How Corporate made me an Entrepreneur

Don’t you just love those fairy-tale start-up stories that inspire us all to dream big and shoot for the stars?  Twitter, Facebook, Apple, these brands are synonymous with the brainy tech entrepreneur making it big in a fortnight. Something we all hope to achieve.

Although we can learn plenty from these inspiring stories, I have found they trip up many aspiring entrepreneurs. It creates the illusion that a multi-billion-dollar idea is enough to launch you into stardom. The reality is slightly different.

From a previous career in corporate, I learned 4 valuable lessons to help entrepreneurs evaluate their expectations and business goals.

  1. An idea is not all you need to make money.

This is one of the fallacies these fairy tales teach us. An idea is rarely enough to make you lots of money. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Your idea may have the potential to create billion-dollar value, that does not mean it will. If you follow NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) we all have the potential to win an Olympic Gold. The question is, why don’t we?

It’s like the laws of motion. Potential energy remains potential energy. Like a boulder at the top of a hill, it has significant potential. This potential is only realized if the boulder can be pushed over the edge. How do we get it there? This brings me to my next lesson.

  1. Teams are more successful.

So, you want to be the Einstein locked up in his dorm room building the next tech breakthrough? Please reconsider. Entrepreneurs need to surround themselves with skilled and experienced people with different perspectives and mindsets that challenge their own.

Having people around to question us improves the quality of the decisions we make. It creates an accountability structure that forces us to stay committed when the billion-dollar idea takes slightly longer than expected. It avoids isolated and one-dimensional thinking in solving problems.

In the long run, teams have a greater chance of success. It is simple odds. You have a larger body of knowledge, broader perspectives and experience, and wider networks to utilize in crafting a successful business.

We are faced with huge demands in the amount of information available to us. Being a generalist will leave your ideas exposed to specialized factors of which you are not aware. Being a specialist exposes you to areas of business and product considerations you are not able to incorporate.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

This is one of the mistakes we make most often. We build products or solutions based on assumptions. Those assumptions are usually determined by whether I would buy my own product. That is like asking a fox if it likes chicken.

If you are serious about providing a solution people want and are willing to pay for, you need to get your hands dirty. You need to test your idea with the people you think will buy it. In this process, I can guarantee, you will learn many new and exciting things about your customers. Some of these lessons you may not like at first. They may create some friction in your current product design. Trust me, it’s much cheaper and easier this way. Market research is critical. That is why many corporates spend so much time and money on R&D. It does not have to be nearly that expensive for you, but it will be if you ignore this step.

Once you have what your customers want, you start selling. Not quite.

  1. Strategy is messy.

This last lesson seems somewhat counter-intuitive. We have this idea about business strategy. It’s thinking that happens in a glass castle on the top floor by men wearing ties and fancy suites. We think that strategy is like a game of chess, with the strategist moving pieces as he deems fit. The other view is militaristic: General commanding troops to conquer an enemy.

These views oversimplify strategy to a system where you have only one enemy or opponent, and the pieces on the board or soldiers in the army have no choice in the matter. With chess, even the possible moves are restricted.

In life, each chess piece, you and I, have freedom of choice. We also have much more than just one hand trying to move us, and they are not all moving us in the same direction. We have many competitors and a changing legal landscape.

Strategy is like playing chess on a Rubix cube in space, where each piece has their own jetpack.

Strategy is about planning and implementation but is it also about how well we respond to changes in our plans and how quickly we can adapt to new information on the go.

Entrepreneurs will do well to dream bigger than ever, but understand that each dream requires foundations laid with wise counsel and real, authentic market feedback. Make sure you build businesses that are flexible and responsive. Be willing to reinvent your business to cater to the changing needs of the most important person, your customer.

*Originally posted here.

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Entrepreneurs and Dog Walking

Don’t you just love those Saturday afternoons when you have an open social calendar? I know, for most of you that doesn’t happen too often, unless you have kids, in which case you might ask, “What social calendar?”

Those afternoons are perfect for napping, or binge-watching series, or veg’ing on the couch doing absolutely nothing at all. Occasionally, my wife and I use this time to go for a stroll in our neighborhood. This is a great opportunity to give our dogs a “night out on the town”.

For the dog lovers among you, we have two adorable canines. One is a Miniature Pinscher. She is a proud little madam who prances when she walks, not dissimilar to a show pony. She is an absolute treat, walking at a steady pace out front enjoying the great outdoors, which considering her size, is great indeed.

Our other dog is a magnificent steed. He is a Pekingese. It is a small breed of dog, fluffy and fierce. He carries his head high, relatively speaking of course, and appreciates as many smells and fragrances as possible. They are called lion dogs. They look like miniature lions and certainly have the hearts of kings.

He asserts his authority every chance he gets, barking in an unintimidating, high pitch while charging down the gates of every poor peasant dog that dares to acknowledge his approach with disdain or aggression.

I find each of these interactions very amusing. Knowing that they are very vulnerable little dogs. With exposed eyes and short jaws, they would come second in pretty much any fight. This does not deter him whatsoever.

As vulnerable as this champion of small dogs is, he helps me realize something. He may be small and insignificant, yet he is the one owning the bigger space. He roams the streets unhindered, unchallenged and free. The larger more imposing dogs foam at the mouth, bark, and growl with intent and aggression, yet they remain constrained by the limits of their yard.

In our minds, there is no world in which a small dog is more powerful than a big dog. The irony is, the very world we live in is precisely such a world. Big dogs are considered dangerous and threatening. They must be on leashes and in yards. Restricted all the time due to the threat they pose. Small dogs live unrestrained because they seem to pose a lesser threat. They have a cute factor that makes people ‘aah’ at the way they try to be dogs asserting their authority.

This is precisely the world young entrepreneurs face. They try to build businesses in a world that does not take them seriously. Their bark is appreciated for its cute factor rather than its imposing authority. They walk around making their presence known to the ‘big dogs’ who aggressively retaliate with barks and growls.

Just like in our neighborhood, the big organizations are stuck behind a fence. They are threatening and therefore must be regulated and watched. Their ability to respond to market forces is hindered and challenging. They may be big, but their yards have limits. They threaten the small dogs to scare them from marking territory right outside the fence.

The truth is, this small dog has a major advantage. It can mark as much territory as it wants, as long as it’s outside the fence. It can rule a much bigger space because it is not threatening.

As an entrepreneur, your cute factor is your biggest advantage. Not being taken seriously is the best thing that could ever happen to you. I encourage all entrepreneurs that your size is much less relevant than the belief in your heart.

Find someone willing to take you on walks to show you the boundaries of the big dogs’ yards. You will notice a world of opportunity. You will find unmarked territory all over your neighborhood.

I encourage you to be brave in the face of the threat. Whether you are an intrapreneur facing the bureaucracy that comes with the structure in bigger business, or an entrepreneur building the next big business; the bark is most certainly bigger than the bite.

The big businesses need you. Whether inside or outside of their formal structure it is you, the dreamer, the visionary, the woman on the ground seeing problems and solutions from which many decision makers are too far removed, that offers a fresh perspective on old problems.

You harbor innovations you owe the world. Do not cower in fear because you are self-conscious about your size. We live in a world where the small dogs are free, free to do what the big dogs want to do, but can’t.

* Originally posted here.

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