The one skill every entrepreneur needs

One of my favorite ice-breaker questions when you're getting to know someone is: If you could create and teach a brand new college course, what would it be?

Before I give my answer, here's the first homework assignment in my hypothetical new class: I'd give each student a blank sheet of paper. The only instructions would be to make it good, and get it back to me next week. That's it.

Students would hate it. What should they do with the paper? They could write on it, draw a picture, fold it into origami, etc. Up until this point in their life, everything of consequence they've ever had to do came with instructions, and now they're expected to just...figure it out?

The theme of my class would be how to work with a blank slate. I think this is the one skill that every entrepreneur must have, and it's something that very few people are comfortable with.

Every business is different. The skills you need to launch a software startup are very different from the skills you need to start a new clothing line, but one thing is always true: No one will give you instructions.

There's a myth that the hard thing about getting started is coming up with an idea, but I think for most people, it's the opposite. There are too many ideas. How do you choose which one to work on? Once you pick an idea, how do you decide where to start? There are thousands of things that need to happen before your business will be successful, but right now in this moment, you can only work on one of them. This choice is paralyzing, and anecdotally, I think this paralysis is the #1 thing that prevents aspiring entrepreneurs from succeeding.

If this is something you've struggled with, there's not a magical cure, but here are a few things that have helped me become more comfortable working with a blank slate:

  • Practice - This is a skill just like any other. If your startup is the first time you ever experience a true blank slate, you're at a disadvantage. Practice this with lower stakes projects e.g. write a song, create art, launch a website that you don't plan on monetizing, etc. Even after you've started your business, keep practicing. I regularly take on little projects just to stay sharp.
  • Remind yourself that perfection is a myth - This is easier said that done, but you have to keep in mind that no matter what you do, it won't be perfect. It probably won't even be good at first. But if you put out something bad, you're already way ahead of most people.
  • Consider what you'll care about in 10 years - This is a trick I often use when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed by lots of little decisions. I consider which of these decisions will matter 10 years from now. Will my future self care about what order I did things in? No. Will he care if I shipped something a week later than I'd hoped? No. But he'll absolutely care if I got so gridlocked that I don't make progress on anything at all.

Just ship it.

Have thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear from you! I'm @TylerMKing on Twitter.
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