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.