The range of activities of a startup founder is amazing, tiring, high pressure, inspiring, and likely life-changing. In a given week (and possibly in just a day), you will write, market, pitch, deal with vendors, recruit interns, try to recruit board members, manage the team, deal with budgets, and more.
You might have experience with some of those things, but if you’re a young founder, many things will be new and you need support.
Here are three unique ways to be a better startup founder:
1) Wait Tables
Someone once told me, “All revolutionaries wait tables.” Meaning, everyone pays their dues. But it’s also an ideal training ground for a founder — you are pitching hundreds of times per shift, have to talk to people, be liked, and balance a ton of things at once (no pun intended). I would argue nothing is more important to starting an organization than people skills. Being a waiter is all people skills.
And it’s a low risk environment to try new things. When I was a waiter, I had a goal of making every table laugh once. People are more likely to donate (or tip better) if they like you. But if my joke flopped, it was not a big deal.
Bonus: you’ll probably need the money anyway and you’ll get lots of free food.
2) Be a Shadow
Who are leaders you admire? Ask if you can be their shadow for a day or half day each month. They’ll be flattered and you’ll learn a ton.
Bonus: you will meet a bunch of people.
3) Start a blog on anything
Being able to write quickly, publicly, and powerfully is so important for a founder. A blog is a great way to practice. Topic doesn’t matter. It’s all about style. Hat tip to Seth Godin for the idea.
Bonus: you’ll increase your personal brand (i.e. more Twitter followers) and learn a blogging platform.
4) Watch the TV show Shark Tank
Observing others pitch their company — and get absolutely grilled with questions — is one of the best ways to improve your own pitch. Sure, these are for-profit companies, but the mechanics are the same as a nonprofit — you need to present the problem, the opportunity, your solution, progress, and make a compelling case for investor support.
One pitch, in particular, stood out. Two guys were starting “Netflix for ties.” They went through the opportunity, their business model, and their numbers. But one potential investor (known as “sharks”) did not invest because they never shared their personal story or passion for the product. They were caught up in the details and forget the most important part of the startup phase — themselves.
#1 and #3 worked for me. Wish I had done #2. What else could be on the list?
Why is it culturally encouraged and supported to go into debt for a degree but not for starting a nonprofit? The goal is to prepare people for careers, not just go to class. Our society should support the best ways to do that regardless of the “how.”
Let’s assume your startup folds after one year. Afterwards you’ll have:
1) Leadership experience that is rare in both breadth and depth for a 20-something
2) A big network of smarter, more connected people
3) Authentic real world experience in a ton of areas
These are perhaps the most important things to success in your career. Yet you don’t get many of them by the time you have a degree or they are minimal in comparison to actually starting an organization.
Our society should do more to help finance young people who want to start nonprofits. At best, some of them work and change the world. At the least, we learn more about what’s not working and develop more leaders for the 21st century.
I’m not exactly sure how this would work or if it’s a good idea, but it’s something I’ve thought about from time to time.