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Can you learn entrepreneurship?

You can learn to be an entrepreneur. Like many things in life, there isn’t one type of personality or set of skills that make a great founder. Too often, people look at a few successful founders and draw a single set of conclusions. For instance, we might find that three or four successful people have a great morning routine. We may then assume that to be successful, we also need a morning routine. But this is no different than finding that the Apple co-founders are both named Steve, so you’ll only find success if you are also named Steve.

While many people are born with a disposition towards taking risks or learn grit early in life, this doesn’t mean things can’t be developed over time. In the following syllabus, we will outline key materials that aspiring entrepreneurs should study. This is a living and breathing document that we will continue to update over time. Bookmark it and check back often for new content and excellent references.

  1. What is entrepreneurship?
  2. Are you a freelancer or founder?
  3. The history of great entrepreneurs
  4. The psychology of innovation
  5. It’s about execution, not ideas
  6. Venture Capital Funding basics
  7. Other ways to fund your company
  8. Marketing 101 for startup founders
  9. Sales 101 for startup founders
  10. Intellectual property and startup law
  11. Top startup mentors to follow
  12. Top books for entrepreneurs

There are so many dynamics to a startup. The very idea of innovation requires the exploration of new, different, and unique ideas. Entrepreneurs must break with traditional rules and ways of doing things to blaze an original path forward. Great founders aren’t created by reading a few books. Still, it would be foolish to assume that the study of theory and wisdom of others isn’t helpful. On the contrary, rules aren’t strategically broken without first understanding them.

The intention of this syllabus on entrepreneurship is not to be an exhaustive resource. This is intended, instead, to a curated resource of the top content for aspiring founders.


What is entrepreneurship

It might seem like an obvious question with an easy answer, but it often is not so easy. Some might consider only venture capital type tech companies as entrepreneurship. Others might think of any small business owner. Still, some might think of any sales job or side hustle as entrepreneurial.

Many grow up understanding entrepreneurship because they have a parent, friend, or other family member creating things. Others grow up with no concept of what it means to start something new and create economic value. Here are some resources that help answer these questions.

Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition

“For some, it refers to venture capital-backed startups and their kin; for others, to any small business. For some, “corporate entrepreneurship” is a rallying cry; for others, an oxymoron.”

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Are you a freelancer or founder?

There is a big difference between freelance work and starting a company. Primarily, companies intend to scale and employee people. Freelancers are creating a job for themselves. Founders generate employment for others. Freelancing is an essential and rewarding career, but it is very different from entrepreneurship.

Seth Godin Startup School: Freelancer or Entrepreneur?

Seth discusses creating a monopoly, describes the differences between freelancers and entrepreneurs, and talks about how a business is connected to marketing.

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Freelancer Vs. Entrepreneur Vs. Consultants. Are They Interchangeable?

The difference between being an entrepreneur and freelancer?

  • Entrepreneurs have automation, systems, and employees that work in their businesses that they created without their direct involvement.
  • Freelancers exchange time for money (but you accept a job at a rate that you charge, which is more than a traditional job).
  • The difference between the two is time.

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The history of great entrepreneurs

There is a difference between entrepreneurs and inventors. Though we might often think of innovative people like Thomas Edison, our interest here is on the ability to innovate and take that to market. Here, we want to explore the great capitalists and company builders of the past.

Biography: John D. Rockefeller, Senior

“The impression was gaining ground with me that it was a good thing to let the money be my servant and not make myself a slave to the money…”

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Henry Ford

Henry Ford was nearly 40 when he founded Ford Motor Co. in 1903. At the time, “horseless carriages” were expensive toys available only to a wealthy few. Yet in just four decades, Ford’s innovative vision of mass production would not only produce the first reliable, affordable “automobile for the masses,” but would also spark a modern industrial revolution.

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How America’s First Self-Made Female Millionaire Built Her Fortune

America’s first black female millionaire — and the first woman of any race to become a self-made millionaire — built an empire from nearly nothing in one of the most spectacular rags-to-riches stories in U.S. history.

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The psychology of innovation

Building new things is hard work. It can come with great rewards, but also a significant toll on your body. The following articles discuss the mental health of founders and how this relates to creativity and innovation. The topic of mental health is critical to any exploration of entrepreneurship. It simply does not receive enough discussion. 

The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair–times when it seemed everything might crumble.

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Why startup founders should open up about their mental health

Why does it matter? Because while we talk about grind all the time we forget to admit that there is a much darker side to the entrepreneurship, the one that makes founders feeling down. That, in turn, creates an imbalanced reality when talking about your success and the ways to reach it is fine but sharing your inner struggles is not.

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Are Entrepreneurs “Touched with Fire”?

The findings of this study are important because they suggest an underlying relationship between entrepreneurship and many of the affective, cognitive, and behavioral differences associated with mental health conditions

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It’s about execution, not ideas

Ideas don’t make businesses. Execution is the real game here. Entrepreneurs are those that can do the disciplined work of turning an idea into a company. They have the courage, dedication, and commitment to create new things, not merely think of them.

A Real Guide on How to Find Your Passion

For the things we love most, we sacrifice. Like a martyr who gives his life for a cause he is passionate about, we are willing to struggle and endure for things that have our affection. We dedicate ourselves to those things naturally because of their meaning, not merely because of how they make us feel.

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Ideas Are One Thing But Execution Is Everything

The front end of innovation, or “ideating” is the energizing and glamorous part. Execution seems like behind-the-scenes dirty work. But without the reality of execution, big ideas go nowhere, even in startups.

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Ideation to Execution: Forget the Top Step, Worry About the Next Step

For many of us, coming up with an idea is where the journey ends. We think, “oh, that’d be nice if this existed to solve X problem,” and there it dies. Entrepreneurs are those that go beyond the niceties, pushing forward into the reality of what it takes to make the idea an actuality.

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Venture Capital Funding basics

Venture capital is an industry that many misunderstand. Most of the time, it is not uber-wealthy individuals writing giant checks, nor is the nerf guns and all nigh keg parties you see on TV. Most of the venture capital industry involves fund managers, who are individuals that raise lots of money from other people and invest in specific types of startup opportunities.

The Beginner’s Guide To VC

tl;dr: Tired of being the only person on the couch who doesn’t understand the jokes in Silicon Valley? We’ve got you covered.

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A Guide to Finding Angel Investors in Omaha

This guide should help if you’re you’re struggling to find angel investors in Omaha or around Nebraska. A word of caution, though, before we begin. Never lose focus on business development. Every hour spent hunting for investors is an hour you could’ve spent acquiring more business, which makes finding investment a lot easier. The more traction you have, the more success you’ll have with investors.

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Venture Capital 101: Structure, Returns, Exit and Beyond

A good venture capitalist is a thoughtful, experienced ally, who sits alongside the entrepreneur as a partner and a mentor, knowing full well that their fate is intertwined. Most venture capitalists fall into the following three types — domain expert, operator or networker. 

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Other ways to fund your company

While raising money from Angels or venture capital can be appealing, it’s not right for many companies. Venture funding is focused on outsized returns often associated with tech companies. What if you’re not building a high growth tech company? Or what if you don’t want the intense pressure that comes with venture capital? There are many other ways to fund your startup.

How Profitable Should My Startup Be?

For any startup, there is a balance between profitability and growth. This doesn’t mean, though, that the only two options are burning billions or making a few million. A third option is making just enough profit to cover the founder’s expenses. In doing so, your company sustainable. Many call this ramen profitability. 

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The 10 Most Reliable Ways to Fund a Startup

Of course, every alternative has advantages and disadvantages, so any given one may not be available or attractive to you. For example, professional investors put great priority on your previous experience in building a business, and they expect to own a portion of the business equity and control for the funds they do provide. These are tough for a first-time entrepreneur.

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How to Fund Your Business Startup: 5 Fast and Popular Options

Whether you are in the initial stages of starting your business or looking for additional funding to grow; prepare to be flexible and creative. Remember, your source of funding may not all come from a single place.

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Marketing 101 for startup founders

Marketing for small business owners or startup founders can be a confusing subject. There are so many opportunities out there. The one key to great marketing is consistency. People trust what is consistent – so be consistent in your visuals, messaging, voice, and tone. No matter what kind of company you have, you’re going to need a few basics: a website and visitors. We’ll start our fundamentals of marketing with those subjects.

The Beginner’s Guide To Content Marketing

Content marketing is a relatively new type of marketing that provides free media-type content to customers in exchange for their attention. Unlike traditional advertising which interrupts customers to get noticed, content marketing provides content that customers want in exchange for permission to market a product or service.

