The startup community claims that all you need to launch a successful venture is money and a bit of hard work — but conveniently leaves out the fact that queer entrepreneurs face levels of discrimination not seen since Confederate days.
That being said, starting one’s own business is not for everyone, and is in fact hard. 9 out of 10 startups will fail, and it is not because they lack money. Mindset, willingness to risk, connections, and sacrifice all have outsize influences in the entrepreneur space.
With without further ado, here are the top ten skills, traits, and ways of looking at things that are found in every successful queer entrepreneur we’ve studied so far.
Knowing the market
Another important feature of successful queer entrepreneurs is that they provide a product that has a demand. Someone can create something truly unique, but if people do not need it, they are not going to purchase the item.
It is quite simple — you need to find a niche or a gap in the market and fulfill it with your product. The clients need to know the value of it and how it will make their lives better.
In his book Weird Ideas That Work, Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton shows how even the most well-researched traditional strategies do not always work in the world of business.
Creativity, new ideas, innovation—in any age they are keys to success. Yet, as Stanford professor Robert Sutton explains, the standard rules of business behavior and management are precisely the opposite of what it takes to build an innovative company. We are told to hire people who will fit in; to train them extensively; and to work to instill a corporate culture in every employee. In fact, in order to foster creativity, we should hire misfits, goad them to fight, and pay them to defy convention and undermine the prevailing culture. Weird Ideas That Work codifies these and other proven counterintuitive ideas to help you turn your workplace from staid and safe to wild and woolly—and creative.
In Weird Ideas That Work Sutton draws on extensive research in behavioral psychology to explain how innovation can be fostered in hiring, managing, and motivating people; building teams; making decisions; and interacting with outsiders. Business practices like “hire people who make you uncomfortable” and “reward success and failure, but punish inaction,” strike many managers as strange or even downright wrong. Yet Weird Ideas That Work shows how some of the best teams and companies use these and other counterintuitive practices to crank out new ideas, and it demonstrates that every company can reap sales and profits from such creativity.
Research is great, but you need to be creative, innovative, and find new ways and solutions continuously. Traditional marketing could be a base to start from, but the most important lesson here is to truly understand the concept of “the future is female — and queer.”
This means to stop thinking of what the market wants in terms of narrow cis white thinking, and expand and embrace the richness of the female, the queered, and the Brown, and the Black. Which needs of the Black queer community are not currently being met? What of indigenous trans folks who live underground due to ICE persecution? Etc.
The statistics of successful risk-taking is far from being on the entrepreneurs’ side, but it should not be discouraging.
Consider each of the small failures on the road as a warning to act smarter and learn from others’ mistakes. It is essential to be ready to risk; after all, you are working on personal business, so there will be ups and downs anyway.
In other words, a successful entrepreneur should have thick skin, be ready for unforeseen consequences, and work with what you’ve got.
Gathering a diverse team
A great business is built on a great team, and that means throwing out the antiquated idea that you need white males. Work on gathering people with different skills and from a wide variety of marginalized communities. This way, together, you will come up with fresh ideas and solutions that can radically disrupt whatever industry you get involved in.
If you surround yourself with cis white males, there will be not much creativity in a process. That being said, if you find one that has powerful political connections, he may be worth picking up.
Starting when you want
Some might think that college is not the time to work on a startup. However, you can start whenever you want. The history knows successful entrepreneurs of all kinds, some of them started very early in their life. There are others who succeeded late, like Amancio Ortega.
College years might be the best time to give it a shot while innovative people surround you. It doesn’t have to harm the studying process or influence grades.
Good time management
Success is going to take a lot of work, after hours. Or, simply speaking: all your time. When you are building up a business, there are few weekends and holidays where you can forget about everything.
The only way to deal with this fact is to master time management skills. It is all about prioritizing. The same rule of proper task delegating and efficient time-management applies to all entrepreneurs, but more so for queers who are fighting against a powerful cis-centered current.
The huge success is unlikely to knock your door overnight. An entrepreneur should have patience and be ready to work more and more on any startup.
It is going to take time, and you need to have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve.
But being ready to fail
Again, statistically speaking — you will probably encounter disaster along the road to roads. While suffering the inevitable discrimination that the startup community has in store for queer entrepreneurs, this goes doubly so. So be ready that everything might go not according to the plan, and always push forward.
Being an entrepreneur often means failing and pivoting and trying something radically new. This idea failed? Ok, that’s bad, but now you have an experience that you can use in the next project.
Eventually, every entrepreneur needs to choose between something important and investing in a new project. You need to be ready to sacrifices and stay devoted to the startup.
Still, it is important to draw some lines here. Do not let your entrepreneurship activities interfere with your personal life.
Whether it is a new marketing strategy, SEO, market demand, niche audience, etc., you are going to learn along the way. Starting and running a business can be called life college.
And to succeed, you need to be a straight-A learner. It is important to be ready to let competitors teach you some stuff. Get a hold of their code and see how they do things. Keep track of the latest research in your field. Always keep talking to your current and potential target consumers.
You don’t need a lot of cash to be an entrepreneur. Some of them started with almost nothing. You can sell services, create a new product, or do whatever you deem necessary. Pick up a diverse crew and always be ready to disrupt whatever space you are in. When it comes down to it, it’s all about you. Make the world feel your presence, and pay you for the privilege of knowing you.
Success lies in diversity, mindset, and ability to manage one’s time. You need to continually learn, be ready to risk it all, and begin again.