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Cultura/Marcel Weber — Getty Images

How do I become an entrepreneur?

Jul 30, 2014

Answer by Oliver Emberton, founder of Silktide

You don't need qualifications, money, a planet-sized-brain or even a particularly good idea. All an entrepreneur ever does is create something that consistently makes money.

Think of a company as a machine you design and build. Here's McDonalds (mcd):

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Your 'machine' always has certain parts. It sells something to someone, and re-invests some of that to help make more sales in the future. What's left over is profit for the owners. Here's Google McDonalds (goog):

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If you can design, build, own and care for such a machine, you can become very rich indeed. That doesn't mean it's easy, but most of the barriers that you think will stop you won't. Interested?

Let's talk about you: are you young, poor and unqualified - a student, or hating your job? Maybe a touch rebellious? Perfect. You have no bad habits, and will work until your fingernails fall out and your eyeballs roll onto the desk. The world awaits you.

But if you’re experienced with a stable job and a mortgage and kids, your job is much harder. It can be done, but it might feel like you're trying to dance backwards through quicksand.

The most important qualities of a good entrepreneur are energy and determination. It doesn't hurt to be persuasive, but this can be learned. I started as a shy uber-nerd aged 21; I soon learned how to sell when it was the only way to feed myself.

Enough preamble. Let's make you a bajillion dollars. Please forget all of the terrible deluded nonsense you've heard about the value of ideas. Ideas are cheap, fleeting things; by itself a business idea is worth less than a half-eaten sandwich. At least you can eat the sandwich.

You do need an idea of course. But understand that even the most successful companies were not founded on wild or brilliant ideas. Starbucks (sbux) chose the brazen path of selling coffee in Seattle. Facebook (fb) built a better MySpace. Google (goog) built a better Yahoo (yhoo) search.

Original ideas are overrated. What isn't overrated is timing. Google chose the perfect time to build a better search engine - good luck trying to do that now. What you want, therefore, is an astute awareness of a need that is currently underrepresented in the market. You want to spot a product or service that can go places - original or not. It's usually easier to refine an existing idea that isn't fully realized than to create a wholly original one.

People fear setting up a business wherever there's competition, but competition can be a good thing. The best place to set up a new restaurant is right next to another successful restaurant; they've kindly done the hard work for you of building an audience. Many a good business has ridden to success on the coattails of another - it is usually better to have some rivals over none. You just need to become 10% better.

I personally recommend trying to deliver something that you and your friends would buy in a heartbeat. You'll know more about your field, you'll understand your customers, and you'll be passionate about what you do. If you can make your company about a why - not a what - you'll inspire yourself and those around you. And to survive the next step, you need a fair sprinkle of inspiration.

Starting a company is a bit like parenting. Everyone assumes you know what you're doing, but babies and companies don't come with instruction manuals. You stumble through it and learn as you go.

It's at the start where you're most likely to fail. Your aim is to build that magical money-making machine, but you probably don't have all the parts and the ones that you need may cost more than you have. Your idea is probably at least half wrong too, but you won't know which half yet. All of this is normal.

A big part of starting a company is convincing people to believe in you before they probably should. When Steve Jobs founded Apple, he had no money and no customers; what he did next is the hallmark of a great entrepreneur. First he convinced a local computer store to order his non-existent Apple computers, with payment on delivery. He then convinced a parts supplier to sell him the components he needed to build them - using the order he just obtained as proof he would be able to pay them back. Jobs and a small team worked in their garage to build the first computers, delivered them on time and made a tidy profit. Apple was born from nothing.

Most new entrepreneurs play a few gambits early on like this. If it sounds scary, that's because it is. I once had to pay staff salaries on my heavily burdened credit cards when an early order fell through. You fake it until you make it.

While doing all this you need to juggle between making the perfect company (idealist) and paying your bills (realist) - an absence of either will eventually kill you. I believe it's one reason why realist/idealist partnerships are so common in business.

Do not scale prematurely, however. Don't try to be a big company early on - just aim to be one. Be slow to spend and to hire at first. Don't waste time writing mission statements and policy documents. You're small, nimble and on a mission. Make and sell things. There will be time for an HR department later.

Don't be surprised if you change your company entirely. Unique businesses survive first contact with its customers.

Survive long enough, reinvest your meager successes and compound them. Eventually, you can extract yourself.

This is the step most small businesses never accomplish. Up until now, your magical business machine almost certainly contains one irreplaceable part: you. If your background is accounts, you're probably the head accountant. If you're a programmer, you're probably the best coder. Whatever you do, chances are you'll feel essential and somewhat overworked.

Here's the hard part: you need to make yourself redundant. If you dropped dead tomorrow, your business should carry on working just fine. All of your time needs to be spent working on your business, not for your business. The alternative is you're basically self-employed with assistants.

Some businesses can't escape this trap. Say you're a brilliant copywriter – you’ll struggle. That’s because what makes you a great company is you, and unless you can bottle up you into a business model, you can't grow.

McDonalds built a business that works even if they hire almost entirely minimum wage workers. Their process makes it work: every burger is efficient and nearly indistinct, and nothing is left to chance. Their brand is so strong people line up worldwide to eat there. Your business may be radically different, but it should be similarly robust.

If you accomplish this, you can own something that is self-sustaining. You should be able to pull a good salary even if you never go into work. Your time is now free to tweak your business endlessly into something better. Now to conquer the world, all you need to do is scale your business, which is a bit like playing Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Each question you get right doubles your money, or you're going home.

Do not make the naive mistake of assuming a big company is like a small one but bigger. That's like telling your kids to listen to you, really, drinking doesn't make you cool. You'll learn the hard way.

