time, knowledge, resources, goods, whatever), you add some value to it by improving or rearranging the inputs, and you sell them for more than it cost you to get them. Profit.
"Oh, but it's so hard! And I have no money! What will I do?"
Okay. Here's a can of Club Soda (actually, two cans of club soda, to be precise):
I got Jason Calacanis for a few minutes today during LAUNCH. I asked Jason what happened with TechCrunch ("different ideas" he said), what LAUNCH is all about (basically, awesomeness for startups) and what he wishes he'd done differently earlier in his career ("think bigger").
You can also see my LAUNCH coverage of Brian with Green Goose, and Adriana with Girls in Tech.
Here's the video with Jason. He committed to responding to comments posted on this blog, so if you have more questions for him, please post them below.
I got Jason Calacanis for a few minutes today during LAUNCH. I asked Jason what happened with TechCrunch ("different ideas" he said), what LAUNCH is all about (basically, awesomeness for startups) and what he wishes he'd done differently earlier in his career ("think bigger"). You can also see my LAUNCH coverage of Brian with Green Goose, and Adriana with Girls in Tech. Here's the video with Jason. He committed to responding to comments posted on this blog, so if you have more questions for him, please post them below. Here's a transcript of the video: Jason Calacanis: That's quite a set up- I like it! Daniel: Thanks, thanks! Yeah, it's actually really inexpensive! J: So its a Kodak? D: Zi8, and it has an external mic- a really expensive microphone. J: I like it! It's a $2000 microphone with a $500 camera. D: It's a $200 microphone with a $100 camera! J: Oh OK, wow! D: So I'm here with Jason Calacanis, and I first saw you at Founder Conference up on stage! I was there and you seemed to be very entrepreneur friendly, also very polarizing. I don't really know you but tell me, what's your story, how did you end up doing this? J: Oh, you know there are a lot of stories of my life and a lot of ups and downs but the launch conference is my view of what a technology conference around launching should be. You have 100 companies here with small tables (????)....compliments 36 companies on stage who are just awesome companies. We had 700 people apply and actually 5 of these launch pad companies will get to be on stage with those 36 so we'll probably end up having 42-43 companies on stage. They each get five minutes to present their product, why they built it, the business model and then a very serious group of judges gives them feedback. Some of the most successful---it's an unbelievable group of people and then there's a grand jury of 15-16 members who will vote on the winners and there's 5 winners in each of two categories: 1.0 category= Brand new company, brand new product, 2.0 category= Existing company with a new product. D: I heard you say that if you guys make a profit you're going to invest that? J: Yeah, any profit from the event- and there looks like there might be $10,000-40,000 in profits for this event- we are going to invest in the companies. I am an angel investor so instead of taking a short-term profit we're taking a long-term worldview. Of course that will be a very small angel investment. Most companies are going to raise one half of a million dollars or $1M or more, but if we can put in $10-20K to a couple of them, we feel pretty good about that! We hope to do this every year, maybe multiple times a year! This is a conference for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. The ticket prices are extremely affordable- $400 for bootstrapping start-ups. If you've raised money, or you're a lawyer, accountant, venture capitalist, angel investor, it's only $1000. And the other demo-like conferences are $3-5K to participate and some of them charge $20K to be on stage. Some of them charge $4K to have a table in the demo pit like this so we want to be extremely friendly, we don't need to make $1M in profit off of this, we just want to put on a great show and have people pay attention to the 140 companies. D: You seem like a guy who's willing to take risks...my audience is people who either are tech- entrepreneurs or want to be. What do you wish you knew 10 or 15 years ago? What mistakes to see you entrepreneurs making? J: The biggest mistake I made in my career is that I didn't go big enough. D: As in market size, or... J: Yeah. The scope of the products I built- I built products that appealed to a small vertical. And they were successful. Silicon Alley Reporter, my first magazine had under 1 million people who would be interested in it. D: And you sold that to Dow Jones. J: Yes. The second company, WebBlogs, Inc. was smaller, appealed to a couple million people, in Gadget Autoblog Joystick they had single-digit millions so maybe as a group, maybe collectively 5 million people. And my latest company, Mahalo, I'm building to appeal to everybody on the planet. A place where anybody can learn anything. Learn how to make a podcast, learn how to use that camera, learn how to do audio engineering, learn how to make vegan food, learn how to play the guitar, learn how to do math. I want to teach everybody everything with Mahalo. And I could have done that with the first two companies; I could have gone bigger. D: It takes the same amount of effort to start a company why not... J: That's what I always say. It takes amount of effort to build a small company as a big company, as a huge company. And what I mean by that is that the entrepreneur will put in the same amount of effort. He'll put in the 70, 80, 90, 100 hours a week regardless of the market size. You might as well swing for the fences. D: How would you apply that to mobile, for example? Mobile has a lot of promise, it feels like we've reached a tipping point, is that a great big space or ...? J: Huge! There are niche apps obviously but there are apps that will appeal to everybody so you have something like Angry Birds which everybody plays, from grandmothers to grandchildren, and everybody in between from rich people to poor people all play that. It's people on welfare playing angry birds and there are billionaires on private jets playing Angry Birds. There's an example of something that appeals to everybody, it's huge and makes 10's of millions of dollars- easily. But then you have niche applications that solve specific problem. Both are virtuous. It's OK to do niche stuff but if you're going to do something that's in a niche, after you get your foothold and you're successful, think "how can I do this for 10 verticals? or 100?" Or, "how can I take this success in a vertical and apply it to everywhere?" Foursquarer only worked in New York and San Francisco but now it's everywhere! The same thing with Yelp! Yelp was a local service for San Francisco foodies and now it's international. You can start in a vertical, that's virtuous and then go big. D: Just don't think small. Don't be thinking small, think big. J: Think big, take small steps. D: Any other last tips? J: Yeah- you miss 100% of shots you don't take. Take your shot. D: Would you be willing to respond to comments if I put this on a blog? J: Yeah! I will tweet it too- send me the URL. D: Awesome, Thanks Jason! . //