By its very nature, entrepreneurship involves embarking upon an unfamiliar path and trying to achieve something new. It stands to reason, then, that entrepreneurship can become a life-changing experience.
People may become entrepreneurs for different reasons – to change the world, to seek challenges, to make more money, or simply because they despise corporate culture. Whatever your initial motivation was to embrace entrepreneurship, I can promise you this: Becoming an entrepreneur will change you in ways that you can’t possibly imagine right now.
Of course, you can expect a lot of new learning to come your way, but what I am talking about goes beyond acquiring skills and knowledge. It is a fundamental shift in the way you are, the way you approach your business (and probably life). This short piece is by no means comprehensive; but just meant to illustrate a few salient changes that you can expect as you embark on your journey.
You’ll start to see things from the customer’s point of view
As you immerse yourself into entrepreneurship, you will soon realize that it’s not about the coming up with the coolest idea, the feature-packed product, or the jazzy promotional campaign. Instead, it all boils down to one question: What does your customer need?
Initially, many founders are madly in love with their products. Over time, founders experience a distinct attitudinal change. It is a change from a product-centric worldview to a customer-centric worldview. Who is the product for? What does the customers’ journey look like? In that journey, where is the pain? How is the customer experiencing the pain? And most importantly, how does your product resolve that pain? You might recognize this change in worldview from my earlier blogpost on getting others to appreciate your idea.
As I experienced this fundamental shift of worldview, I found it to be of great help in building successful offerings. I knew a founder who was so customer-centric that he would describe his product ideas in the form of a dialog between two customers: Hey Gina, how on earth do you keep up with all those employee benefits questions? Well, guess what, we now have this cool self-service app…
You’ll understand how others can amplify your imagination
You may have come across the term ‘technological affordances,’ which refers to the range of tasks that users can possibly perform with a given technology at their disposal. My favorite example is the cobbled lane in front of my childhood home. While it was obviously designed for people to use as a walkway, it was so deserted in afternoons that we kids used it as a playground. Clearly, the lane’s affordance extended from thoroughfare to play area.
In the tech world in particular, it is not unusual to see products that were intended for a specific purpose evolving to address a need that the founders would never have anticipated. The Internet and the mobile phone are possibly the biggest examples of unanticipated technology affordances, and you can think of many others.
As a tech entrepreneur, initially you will be surprised when customers discover new ways of using your products. Over time, you will learn to keep your ears open and listen to customers in order for your product to evolve. You’ll realize that while the product might be born of your idea, your customers are the real heroes: They amplify its impact by exploring affordances you did not think of.
You’ll take your five-year plan with a grain of salt
What I’m saying here may sound counterintuitive, but you might come to realize that starting with a set roadmap and a clear end-goal in mind may not always be a great option in entrepreneurship. Instead, it’s far more valuable to be open-minded, to keep your ear to the ground, and to focus on creating the best value possible for your customers using the resources that you have at hand.
Prof. Saras Sarasvathy describes this beautifully in her book ‘Effectuation,’ which explores decision making processes of entrepreneurs in situations of uncertainty. In describing how entrepreneurs reason, she uses the term ‘effectuation’ to emphasize its contrast with ‘causation.’ Causal reasoning is useful when the future is somewhat predictable: In a predictable world, entrepreneurs could determine the goals to achieve and look for the resources to do so. It is sort of like deciding what you want to cook for dinner, and starting to collect all ingredients the recipe needs.
By contrast, imagine opening the refrigerator, seeing what’s inside, and saying, hmm… how might I make something nice using these ingredients? In effectuation, entrepreneurs determine goals according to the resources they can mobilize. Rather than making a rigid plan and finding ways to achieve it, effectual reasoning is about constantly asking yourself: What best can we achieve right now in the current situation? Your entrepreneurial journey might lead you to develop this type of reasoning in the unpredictable times we live in.
Of course, these are just three illustrative ways in which you might experience a fundamental shift in approach with entrepreneurial experience. There are probably several other shifts that we’ll encounter in other blog posts and discussions. So, please watch this space for more, and join the conversation!
Don’t forget to share how you have seen business change founders in different ways. I’d love to hear your thoughts.