I want to become an entrepreneur, where do I start?

Oliver Emberton, Founder of Silktide has been top voted in Quora for his stunning answer. Echoing it below.

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:

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

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, 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.

Older, wiser, bit of money saved, experienced with a stable job? Maybe 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:

The idea

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 chose the brazen path of selling coffee in Seattle. Facebook built a better MySpace. Google built a better Yahoo search. Microsoft copied Apple – who copied Xerox.

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 *cough* Bing *cough*. 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 realised 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 setup 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, learning 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. 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’ll be time for a HR department later.

Don’t be surprised if you change your company entirely. It’s a rare business that survives first contact with its customers. Try to avoid doing this more than once though, it doesn’t pay well.

Survive long enough, reinvest your meagre successes and compound them. Eventually, you can move on to:

Extracting 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. If you’re a brilliant copywriter – say – you’ll struggle. It’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 now 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:


The final step 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. Oh, nevermind. 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 yours well in advance. Software is an example of an industry that scales exceedingly well, which is why it creates so many young billionaires.

And finally

It’s 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 favour. You just have to dare to chance them.

What is the best way to prepare yourself for entrepreneurship?

The ugly truth… from Balaji Viswanathan, Ex-Developer at Microsoft Redmond at quora.

1 ) Cut your spending to a bare-minimum. Learn how to live frugally (even if you don’t want to start living like that right now). In a startup life, a lot of times you have to figure out ways to cut down spending, to improve your survival rate. Learn how you can do that now. If you have figured how to live 12-18 months without a paycheck, you are on your way.

2 ) Build networks. Keep meeting people on local entrepreneurship meetups & other events. You never know who among those will give you the lifeline at the right time.

3 ) Learn sales & marketing. Your startup’s future depends on it. You have to learn ESPECIALLY if you are an engineer. You just can’t think that you will hire someone who will automagically sell stuff for you.

4 ) Build your savings. The one who has gold in his pockets sets the rules, in a startup.

5 ) Figure out the top 5 things you want to do in your life and do it NOW (if you can). In a startup life, you won’t have time to do them. By doing them before, you will have less regrets starting up on your own. You can always convince yourself that you did those things that many of your peers (who are still making that hefty salary) have not done.

6 ) Watch inspiring movies. I watched the entire list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AFI’s_100_Years…100_Cheers When you watch movies such as Stand & Deliver or Life is Beautiful, you get a different perspective in life. This will be really helpful when you are under pain and just want to give up (this situation is more likely than you imagine).

7 ) Do something adventurous (such as hike the Grand canyon from north to south side, a 5-day camping in Central America or volunteering in Africa). You will learn teamwork, withstanding pain and taking the right level of risks. I know many who use their hiking/camping lessons in startups.

8 ) Meet family, friends and attend parties. After you start up, you will get in your bunker and meet people only when they can generate a business lead. You won’t have any time for personal life in the first 2 years.

9 ) Mentally prepare yourself and your spouse (if you are married) to look for the long term gains to overlook the short-term pains. The spouse needs to be strong to enable you to run your business.

10 ) Ask yourself if you are really in it for the money. If yes, you will be disappointed as statistically you will make a lot less than what you could in a big corp. On the other hand, if you are in it for creativity, satisfaction and adventure, you will be able to withstand the long pause without funding.

Finally remember that reading a swimming book is very different from getting on to water. No amount of reading books will actually prepare you for what you are going to face. Ready to embrace the fun and unpredictable turns.

Original: at quora.

Twitter initial marketing

Twitter’s marketing strategy always intrigued me. Recently, I was delighted by an Evan Williams (Twitter’s co-founder) answer. He gave us the privilege to know an excerpt of the early story of his company in his below quora answer.

… contrary to common belief, we didn’t actually launch Twitter at SXSW — SXSW just chose to blow it up.

We launched it nine months before — to a whimper. By the time SXSW 2007 rolled around, we were starting to grow finally and it seemed like all of our users (which were probably in the thousands) were going to Austin that year. So, we did two things to take advantage of the emerging critical mass:

1) We created a Twitter visualizer and negotiated with the festival to put flat panel screens in the hallways. This is something they’d never done before, but we didn’t want a booth on the trade show floor, because we knew hallways is where the action was. We paid $11K for this and set up the TVs ourselves. (This was about the only money Twitter’s *ever* spent on marketing.)

2) We created an event-specific feature, where, you could text ‘join sxsw’ to 40404. Then you would show up on the screens. And, if you weren’t already a Twitter user, you’d automatically be following a half-dozen or so “ambassadors,” who were Twitter users also at SXSW. We advertised this on the screens in the hallways. (I don’t know how many people signed up this way — my recollection is not a lot.)

I don’t know what was the most important factor, but networks are all about critical mass, so doubling down on the momentum seemed like a good idea. And something clicked.

$11 billion pitch presentation

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon and other executives of his company are pitching investors on an initial public offering, looking to raise over half a billion dollars at a $11.4 billion valuation. Here’s his presentation

Parallel comment: Yeap, although it’s a big sum, the previous 25bi speculation was way too much.

Para refletir – sobre Groupon

Gostei dessa frase:

“Groupon is essentially holding a portfolio of loans backed by the receivables of small businesses”

Como muitas das lojas/estabelecimentos que entram no GroupOn com as promoções de seus produtos/serviços são pequenos comerciantes procurando levantar um caixa rápido e ir pagando em “prestações” (gastos ao longo do tempo para atender seus clientes), o artigo resume o GroupOn como uma forma de “empréstimo” aos pequenos lojistas, e portanto o GroupOn deteria uma carteira destes credores.

O artigo também fala da força de persuasão que o discurso de poupar o gasto em marketing tem. No entanto, diz que o acordo “win-win” acaba sendo mais groupon-win, lojista-lose.

Boa leitura…


Groupon deve abrir capital IPO us$ 25 bi !!

Há especulações de que o Groupon abra seu capital em IPO por US$ 25 bilhões. Mas, isto parece muita grana, mesmo pro Groupon. O recordista (highest-valued venture-backed company) até então é o Google que saiu por US$ 24.6 bilhões.

O Groupon tem 2 anos de vida (começou em November 2008). O Google tinha 6 anos qdo abriu IPO.

Adorei essa frase sobre “key to Groupon’s long-term valuation”:

But how many of those customers come back to pay full price? There is no good way of measuring that yet. And that is going to be the key to Groupon’s long-term valuation, whether or not it is creating repeat, loyal customers for merchants or just a stampede of deal-hungry coupon clippers.