As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Could you start a company? The three A’s of entrepreneurship

The number one question Harvard Business School students ask me when I meet them (in my job as an Entrepreneur in Residence) boils down to “Am I cut out to be an entrepreneur?”

To help the students, HBS asked me to make a mini video at my office to give the students a tiny intro to startup life.  I did it with one take, so it’s not exactly polished. If you don’t have 2.5 minutes or hate videos, here are the Cliff Notes.

An entrepreneur must be good at:

Anxiety.  Entrepreneur and HBS professor Janet Kraus rightly says that the decision between working in a startup versus a big company has a lot to do with your ability to handle two specific emotions.  In a big company that emotion is frustration, where you will have a lot of it.  In a startup venture the primary emotion is anxiety, where you will have even more.

Ambiguity.  This hit me hard when I was President of, after a long run at big brands.  As a startup leader, you can make or break the company, but no one is going to tell you what to do.  Or at least no one you would want to listen to.  If you are creating something new, then you have to tell yourself what to do.  And, equally important, what not to do.  That is harder than it seems.  A lot of ordinary big business success is about maintenance, management, improvement, politics, and face-time.  There is no such thing as maintenance in a startup. It is all about creativity and leadership, at least in the early days.

A bias for Action.  That one is obvious.  You have to be a shark:  keep swimming or you die.

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