Lots of people wish they could be an entrepreneur. Rather than wishing or waiting for the right problem to come along, the fastest way to actually becoming an entrepreneur is to work for one. That way you can see exactly how the startup is being built, how the founders deal with problems and opportunities, how they recruit and manage their teams, the way they communicate with their investors and so on. Working in a startup gives you so much information, it’s like getting a degree in Entrepreneurship 101. So how do you find a good startup and entrepreneur?
The first step in finding a good entrepreneur to work for is to do the following below.
Follow the money: see what startups have gotten a series A investor round of more than $5 million; they will be hiring.
Attend entrepreneur events/meetings: the best way to build your network with entrepreneurs is to hang out with them.
Research the founders: learn what the founders did before the current startup; based on their experience and expertise, would you want to work for them?
Look at startup jobs they post: understand the kind of jobs startups are posting and what experience and skill sets they are looking for.
Build your reputation: based on your interests or passions, build your reputation around that via social media postings, participating in pitch events, etc.
So, let’s say you get hired by a startup and want to really learn from the founders. Here are five key things you should be looking to learn, regardless of work experience or skill set acquisition goals.
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Learn what you don’t know. If you think you are going to join a startup as an entry level employee and make a big impact, lower your expectations. You need to learn what you don’t know. Ask lots of simple questions, even when you think you know the answer. Don’t take crazy risks in the first 90 days until you understand the ramification of any of your decisions. Impress people by not making mistakes.
Understand the business model. No matter what your job is in the company, learn and understand the business model of the startup. How does it make money? How does it acquire customers? Have coffee/tea with all the key leaders over time to get a 360-degree understanding of the business. Once you are past your first 90 days, and have done relatively well, ask if you can sit in decision making meetings knowing you might not have any input or role but you just want to learn.
See entrepreneur/owner in action. Being in the startup company means you get to see and hear exactly how the founders behave and lead their employees. Observe how they communicate, good or bad, how they treat everyone, what they do on a daily basis, and how they deal with good and bad news. Even if their decisions are not perfect, you are learning what to do, and what not to do, in your future startup.
Understand how to lead people. Leading people well is hard. While you can learn how you should lead people, there is no substitute for the real thing. Look to your immediate manager and observe how she/he manages you. What do they do well and not so well? A great way to learn is to first manage a project well. Then perhaps work with a vendor or a contractor. If that goes well, perhaps offer to lead a small cross-company team on a project. You still have not exactly led a single person but you are moving toward that goal with these small but important steps.
Learn from wins and mistakes. If you have ever worked in a small business or startup then you know things always go wrong. It’s just life. No one means to make a mistake or order twice the regular inventory. No programmer I ever met purposely puts bugs in their code. When there is an issue, mistake or problems, observe who stays calm and who panics. No matter what, stay calm. Look at the problem in simplistic terms. What are the two or three little things that need to be done immediately to really understand the problem? Once that is understood, what are some very simple solutions. Talented people will make mistakes, just don’t make them twice.