Why a varied background is a recipe for startup success

Creating a startup can be wildly exciting. You get to make the rules, indulge your passions, and more importantly, do things your way. You can mold and shape the business to operate exactly as you want it to. But what if you have no business experience? Or your employment history is a checkered list of bizarre or mundane entry-level jobs?

Firstly, remember that not all CEOs graduated from university with a Master’s degree in business. In fact, an S&P 500 CEO study found that only 11% of undergraduate degrees held by CEOs were in business administration.

So, you can stop worrying about whether you are academically ill-equipped to deal with a start-up. Eliminating self-doubt is the first step to taking ownership of your entrepreneurial journey, as you are far more likely to achieve success if you can set goals and find strategies to achieve them. These kinds of practical skills can be learned from almost any job, from circus performing to running health clubs.

Working for others, particularly in jobs you don’t enjoy, can also instill a sense of discipline and focus on what you are hoping to achieve. Enduring difficult employment scenarios not only creates a strong work ethic but also gives you a reason to fight the concept of getting stuck.

In the initial stages of developing ideas, it’s a great idea to think about how your former experiences can shape your journey moving forward. Do you remember a particularly bad business experience that you would like to avoid in your new startup? Have you encountered a certain type of person that you happen to work particularly well with? Analyzing these experiences will give you a solid framework in which to hang your business manifesto.

From cleaning toilets to working at McDonald’s, all kinds of employment experiences teach the value of money, teamwork, respect for the management hierarchy, and effective customer service skills. These skills will inform the way that you manage a business, along with how well you treat your own employees.

While it’s great to have gained valuable work experience, it is also worth remembering that inexperience in your intended business field is not necessarily a barrier to success. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a firm understanding of what you are letting yourself in for, but it is worth remembering that your past work experiences, whether related to the industry or not, will inform the way you innovate solutions for your startup. Did those years of stacking shelves in a busy retail environment teach you excellent prioritization skills? Were your top-class customer service skills developed by working in a fast-paced call center with lots of stress? Has a former manager shown you the best or worst ways of communicating with staff?

A great example of how little experience is needed to set up a business can be found in the launch of Virgin Atlantic by founder Richard Branson. When initially starting up the airline, Branson said, “I knew nothing about air travel, but as I’d flown back and forth from Britain to the United States on business for Virgin Records, I’d become convinced that there had to be a better way. We succeeded because we didn’t just create another “me too” airline, but took the same creative, customer-focused approach we had with our music businesses.”

Another entrepreneur with limited experience in running businesses was aviation expert Howard Hughes. Having spent most of his career working as an inventor, aviator, and filmmaker, Hughes decided to turn his hand to casinos and land ownership in the 1960s. Despite his lack of technical knowledge in either field, he became one of the most successful businessmen of his time, transforming Las Vegas casinos into the clean, regulated establishments we see today. So, remember, while a business degree might give you a head start, it is also possible to uncover important lessons from your experiences such as time cleaning out stables, all of which will surprisingly give your startup the leg up.