The Myth of Experience - The Khuram Dhanani Blog
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Khuram Dhanani

The Myth of Experience

Your Prior Experience May Be Super Important … Or Not.

A common misconception among aspiring entrepreneurs is that you must have the experience to start a business and become successful. Without experience, you’re going to crash and burn. Back in the day, this was true, but not anymore.

Yes, some businesses do require an experiential background. If, for example, you’re going to start an Internet marketing agency, you’ll need a history of successful online marketing before you can ethically sell these services to clients. Other industries, like medicine, construction, and engineering all require different levels of experience in education, on the job, or both. 

However, many businesses don’t require prior experience. Often, everything you need to know is available with some research and a willingness to learn. 

Imagine you want to sell T-shirts. You can set up an online store with Shopify, have the shirts printed on-demand by Printful, and outsource fulfillment to ShipBob. By watching a few YouTube videos, you can learn how to run effective ad campaigns on social media. Everything you need to know is at your fingertips, and it’s never been so simple or easier to go into business.

Even setting up professional-looking websites is extremely easy now. You can use a simple template from Weebly, choose from a wide array of professional graphics, and then just add your own content. Weebly tutorials will guide you through any difficulties that might appear, and their free tech support will help you step-by-step through any challenges you aren’t able to figure out on your own. Today there’s no legitimate excuse for not having a fantastic website, one that could put you in business in less than a day.

Do you want to start a dating website for a specific group of singles, like ocean kayakers or people who love model trains? AppyPie has a dating website builder! Or perhaps you want to rent out the fleet of classic cars you’ve been restoring; there’s a car rental template for that as well. Should you wish to learn how to do your own coding for maximum flexibility on your platform, you can learn this skill from the comfort of your home with Codecademy. 

These are just a few of the companies and applications available to you today. The tech boom has removed what would have been insurmountable barriers to entry that existed just a few years ago. The techies behind these solutions are entrepreneurs who were solving a problem – for you! A considerable percentage of these eager entrepreneurs didn’t have any experience either. 

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you start. Whatever you need is available online because the Internet is like the Eighth Wonder of the World. A landscaping business, convenience store, restaurant, or plumbing business can all easily access a variety of online resources and use technological advances to their benefit. 

You no longer need prior experience, but you do need to dedicate your time and your focus to acquiring the information that experience would otherwise have taught you. Previously, you may have had to spend a few years learning about a business by observing others and going through the turmoil of trial and error, today you can learn as much as you want as rapidly as you wish from the Internet.

Experience is always valuable because it’s a good teacher, and if you had prior experience, that could be helpful in different situations. Today, thanks to the Internet, there are shortcuts to acquiring the value you would have received from the experience. You can find a considerable number of these shortcuts online. It’s also important to remember that the offline world also provides useful shortcuts. Reading a book, taking a class at your local community college, or attending an in-person seminar is an excellent way to gain the knowledge you need to start and then build your business. 

Let’s take a look at a few highly successful entrepreneurs who are good examples of people who started their companies without prior experience.

Jeff Bezos

Before he started Amazon, Jeff Bezos worked in the finance industry. When he realized that Internet traffic was growing at over 2,000% per year, he decided to start Amazon from his garage.

Bezos had absolutely no prior retail or entrepreneurial experience. He started Amazon as an online bookstore, driving packages of books to the post office in his 1987 Chevy Blazer. During a 2016 Charlie Rose interview, Bezos quipped, “I thought maybe one day we would be able to afford a forklift.” 

Amazon soon added music and videos to its product line. Shortly after that, Bezos sent an email asking customers what else they wanted to buy from the website. The list came back and it was very long. Soon after that, Amazon began selling everything. As you are probably well aware, his company now dominates online retail, and Bezos is one of the world’s wealthiest people. He did this without any experience and learned as he went along.

Michael Dubin

In 1990, a group of comedians including Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Ian Roberts, and Horatio Sanz created an improv group called The Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The group eventually had its own show on Comedy Central and acted as a talent pipeline for Saturday Night Live. As it grew in popularity, the show soon became a destination for young acting school graduates looking for success in New York.

Michael Dubin was one of those new graduates. Invited to a Christmas party, Dubin was talking with some friends about how expensive razors were. To his surprise, one of his friends asked for help with selling 250,000 razors that had just been acquired from Asia, and that was the beginning of the Dollar Shave Club.

To attract the attention of young men everywhere, Dubin created a video that went viral, titled “Our Blades Are F****ing Great!” Casting himself in the lead role, Dubin’s quirky sense of humor captured interest across the nation.

“Are our blades any good?” Dubin’s character asks at the beginning of the video. “No, our blades are f***ing great!” In the next 48 hours, Dollar Shave Club received over 12,000 orders. A year later, he sold the company to Unilever for $1 billion. What experience did he have selling razors? Or selling anything? None! Dubin was a comedian!  

Aloysius Chay and Galvin Bay

A comedian selling his razor company for $1 billion? How about poker players getting rich from dropshipping?

Aloysius Chay and Galvin Bay worked as professional poker players in China’s most extravagant city, Macau. In 2016, with zero relevant experience, they decided to try their hand at dropshipping. They had a friend who ran a successful dropshipping business, but beyond his encouragement, they were two fish out of water. 

Chay and Bay experimented with over 30 products before they found one that worked. After making their first few sales, they realized they needed to scale up the business and learn how to run Facebook ads. They did this by using free online resources and asking people they knew for help.

Today, Aloysius Chay and Galvin Bay are making over $60k every day from their dropshipping business.

Eric Brandholz

Eric Bandholz recognized that there was an unmet demand for beard products. Eric had a business plan and solid strategies to scale his business but had no relevant experience. He used Shopify to create Beardbrand, an e-commerce site that generated six-figure monthly sales in the first year. 

