What you need to learn before becoming a startup founder

I get a lot of emails and messages from teenage entrepreneurs. The young prodigy types.

In some regards, it’s awesome and inspiring — having the drive to try to found a company at a young age should definitely be applauded.

But when they ask me for my advice, when they ask what they should be doing as 15, 16, 17 year old entrepreneurs, I always feel like a tool.

Because the advice I want to give them is to stop worrying about being founders and start learning. Stop trying to start a business young,and use those years to learn as much as you can, way before you kick off your startup.

Sounds harsh, right? I believe that being an entrepreneur is like being anything else. You have to learn the right skills, and learn how to apply them, and then strike out on your own. You can learn a lot of these skills through trial and error while you build a company — but you’ll make a lot less mistakes if you can learn them while working professionally.

When I was a teenager I did not have what it takes to start and grow a company. That I was able to build a successful music management business back then was more a case of sheer dumb luck than anything else. Looking at the failure it became, I know that choosing to sell at the right time was dumb luck too.

If I could do all of this again, I wouldn’t have started that company. Sure, it paid some bills and gave me some cash, but I know I would have been incredibly more successful in my life if I had stopped rushing to be a founder and spent more time learning from the experienced and incredible people who had gone before me.

To me, the best founders are people who have learnt how to be employees. The founders I like working with are the ones who have spent enough time working a job they love, a job they hate and a job they’ve realised can be done better.

They have the knowledge and the boots on the ground experience to make a difference. They’ve watched other people, and learned what to do and what not to do.

Starting this year, I’ve set myself a challenge of investing $2000 every year in a small business entrepreneur— the people who are founding niche software development startups, the people getting into innovative web design, the guys I’m working with right now to get a coffee shop off the ground.

These aren’t big projects necessarily and they won’t get me a million dollar return. But they are important to me and I believe they’re important to support.

It’s not a huge investment but it’s my chance to give some cash to people I believe in and receive a little equity back from a business that I can help to grow and foster. When I do this I’m not looking for starry eyed dreamers. I’m not looking for people who are slick and smooth and excited about being millionaires. I’m looking for people who know what they’re doing.

And the people who know what they’re doing are the ones who have spent enough time learning, re-learning, studying up, gathering experience and following the right road. They’ve worked in their industry before. They’ve had a boss who’s given them instructions. She’s encouraged them when they’ve done well and she’s come down hard when they’ve messed up.

There are always going to be young entrepreneurs you can hold up as shining examples. People who started companies as teenagers and went on to be billionaires. That’s great. Good for them. But they’re the exception – not the rule. Remember, Steve Jobs worked for Atari before he founded Apple.

Experience is important. When you’re a teenager, when you’re a young founder with no real world, real job knowledge, you can start a company. It’s not too hard. Where you’re going to stumble into some tough shit is when you try to run that company.

And the best way to learn how to run a company is to work for someone who’s already doing that.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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