When I left consulting to focus on my venture full time, I figured that a lot of what I learnt as a consultant would be easily transferable to my life as an entrepreneur. While this is to some extent true, boy am I surprised by the amount of unlearning that I have had to do! Three things stand out when I look back at the key lessons learned:
1) Focus on getting the product out, vs. the perfect product out: In consulting, the focus is on getting as close to a perfect product out as you can the first time up. Running experiments, creating an MVP, and iterating (though it might actually make sense even in a consulting engagement, a separate post on this later!) is not done often enough. They are really not part of a consultant lexicon. The focus as a consultant is on producing the best possible client deliverable – which may be a powerpoint deck, a study, or a CRM system. While this pursuit of perfection is in itself a must have from the perspective of an entrepreneur, the focus in the early days needs to be on validating assumptions as fast as possible, and if that means putting together a quick and dirty prototype, or an A/B test that falls somewhat short of your perfect standards, then so be it.
2) Learning to embrace uncertainty, vs. attempting to eliminate uncertainty: By definition a venture involves a huge amount of uncertainty. Trying to mitigate every risk imaginable when working on a venture is akin to trying to mitigate every risk involved in making a movie. The best you can do is validate your biggest assumptions quickly, put together a great team, trust the team, and execute to the best of your abilities. Beyond that you simply have to acknowledge that starting a venture is risky business, and while you can get better as an entrepreneur with time, even the best entrepreneurs are not immune to failure. If this is not something that you can handle, then perhaps you should reconsider the entrepreneurial path.
3) Don’t be a consultant for too long: A lot of the most essential skills you need to be an entrepreneur you can learn very quickly – in the first 2-4 years of being a consultant. These skills include everything from effective time management, to presentation skills, to relationship development skills. In fact these are skills that you probably already have to have made into a top tier consulting firm, all you do as a consultant is put them to use consciously every day and make it second nature. However having done that you reach a point of diminishing returns, and every additional day you spend being a better consultant, is one less day you spend learning to be a better entrepreneur.
In summary, consulting can be a good training ground for someone with entreprenurial aspirations, just don’t remain a consultant for too long, and make sure you stop by you local B&N or place an order on Amazon for Eric Ries‘ “The Lean Startup” as part of your exit procedures!