Sometimes, in entrepreneurship, the most useful tools and skills are the ones you’d least expect.
I was reminded of this during a recent road trip with my family when I found myself relying on a random stack of paper cups. We were in the first hour of a seven hour drive home from a visit with my in-laws. My wife was driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat when I looked down and noticed the cups in my door pocket.
“Why do you have these?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my wife shrugged. “My mom gave them to me as we were leaving, and I didn’t know where to put them. That’s where they wound up.”
“Why did she give you paper cups?” I asked.
“No idea,” my wife responded.
“That’s weird,” I said, but I didn’t think more about the cups until 30 minutes later when my young daughters — seven and four — began fighting over a bag of goldfish. “Put some goldfish in a cup for each one,” my wife suggested.
“Great idea,” I replied as I took two cups from the door, filled them with crackers, passed them to my children, and solved the problem. Little did I know, the value of those random paper cups was only just beginning to become clear.
A couple hours later, we were down to one bottle of water and both my children were thirsty. “Good thing we have these cups,” I thought as I filled two of them and handed them back to my daughters.
Another hour passed when my four-year-old began coughing and retching. Not knowing what else to do, I leaned back, held out a paper cup, and she promptly puked in it. Thank God for those cups, I thought, finally appreciating that my mother-in-law knew a trick about long car rides with young children that I hadn’t learned yet. Those simple cups, despite seeming random and irrelevant, were critical to the outcome of our road trip, helping us in a variety of different and unanticipated scenarios.
Just like on road trips, in the startup world, you’ll encounter lots of different and unanticipated scenarios. While paper cups probably won’t help in the majority of them, you’ll be surprised by the kinds of tools that will come in handy. So, just like my mother-in-law drew on her experience to give my family a random stack of cups that became surprisingly useful on our roadtrip, I’m going to share five tools with you that’ll end up being much more valuable to your startup journey than you realize.
Yes, you already know you’ll need to use PowerPoint (or whatever other slide deck software) to build pitch decks. But PowerPoint is much more useful than that.
Think of PowerPoint as your default way of explaining concepts. It should replace writing long, paragraph-based descriptions.
Yes, learning to explain everything in slides is going to feel strange at first, but remember that, despite what you probably learned in school, most people don’t want to read paragraph after paragraph of text. Instead, they tend to prefer visual representations, and PowerPoint is a great way of creating them.
Whether you’re wireframing a new feature for your dev team or presenting a proposal to a client, learn to use slides instead of paragraphs. The result will be better and easier to understand. Heck, I bet this article would even be better in slide-form.
While I’m on the subject of old-school, office-suite tools, let’s talk about Excel (or any equivalent spreadsheet software). Most people think spreadsheets are for accounting, but great entrepreneurs know spreadsheets are good for more than just keeping track of finances. Spreadsheets are a secret weapon for organizing and understanding anything that produces data. The list includes:
- Marketing campaigns
- Sales team productivity
- Fundraising progress
- Keeping score in the office’s round-robin ping pong tournament
- And much more
Personally, as someone who never dealth with any sort of finance work before launching a company, I always assumed spreadsheets were just for the people dealing with money. When I finally learned that’s not true, and when I finally learned to embrace the power of spreadsheets, my productivity quadrupled. From simple CRMs to complex organizational mapping, spreadsheets are something every entrepreneur needs to be good at.
You’re probably not your company’s graphic designer, but every entrepreneur still needs to be able to do some basic graphic design.
Personally, I’m of the generation that learned Photoshop, so that’s my go-to photo editing software, but Photoshop is, admittedly, a complex dinosaur. Any good graphics editor will do (Canva, anyone?). The point is, every entrepreneur needs to learn basic photo editing and image manipulation so they don’t have to pull other team members away from more important work just to tweak some simple graphics for whatever presentation or meeting might be coming up. Get good enough with an image editor to make decent enough graphics to do the job you need, and let your graphics experts focus on the more important stuff they were hired for.
To be fair, HTM probably doesn’t qualify as a “tool.” Nevertheless, I’m including it in my list because every startup founder should have a working knowledge of how to manipulate the code behind websites.
To be clear, I don’t mean every entrepreneur needs to be capable of building enterprise-style web apps. I just mean that good founders should be able to tweak an occasional web page or update something small on a wordpress website. Being able to do so will inevitably save tons of time and hassle.
I know this from experience because, at some point, all startup CEOs urgently find themselves needing a minor change/update/fix on a website. When they don’t know how to do it themselves, they have to scramble to find someone on their tech teams. Even worse, these types of “urgent” matters always sees to occur either late at night, during a holiday weekend, or at some other terribly inconvenient time. As a result, what began as a small issue becomes a major distraction and expense.
This can all be avoided when founders learn a little bit of HTML. Again, you don’t need to be an expert. Just know enough to be able to execute a simple fix in 30 seconds on your own and let your engineering team stay focused on what truly matters.
Admittedly, social media isn’t a specific tool as much as it’s a collection of services and tools. Still, founders need to remember that building companies is about more than just looking inward. Founders have to be public-facing champions for their organizations. In 2023, the best way to do that is via social media.
No, you don’t need millions of TikTok followers to be an effective entrepreneur on social media. But you do need to show the world that you and your startup are actively working hard and making progress, and the best way of doing that is by consistently posting to social media.