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Can Entrepreneurship Be Learned?

We think so. But how? As coaches and university lecturers, we deeply believe that entrepreneurship can be learned, or more accurately – relearned.

We’re all born with entrepreneurial capacity, which starts with curiosity and the desire to experiment. Unfortunately for most of us, as we grow older we’re conditioned to stop thinking in this way, both because the way that we’re educated and because of what we constantly hear from seemingly more experienced people. Some of us are given opportunities to exercise our entrepreneurial muscles from a young age, while others are not.

We start the episode by discussing the three main skills and aptitudes that make a successful entrepreneur – persistence, ability to evaluate risk, and adaptability – providing stories and examples of how entrepreneurs that we know have been able to learn and apply these skills themselves. This is what we’ve observed from interviewing and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, both successful and not.

We close the show with suggestions of what you can start doing to learn these entrepreneurial skills right now, and what’s worked for us in our journey.

Show Notes

0:30 Today we’re going to talk about the question “Can Entrepreneurship Be Learned”

0:50 People tend to either vehemently agree or disagree with this.

1:05 Sergei: We’re a little biased because we teach entrepreneurship, but we absolutely think it can be learned. Based on our experience mentoring hundreds and interviewing dozens of founders for this podcast.

1:25 Most of these people weren’t born a founder, they learned how to be one.

1:30 Vadim: Well, I somewhat disagree. I think we are born with entrepreneurial skills but we unlearn them in school

2:00 We’re conditioned to seek “job security” and a career.

2:20 Sergei: Actually, I agree. The job of a school system is to serve the masses so that people can find a vocation and add value to society.

2:37 Though in America, the one difference between our school system and others is that we are taught to question our teachers, and question everything. Which is fundamental to entrepreneurialism.

3:09 Beyond that we think there are 3 skills that anyone can uncover and learn to develop to be a good entrepreneur.

4:08 Sergei: The number one thing that we’ve seen across all entrepreneurs that we’ve mentored or talked to is Persistence, number two is Understanding Risk, and three is Adaptability

4:25 We’ve actually witnessed people change to become better at these three things.

5:03 Vadim: Our first story is a story about persistence. One of the first people we had on this podcast was Olga Nesterova.

5:46 One of the things she realized early on when starting her dance company is it would be important to grow her social media following, especially on Instagram because dance is such a visual art form.

5:52 Every day she spent hours a day growing her following.

6:22 Sergei: She has 30,000 Instagram followers and we still see her post 4 times a day.

6:30 But she started off as a dancer and then worked for the UN, and she could have easily accepted the label as a dancer for the rest of her life, but she chose to become an entrepreneur.

7:10 Vadim: Having known a lot of dancers and even dated one, I know that persistence is a skill many of them have developed because they’re used to pushing themselves physically from a young age.

7:53 If it’s not a skill you’ve developed, we’ll discuss later in the episode how you can work on becoming more persistent.

8:00 Another great example of a founder we’ve interviewed on this show who showed incredible persistence is Carey Smith of Big Ass Fans. For 14 years he had a business that wasn’t growing, and only after 14 years of pushing did he identify an opportunity that ultimately helped him grow his business to be acquired for $500 Million.

8:42 In order to get lucky you have to put yourself in a position to be exposed to luck more often.

8:47 Sergei: One of the ways his consistency paid off is that he wrote for an industry magazine for years that ultimately is the same magazine that helped him find this new opportunity.

9:12 Carey and Olga are two wildly different people, but they both learned how to apply persistence to entrepreneurship in their respective fields.

9:20 The fact that two completely different people could learn this is evidence enough that this skill can be learned.

9:40 Next, we’re going to talk about the importance of learning how to understand and evaluate risk.

9:46 Not all risk is the same, and much of the risk we see is perceived and not real.

10:00 A good example of how risk can be perceived vs. real can be told by anyone who has experienced doing sales either as a job or for their business.

10:24 One of the things that happens when you start in sales, even if you’re outgoing, like most people you fear rejection. So you might not follow up with people, or reach out to an important person because you’re worried about intruding.

11:06 For me it took a year to realize this, and we learned it by doing, but as a sales person it takes time to get over your fear of rejection to realize that rejection is not a real risk.

12:00 Sergei: The only real risk is you get a no, but the reward is that you find someone who needs what you’re selling. When you put it that way, you see risk differently.

12:34 Getting a no is not a risk, nothing will happen to you if you ask and get a no. Just like asking an investor for $1,000,000 is not a risk, even though it seems like so much money, because it’s their job to evaluate whether the investment is worth it.

12:45 Vadim: One of the first things I learned in sales is to not sell with my own wallet. It’s hard to ask for a lot of money if you’re thinking of how losing that money would affect you. But you have to realize that your customer is already used to spending money in this way, so asking is not a risk.

