Sunday, October 5, 2014

Entrepreneurship for Parents

             Entrepreneurship as a concept comes in and out of fashion, often based on how frothy the start-up business looks from the outside.  The practical reality is that historically great companies are more often started when financing is slow and often the economy too.  Those without a job sometimes need to start something to pay their bills. 
            But assuming that desperation is a recipe for success is taking too big a leap.  Many successful web based companies founded after the market crash in late 1999 and the early 2000s were begun by those out of work.  But many such founders had both technology-based backgrounds and practical experience (and often great connections).  Starting a company is easy while making it successful long term is difficult.

What you learn in Silicon Valley video

            But we all hear stories such as Spanx in which one woman, Sara Blakely, became a billionaire basically by making a better girdle.  But did she really?  What Blakely did was solve a problem.  Too many women’s clothes require complicated undergarments to wear.  Pushing in a tummy even a little makes a huge difference in how some dresses look.  And the lingerie industry was more focused in helping women look sexy in their underwear and not in helping them actually get dressed (which is what most women spend much time doing).  And she solved the problem creatively, then marketed her idea (perfectly).
            Blakely followed a classic path to entrepreneurship.  She envisioned a concept, made an actual product, sold it and then expanded her line to include other tangential undergarments.  Sara kept things simple and sold a product she understood.
            Most people can do the same by following a few simple steps.  Too often entrepreneurship is over intellectualized by Silicon Valley types who like to own the concept.  Yes, Silicon Valley has a great infrastructure for building a certain type of business.  And that is one which grows at hyper speed, is technology or otherwise intellectual property based and has the potential to go public or be sold (so investors can get their money back).  Such businesses are only a small percentage of those actually succeeding in the real economy.  And parents are perfect starters of business as they know a lot about many things (and for a primary caregiver the more flexible work schedule is a big plus).  Parents usually also have great networks of supporters and test markets.

Life lessons you don't learn in school but should video

            So how do you start a business?  This website course is a quick primer in the basics and is book and video based so busy parents can learn on their own time schedule.  We’re happy to provide feedback on any business plans that result from your efforts and provide suggestions.
            Below is a reading list followed by a  course outline with video recommendations.

How to start a successful business

Reading list
1.     The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki Start
2.     Zero to One by Peter Thiel Zero
3.     Finding the Next Steve Jobs by Nolan Bushnell  Find
4.     The Start-up Game by William Draper Game
5.     The Lean Startup by  Eric Reis Lean
6.     Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Ender

1.     Solve a problem.
a.     There are always new problems.
b.     Identify one that would make your own life better or think more globally and find a macro problem.
c.      Then solve it.
2.     Creatively (with creativity).
a.     See a little into the future if you can.
b.     Otherwise reach across disciplines to find a new way to address the problem.
c.      We’re all creative; we all have a voice and a unique way of doing things.  Find your voice.
3.     Downsize your mission statement but also clarify it.
a.     If you want to change the world then fine, do it.
b.     Most successful companies start smaller; the opportunity matches the size of the problem you’re solving.
c.      Find the solution that you’re comfortable with.  Even small problems that impact many create the foundation for large companies.
d.     Define your mission statement.  People need to believe in something so give them a mission statement that they can take to heart (and by all means avoid the clichés).
4.     Know your domain.
a.     You must know everything about your product, industry, technology, competition, customer and on.  Everything.
b.     And you must understand that knowledge and be able to apply it.  Ultimately, the customer is king (or queen).
c.      Luck has a bigger impact in building consumer based companies.   While luck happens the luckiest people I know work very, very hard.
5.     Fundamentals 1: Business Plan.
a.     What is your goal?  Now, in the short run, long run and in five years?  Ten years?
b.     Be willing to iterate but also have a clear sense of what you’re trying to accomplish.
c.      What is proprietary or different about your product?  What advantages can you defend against competition?
d.     Why now?
6.     Fundamentals 2: Your business model
a.     How do you make money?
b.     How will you market your product?
c.      Who is your customer and what’s your value add?
d.     What experts do you need? 
                                               i.     The foundation of your company matters.
                                              ii.     Set it up legally and structurally the right way.
                                            iii.     Divide responsibilities and stock fairly.
                                            iv.     Who runs things?  Make sure they’re incentives are the same as the company’s
7.     Iteration; what you do if you fail but try not to fail too much.
a.     Iteration is overrated.  It means recovering after you fail (and how many times can you recover?).
b.     By all means test and iterate.  But also study your core premise if you’re failing more than you’re succeeding.  Too many iterations and you’re out of money and business.
c.      But also don’t fear failure.  If you aren’t failing sometimes you aren’t trying anything truly innovative and important.  Sometimes it’s better to fail and find out what doesn’t work (and why) than to not ship.  Keep moving forward.
8.     Competition.
a.     Good or bad?
                                               i.     Many venture capitalists like competition because it shows that a market is worth fighting over.
                                              ii.     Others prefer a monopoly in a small market.
                                            iii.     The reality is that if you find a way to make a profit and don’t have a proprietary advantage to keep the competition out, you will attract competition.
                                            iv.     So how will you address that competition?
9.     Hire good people.
a.     The people you hire are the foundation of your business. 
b.     Train them, give them responsibility and reward them.
c.      Find people that can work together.  Add complimentary skill sets.
d.     Go for culture over all else.  If someone doesn’t fit into your culture don’t hire them.  Businesses with a mission do better than those who don’t have one.
10. Be careful of the experts.
a.     Too many “experts” will tell you why you’ll fail and that you need them to prevent you from doing so.
b.     If the “experts” were capable of doing something then they’d be doing it and not consulting.
c.      Don’t use this reality as an excuse from hiring foundational experts when you need them and whose absence will cost you more in the long run (especially lawyers and accountants).
d.     But follow your vision or hire someone who has that vision to run the company (not get paid to consult without a direct tie to the company outcome).
11. Succeed at one thing then tackle something new.
a.     Pick an area you can dominate, succeed, then move on to the next area.
b.     Amazon is the model in this business model.
c.      What business is tangential to your core business?
12. Succeed.



12 Must Watch Ted Talks:  Watched

Motivational videos: Motivation

Stanford’s ecorner:  Stanford

Steve Jobs on life:  Jobs

Nolan Bushnell: Bushnell

Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity: Gilbert

Daphne Bavelier on video games:  Bavelier

Scott Dinsmore on finding work you love:  Dinsmore

Copyright Megan Lisa Jones 2014

cCopyright Megan Lisa Jones 2014

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