My buddy Chuck Cotter, attorney extraordinaire, was a recent guest on TIG Talks. Besides thoroughly enjoying throwing some mutually goodhearted shade, we had a great conversation about raising capital and the common mistakes we see founders make. One important takeaway was the importance of founders being students of the industry. 

 

This is a complex industry, and being one of its entrepreneurs is tough. There are so many aspects to building a successful business and brand. I observe that most founders feel confident in their swim lanes and spend most of their time in those waters. Those lanes are typically product-centric and consumer-facing. Founders tend to be a bit less conversant about capital, M&A activity, and finance. The industry cloaks these aspects in, as Chuck says, “hoity-toity language,” making it harder for founders to understand it fully, and that is doing them a real disservice. 

 

Not allowing this industry-speak to limit your understanding is vital. It may not be exciting to become a student of angel investing, financial terms, and M&A activity, but the knowledge that comes from that study is power. When there is a dissymmetry of information, when it is in the hands of one party and not the other, it puts the ill-informed at a disadvantage. That is where most entrepreneurs find themselves. 

 

My wife, Juliet, gives me a hard time. When I recognize that I have a gap on a topic about which I want to be knowledgeable and conversant, I become a voracious consumer of information. I dig in and learn, even on issues that at first don’t interest me. If I see the value in building a better understanding, I’ll invest the time to study. That usually leads to a houseful of books, magazines, and tv’s playing documentaries. I’ve often found a “boring” topic I start to study becomes more interesting as my understanding grows. It is not always easy to make the time or to invest the mental energy. But I’ve never regretted the effort in the end. I relish being a lifelong learner. I think it is so cool to continue as a student so long after my formal education ended. 

 

To make this article actionable, start a list of topics about which your lack of understanding makes you feel uncomfortable. Go through the list and prioritize it based on the impact it can have on your business. Next to each item, write the name of a person or a source you can find to increase your knowledge. Then dig in and start learning. 

 

One of the best investments you can make in your business is in your education and knowledge. Doing so can tip the scales in your direction and allow you to make better decisions from a more informed perspective. It is hard to make the time and allow for the vulnerability of “not knowing” but, pushing past both will lead you to better results. Do yourself and your business the favor of being a lifelong learner and dedicated student of the industry. It may just be the competitive advantage you need.

 

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