As a company grows the rules and your culture change completely. You may even find yourself disliking the company you created (many founders feel conflicted like this, eventually). If you've made it this far, you have many options: hire help, sell or double-down, and see where the ride takes you.

Remember no business can grow indefinitely. Most industries are more efficient at different sizes - it's easy to be a two-man plumbing company, but near impossible to build a 1,000-man plumbing corporation. Know the limits of your company well in advance. Software is an example of an industry that scales exceedingly well, which is why it creates so many young billionaires.

Finally, it has never been easier to start a company. You can create a killer product in your student dorm without even registering any paperwork - that was enough for Facebook.

I think entrepreneurship is a form of enlightened gambling. Skill and tenacity are big factors, but luck plays a big part. However, as long as you can keep picking yourself up when you get knocked down, try different things and keep learning, the odds are in your favor. You just have to dare to chance them.

Answer by Bridgette Bradford, marketer

Being an entrepreneur is more about a state of mind than having a specific business idea. I subscribe to the Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha philosophy that an entrepreneur is someone who thinks of themselves as a startup. You are the business.

Entrepreneurship is not exclusively about starting a company. It is about approaching your career in a different way. Embracing this philosophy of entrepreneurship will help unlock your potential and allow you to make the greatest impact in your professional life.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Invest in yourself- you may want to learn to code, but don't learn to code if your heart is somewhere else.
  • Discover how you are different and better than other people.
  • Adapt to changes in the marketplace. Have a plan, but always be revising it.
  • Be thoughtful, but unafraid of risk and failure.
  • Read The Startup of You.
  • Approaching life this way will enable you to discover the best way to apply your skills and aspirations to the marketplace.

Answer by Alin Merches, co-founder of Mobiversal.com

What a great question, and even greater the last sentence in your question.
The very fact that you mentioned this in the end at least gives you half the answer.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see problems, so you have to start by seeing an opportunity. When you see it, just grab it and invent a system that makes money out of that opportunity. But before you do that, you need to have the right attitude and here’s some advice:

Even a brilliant idea is worth almost zero if the execution fails. So the idea itself has much less value than the execution itself.

Expect the worst-case scenario as plan A, not plan B. At least if something bad happens you won't be depressed or discouraged and possibly you will have the power to move on with another idea in the future.

If your plan fails, then move on to another opportunity. The secret is to not to lose all your money and energy on the first or second business idea.

Set up your mind to prepare for confrontations with workmates, partners, customers, and people you borrowed money from.

In the beginning, expect to contact 100 leads and sign with only one.

Answer by Talvinder Singh, founder and CEO of Tushky.com

“How should I start my venture?”
“I have an idea, should I launch it?”
“Is this the correct time?”

These are some of the questions that anyone who is thinking of creating a startup. Here is a 7-point actionable roadmap:

1. Risk
Startups are risky. Period. Very few succeed. Be prepared for that. How to know if you are risk averse? Think about what bothers you more: how will I meet my monthly expenses or how will I build my team. If it’s the former, stop right here!

2. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize
Things happen at break-neck speed. It’s a funny mix of planning and prudence. And to sail through this, learn to prioritize. Everything! It’s not an exact science, it’s an art. Balancing various variables with limited resources while prioritizing is an art one needs to learn as soon as possible to mitigate risks faster than they appear.

3. Stay relevant or stagnate
To mitigate risks by prioritizing, one needs to know what needs to be prioritized. And this can only happen if you stay relevant. Stay relevant to your idea, your business sector, your competition, your ecosystem and yourself. Keep yourself updated about current affairs in vicinity of your idea. Just like caring for your baby, you would take care of every single medicine administered, quality of clothes, quality of toys and everything else in between. With your startup, you need to think about every single aspect of your idea and stay relevant.

How to do that? Stop reading and start talking. Go to startup events and meet people. Talk to veterans. Talk to startup employees.

4. Ask the right questions
To stay relevant questions, you need to ask the right questions. A right question is the one that is not ambiguous and therefore enables the person to give precise answers. Consider, “How should I use data analytics?” and “How does Facebook, Twitter and the likes use data analytics?” Which one do you think will give you a more precise answer. The former is too vague to be answered. The latter (if it’s relevant to your business) will give you a more accurate answer. And these are the kind of questions you should be prepared to pop up whenever you get a chance.

5. Pick the right tools
There’s an overload of all sorts of tools available for various business needs. Picking the right set of tools at the right stage of business is extremely important. For example, at the early stage when you are meeting people and asking the right questions, you need to document the conversations and take-aways somewhere so that you can come back to them. Onenote is what I use. Staying relevant with the right tools will save you loads of money and time while keeping you productive.

6. Pick your school of thought
If you have made it this far, congrats! At this stage, with all the advice you have got from the numerous people you met, you should decide on your school of thought. Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, myntra or Flipkart, Reid Hoffman or Larry Page, lifestyle or scale, operation heavy or tech heavy, proprietary tech or tech-enabled, aggression or slow flame, etc. Your school of thought need not be strict and can borrow good things from each school of thought. Be inspired.

7. Hustle!!!
Great. You are here. Go hustle! Most of your plans will go haywire. Most of your ideas will be tweaked, initial business plans may not work. Cash flow can get choked. The customer may take too much time to pay and so on. If you followed the above points, you will get through. Some way, you will. But remember, there are more ways in which you will struggle than in which you will sail through. The waters are choppy.

Answer by Rohrer Carlos, entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur starts with oneself. Now, if you want to have your own Startup stop thinking about having a huge idea that will change the world. Start with the small ideas because we have those all day long.

All the best.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Entrepreneurship: I want to become an entrepreneur, where do I start?

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