I call myself a WIP (work in process) Entrepreneur. I am using an analogy from the world of manufacturing, where products start as “raw material” (basic parts, nuts, bolts, components etc.) and end as “finished goods”. WIP is the intermediate stage, similar to an unfinished automobile on the assembly line. My entrepreneurial background includes 2 startups that I worked for and 2 that I founded. I am in the process of starting my next company and so writing this blog post is reminding me of some of the important lessons that I have learned from my prior experiences. I hope you find these valuable.
Here are some tips:
SELL WHAT MARKET WANTS: One mistake that new entrepreneurs make is trying to sell products/services that customers either do not want or do not understand. In the latter case, expensive marketing resources are needed to convince prospects about the value of your products/services. At my last company (Highlander Systems) I made the former mistake (i.e., trying to sell what the customer did not want!) until I opened my eyes/ears to what the market was looking for.
GOOD PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT: An important tenet in the world of business is the ability to “find, acquire, develop and retain talent”. At one of my startups it was difficult to both find as well as develop talent. Once I realized that I could not develop (i.e., train, teach etc.) the available talent, either at that time or in the future, I decided to redirect my efforts.
KEEP OFFERING SIMPLE & FOCUSED: It is tempting to try to offer a little bit of everthing – some entrepreneurs use the term “end to end” solutions/products etc. The problem with this approach is that in smaller organizations customers look for specialized skills. You are more likely to acquire customers if you have a narrow focus on a few related products/services. Focus, focus, focus … it always works!
DO WHAT YOU ENJOY: I am one of those entrepreneurs that likes to “do the work.” If I have to do some or all of the work (depending on the stage of the company) I prefer to do what I enjoy – in such a situation I do not view myself as “working” … instead I am genuinely having fun. Remember that phrase: “if you do what you like you would not have to work a day in your life”.
EXPERIMENT: At my last company we started as a “sales & marketing consultancy” where we delivered sales training to companies, then we became an “advisory company” where we attempted to advise startups on business and fund-raising strategies, then we spent 8 months trying to sell enterprise software and finally reverted back to a “sales and marketing consultancy.” Why? Because we were trying to figure out what we could offer/sell to the market. We had to experiment with different offerings until we determined the right business to be in.
DO NOT DO IT JUST FOR THE MONEY: This is an important lesson for all entrepreneurs. It is natural to pursue entrepreneurship in the quest for wealth. One of my favorite billionaires, J.P. Getty, said that the best way to make money is by starting your own business. Once, when someone asked him the secret to making money, he said “…wake up early, work hard … and strike oil.” 😉 I think you can substitute “oil” with the current flavor-of-the-day. What I enjoy most about starting and running my own business is the freedom, control and ability to fully apply my talents. Experts say that if you do what you like you are more likely to make money. Personally, I believe that it is very difficult to make a lot of money in a short time span with minimal risk (I heard this on CNBC TV). I love what I do and whether or not I make money does not bother me .. as long as I can do the things I enjoy I will continue to be happy.
LEARN VALUE OF MONEY: My last venture (Highlander Systems) is a fully personally-bootstrapped business (i.e., I am funding it with my own money AND time.) In the last 22 months I have undergone extreme stress due to financial crunches, limited funds etc. I have learned first-hand about capital efficiency. It’s a unique feeling to see ones own hard-earned money (my own, NOT a gift from my parents or future wife or whoever … my very own 😉 ) work and not work for you. One of the most rewarding moments of my latest venture was the day I paid myself from funds that my company earned – it was just a little bit less than what Larry Ellison earns, but I was happy 🙂
KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN: One of my favorite beer commercials ends with this phrase – the message is to stop drinking when you know you have had too much. If you feel that you need to change direction have the courage to do so. Never worry about prestige, pride etc. You control your own destiny and nobody can take away from you what you have accomplished. You grade yourself! In my case I have always given myself an A+ (the best grade) for effort, passion, strength, composure and most importantly … personal happiness!
Good luck with your journey … if you have already started on the path of entrepreneurship then you are already successful!
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you ….