How to start a business if you know nothing about business

Ben Casnocha · June 3, 2007 · Short URL:

More than half of the current crop of college grads will start a business during their lifetime. And last year alone, 700,000 people started new companies in the United States. We are living in the golden age of entrepreneurship.


Part of the force behind this burst of new business is that the bar to start a company has never been lower, thanks to the Internet. On the web anyone can find cheap labor overseas, learn about almost any topic, and connect with potential partners and customers. Even if you’re in school - like I am - the opportunity to start a new business with few capital costs is enticing.


I launched my own business, Comcate in 2001, and it’s still around today, five years later. Here are some things I’ve learned about starting a successful business even if you don’t know anything about business. These tips come from my new book My Start-Up Life, (which contains many more tips beyond these for starting and growing a company).


1. Be committed to personal growth and self-improvement.
Start reading books about entrepreneurship. Read about conferences. Reach out to local business leaders and ask for their advice on how to get started. In short, foster a genuine love for learning about the slice of business you are interested in.


2. Harbor a bias toward action.
Learning via books and talking to people can only take you so far. The very best entrepreneurs focus on doing over talking. Learn by doing, learn by failing. Take action. Pick up the phone. Send the email. Show up at the conference. Buy that book. What did you do today?


3. Share your ideas.
If you ask someone to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or if you simply pass on the opportunity to receive useful feedback because you’re scared someone will steal your idea, you are hanging a big, white poster on your chest that says, “I’m naive.” In the early stages, you want as much feedback as possible. This means sharing your ideas with others. There is no such thing as a new idea. Besides, it is execution that distinguishes successes from failures, not raw ideas.


4. Keep the customer at the top of your mind.
As you consider various business opportunities, always try to put yourself in the mind of the potential customer. What specific value would they derive from your product or service? What need are you serving? Leave the office and go immerse yourself in the life of the customer.


5. Enlist the support of others.
You can’t do it alone. Find people who can help you. Parents, neighbors, teachers, mentors, coaches. Your network is probably larger than you think. Somewhere in this network is probably a good co-founder for your business, too. Companies with 2 or 3 co-founders do much better than solo warriors. I talk about mentors so much in my book because they’ve been absolutely critical to my success.

Remember that anyone who tells you there is a single formula to successfully starting your own business is either lying or deluded. There is no single path. There are no top 5 rules.


It’s all personal to you. Who are you? What do you like doing? What are you good at? Where do you need people to help you? What do you know already? Be self-aware enough to answer these questions honestly.

Then get going and start doing (and let me know if you need help). The clock’s a-tickin’ and the world’s a-changin’!


Ben Casnocha, 19, is author of the new book My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley. See Ben's profile:


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