Earlier this week I attended the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston. Among the incredible speaker lineup, the talk that most resonated with me was one between Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon and Jessica Alba, founder of the billion-dollar consumer goods empire The Honest Company.
During their exchange, Moon recalled a time when many people thought the Fantastic Four star didn’t know what she was doing when she launched the company. To that, Alba smiled and proudly exclaimed “They were right!”
I found that moment, which drew laughs throughout the packed lecture hall, especially funny and true when compared to my own entrepreneurial experience.
That’s because the most common question I’ve been asked by friends, family and acquaintances since launching my own agency back in 2014 is, “How did you know how to start a business?”
That question demonstrates a common belief that entrepreneurs must have a level of advanced business training or experience in order to find success. It’s a misconception that prevents far too many would-be entrepreneurs from pursuing their dreams, and it’s the reason why those of us who do take the leap must overcome criticism and other skeptical opinions.
Alba explained that despite her lack of traditional business experience, what she did have were intangibles that are vital for startup success: vision, passion and a determination to make her business concept a reality.
Similarly, my business began with a vision – a modern, fully integrated and tech-savvy PR agency for small to mid-sized financial firms. It unearthed a passion that led to many sleepless nights brainstorming ideas and recording everything on paper. For two months straight I had to sleep with a pen and notepad on my bedside table because I would literally dream about ideas, wake up in the middle of the night and frantically jot them all down.
Eventually I began to organize these ideas into a business plan, but I quickly realized I had no idea how to create a business plan. At that point in my career, there was no doubt that I was a gifted publicist and natural leader, but I had zero experience in business basics like creating a legal business entity, managing a budget, bookkeeping, hiring staff and so forth. Rather than tabling my idea due to those shortcomings, I called up at least a dozen business owners I knew, from all different industries, and soaked up whatever knowledge they were willing to share.
Understanding I couldn’t possibly learn everything I would need to know prior to going independent, I decided I would figure the rest out on the fly. At that point I quit my job to pursue my dreams – a decision that enabled more success and fulfillment than I could have imagined just a few years ago.
The most important thing is to surround yourself with others with complimentary skills and experience who also share your vision, enthusiasm and – one that Alba highlighted that I think is spot on – integrity. In my case, that began with my attorney, accountant and other trusted business advisors and has since continued with my amazing team.
Starting a successful business is one of the hardest things a professional can do, and it’s definitely not for everybody. With that said, among the many reasons not to start a business, not knowing how shouldn’t be one of them. If you have the vision, passion and determination needed to be successful, you can find ways to learn and overcome what you don’t know.