13:50 Successful entrepreneurs aren’t just people who take risks or are willing to takes risks, they are people who are able to evaluate the situation and understand whether the risk is real or just perceived.

14:00 Sergei: Finally we want to talk about adaptability because we think it’s a foundational skill that every entrepreneur has to develop. You can’t guess what every right step will be so you have to learn to try things and if they don’t work try something different.

14:30 Often, adaptability and coachability go hand in hand, because you need to be able to synthesize advice you get and then actually act on it. When we see founders who don’t try anything new when they get advice, we know they will progress slower, or never.

14:50 The story that comes to mind is of a founder who recently went through the accelerator at NYU.

14:59 They had this idea they had been working on for months and a whole vision for why it should exist, but when they tried getting customers, no one really wanted it.

15:10 We challenged them to talk to their customers to figure out what they really need, and to see if they’re even talking to the right customers. Maybe someone else needs it more.

15:21 Because the founders were open to feedback because they were forced to be after 8 months of their idea not working, they did end up learning that one feature of their product was interesting to customers, and they also found better customers who needed it more and were willing to pay for it.

16:07 This founder, by being adaptable, also learned how to sell through this process. He never thought of himself as a salesperson but he learned how to evaluate customer needs and get them to pay for a solution.

16:40 Vadim: taking a step back, we want to talk about how to actually get better at these 3 skills.

17:00 The main takeaway from our stories is that often you actually just have to try something to learn it. But we want to share some next steps and methods for you to use.

17:09 Let’s talk about persistence – next time you send a sales email, if someone doesn’t respond, try sending just one follow up. Take this small action.

17:46 What you’ll find is that following up actually works, and by seeing results from this new action that you’ve never done before, you’re more likely to do it again and again.

18:06 Sergei: Take micro actions that are easier, and eventually it’ll just become part of your workflow because you’ll get used to doing it and see that it works.

18:31 Vadim: You can even do it in small ways. Say if you got some food that didn’t come out right at a restaurant, realize that the owners want you to have a good experience, and try asking for a new dish.

19:10 Sergei: What you’re doing in this restaurant example is some real self reflection. Before maybe you’d never want to bother the waiter and ask for a new dish, but here you stopped to evaluate the reasons why you should ask for it, and that makes asking easier.

19:50 Vadim: Next let’s talk about how to learn to understand risk. One technique I recently learned about is “negative visualization” from Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals and Basecamp.

20:11 Turns out that this is an ancient practice used by Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.

20:30 Jason used to constantly worry that something horrible would happen to his child, like even if he was playing a soccer game that he would get horribly injured. Instead of hiding this worry and having it in the back of his head all day, he started to actively think of the worst possible situation. That action made him realize how outlandish the thought was and how unlikely the situation would be. More importantly, it allowed him to get the worrying out of his system.

21:23 He saw that the worst possible situation was so unlikely that it wasn’t worth worrying about.

21:45 Sergei: Finally let’s talk about how you can become more adaptable.

21:51 Adaptability is so important because every entrepreneur needs to be able to adjust course based on new information. Even Steve Jobs, who was so headstrong, changed his mind when he had to.

22:19 One way to learn this is to be more self aware and recognize when you’re not being adaptable. Do you find yourself constantly saying no to new things?

22:29 What if instead of saying no to new ideas from other people, you say, sure let’s give it a shot? Be ok with failing at new ideas.

22:58 Vadim: another way to do this is to expose yourself to other people’s perspective by reading more or consuming different opinions. This way you’ll see that for other people trying new things seem to work, so maybe it will work for you.

23:50 Sergei: Another way to become more self aware so you can be more adaptable is very simple. Make lists at the end of the month or year to see everything you did and what worked and what didn’t work. That way you can start to at least question whether you should continue doing certain things, or try something new because you’ll have it right there in front of you on paper.

24:26 Vadim: The theme of self awareness applies to all of these things. If you’re more self aware, you can be more adaptable, be better at understanding risk, and be better at being more persistent.

24:55 Sergei: Self reflection is so important to start learning these skills. Actually sitting down to think and asking yourself whether what you’ve done before is right, is the first step in learning how to improve.

25:20 Vadim: We also have to mention meditation because it’s a great way to learn how to step away from your own thoughts to potentially see things from a different perspective.

25:44 Hopefully some of you who may have doubted your entrepreneurial abilities now realize that all of us have it in us, it’s just something that you have to practice.

26:06 Sergei: For us the question that you should be asking yourself is not whether entrepreneurship can be learned but is it something you really want for yourself. Sometimes you have to try it to know, but if the answer is YES I want this, then you owe it to yourself to figure it out.

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