8 Keys to Building a Business Without Prior Experience

  • Don’t overthink or overanalyze. This mental trap will have you coming up with all the reasons why you can’t do something. One of the great advantages of youth is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and not knowing the obstacles that lie ahead of you is helpful in maintaining an open mind. There is a reason people in their 20s and 30s start so many successful companies … it’s because they didn’t know enough to scare them away!
  • Focus on the wants and needs of your customers, not the idea. Michael Dubin wasn’t passionate about razor blades. He simply wanted to provide affordable razors for men. Focusing on customers’ needs rather than the idea or the product is something inexperienced entrepreneurs often do much better than experts. Experts are often too attached to the product or are inflexible when it’s necessary to modify the product or service to fit the market’s needs. Being mentally rigid will cost sales and may even bankrupt the company.
  • Choose the right industry. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, avoid businesses with regulatory hurdles or those which require hiring employees immediately. The low barriers to entry are what makes e-commerce attractive to first-time entrepreneurs. The startup costs are so low that you can start your business in your garage or home office.
  •  Rely on free resources. There are thousands of free resources online where you can learn everything you’ll need to set up, launch, and run a profitable business. The trick is to avoid clicking on the first search result that comes up on your search engine. Look beneath the surface. Pay attention to sub-topics and explore different sites, looking for additional information that gives you clues you can use to your advantage. By studying the information that’s readily available, and for free, you’ll soon be able to piece together your plan so you can then acquire the resources you need.
  • Know when to ask for help and get your advice from the right place. Many entrepreneurs go into business thinking they know everything and that their business will grow on the merits of their ideas alone. Wise entrepreneurs make an effort to know what they don’t know. When they discover gaps in their knowledge, they find someone with expertise to bridge the gaps. For example, if you need help with Facebook ads, find someone who has used them successfully in their business. Most people love to help others; no one becomes successful strictly on their own. However, be sure your source is truly knowledgeable. Taking advice from the wrong person can result in substantial negative consequences. For example, if you’re running an e-commerce business, seeking advice on search engine optimization (SEO) from someone running a brick-and-mortar store is probably a big mistake. 
  • Know your strengths and put them to work. Michael Dubin leveraged his talent for humor to create funny content that attracted buyers by the thousands. One of the best things you can do is leverage your strengths in ways that will enhance your business. If you have a marketing background, you can use your knowledge in almost any industry you choose. If you come from a retail background, you may have insights into how customers think or understand how to present your products in the most appealing way. If writing is a strength, you can create engaging written content for your website, newsletters, blogs, or marketing materials. You already possess a valuable skill set, collection of knowledge, or valuable experiences, so figure out a way to apply these treasures to your business.
  • Take Advantage of Online Infrastructure. This book mentions many online businesses that can help you complete business tasks professionally and at a reasonable price. Compared to the cost of these services just a decade ago, they are absolute bargains. You don’t have to pay a web developer $10,000 to create a website … you can do it yourself in a matter of hours and for a few hundred dollars on Wix. You don’t need to lease a warehouse and hire a shipping and receiving crew because that can easily and inexpensively be done by ShipBob.  Do you want to create an online store in a snap? Go to Shopify. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on business consultants because so much information is easily available on the Internet, provided you’re careful about your sources. 

What do these resources and platforms have to do with experience? Even if you have never sold a product in your life but have the time and energy to find a niche and sell the right products, e-commerce entrepreneurs can build their business with no or minimal prior experience in sourcing, logistics, warehousing, shipping, marketing, building a website, and almost any other task that requires some level of knowledge or expertise at its core. It’s all right there, waiting for you online.

  • Take Advantage of the Freelance Economy. The Internet revolutionized the world of freelancing. An entrepreneur can quickly hire a qualified graphic designer, video editor, content writer, translator, marketer, code writer, and a wide range of other skill sets from almost any country in the world by using Fiverr or Upwork. Often, it costs pennies on the dollar to use such services compared to what domestic professionals are likely to charge. This isn’t just about finding cheap labor; skilled freelancers often earn more than full-time employees in the United States. While there will sometimes be downsides to using freelancer workers because of their independence from your company, the truth is that an inexperienced entrepreneur can lay the foundation of his or her business with highly skilled on-demand workers. Also, if you really like a particular freelancer’s work, you can develop an ongoing mutually beneficial working relationship. You’d be surprised how much work is being done by freelancers for Fortune 500 companies. On the flip side, do you have a skill you can sell on the freelance market? Those graphic designers, content writers, marketers, and other skilled freelancers are all entrepreneurs themselves who are taking advantage of the benefits made available by companies like Fiverr and Upwork. 

There’s no denying that having experience is a valuable commodity, but there is also no denying that not having experience is a detriment. There are so many resources available to the new entrepreneur that lacking experience is no longer a barrier to success. Experience and information is available online, and can also be purchased through experienced freelancers who can perform any task that’s needed. Don’t let the lack of experience limit your horizon. Thanks to the Internet and the new freelance economy, the experience you need is available everywhere you look.

Lessons Learned

1. Having experience is no longer a prerequisite if you want to start an online business.

2. The information you need to start a successful business is available online, but you must commit your time and focus to acquiring that information in lieu of experience.

3. The Internet is a brilliant shortcut for helping you acquire the information you need.

4. One of the advantages of youth is that young people don’t get caught up with over-analysis; they just jump in and get started.

5. Seriously consider starting a business that focuses on your strengths and talents.

6. Use resources that are readily available, such as the freelance economy and online services.

Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
kd@softstonecapital.com