When I was in high school, I was told by my teachers and adult mentors to strive to be the all-around student — the student that excelled in all sports, all academic subjects, and all extracurricular activities. But while this might be what most universities and employers looked for in the past, deep knowledge is the new way to stand-out, especially for entrepreneurs.
Developing a deep knowledge of an industry or problem is imperative for any entrepreneur seeking to start a company. Take it from Eric Wu, one of the young entrepreneurs that I interviewed for my book.
“Walk into a CVS and see what industry you can disrupt,” said one of Eric’s earliest mentors.
This was a piece of advice that Eric Wu received that inspired his company Gainful, a company that delivers personalized protein powder straight to the consumer’s doorstep.
Eric graduated from Georgetown University in May 2017 as a science, technology, and international affairs major in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. Originally from Los Angeles, Eric says that he has always been an entrepreneur at heart. But he never would have called himself entrepreneur until he competed in the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative’s pitch competition.
After discovering that he was interested in all things entrepreneurship, technology, and startups, Eric actively immersed himself into the community at Georgetown and beyond the university’s front gates.
Last summer, Eric also was a fellow at True Ventures where he did marketing work for one of its portfolio companies: Hatch Baby. Through True Ventures, Eric was inspired by a colleague he met who started a personalized hair coloring company. She described the product offerings for hair coloring as unfit for her preferences as a customer and thought they looked tacky. She recommended to Eric that he walk into CVS and see what industry he could disrupt, which he took to heart. As he walked along the aisles, he quickly realized how hyper-masculine the protein powder section was. Eric did not find this appealing, as he believes that people of all kinds — whether hyper-masculine or not — can benefit from protein powder. So he decided to do something about it.
Before launching Gainful, Eric had to learn all about the health and fitness industry. While he used protein powder before Gainful, he spent lots of time researching what is already out there: the major competitors, their products, and where they sell their products. It was by no means easy, but he had to become an industry expert to make Gainful a success.
Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, explains that according to his research, the infamous 10,000 hours to learn anything is in fact, untrue. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in an ultra-competitive field but to go from knowing nothing to being pretty good, actually only takes 20 hours.
I think you can carve out 20 hours to at least get started.
To do this, I recommend setting SMART goals to accomplish this principle. SMART goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound goals. For example, if Eric was to share a SMART goal about how to develop deep knowledge, his goal would look something like the following: I want to research the protein powder industry online for 30 minutes every day for two weeks and talk to at least three experts on the phone in this timeframe.
When setting goals, you should think about the following questions.
- Is the goal specific? Learning all about the health and wellness industry may be too general. For Eric, he wanted to learn about protein powders, specifically customizable protein powders. That’s specific.
- Is the goal measurable? How long do you want to give yourself to develop this deep knowledge? If you want to follow Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA, maybe you should dedicate 20 hours to learning about the industry to become at least pretty good. But I’d recommend more.
- Is the goal action-oriented? Don’t just create a goal that says to learn about the industry but make a goal that outlines how you will learn about it. Maybe through online research, by talking to experts, or anything in between.
- Is the goal realistic? Like many Gen Z-ers, much of your day is probably full of school commitments. So if you try to make it a goal to do 8 hours of research per day, that’s probably not realistic. There are only so many hours in a day.
- Is the goal time-bound? Last, but certainly not least, you want to make sure you give yourself a deadline. If you don’t, it becomes easy to procrastinate and you’re more likely to not achieve the goal.
According to Kumon, a network of renowned learning centers for children, setting goals leads to having a higher sense of purpose, which will further motivate you to achieve your goals. While learning about an industry or problem can be interesting, it is seen by many as one of the less glamorous lessons in the book. However, it is critical to your success.