Some of the best advice you can give yourself comes from the person you see in the mirror each morning. Do you want to stay in the game or do you want to give up and let go of your entrepreneurial dream, your startup dream? When is it “time” to make either choice?
You start your venture with passion, commitment, what you feel is a great idea, and possibly a few team members. Some of you create your own think-tank, completely design, implement, execute and then go to launch and simultaneously attempt to get early adopters and funding. Others of you, who know better and have been educated and coached through the startup process, put your venture through a tough – and constant – customer feedback / redesign loop.
Here are eight tips to keep in mind as you evaluate whether you have an expensive hobby on your hands or a real, live start-up that is viable in your market spaces.
Tip #1 – Entrepreneurship isn’t an academic exercise. What you learn in books isn’t necessarily the way your venture plays out in the investment and commercial marketplace. It’s not a recipe. It’s dynamic.
Tip #2 – You have a hobby unless you get outside of your head. Otherwise, you are designing your product, service or platform for an audience of one: yourself. Speak with your constituents, with hundreds of potential users /customers /investors (yes, I just said hundreds, not one or two, not your grandmother who loves you and wouldn’t tell you if your idea was lousy or not).
Tip #3 – Be courageous. If you cave in when you receive negative feedback from an investor or customer or beta user, it’s time to re-examine your passion and commitment to your venture. One negative comment isn’t a reason to cave. One positive comment isn’t a green light to launch. It’s only a data point, a sample size of n = 1. Grow that sample population to 100 and then re-evaluate.
Tip #4 – Friends, family, your professors, and bootstrapping are not investors. They are enablers. They want you to be successful. They want you to learn how to be an entrepreneur. That doesn’t mean your current venture is a slam-dunk success, your one and only pathway to investment heaven and market dominance. Learn the process first. Then make perfect, potentially on your next venture.
Tip #5 – Be prepared to fire yourself. Are you the rate-limiting step that’s preventing your venture from marketplace acceptance? Are you hanging on to a particular concept or way of doing things that isn’t borne out by the experience of: a) your team; b) your customers (you know, the hundreds you are having customer discovery conversations with), or c) a whole heck of a lot of investors who are extremely familiar with the space in which your venture resides. Perhaps it’s time for you to make a pivot or two, before you lose the rest of your team along the way.
Tip #6 – Be prepared to fire your team. What’s your team all about? Are they your good buddies, going along for the entrepreneurial ride? Or are they as passionate, committed, and talented as you need them to be to move your venture forward? There’s a point in the entrepreneurial journey where one or more of the founding partners doesn’t recognize their original idea or process anymore, doesn’t want to work as hard as you do, decides to spin off their own venture, or simply goes away. Will that potential situation derail your team and subsequently your venture?
Tip #7 – Communicate. With your team, with your mentors, with your investors, with your customers, with your industry. If you perceive your venture as an “if I get funding to build it, they will come” business model, you won’t get funding in the first place. If you can’t articulate your value proposition to your team members, you won’t be able to attract and engage customers. If you are intimidated about communication, learn from the professionals.
Tip #8 – Know when to pivot, cave in, let go, or tell folks to take a flying leap. It’s not always a black and white, go/no-go situation. Customer and investor conversations give you a lot of information. Friends, family and bootstrapping creates a lot of pressure in your early, pre-seed stage. Eventually, as the CEO of your venture, the bottom line literally is your call. What does your gut tell you to do, based on solid experience and data? Good. Now tell everyone else, including your marketplaces.
What have been your experiences with your startup?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo back into small and mid-sized businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. She builds vibrant revenue-producing business strategies for technical start-ups seeking investors and early customers.