Almost everything I knew about starting a business was wrong

starting a business

I was recently a guest on a podcast and the interviewer posed an unusual question: “If you could send a fax to yourself 10 years ago, what would it say?”

After thinking for a moment, I said, “Dear Mark: You don’t know shit about business.”

Why would I say that? Because at that inflection point 10 years ago, many things I thought knew about how to start and run a business were about to be turned upside down.

Here’s an example of what I mean …

I had the good fortune to recently attend a panel discussion featuring four entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. There was one young woman — 26 years old — who had already started three successful businesses — a restaurant, a clothing line, and a publishing company for children’s books.

Here is what I thought you needed to be successful in business:

  • Experience
  • Relevant business education
  • Mentors/connections in the business world
  • Financial Resources
  • Focus

In essence, she had none of these advantages.

She had no business experience or connections, but knew how to network online with people who could guide her … and eventually work for her. She was using “virtual increments” of experts to run her business.

She did not have a college education but learned whatever she needed to know by googling it.

She never had to work through a traditional bank and received the funding she needed through Kickstarter.

The businesses she started seem to be unrelated and unfocused but she’s making it work by building connected fans and audiences.

If I only heard this story once, I might have chalked it up to luck. But this is a success story I hear repeatedly. This is the new business model — lean, connected, driven, wired, passionate, networked, collaborative. Yes, I am re-learning everything I thought about business. And I love it.

The interconnected world enables interconnected business models. Navigating that maze takes a whole new skillset and I am in awe of what is happening. Millennials rock.

Ironically, I also hear a lot of whining from the networked generation about how competitive the job market is, how old people need to retire to make way for new people in the job market, how investment money is tight. And here is how I respond: Get real. You have more business opportunities before you than any other generation. Go for it.

In the history of the world, there have never been so many options to create, build, and succeed on your own terms than right now. You don’t need a degree from Harvard, an inheritance from a rich uncle, or a lifetime of ass-kissing to create the career you want. Those hurdles have been shattered!

What an amazing, liberating, exciting time to be in business. What an incredible time to be alive. Don’t miss it. Figure out the new rules of business and create your own destiny too.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and The People Speak

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions. IBM had no editorial control of this content.
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  • Steve Woodruff

    Netstrapping is the new bootstrapping. ;>}

  • Totally agree, Mark!

    Never before people have had the opportunities that the social web gives us to launch a new business.

    Never before the scalability of a new business based on the new economy has been near to the infinite.

    I have to congratulate you because you always have the will to learn new things: maybe that’s why your blog is so succesful.

  • I loved that Mark!

    It is so true. I remember my humble beginnings. I thought I needed experience, financial resources, business connections. But boy, was i wrong.

    And this is exactly what you said in this post. You don’t need all of these things to be successful. For me it was simply a waste of time. Huge waste. I would have done it differently now.

    This is something all business owners should know. There’s nothing but one condition to be fulfilled in order to be successful – Never Stop Trying.

    I’m sharing it Mark. Have a great day.

  • What a great post to start off the week. that’s all, just great.

  • I didn’t know I “needed” any of that stuff to start a business. Thank goodness I didn’t think about it too much Haha!

  • Dan Hutson

    Boy, does this resonate. I’ve owned two businesses in my career (one I started, the other I bought), but never have I felt a stronger desire to start a new business than today. The barriers to entry are lower than ever. That said, it would be interesting for someone to look at business failure rates across the spectrum – well-funded and the “right” education/connections/experience to no funds, background or experience.

  • Storewars News

    read! Very informative. Did you know that? British American Tobacco and Philip
    Morris sued in South. Full story here:

  • Thanks my friend!

  • Well said Steve.

  • Great comment Konrad. Love that attitude!

  • The barriers to entry are not necessarily lower than ever … depends on the business! Lots of important businesses have high barriers to entry, but I get your point Dan. Thanks!

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  • hannahlucy07

    pretty neat post, keep up the good work!

    Custom Help Desk Software

  • It’s a great post… and the truth is… there is no definite rule to succeed…

  • This is a great post. The point is well taken. In my opinion the question is not can I start a business but which one should I start first? If anything the problem is distraction.



  • Herb Silverman

    I agree in principles on your article, but, and maybe I am just old and rigid, you have to have some strategies of fundamental aspects in business. Even though, in your example of the young woman had three successful businesses so far, she probably still had to have an understanding and appreciation on accounting, economics, finance and others in her day-to-day living. Just going on Google is just a morsel, but, in my opinion, if you want to get more deep, then more education before you begin this new horizon is essential. Your thoughts?

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