What is the role of learning in entrepreneurship?

An entrepreneur is the quintessential hustler – one who gets things done, finds a way, solves problems, shows a lot of grit – you get the drift!

A lot has been said and written on the qualities that an entrepreneur must inherently have –  leadership, perseverance, communication, courage, and of course, the belief that “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out!” ‘Figuring it out’ assumes an innate capacity to unlearn and relearn. Yet, learning ability is a critical, yet often ignored skillset in an entrepreneur’s armoury. If I were to ask a startup founder, “How much time do you spend every week learning something that will help you make your startup a viable business?” chances are s/he will respond with an outraged, “What do you mean? I learn something new everyday.” But, are you consciously carving out time to unlearn and relearn new business concepts, ideas and methodologies that are getting redefined faster than winter fashion trends?

I recently conducted a dipstick survey with veteran professionals from the world of startup investment and incubation/acceleration. I found that the top soft skill that each of them looks for in a startup founder is: “Ability to listen and learn.”

Why is learning important?

A recent research report published by Harvard Business Review cited six sources of fear that can negatively impact founders’ ability to build profitable businesses:

  • financial security
  • ability to fund the venture
  • personal ability/self-esteem
  • potential of the idea
  • threats to social esteem
  • the venture’s ability to execute
  • opportunity costs

One way to channelize this fear into productive, profitable outcomes is to constantly work towards eliminating the ‘unknowns’. Learning helps eliminate unknowns.

Fail fast and learn from failures – is what startup founders believe in. In a popular TED Talk on failures, author and entrepreneur Letitia Gasca urges them to adopt a new mantra – “ Don’t fail fast, fail mindfully! “ In order to follow this mantra, what is most important is to learn – learn so that you don’t fail mindlessly, learn so that you can learn from your failures.

How does learning happen?

Entrepreneurs ask questions at every stage of the startup journey and one way to answer some of these questions is through learning and upskilling. This learning could be categorized into:

  • Structured learning of business concepts: Master the basics so that you can answer questions like: How do I calculate my Customer Acquisition Costs? What does Competition Mapping mean? How do I build a financial projection?
  • Upskilling: Acquire skills to triage and prioritize which fires need to be doused and which ones can continue to burn. Become an expert problem solver by learning proven methods to analyze problems.
  • Peer learning: Learn through stories of success and failures of the global and local founder community
  • Learning from experts: Learn the art of pitching and fundraising from a VC investor. Understand the caveats of conducting customer conversations from a veteran entrepreneur.
  • Learning on the go: This one needs no explanation and is something every startup founder is good at.
  • Unlearning: Don’t let biases from existing knowledge trip you up  – don’t just build a Minimum Viable Product – build a Minimum Lovable Product. Don’t just create a Lean Canvas, build a plan that helps you move the needle along each Critical Success Element of a startup.

So, what are you unlearning and relearning today?

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