Wisdom from Ben Casnocha
By Arnold Kling
Advising would-be entrepreneurs with no business background, Ben Casnocha writes,
Learn by doing, learn by failing.
…Leave the office and go immerse yourself in the life of the customer.
…Your network is probably larger than you think. Somewhere in this network is probably a good co-founder for your business, too. Companies with 2 or 3 co-founders do much better than solo warriors.
I just finished reading Ben’s book, which I really enjoyed. He and I share a very similar philosophy about learning and business.For example, here is another quote from the blog post:
If you ask someone to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or if you simply pass on the opportunity to receive useful feedback because you’re scared someone will steal your idea, you are hanging a big, white poster on your chest that says, “I’m naive.” In the early stages, you want as much feedback as possible. This means sharing your ideas with others. There is no such thing as a new idea. Besides, it is execution that distinguishes successes from failures, not raw ideas.
On the last point, in my own book on entrepreneurship, I wrote,
Entrepreneurs will say that they are operating in “stealth mode.”
If you are in “stealth mode,” then I suggest that you do the following:
1. Go to the bathroom.
2. Stand in front of the mirror.
3. Say, “I see a corpse.”
…The only secrets that “stealth mode” protects are the secrets of what the market really wants. Those are the secrets you need to learn, and “stealth mode” keeps you from learning them.
My book also has a section called “Learning by Selling,” where I write
selling does not just feed your mouths. It feeds your minds. Of all the ways that you can gather information to improve your offering and strengthen your business, the selling process can be the most powerful. From this perspective, selling is a form of trial-and-error learning.
Ben and I both discuss the issue of luck. In my book, I write,
I consciously decided that whenever I got stuck…I would try to meet new people. I might call a customer and ask for a referral. I might attend a conference. I might attend a meeting of an organization. I did these things in order to improve my luck.
Ben’s way of putting it is:
Expose yourself to as much randomness as possible. Attend conferences no one else [in your field] is attending. Read books no one else is reading. Talk to people no one else is talking to.
I would note that the philosophy of “expose yourself to randomness” is something I also associate with Tyler Cowen. The phrase could almost serve as a motto for the entire blogger community.
This fall, Ben will be starting his freshman year of college, at Claremont. He is the type of student I would enjoy teaching. My teaching style, which is to give students interesting things to read and ask them to write their reactions, would not strike him as odd.
I think that Ben would make a good economist, but I don’t necessarily think that economics would be good for Ben. He probably would be better off challenging himself with as much cognitive neuroscience as he can find.
If more economists had actual business experience, I believe that the quality of economic analysis would improve. But it’s hopeless telling economists that they should actually try working in business themselves in order to learn something about it.
It’s a bit less hopeless to suggest that economists should occasionally go slumming and read business books. Ben’s book would be a good one to try.