3 Months, 3 Lessons and What Starting a Business Has Taught Me So Far

Entrepreneurship is a fantastic learning experience and an energizing journey.

Photo: Cameron Colquhoun, Founder of London-based Neon Century; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Cameron Colquhoun, Founder of London-based Neon Century; Source: Courtesy Photo

As a 31-year-old white Scotsman, who routinely lives in blazers and dress pants, I don’t look like the “typical” hip-hop music fan, at first glance. Occasionally, I get odd looks as I drive through the streets of London. There I am, on my way to a meeting—hair spiked up, tie and dress shirt—with hip hop music blasting from my car’s sound system.

Recently, whilst in the car after a long day’s work on my business, I carefully listened to the lyrics of one of this year’s most hip hop popular songs. It turns out the song lyrics are about independence, aspirations, improving your financial situation, chasing a dream, being different, realizing success and trusting yourself. I later looked through my music collection and it turns out many songs on my playlists have similar messages.

So, what does this have to do with entrepreneurship?


Business Lessons for ‘Startup’ Entrepreneurs

Having started a business a little over three months ago, I can now say that many of the characteristics and traits mentioned in hip hop songs are important for entrepreneurship. More than any other genre, I find hip-hop speaks to the ambitions, hopes and dreams of entrepreneurs, as well as resonating with their feelings of “getting there”. But it was not until I became an entrepreneur that I realized why I liked hip hop music so much.

There’s a subtle lesson here, the first of the three I want to share.


Lesson #1: Your Music Selection Leaves Entrepreneurial Clues

We all have our favorite books, songs, movies and TV shows, but we rarely ask ourselves why we enjoy a particular song, TV character, or show. Not many of us realize our tastes reflect who we are.

According to Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., “It’s time to better understand our musical preferences, how our identity has been shaped by music, and how our everyday life can be enhanced by the right music at the right dose in the right situation.” (Source: Psychology Today) Looking at my music collection helped me learn a bit more about myself. I’m sure it would do the same for you. And we all know that self-awareness is critical to entrepreneurial success.


Lesson #2: Self-motivation is More Attainable Than You Think

Three months into my entrepreneurship journey, a second startup lesson came in the form of self-motivation. Like most startups, in the early days, your home is your office. Discussing this aspect of business ownership with others often leads to a common reaction: “Oh! I could never have the discipline to do that.”

Often, these same people have tackled higher education and forget that while in their early twenties they spent a lot of their time on their own, studying independently, in pursuit of scholarly success. In retrospect, the early months of running a startup feel a lot like being back at University; late nights, lots of time on the laptop and the occasional impromptu midweek road trip or night out, to stay sane.

I’ve learned that if you succeeded in motivating yourself through college or graduate school, you can absolutely apply the same self-starting skills to your business. And it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun than writing 4,000-word essays.


Lesson #3: The Advent Calendar Effect

After three months of working for myself, I can say this third lesson is powerful—and perhaps my most important startup lesson I’ve learned thus far. I call it the advent calendar effect. I use it to explain the phenomenon that occurs when a lot of doors open in a short window of time.

Several times a week, we are all asked “How is work going?” by our friends, family and professional peers. It’s a routine question in nearly every social situation . . . at weddings, in a bar, over coffee. But if you think about it, in most of these situations, the exchange is courteous. The other person is asking politely, but probably doesn’t really care a great deal either way.

What’s amazing is how these conversations are transformed when you become an entrepreneur. If they don’t know you’ve decided to start a business their face lights up and suddenly they are absorbed in a) why you quit your full-time job; b) your business idea and; c) your future success. They often become charismatic in your presence, almost as if your confidence has transferred to them.


“It’s this last aspect that surprised me the most: people want to help you once you start chasing your passion.”


It’s this last aspect that surprised me the most: people want to help you once you start chasing your passion. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met people who offered their help by suggesting useful software, offering mentorship, suggesting introductions to potential clients, or just being that all-important second pair of eyes for the new company website. This lesson taught me that your network will work overtime to help you succeed – you just need to start.


Listen, Remember and Sound the Rally Cry

As I turn up the music in my apartment and come to a conclusion, I’ll leave you with this: Entrepreneurship is a fantastic learning experience and an energizing journey. In three months I’ve learned lessons that have been invaluable to the success of my consulting business. And so, taking a page out of Dan Pink’s findings on repetition and brevity, let’s recap what I’ve shared:

  • Listen (literally) to your music, it could contain hidden subliminal messages about who you are and what you want.
  • If you are having doubts, or scared to start, remember your college days: you did it then and you can do it again.
  • Remind yourself that entrepreneurship rallies others into helping you. Allow your network to supercharge your startup.

Have your own favorite lesson about entrepreneurship? I’d like to hear it. Share it in the comments section below.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Cameron Colquhoun is the founder of London-based Neon Century, the world’s first ethical corporate intelligence company, following nearly a decade of experience with the UK Government and consulting for major Fortune500 and FTSE100 firms on matters of cyber security, big data, terrorism, geopolitics and intelligence analysis. Connect with @NeonCentury on Twitter.


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