Ah the dream of being your own boss, creating something from nothing, promises of financial freedom – these are the traditional lures of becoming an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneuring” as I like to call it is much different from most trades in that being an entrepreneur is being in the business of creating a business. This essentially means that there is a new level of complexity to manage – it’s not just your product (i.e. selling you new amazing widget, or providing an innovative new service) that you have to manage but also every other facet of creating, managing and growing a business.
I’m one of those people who started late in life – at 43 years old I had one of those moments of epiphany. I woke up one morning in a Tokyo hotel on a brutal world tour of a product I was promoting for one the world’s largest Internet company. In a moment of clarity I felt much like a medieval serf contemplating the rest of my life tilling the same soil for the rest of my life. Couple that with this gnawing feeling I’ve had for doing something more substantial with my life than just walking up and going to the same office day in and day out. Now mix that with a great idea that I felt had to get created and voila – instant entrepreneur. This all happened three years ago (2007) and I haven’t looked back.
In the last three years I have learned more about business and more importantly more about myself than any other time in my professional life. You’ll need to be ready for that. Mix these elements together and you will improve the odds of having a successful venture.
Business model not business plan – Really anyone can sit down in front of an Excel spreadsheet and crunch some numbers. It looks the same with every entrepreneur that comes to me for advice – the story starts like this “If I sell 5 million widgets at $xx.xx then this company will be profitable next week”. Of course I exaggerate to make the point – rely on the intrinsic value your product and how it’s value flows. Here’s an example with my company. Gogobeans sells a service that allows users the ability to not only keep their digital life organized and accessible anywhere in the world but more importantly the ability to share that privately with friends and colleagues. We started out with the usual “this is really cool so let’s charge a dollar a user per month and eventually we’ll get to ten million users (because we’re so cool – yeah right) and we’ll be laughing to the bank. What we missed is the value of a digital locker solution is the ability to share privately with friends – while many of our customers found our service to be incredibly useful – the plan fell apart when their friends had to pay for using the service as well. We quickly noticed that and adjusted our model. We converted to a free service with a premium upgrade for power users. This way everyone gets enough of the value at the free level and the service spreads naturally. Well this not only helped us grow exponentially but helped us garner a twenty five fold valuation with our investors. The aha moment came when we removed barriers to entry and we didn’t see it by sticking to the original business plan.
Driving desire – You’ll need to keep the desire amped up for two reasons. On one hand you’ll need it to push through your own limits as challenges in creating a business crop up – and believe me they will crop up all the time. The other reason is that you’ll have to be constantly enrolling employees, partners, investors on why they should stick with you through the lean times of the journey.
Ask yourself everyday – how am i helping? This piece of advice is akin to “Keeping your eyes on the ball”. Providing value to your customers (real value and not perceived value) is the one thing that will help ensure success above all else. If your product or service is valuable, it will be like falling off a log – it just happens. Every morning I wake up and ask that very same question – ask it enough times and you’ll be surprised on some of the answers you get.