I recently hosted an alumni networking event for entrepreneurs. I was talking with one young alumni in particular, who had an idea for a business for a long time, but never gotten around to "building" it. When I asked her why, she told me it was a web-based business and because she wasn't a programmer and didn't know any programmers she couldn't really build it. One of the reasons I started this alumni network was to help people overcome such hurdles and make their ideas/ concepts/ dreams reality. Nevertheless, this comment bugged me, because I knew there were so many other aspiring entrepreneurs out there that felt the same way.
I think as an entrepreneur (especially an entrepreneur building a web/ technology-based business), its impossible to NOT get lost in the amazing technological progress evolving before us everyday. We read BuiltinChicago, TechCrunch, Mashable, and all the others. We follow our favorite start-ups, entrepreneurs, VC's, angels, etc. We are inundated with amazing stories of great web based business, incredible new apps, serial entrepreneurs and genius engineers securing funding and disrupting markets. Our heads fill up quick with this new language that consists of digital terms, acronyms and lingo that can sound more confusing than Sanskrit (for anyone who can't speak Sanskrit, obviously). Taking all of this in as a non-technical, non-computer science engineer, first time entrepreneur can make starting a company extremely intimidating.
How can I possibly build something great? How can I build a great digital business with no tech experience? How can I even start? Well, the answer is to JUST START! Let me say that I fully admit going through this same thought process in my head. I've never started a company and I'm not an engineer (although I was for 2 weeks in college, ask me about that story sometime), yet I wanted to build a web-based business. Until one day I felt the calling. I realized that if I was ever to become an entrepreneur, I just had to do it. Noone was born an entrepreneur. You didn't enter this world having started a business. At some point all entrepreneurs just did it. Did their first attempt work out? Maybe. Maybe not. But they all had to start somewhere.
So when I was talking to this young alum, I was a little bummed, but I understood. I went on to tell her the story of how Silver Step came about. We started as a series of classroom seminars, which I wanted to bring online. I've never started a company, programmed or developed a thing in my life, but I knew I had to build a web-based business. Clueless and confused, I had a web dev firm start building the website. A blind step, but still a step! Fast forward 9 months through a lot of highs and lows (mostly lows), and I have a web-based business on the verge of a beta release. I haven't built anything successful YET, but I built something to help resolve a problem I saw in the market (personal financial education for young professionals).
With that, I encouraged her to find a way to build. As a non-technical person with an idea, drive and courage find a way to step out of the shadow of the "technical giants," and find a way to get it done. Work to make our world better, get people excited, get smart people on your team and learn on the fly. Build it. I even encouraged her to get on Built in Chicago! A quick, but well deserved, THANK YOU to Built in Chicago for giving me a forum to share my experiences and learn from others. Also, because of Built in Chicago, I was even able to find a CTO who reached out to me as a result of my blogging (at least I have one fan. Two if you count my wife)!
Will her concept ever get off the ground? Will Silver Step be successful? I can't tell you. I can tell you, however, that there is only one way to find out, and that is by giving it a shot. Give it 150% of your effort, and use ever ounce of your ability (technical or not) to build something great. So in closing, I can say, I am a builder and so can you!
[NOTE: As weird as it is, my title was inspired from Stephen Colbert's children's book, "I Am a Pole (and So Can You!)," the inspirational story of a pole trying to find his place in the world, which is hilarious for those of you who haven't seen it (click here). But more importantly, the proceeds of the book go to US Vets Inc (www.usvetsinc.org), a non-profit dedicated to returning troops and helping get them readjusted to civilian life.]