I worked hard through school and graduated from University of Cambridge, and then I had to spend 10 years unlearning everything I had learned before I could succeed as an entrepreneur.
In my early startups (which all failed) I kept approaching them like I approached exams. I would learn everything I could about my market, prep hard on my product development and rely on my IQ to predict how the market would respond to my product on launch day – The Exam…
When I launched my products and they didn’t sell, I would think I had failed, get depressed, and then start all over again.
It took a long time to realize that entrepreneurs are the opposite of academics. They don’t put knowledge before action. They put action before knowledge, and learn through practice not theory.
After that, I launched early, and all the learning happened once the exam had begun.
In my early days, I would try and do it all myself, thinking that if I had to get others to do the work for me I was cheating.
It was only later I realized that while at school the smartest people knew how to do it all themselves, in business the smartest people know how to not do it all themselves. Getting others to do the work wasn’t cheating. It was leadership.
The reward of being smarter than those around you at school was high marks and class prizes. The reward of being smarter than those around you in business was guaranteed financial failure.
It was only when I realized that the smartest entrepreneurs weren’t the ones who were smartest in their team, but the ones who surrounded themselves with people smarter than them, that my businesses had a chance to grow.
And the biggest lesson of all, was that while success at school came to those who worked hard to know the subjects best, success in business – and in life – came to those who worked hard to know themselves best.
Not to say that school wasn’t valuable. It was. But just as the rules of football are opposite to the rules of basketball, the rules of academia are opposite to the rules of entrepreneurship.
So if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, unlearn before you learn so you don’t have to undo the things you do.