Brian Armstrong

Why Jack Welch Is Wrong About How to Start a Business

Jack WelchI have to respectfully disagree with Jack and Suzy Welch in their recent Business Week article about what’s required to start a company.

His message essentially boils down to this: you need a good idea.

He goes on to talk about the horrors of starting a business, including disappearing time, money, freedom, etc, and says that it’s all for nothing if you don’t have a good idea.

This advice is wrong, and heres why:

  1. First off, saying “you need a good idea” is about as helpful as saying “you need to work hard”. Duh. It’s banal and impossible to disagree with, yet at the same time not very helpful to someone trying to start their first business. They already knew that was important, but the problem is that…

  2. First time entrepreneurs don’t KNOW what is a good idea and what isn’t. You can read books, talk with mentors, etc…but until you actually start a business, you won’t really know. You have no experience to base your decisions on.

  3. Finally, even the perfect business idea won’t succeed if you have no idea what you’re doing.

If you wanted to become a great race car driver, would you wait around for the perfect race car before getting on the track? Of course not, because even the greatest race car in the world with an inexperienced driver behind the wheel won’t win races (and will probably crash).

So what do you do? You get started with any old race car you can find so you can start practicing going around the track. As you build experience (and maybe even crash the first few cars) you slowly get better and better until one day you AND a good race car are well matched and end up winning.

I’ve never met a single person starting their first business who was sure it would work, and if they listened to Jack Welch they would never even try. But the people I know who were successful tried their idea out even though they weren’t sure, and learned a lot because of it. The key is to fail quickly and inexpensively, and then pick yourself back up to try again - it is the #1 learning tool at your disposal.

Besides, according to Wikipedia, Jack Welch hasn’t done any startups worth mentioning. The man is brilliant as a manager, but I have to disagree with him in this case.