Four Experiences to Have Before Leading a Startup

Starting a business is one thing, but keeping it going? That’s where you begin to rely on your innovation, skills, and adaptability. And if you don’t have some experiential history of pulling from, you could wind up closing permanently within a year, like 20% of other startup owners.

But if you arm yourself with the right types of experiences before becoming a founder, you have a better chance of success. Take it from me. I use plenty of my past wins (and fails) to inform my entrepreneurial decision-making. That’s why I recommend that you do the following things to improve your likelihood of long-term viability.

Businesswoman thinking strategically

1. Sell a product that just about no one wants

Until you try to sell something very hard to convert, you don’t know how tough the market can be. Consequently, I suggest you take a part-time gig selling something that will require you to stay on your toes. For instance, you might try working for one of those brands that sell items in kiosks at the mall or from tables at Costco. To test your abilities, accept a commission-only role.

Now, I assure you that you’ll spend a lot of time feeling frustrated. Don’t let it affect you. Instead, use this opportunity to improve your proficiency at engaging (sometimes hostile) people, using language that works for your audience and pivoting quickly. You may not make a million bucks at your side hustle, but you’ll become a much more competent salesperson, negotiator, and marketer.

2. Engage in activities that are outside your comfort zone

As a business owner, I guarantee you’ll find yourself in many unexpected and unfamiliar situations. Push your comfort zone regularly to help you get accustomed to leaning into those feelings. An example might be to attempt some beginner white water rafting in Yellowstone. Then, move up to more advanced water or land adventures as your confidence increases.

The point is for you to keep testing your invisible barriers. Of course, you always want a safety net and plan; you shouldn’t just set up a Mt. Everest expedition and hope for the best. And you shouldn’t do anything that would hurt yourself or others. Nevertheless, sticking too tightly to your routines won’t help you achieve much personal growth. Personal growth is essential to handle all the aspects of being the boss.

Leader in a meeting

3. Take on some challenging leadership roles

Most entrepreneurs have been leaders in some fashion or another. Maybe they headed up a committee for a local non-profit. Or they organized a food drive for the neighborhood homeowner’s association. If you haven’t, you should ensure you’ve tried some more challenging leadership roles that will test your patience, perseverance, and resilience.

What would that type of leadership look like? Sitting on a board of directors could be a good start. You’ll be expected to pull your weight if it’s a for-profit or non-profit board. You’ll also have to deal with a lot of competing personalities. Another way to hone your leadership chops is to coach any youth sport. Trust me: Coaches have to deal with a lot. From angry parents to underperforming athletes, a coach’s experiences present many teachable moments.

4. Put yourself on a very strict three-month budget

One of the most significant factors that can bring down a startup is a lack of cash. I think some of the problems are often not so much the lack of funds but poor financial management on the part of the executive team. The easiest way to understand how to spend conscientiously is by putting yourself on a strict budget.

I’m not talking about eating Ramen noodles for 12 weeks. I’m just talking about setting a budget and following it to a “T.” Don’t allow yourself to waver. This takes tremendous discipline and will pay off handsomely when you’re at the helm of your startup and trying to decide where to delegate your capital.

As an entrepreneur, you must make a lot of decisions on your own. To help you make better ones — and to potentially avoid costly missteps — it’s worth investing in some helpful experiences before jumping into the thick of things.

Advising fellow entrepreneur

These are just four things I have highly recommended you do before starting your business, but in the end, your entrepreneurial journey should be about this call for action. It’s important to know yourself, your limitations, and your strengths so you can design a business that aligns with what matters most to you. A business that will stand the test of time instead of failing due to a lack of assimilation within its industry.

It’s great to have a dream that you feel compelled to pursue. Just make sure it doesn’t turn into a nightmare. Give yourself a few experiences to gain a seriously competitive edge.