Think you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? There’s only one way to find out: get started. The best way to embark on the entrepreneurial path is to learn by doing. With access to endless knowledge at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection, the world no longer cares about what you know, but what you can do with what you know. So show the world that you haven’t been out there acquiring knowledge you’ve been using it to innovate, create, help people and inspire others. Jump right in and explore a venture that interests you through an internship or volunteer opportunity.
Let the Internet be your Talent Agent
In 2011, Peter Thiel started the "20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship," a program that gives 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old $100,000 to fund their projects. Thiel Fellows are mentored by a visionary group of entrepreneurs, investors, and scientists and encouraged to develop their own unique ventures. One of the first recipients of this fellowship was Dale Stephens, who has since gone on to found UnCollege, a social movement aimed at changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success. Stephens advocates for utilizing the Internet to sell your skills.
Whether you’re looking to join an innovative company or grow your own, employers and customers alike are looking to the Internet to hire the right person. Create a personal profile to showcase your talent. Your college degree and your résumé may no longer set you apart from the completion, so use sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Angie’s List and Behance to do your self-promotion. Most sites have room for testimonials where colleagues, customers and former employers can offer their experience of working with you.
“Because we can document our accomplishments, and have them socially validated with tools such as LinkedIn Recommendations, we can turn experiences into opportunity.” –Dale Stephens, Thiel Fellow, Author, and Entrepreneur
Identify a Need & Fill It
Two traits most commonly identified across successful entrepreneurs are innovation and motivation. Innovators bridge the gap between ideas and action. To do this, begin by identifying the needs in your own life and those around you. What would make your life easier? How can you improve the systems, procedures, and routines you encounter in your day-to-day?
Julia Pimsleur Levine, founder and CEO of Little Pim, did just that. As a new mom with a full-time job, Levine knew she wanted her son, Emmett, to learn French and English. She wanted to capitalize on children’s ability to learn language before the age of six but without having a truly bi-lingual household, she knew she needed additional tools. When her search for educational videos that would help her son learn French came up short, she decided to develop her own. “I found two Columbia Business School grad students to help me craft a business plan and raised $30,000 from family and friends. With this seed money I filmed a pilot, using as “talent” the babies of the mothers in my new mom’s group. This became the basis for the Little Pim language teaching series for kids. I never looked back," she told Forbes in an interview.
Discover Your Passion
There are plenty of self-assessment tools online to help you narrow your focus and help you hone in on the best use of your skills and talent. You can also try out any field by offering your services at an established organization in your area of interest for a few months.
Most companies, large and small, are happy to have the free help while you get to test the waters and find out if it is a good fit. Remember internships aren’t just for recent grads, don’t be afraid to cold call a company you are interested in. Non-profits and start ups usually have plenty of work to go around and eager to have additional resources.
Volunteering for an organization is a great way to develop skill sets that you may not be honing at your current job. Improve your employability, network, and become involved in your community. For more information on "self-interested volunteering," click here.
Go to the Source
Find someone who is currently working in a field you want to pursue and ask for 20 minutes of their time to pick their brain about what they do. Time and energy are currency for entrepreneurs. Reach out to people who excel at doing what you want to do, and take every meeting and opportunity you are offered. To read more, click here.
“…look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission.” --Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
Watch our interview with Paypal founder Peter Thiel here.