For any entrepreneur who thinks forming a startup company and launching a new idea will be a piece of cake, with you becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, please rethink your strategy. With so many university and business based incubators and business accelerators promoting entrepreneurship programs, it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon to get going and get your company out there. Look before you leap. Take a diagnostic look at what’s required to be successful.
It sounds impressive to call yourself a CEO or tell your parents’ friends that you are pursuing a degree in entrepreneurial studies. But it doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Darn hard work. An often thankless 24/7/365 job where at times the only person who believes in you is you. Do you have that type of fire in your belly, commitment, and discipline? Do you have that type of leadership?
It’s not what they do tell you about signing up for university courses or competing for business plan competitions or seemingly free and easy money in pitch competitions. It’s what you find out immediately upon entering these programs and competitions – and perhaps choose to ignore – that makes a difference in setting expectations and outcomes.
The first thing that any mentor, TechTransfer department, funder: angel or venture capital investor willingly will tell you is that the overwhelming majority of entrepreneurships fail. Mostly because the wheels come off. The team loses focus – or never had it in the first place. You weren’t all on the same page, sharing the same vision. Your product wasn’t viable or the cost of commercialization becomes daunting. So how will you pivot?
Students teams fail because it’s far more work than you realized. For those taking entrepreneurship courses, it’s not about completing homework assignments. Most of the time there aren’t any. It’s about immersing yourself in the complete experience: you are both the consultant and the lab rat in the entrepreneurial maze. It’s hardly that easy “A” grade that you thought you could get. It involves real-life team dynamics that you will encounter in the real world. If you don’t complete the deliverables or meet milestones, or figure you can get by with the minimum effort as output, you will get thrown under the bus – by the team. No slackers needed. There’s no “right” answer, one “right” way to do things. It’s about probability, choices, decisions, analytical thinking, judgment calls. Are you prepared to participate or simply observe?
For mature business people who decide to become entrepreneurs, regardless of their track record of success in the business world prior to their entry into the entrepreneurial one, one success doesn’t assure entrepreneurial success. Thinking like a mature business is not the same as thinking like an entrepreneur. In fact, it’s 180 degree opposite from what you learned and experienced in status quo work environments. Can your brain make the necessary recalibrations ? Are you flexible, ready to make those all-important pivots necessary to reposition based on new information that you are finding about market, industry, finances, business model? Your assumptions and presumptions are continually going to be tested. Over the long haul.
For academicians, it’s not a matter of keeping on tinkering and hoping some VC investor picks up your technology so you can hire some sales guy or gal to go out there and get your product or platform into the marketplace. In fact, you are the first Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, in addition to being the first Chief Technical Officer – and CFO as well. Oh, and your TechTransfer office isn’t going to market and sell your product for you, either. They are not an ad agency. They are concerned about IP, documentation, and validating your processes and approach to commercialization. Potential customers won’t be lining up to speak with you simply because they want to hear an academic lecture. They want to have a business discussion with you. Do you know how to have one? That’s a lot to digest, especially when you are a tenured and published professor.
Before you jump on the bandwagon with your idea, product, platform, intellectual property, understand the entrepreneurial landscape from this 10,000 foot eagle’s eye perspective. It’s like running a marathon. Anticipate and train your brain, and set and manage your, as well as your team’s, expectations over the long haul.
This may be more of a 3-5 year process, at least, before you achieve your exit strategy. You do have an exit strategy, don’t you?
The wheels, indeed, will start to wobble if not come off your venture at least one time over the duration. That situation may be your first warning of lack of viability of your product, platform, or team.
Entrepreneurship is as much about your idea, product, or platform, entrepreneurship as it is about your ability to lead throughout.
And leadership is not a matter of glorified project management. It’s about how interoperable you are, how knowledgeable you are, and how passionate you are, about all aspects of your organization.
Investors are buying into your ability to lead your start-up through obstacles and challenges.
Have you got what it takes over the long haul? Even when the wheels appear to be coming off your venture?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.