How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

Last week, the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) hosted Altar Live CEO Stephanie Leathe ’16 and COO Andrew Amann for Open Coffee—a weekly story hour where students can learn about the opportunities and challenges of starting a business from real nonprofit leaders and small business owners.

Just over a year ago, Leathe left her assistant director position at CEL, so that she could bring an online video conference platform to faith communities when they needed it most. In the middle of a pandemic, Leathe had created a digital platform that would restore much of the intimacy we typically associate with in-person church gatherings. Through Altar Live, attendees can see which people are watching the livestream, grab virtual seats next to friends and mingle with newcomers in a virtual lobby after the service.

In sharing Altar Live’s mission and origin story, Leathe and Amann reflected on some important lessons and gave students some helpful advice for how they can start thinking like entrepreneurs at every stage in life, so perhaps they’ll resonate with you too.  

1. Team Up with People Who Have Different Talents Than You

Leathe and Amann likened startups to a team sport. The myth is that one person comes up with all the ideas and runs the whole show. In reality, it’s essential for a startup to have a team of people with different skill sets who can ideate, challenge each other and then execute a plan over and over again

2. Fall in Love with Your Problem, Not Your Solution

The key to starting a business is not coming up with the most amazing solution; it’s becoming an expert in the problem, reminded Leathe and Amann. No matter how this problem evolves, you have to be adaptable, test your own assumptions, and step into your customer’s shoes. To truly meet a need, you have to experience the problem you are trying to solve. It’s the hardest part of building a startup, but it’s essential. After all, how can you create a product for a need you don’t actually understand?

3. Be Willing to Start Over

When starting a business, you constantly have to ask yourself and your teammates, “Are we focused on the right thing?” It’s easy to get sidetracked and mistakes are part of the creative process, so you’ll have to throw out ideas, prototypes and messaging strategies you’ve invested time and energy into—until you learn what actually works, Leathe explained. If you can’t let go of something when it’s not working, your startup won’t survive.

In telling their story, Leathe and Amann demonstrated how startups can reach a state of flourishing after a lot of trial and error. This is what often prevents people from starting a business in the first place. Yet, when these labors of love are seen as a normal and constructive part of the entrepreneurial process, aspiring business owners will feel more empowered to act—believing that these early errors aren’t signs of failure, but precursors to startup success.

Learn more about the where and when of Open Coffee