Dictionary meaning of the word “prowess” is “skill or expertise in a particular activity or field”.
What would you include as a minimum set of prowess as a starting up founder?
If you google “skills required for an entrepreneur” or “skills required for starting up”, you will see more than 50 articles, not only telling you what skills are needed but many of them telling you how to go about acquiring those skills.
Not so much. Because a majority of these skills recommended are not really relevant for starting up.
This is because of two reasons:
- Most of the articles or books that have been written on the subject are based on what one observes and analyses established businessmen in a retrospect, extending the imagination to what led to their success. As such, there are hardly any stories about how it is in the first days or one month or first 6 months from the time you write your first lean canvas.
- Traditionally, “business” and “starting up” were considered two faces of the same coin. But, there have been a lot of changes in the way starting up happen today. There is a distinctive phase of “starting up” where you do many different things than when you are past it, for a given business idea.
Defining a startup
Lets just back up a little bit and define what a startup is, so we are on the same page.
The growth of a successful new business usually has three phases:
- There’s an initial period of slow or no growth while the new business tries to figure out what it’s doing.
- As the new business figures out how to make something lots of people want and how to reach those people, there’s a period of rapid growth.
- Eventually, a successful new business will grow into a big company. Growth will slow, partly due to internal limits and partly because the company is starting to bump up against the limits of the markets it serves.
Here, we are defining an entrepreneur as someone who is in a start-up stage, i.e. someone who is in the first phase.
A startup- stage is the process of turning a business idea into an established real company and a ‘start-up’ is a company that is confused about — what its product is? Who its customers are? How to make money?
So, what you do in this phase is unique.
“This is something similar to what used to happen in a situation of cranks that car engines had before. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.”
– Paul Graham, Y Combinator
Things that you as an entrepreneur do change substantially as you grow into 2nd and 3rd phase, in respect of a given business idea and so do the skills needed therein.
Traditionally believed skills not relevant to startup
As a result, a host of skills that are traditionally prescribed for you if you want to be an entrepreneur is no more critical skills for you to start up.
|Skills||Why are they not so relevant|
|Leadership, Team building, Resiliency,
Motivator, Public speaking, Negotiating, Selling
|Decision-making||There is no major critical decisions to be made In this phase that are too complicated.|
Seeing the big picture,
|Self-reliance||There are a host of resources and help in terms of mentors, courses, boot camps etc. for you to draw support from.|
|Creative thinking||At this stage, the importance is knowing your customers and their pain point and less on how creative you can get to build a product.|
New Minimum Viable Prowess needed
The way to succeed in a startup is not to be an expert on startups, but to be an expert on your users and the problem you’re solving for them.
So, essentially, the Minimum Viable Prowess (MVP) is a bundle of skills to enable you an expert about your users or customers.
Why Minimum? – You can have more skills, but these are the minimum skills that you need for starting up.
Why Viable? – If you have them, you have a much more viable engagement with the process of starting up that leads to some productive outcomes.
Why Prowess – These are all simple skills, yet when you combine them, you have a power equivalent of all the founders of big successful startups that you see.
7 parts of Minimum Viable Prowess
You need to be passionate about inquiry and develop an ability to frequently challenge the status quo. The way to do this is to turn off autopilot and to be aware of what’s going on around you. Inefficiencies in the world and problems you and your friends face daily are potential opportunities. Most people hit these obstacles, groan internally, and move on. They don’t think about why these obstacles exist and whether they can be solved.
Ability to connect dots
We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens. And that means that we have to change some of our models of what innovation and deep thinking really looks like. In a chaotic environment, ideas are likely to come together, where people were likely to have new, interesting, unpredictable collisions — people from different backgrounds. You need to have an ability to connect seemingly unrelated fields, problems, or ideas.
You need to be intense observers. Watch the world around you —including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies—and the observations help you gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things.
You need to be constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experimenters unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experientially, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way. They visit new places, try new things, seek new information, and experiment to learn new things.
Abilities to have lots of ideas
The famous inventor Thomas Edison said that his “real measure of success” was “the number of experiments” he could crowd into one day. Rather than focusing on coming up with the “perfect idea” or invention, he produced and produced. Failed and iterated. Waiting for inspiration can be the death of a projects’ momentum. Start with quantity, then curate.
In order to gain insights about your users and customers, you need to be genuine, confident, humble, trustworthy and positive with them. One of the most profound experiences we have when we connect with others. This is something you need to know how.
Empathy is one of the most important skills that you need to acquire. Empathy includes compassion but is a result of understanding where another person is coming from. Strongly developed empathy skills begin with great listening skills. In order to truly listen, however, you have to engage in active listening.
If you have MVP, the minimum viable prowess, you are good to go.
All are not born with natural abilities in respect of MVP. These are skills like any other that can be learned and mastered if one recognizes the need and takes the time and some effort to develop them.