The most common question I get from people interested in startups and entrepreneurship, is this:

I have an idea for a startup… what do I do now?

and while this post isn’t meant to provide a full answer to that question, it is meant to tell you something you should not do that may seem like a good idea.

The number one thing you shouldn’t do once you have an idea for a start-up is nothing. You’ll meet tons of people like this in life, who go around saying “Oh I have this great idea for a company, I just haven’t started on it yet.” They’re what you’d call “wantrepreneurs” who are also likely afraid to tell you what their idea is “because you might steal it” (tell everyone your idea, no one has enough time/energy to steal it and no one cares about it as much as you do).

The second worst thing you can do once you have an idea is only slightly better than doing nothing, and I call it getting stuck in the “Start-up Nonfiction Vortex.”

Getting trapped in it is easy. We’ve been brought up in a system (institutional education) that values collecting as much information as possible before applying it. That’s why you take four years of college covering a huge number of areas before entering the workforce, instead of entering and figuring it out as you go.

Since we’ve been raised to believe we need to collect tons of information before getting started, we become paralyzed in the face of starting a company, which leads to the belief that we need to do one of two things:

  1. Get a four-year degree in business/entrepreneurship
  2. Read a ton of books

Since spending four years “preparing” seems a lot more daunting than reading some books, it’s natural to choose the later. But in reality they’re both mistakes–the real solution is:

3. Get started

But more on that later.

The Start-Up Nonfiction Vortex

There are a ton of books out there about starting a business. A huge publishing/authoring business has been built around “wantrepreneurs” reading everything they can get their hands on instead of starting their business. And I have to admit I was one of them. I decided I wanted to start a company last May, and between May and September, I read 39 books all related to entrepreneurship and start-ups.

It might start by going to Amazon and searching for “start a business” or “be an entrepreneur.” Every book you read will lead to new insights into things you never knew before, and the reaction after each will be “whoa, I never knew about this, I better keep reading to make sure there’s nothing else I don’t know.” To quote a friend of mine, when you’re an entrepreneur it’s “like ignorance squared, because you don’t know what you don’t know” so the safest route feels like learning everything.

It’s a trap though. Without specific things to apply the knowledge to, it will largely be forgotten. We tend to remember random information very poorly when we haven’t applied it or used it in our daily lives, and if you’re reading books while waiting to start your business you’re likely not doing anything with it. This creates two problems:

  1. If you’re taking notes, you don’t actually know what you should be taking notes on
  2. You’re going to have to read it again later when it’s actually relevant

 

Escaping the Vortex

The first startup/entrepreneurial endeavor you try will probably fail. And don’t worry, that’s good news. It means you have nothing to fear, nothing to be ashamed of, and no reason not to start. If you’re an at least decently achieving student or worker then you’re probably unaccustomed to the idea of failure being okay, but in the start-up world it is because even when you fail, you still learned a lot.

That’s why you don’t need the non-fiction vortex. If you simply pick an idea, get some friends, and get started you’ll learn ten times as much in 1/10 the time you would have reading. Since we started our company three months ago, I’ve learned magnitudes more than I did in reading all of those books, and even for the books that did turn out to be useful, I didn’t realize at the time which parts were actually valuable and have had to go back and re-read them.

Does that mean you shouldn’t read at all? No, of course you should, but I think you could get away with just reading “The Startup Owner’s Manual.” Read it once for a high-level view on what you should think about, then go back and read through it as you apply it to your business. Draw on other books as you run into problems that you need solutions for.

But most importantly–get started. So many people miss out on great opportunities because they’re afraid to take that risk. Don’t fall into the trap of delaying it until you’re “ready” or spending all of your time reading to make it as safe as possible. Just stop reading and start doing. You don’t need to look before you leap.

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