Some people become founders relatively early in life. And while there never seems to be a shortage of twenty-something success stories like those of Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg, they’re actually few and far between.
The truth is, the vast majority of successful startup founders find their passion, their partners, and their product ideas at work.
I bet you didn’t know the average founder of a venture-backed company is a former executive between the ages of 35 and 44. According to CB Insights, which tracks all sorts of data on venture-backed companies, those wunderkinds you always hear about are actually a pretty rare breed.
You see, what separates successful startup founders from the pack is usually a combination of factors that include finding what it is they love to do, meeting their future partners, and together determining what opportunity they’re going to go after and make happen.
Trust me when I tell you that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day -- and it sure as hell doesn’t happen when you’re sitting at home writing content, developing websites, and trying to figure out how you’re going to make good on your mission to become an entrepreneur.
While it’s a popular romantic notion that anyone with a MacBook and a blog can just create an entrepreneurial persona and simply act the part, I’m afraid that’s not how it works. This is not Hollywood and you are not an actor. The truth is calling yourself an entrepreneur or a CEO doesn’t make you one. It’s just a label.
It usually takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what you love doing, what you’re capable of doing better than anyone else. Whatever you end up doing for a living and whomever you end up doing it with don’t just jump out of your computer and shout, “Here I am.” You have to find them. And that comes with experience.
What kind of experience? Experience developing real expertise, learning a trade, figuring out how business really works, understanding your customers' problems, negotiating deals with real companies, becoming an effective manager, and gaining exposure to the real business world. Experience you usually get at work.
While Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had been friends since high school, the pair worked together at Atari before founding Apple Computer with Ron Wayne, also an Atari alumnus. It was that exposure to the computer world and that experience of working on games together that set the two Steves on the right path.
GrubHub was founded when a couple of software developers at Apartments.com were working on lookup searches for rental real estate. Hungry and frustrated at having to call a bunch of restaurants, Matt Maloney and Mike Evans wondered why there wasn’t a one-stop shop for food delivery. That’s when the light bulb went off in their heads.
Not only did WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton work together at Yahoo, but the $250,000 in seed funding that enabled them to launch the messaging app that Facebook bought for $19 billion came from five former Yahoo friends.
Howard Schultz was a marketing executive at a company that sold coffee beans in Seattle when a trip to Milan gave him the idea for espresso cafes like they had all over Italy. His company’s owners wouldn’t go for the idea but they funded Schultz’s retail chain and sold him their brand – Starbucks.
Regardless of their age and experience, no founders of successful startups just woke up one day, decided to call themselves entrepreneurs, then sat around trying to figure out what they were going to do to live up to the label they fabricated.
If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, you’ll need to find your passion, your partners, and your product ideas. And chances are you’ll find them all at work.
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