There’s no shortage of advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur. From in-person seminars to detailed books and blogs, it’s simply everywhere. The real question is how to find sound advice in a sea of mediocrity?
It’s important to discover resources that are unbiased and run by people who have a wealth of personal experience in the field. You need resources that approach problems from different angles and, maybe most importantly, resources that don’t push products that will “help save you time and money” but instead, stick to simple, actionable advice.
That’s what Barrett Brooks and his colleagues at Fizzle.co are all about – providing reliable advice for creative entrepreneurs who want to work on things that they actually find interesting and exciting.
Every week the Fizzle team, which features a hodgepodge group of entrepreneurs, marketing experts and research junkies, releases a free blog post and podcast that address issues raised by their loyal band of hard-working business owners and young, motivated go-getters. They also run an individualized program that helps members of their community tackle issues that confront their businesses. Over the years, they’ve noticed trends and built foundational advice for young entrepreneurs.
I spoke with Barrett last week to ask him a few questions about the challenges young entrepreneurs face today, how to avoid common pitfalls and what people should be doing on a weekly basis to stay ahead of the curve.
UnCollege: First off, can you give us a brief outline of how you ended up where you are, working with entrepreneurs on a daily basis?
Before Fizzle I ran a company called Living for Monday about 3 years. The company was a way to help college students develop the career search and soft skills they would need to build an independent career or find a job they would care about. I started it after I left my job as a consultant at Ernst and Young.
While I was working at E&Y, I realized that my peers and I had kind of been sold a lie about what the work entailed, what the career path would look like and what the lifestyle would look like. To the outside world our jobs were considered prestigious, but when you really looked at what life was like, it was full of 60-80 hour work weeks, work-related travel and no time to really explore the world. Living for Monday was a fight against that system where I felt college career centers weren’t doing their job. Instead of advocating for students, they were advocating for big companies trying to increase their placement rates, etc.
I raised over $120,000 to support that effort, but in the end found that college students aren’t the best target market. The majority aren’t looking to spend a lot of time and money on career development. Ultimately, we decided to shut the company down. I joined Fizzle shortly after that. It was a great fit because I had personal experience in what a lot of the Fizzle community were going through as entrepreneurs.
U: For a young entrepreneur who decides to delay a college education or bypass it all together, what do you think is the greatest challenge he or she will face?
B: Young entrepreneurs have the massive disadvantage of being naive and lacking the life experience to understand their customers and clients. They haven’t had the time they need to develop all the skills they would need to succeed in business. In many ways, they haven’t had time to develop strong beliefs on how the world works. I think that most successful entrepreneurs have a strong belief about something that was wrong in the world or some opportunity they saw in the world based on interactions they’ve had with people or causes they’ve supported. It’s not that they can’t overcome this, but it’s a challenge.
U: How about the greatest advantage?
B: As a young adult you usually have a lower cost of living and fewer commitments like relationships or children, mortgages and car leases. You are nimble and in many ways, fearless. If you have college debt, however, that affects how you approach things. On the podcast we talk a lot about a minimal viable income and how everyone needs to figure out how much money you need to survive and support your business. Debt and loans can affect this number greatly.
In all cases, we encourage young entrepreneurs to take an intermediate apprenticeship - whether they are transitioning out of a job or a college dropout. They can develop their ideas and belief system while working under someone that they really admire. This gives you a bridge from working and being told what to do to working towards what you want to be some day.
U: What’s the best way to identify if you have a genuinely good idea?
It’s the same for everyone, really. The worst ideas come from thinking they are brilliant. We prefer the lean startup methodology. Fix a problem. Have conversations with real people who would use your product or service. If you talk to as little as 8 or 10 people, you can find trends in the problems they have that you can solve.
U: And how do you know when it’s time to cut bait on a project?
B: As soon as possible, see if people will pay you for your product or service. If you can’t sell, maybe you aren’t targeting the right audience or maybe you aren’t solving the right problem. You can go back and change these things, but even if you have a massive email list or community, if you can’t sell it, you have a problem to solve yourself.
U: If you do not yet have a product, how do you begin to network with influencers in an industry?
B: Start with research. Start with The 10-10-10 strategy (on site). That’s 10 people you would want to work with some day, 10 organizations and 10 dream projects. Start by identifying who your 10 people are and instead of shooting them an email, research their public material. Most influencers have blogs or podcasts or some sort of public facing material out there on the web because they don’t have time to have 1:1 meetings with everyone who emails them. In fact, it’s rude not to read every post they’ve ever done and to try and answer your own questions that way. Once you’ve done the research, if you do reach out, they’ll see the effort you’ve gone through and be more willing to listen to your request for help.
U: What are some essential weekly tasks you encourage entrepreneurs in the Fizzle community to take?
B: It really depends on what stage they are in with their business, but across all stages we recommend the following:
– Keep a progress log.
– Work with a mentor and coach (if you can afford a coach).
To find out more about Barrett and the Fizzle team, visit fizzle.co and follow Barrett on Twitter.