The First Question to Ask Yourself If You Want to Be an Entrepreneur but Don't Know Where to Start
And how the answer will help you determine the idea for your new business.
In 1994, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was working in a lucrative career on Wall Street. But since he was young, he dreamed of being an entrepreneur. After graduating from Princeton University, Bezos worked for a technology startup. When the company failed, he went to work in the banking industry. With the advent of the internet, Bezos saw his entrepreneurial opportunity: Books! The rest is history. In reflecting back on that moment in time, Bezos said in the biography The Everything Store, "I knew when I was 80 that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event."
One of the most common reasons that most people dream about starting a company is because they are unsatisfied with their current work situation. For Bezos, a cushy corporate job on Wall Street offered many benefits; however, deep down, it wasn’t who he was and how he wanted to show up in the world. Bezos knew that he was an entrepreneur at heart. Does this feeling resonate with you? Do you feel stuck in your role at work? Do you want to make a difference in the world and have real ownership over your life?
If this sounds familiar, I know how you feel. I was there. For 15 years, I worked in the banking industry for Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, where I held leadership roles in portfolio management and sales, respectively. Despite having a great manager, working alongside an incredible team and enjoying substantial professional gains at the time, I felt something was missing. Deep down, I knew that there was other work I should be doing in the world. I wanted to wake up every day feeling I was doing the work that mattered to me most.
Spurred on by these feelings, I worked nights and weekends for more than five years to build an adventure travel company, The Explorer’s Passage, on the side. Eventually, my business became successful enough for me to to leave banking and run it full time. It hasn’t always been easy — entrepreneurship is tough. But it is possible to create a business that provides you with financial support, purpose and fulfillment. I'm living proof of that.
If you're open to the idea of launching your own company, you have one big decision to make: what your new business will do. Don’t worry — most people struggle with this aspect. Even Jeff Bezos went through an exhaustive ideation process before he settled on selling books. It can be scary and overwhelming to begin this process. But if you take it step by step, it becomes manageable. Before you know it, you'll have an incredible idea that you're passionate about.
In my experience, you need to construct an idea that answers three key questions:
What are you good at?
What do you love?
What gives you a sense of fulfillment?
This is the first in a series of three articles where I explore each of these key elements in your new business ideation process. In this writing, we will dig a little deeper on the first one — the importance of creating a business which aligns with what you are good at.
What are you good at?
Each of us has unique skills and talents to offer to the world — those things you're innately good at that feel effortless. Sometimes we don’t realize what we're good at because it comes so naturally to us. We believe that we're supposed to work hard at our jobs, so we think that this attribute can't possibly be our purpose.
I’ll give you an example. For the past 20 years, Elon Musk has been creating businesses, such as PayPal and Tesla, that have revolutionized industries. Musk has always had a knack for solving problems and seeing the future. His brother Kimbal Musk said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “He’s able to see things more clearly in a way that no one else I know of can understand. There’s a thing in chess where you can see 12 moves ahead if you’re a grandmaster. And in any particular situation, Elon can see things 12 moves ahead.” Musk businesses are a reflection of these innate skills.
When I was attending college near Princeton University, I would always bring friends and family to campus to show them around and give them custom tours. I would talk about the history and architecture of the university. I would show them all the beautiful spots I loved. It was just something I naturally did because I enjoyed it. I didn’t turn it into a business at the time, but everyone knew that if they wanted to see Princeton, then they should go with me. It took me 15 years to realize that maybe I could do this for a living — showing people the beautiful places around the world that I loved.
Take this as an opportunity to start thinking about what comes easily to you. This can give you clues about what you are good at and what you should be doing with your career. I believe that what comes easily to us in life is a gift given to us for good reason. Use your unique gifts and talents to serve others — don’t waste them.
When I reflected on what I am naturally good at, the following came up for me:
I am good at assembling people in community experiences
I am good at showing people the places that I love
I am good at managing risk
My unique attributes align perfectly with someone running an adventure travel company. This type of company takes groups of people on exciting adventures to places that are remote and have an element of risk to them.
So, what about you? What are the things that come naturally to you?
Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:
Starting new projects
Coming up with creative ideas
Organizing people or events
Once you identify your top three ideas, then the next step will be to see if any of them align with what you love and what fulfills you. You have taken an important first step in your entrepreneurial journey. In the next article in this series, we will look at the second element in the new business ideation process: Find what you love.
I hope you found this article helpful in your entrepreneurial journey. I look forward to reading about your success!
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor