Some Practical Suggestions to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
For the last 10 years, I’ve had the passion and opportunity to experience and study entrepreneurship (some call it art others view it as science). I was a founder and CEO of a startup company. In addition, I was on the leadership team (CEO, CMO, advisory board) in several other start-ups, and have also studied this topic of entrepreneurship. This extensive experience has taught me some valuable lessons, and led me to some important conclusions.
- First of all, the most important decision you need to make is whether or not you should become an entrepreneur. Much has been written and said about this dilemma. I think it’s a very personal decision. It requires that you be truly honest with yourself and clear about your goals and ambitions in life. Also, if you have a family, or in a serious relationship, I warmly recommend to get the okay and commitment from your spouse or significant other. To help guide you in your decision making process, I recommend the following test and check-list by Daniel Isenberg.
- If you decided to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur, the next important decision you need to make is choosing your partner. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this decision. Many entrepreneurs, VC’s, and pundits consider this to be the most important decision you will make in the life of your new venture. I tend to agree with this point of view.
Some good examples are: Jobs and Wozniak, Allen and Gates, Ellison and Lane, Hewlett and Packard, Noyce and Moore, Larry and Sergei, Yang and Filo, well you get the point.
In addition, I found this article by Michael Fertik to be an excellent guide and reference to use in making this crucial decision.
- After you find the right co-founder and partner you can start working on coming up with an idea for your start-up. There are many approaches that one can take in looking for and finding good ideas. I would like to point out that developing your idea is a process.
If you approach it like a project, ask the right questions, avoid falling in love with your first idea, and involve the right people (co-founder, subject matter experts, market experts, potential users/customers, etc.); you should arrive at the end with a good idea to start your venture. Having said that, please keep in mind that most startups end up nothing like their initial idea.
For a more in-depth discussion of this topic I recommend the following article by Paul Graham.
- However, in my humble opinion a good idea is one that can be developed into a strong and unique value proposition (UVP). In my view, which is supported by many studies on this subject, most startups companies fail not due to technology related issues, rather they fail because they never developed a compelling value proposition. I believe that a UVP is the basis for what many pundits call product/market fit.
In my simple terminology, a good idea must address a real problem or a need that people (or businesses) have. It must address it better than any competing or alternative solution. That’s it. That’s the whole theory in a nutshell.
I subscribe to Steve Blank’s approach of Customer Development. The first phase in his process is Customer Validation. The primary objective of this phase is to validate the two most critical hypotheses: Is there a real need/problem? Does our idea offer the best solution to this need/problem?
I strongly suggest that you don’t start your product development, or any resource intensive activity until you have a strong value proposition.
- Having a strong value proposition is a must, and yet it’s not enough to build a profitable, successful company. For that you’ll need a good business model. Developing the right business model for your product and target markets is essential to your long-term success.
I personally found the work of Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, called Business Model Generation to be very useful.
Some Thoughts about Entrepreneurship
- Entrepreneurship is misinterpreted by too many people. At times it seems to me that people see it as a way to become rich fast, and young. The attention and hype surrounding some successful young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, and others, has something to do with that. As a result they come to it with the wrong intentions, goals, and purpose.
- While I respect the achievements of Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, I admire and inspired by entrepreneurs like the CNN Heroes.
- I’m inspired by so-called ordinary people who do extraordinary things every day.
- I’m inspired by entrepreneurs who have a real purpose, driven by a greater cause than just their own success. Who truly want to help others, and make a difference.
- It need not be something huge like another Google, Facebook, or Apple. Even small ventures can make a huge impact, for example Derek Sivers.