Asking questions is a sign of a curious mind. Every entrepreneur worth his salt asks many questions before starting out, and keeps asking questions throughout his journey. The toughest questions are the ones you ask yourself, so keep asking and listen carefully to your own answers.
The entrepreneurs I worry about most are the ones who are afraid of self-reflection.
Starting a business requires a lot of soul-searching and hard work to find the answers. Are you willing to do that?
I think just about anyone can start a successful business. But it takes gumption and there are no shortcuts. And there will be tough days along the way.
I have started a few companies and am fortunate to be the CEO and co-founder of Aha! (product roadmap software). We built Aha! because we saw that product managers needed a great tool to help them do their jobs well. I had worked as a product manager for years, so starting this business was a natural fit for me.
And I really wanted to build a business that helped others build theirs.
From the beginning, we tackled many important questions that deserved answers before we could move forward. The biggest question I asked myself was “Is this a problem that excites me?” You should ask yourself the same type of question. If the answer is “yes,” then you should follow it up by asking, “Do I want to work on this for the next ten years?”
Obviously, the answer for me was “absolutely,” because here we are in year three, and I am more excited today than I was in April of 2013 when we started the company. Helping companies set better product strategy and create visual roadmaps on the path to building lovable products is as exhilarating as it is rewarding.
I challenge you to ask yourself the same types of questions and seek honest answers, even after your business has taken off. You need to understand your own motivations and commitment because you will never win back the time you spend. Your answers will help define what you want and help you refine your plans.
Why do I want to start a business?
Carefully examine your reasons. Maybe you cannot stand the thought of working for someone else your whole life or are attracted by the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Do you think it is the path to riches? Or do you see a special need to help others? Be honest with yourself. Your reasons must be compelling enough to sustain you when business gets tough (because it will.)
What are my strengths?
Identifying your strengths will point you toward the kind of business to start. Work toward your obvious strengths and likes, and avoid what is obviously not a good fit. Many people start a venture solely to make money, only to discover later they do not love what they are doing. Success has many faces and generating material wealth is just one of them.
What do I have to know to be successful?
Research what starting this business will mean in terms of effort. What kind of background and education do similar business owners have? Talk to them and learn how they got there. Where is the business most in demand? How much money will it take to start up, and what licenses and certifications do you need to have? Knowing these practical details will help you grasp the size of the challenge before you.
What is my plan going to be?
Your next task— create a plan for where you want to go, and start working out the steps to get there. If your vision is to own a restaurant, find a top restaurant and learn alongside a chef you admire. If owning a restaurant is your dream, manage one first to learn about building customer loyalty and the economics of a food business. The more you immerse yourself in a similar type of organization, the more confident you will be once you strike out on your own.
After you start your business, new questions will crop up all the time — sometimes more questions than you can handle. But the most important questions you should continually ask is this one:
Does this still make me happy? Would I be happier doing something else?
You will have good days and bad ones. Going back to this fundamental question will keep you pointed in the right direction and honest with yourself. Starting your own business may very well lead you to sustainable happiness. And that’s a goal all of us should pursue. If you plan right, starting your own business may take you there.
What other important questions should a founder initially ask?