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From 0 to Launch: 6 Steps to Building Your First Website

If you’re just messing around and blogging as a hobby – no problem – feel free to use a website template. But, if you’re trying to build a business website, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Bottom line: don’t do it! Here are some reasons why…

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The 61 Best Marketing Tools for Every Business & Budget

The list of recommended tools below is sorted into different sections so you can get a better sense of what tools are available for different functions of the job. At the end, you’ll see the whole list of 61 tools that you can skim and bookmark for later. Nearly 50 of them are free marketing tools, which means the product offers either a free version with limited resources or a select group of tools inside the product that are yours to use at no charge.

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Download 11 Killer Lead Magnet Ideas & Templates

I ran a small experiment in which I tested a handful of new lead magnet ideas, picked the ones that performed the best and then showed them to visitors on relevant pages. In this article, I’m going to share the 11 highest-converting lead magnets from that experiment.

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Sales 101 for startup founders

For young companies, sales are everyone’s job. Often founders have technical or leadership experience, but not a lot of sales experience. Without sales, your company is only a hobby. The following articles will help jumpstart your sales knowledge. Ultimately, though, you need to get out there and start talking to potential customers. 

Noobs guide: B2B vs B2C vs B2D Marketing

This post is aimed at new entrepreneurs, startups, or others in small companies that are looking to grow, especially people who don’t already have marketing backgrounds.

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We Break Down B2B vs. B2C Marketing

Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers aim to capture the attention of two distinct audiences. And although there are many similarities between these types of marketing, how they engage audiences on each channel is actually quite different. First, let’s clarify what B2B and B2C is.

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The future of sales: 6 skills every B2B sales rep needs

Today, a highly personalized approach is a prerequisite, with 75% of prospects being more likely to buy into a customized offer.

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170 Sales Terms From A — Z: The Updated Glossary of B2B Sales Definitions

With the rise of AI, new sales technology and automation at the forefront of the sales echo chamber these days, we thought we’d take a moment to bring it back to BASICS — that’s why we’ve rounded up this complete glossary of sales terms and definitions to help you remember where it all started.

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How Do I Build a Prospecting Plan?


Intellectual property and startup law

First, this is not legal advice. Populus is not a law firm, and you should probably hire a lawyer – so we take zero responsibility for the outcomes of this information (just to be clear). We’ll try to shed some light on a few common questions that come along with starting a new business. Because this is a self-guided startup syllabus, we’re not going to recommend any specific law firms, but we’d be happy to do so if you’d like to contact us.

LLC OR INC: What’s Better for a Startup?

One of the most common questions about starting a business is which legal entity a startup should form. If you’d like to know how to decide what kind of business to form, you’re in the right place.

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When is a Startup Non-Disclosure Really Required?

 If you are totally risk-averse, then push to always get signed NDAs. You won’t last long as an entrepreneur in this category, since a startup is all about taking risks. On the other hand, if you intend to patent an idea, you need a signed confidentiality agreement from everyone knowing details, or you will legally lose patent rights.

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Easy Funding, Financing, and Valuation Documents

While the safe may not be suitable for all financing situations, the terms are intended to be balanced, taking into account both the startup’s and the investors’ interests. As with the original safe, there are still trade-offs between simplicity and comprehensiveness, so while not every edge case is addressed, we believe the safe covers the most pertinent and common issues.

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Top startup mentors to follow

There are a lot of voices out there. Finding a mentor can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Lucky for us, with the internet, we can learn from some of the best around the world. Here are a few of the top voices we would encourage you to follow. This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but we hope it gives you a good start. 

Brene Brown

Ben Horowitz

Seth Godin

Jason Freid

Sara Blakely

First Round Capital


Top books for entrepreneurs

There are a lot of great books out there, but a few really stand above the others for entrepreneurial advice. If you’re looking for a great foundation of startup knowledge, these are the ones we think are must-reads.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why. It was their natural ability to start with why that enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture

“Sadly, most people are not patient enough to reap the fruits of their own labor. Great teams gain their strength and resilience while toiling their way through the valleys, not just from relishing the view from the peaks.”

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. And if you can’t monopolize a unique solution for a small market, you’ll be stuck with vicious competition.”

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