Month: March 2014

“In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” – Edward P. Tryon

One reason entrepreneurs start their own company is because they simply can’t work for someone else.  There are plenty of great, inspiring books extolling the virtues of “entrepreneurial independence”.  Another motivation for owning one’s destiny is the opportunity to create wealth.  You have a set amount of time on the planet and entrepreneurs choose to use theirs to create wealth for themselves as opposed to shareholders of a corporation.  All good stuff!

And there there is the issue of control.  Entrepreneurs who demand control of everything will struggle…for two reasons.  First, you can only control a fraction of the variables you encounter.  You can’t make customers buy the product and you can’t make investors invest.  You have no control on how your competitors react and let’s not get started on employees.  And then there’s a little thing called the world economy that can eliminate profitable markets overnight.

The other reason for the stuggle over control is you’ll never get there by yourself.  You will need partners, investors and key employees.  You will have to share equity with these people and in doing so, you are sharing control.  With apologies to Bob Dylan, if you’re building a high growth startup, you’re still going to have to serve somebody; customers, investors, shareholders.

If this is going to be a problem, then you should take another look at the Food Truck (but then there’s the Health Department…)

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

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“We’re gonna fix it till it works!” – Connie

The conversation took place at an entrepreneurial symposium at a national lab.  A researcher named Connie was talking about her research in the context of starting a company.  Her excitement was contagious as she was applying what she had learned about customer needs to the development of the technology she hoped to be the basis of a future startup.  She said, that the prototype didn’t perform the way she wanted it yet but said “We’re gonna fix it till it works!”

Her determination was inspiring.  She had made the transition from proving what is possible to delivering a solution to a problem.  She’s an entrepreneur.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

 

“Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks of himself. ” – Dale Carnegie

The key to a successful conversation is to get the other person to reveal enough about themselves so you can tell them an interesting story.  The key to telling a good story is to engage your audience in away that relates to their experience.

Know thy audience!

Don’t give a technical presentation to a group of investors.  They are interested in markets, value propositions, and how they can make money.  They don’t care as much about the engineering.  You would’t want to give a funding pitch to a group of customers.  They are interested in solving their problems, not how big the market is.

When you are at a networking event and meet someone new, the first thing out of your mouth should be, “tell me about what you do.”  Then your elevator pitch can be instantly customized to what your one-person audience really wants to hear.

Entrepreneurial Flattery!

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

 

“We’re all naked underneath” – Dr. Who

This quote found it’s way into three conversations last week.  Each time the person was anxiously anticipating a meeting with someone of influence and power.

Despite all the egos, positions, wealth and cultural trappings that serve to distinguish ourselves from each other, people are still people.  Unless you’re a jerk, there is no reason to be anyone else but yourself (although there is research to support that jerks are generally unaware they are jerks so the principle still applies).

During times you are the focus of attention; the board meeting presentation, the performance observation, the funding pitch, the oral book report – these are really opportunities for you to continue the narrative of your life.  That is, you get to tell another part of your story.  Make sure the story is yours and not someone else’s you invent.

And give yourself a break.  The outcome may not go your way for a slew of reasons which you have no control.  Stress will only keep you from being you.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Your number one job is DROC” – Barry Goss

DROC is “Don’t run out of cash”.

You can’t wait until you have 3 weeks of cash left to get serious about raising funding.  If you need Venture Capital, it takes 4- 6 months at best to close a deal and that’s only if you have an impending term sheet.

SBIR’s take several weeks to write and if you are awarded a grant, it takes three months for the check to arrive.

Even debt funding takes time for small businesses and you will have to go to more than one institution.

The time to raise capital is when you don’t need it.  Desperation does not improve your chances.  It shows you failed to plan for the next round of funding or that you misspent the capital you had.

You are always selling and you are always raising capital.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

Nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before” – Austin Kleon

There is no lack of great ideas in the world.  It’s amazing how a solution to one type of problem and be adapted to solve another.  The advantage of a first mover is obviously the brand recognition and the opportunity for quick market share but there is a risk.  Others can see where the first mover fell short, tweak their product to cover it and now you have competitors.  This is healthy and good.

This is also where niche markets are created.  There is always a set of potential customers who are not well served by the prevailing market leader.  Maybe it’s features or price.  Maybe it’s a completely different demographic altogether.

There are two principles to be gained here.  First look for problems that need a solution and look around you.  Someone may have figured out the solution for a different problem.  Second, look for those who didn’t buy into the prevailing product offering and understand why.  You may have discovered a profitable niche.

Austin Kleon has a new book – “Show Your Work”.  I am sure there are great quotes to follow.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

There was a report on NPR about a town in Wisconsin where 90% of the people there have living wills.  The national average is around 30% so the reporter set out to find out why.  Her efforts led to one guy who is a medical ethicist at the local hospital, whose job included helping families make difficult decisions at end-of-life.  He set out to try to make the process easier by encouraging people to consider filling out a simple living will form when they first get sick.  The hospital staff caught on and now 9 out of 10 people have a living will.

There was another story about organ donations in Michigan, which ranked 44th in the country.  Within the last few years, they have increased organ donor registrations to 7th place in the country.  The short version of this fascinating story is that they figured out how to enlist the DMV workers to simply ask everyone if they wanted to sign the organ donor card.  Period!

Change starts with individuals who set out to solve problems they face everyday.

Sounds like entrepreneurship to me.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“If you’re too afraid to mess up, you’re too afraid to do better.” – Coach K

We work hard to achieve something that works and is profitable.  The next thing that occurs then is the push for efficiency so it takes less and less time to accomplish routine things.  This is the birth of bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy puts boundaries around people and processes.  That is it’s purpose; efficiency!

Out of these boundaries come rules and once you have rules, there are only two possibilities; follow them or break them.  We are are taught from an early age how important it is to follow the rules.  Those that break them get punished and those that call attention to the stupidity of arbitrary rules are branded as rebels and malcontents; all bad.

So now we have a culture where people are afraid to “mess up.”  Here’s the thing:  If you don’t ever mess up, you’ll never be any better than you are right now.  Innovation, self awareness, and growth itself all come from tearing down what we know and are comfortable with and constantly rebuilding, learning from both what works and what does not.

This is the job of the entrepreneur; fail until you find what works, build that up and then start all over again.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Always be yourself, unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate.” – Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice

This comes from a FB post of very good friend and it’s a nod to our common alma mater, East Carolina University. Our football team is very good and somehow manages to maintain an underdog sensibility despite winning most of their games.  And swagger?  Forget about it!

The quote also winks at a quote from Steve Jobs.

It speaks to a personality trait many entrepreneurs have that caused them to shun the safety and boundaries of a conventional corporate career and strike out on their own to achieve something they just have to do.  It’s not so much about being anti-social as it is having the freedom to pursue a course of your choosing without the artificial roadblocks that are endemic of bureaucracies and institutions.

But there’s a dark side.  Having success means you have stolen marketshare from someone else.  They won’t like it.  They will fight back to protect what they have.  It could get dirty but it’s better any day than driving a cubicle toward retirement.

Don’t join the Navy. Be a pirate!  Always!

Thanks for the quote Choo.  Keep buckling those swashes.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson