Commentary

Startup Briefs


entrepreneurship quoteI have always counseled my students to read the first 50 pages of a business book, and the last 50 pages. I advise them to skim, or even skip, the middle ~200 pages. Authors generally write their strongest argument in their first 50 pages, and they summarize what they said throughout the book in the last 50 pages. The middle sections generally go into more detail about they already said. Why can’t a book be shorter and say what should be said in only those first 50 (or the last 50) pages? It can. Let’s cut to the chase – “Startup Briefs.”

I envision a book, a series of essays that I will publish in this blog, to be called “Startup Briefs.” As a book it should comprise at most 50 pages. If I can’t say what I want to say about startups in 50 pages then I am not telling the story right. “Startup Briefs” are, as the title says, brief: a few pages on each topic, a few examples, a few lessons learned, a few insights – those are what I can offer.

The target audience for this book is those people who want to learn about startups, who don’t already know the information herein, and for those who prize their time more than other assets and want to streamline the experience of learning something new.

Because startups are fundamentally about doing not pretending, doing not philosophizing, doing not thinking, and certainly doing not reading! You can’t become a successful entrepreneur by reading a book. But you can learn some useful lessons, some things to avoid, and gain the confidence to do what you need to do – startastartup!

Essential lesson #1: Demystifying entrepreneurship
Everyone knows that entrepreneurship is sexy. Is this truth or myth? You decide. What I know is that entrepreneurialism has become hot, a thing, a career track, a viable option. Most colleges and universities offer at least a course (or a few) in entrepreneurship. Some offer programs, major, minors, masters’ degrees. Why? Because the world has changed in terms of how people, particularly students, vies a career. The idea of having a single career is dead. People have career tracks now, but those tracks often wander; they are never straight – not any more. Even working for a big company, while it may seem more secure, is often not, as lay-offs, reorganizations, and restructurings abound. Anyone can get caught in that current and be carried away.

As an alternative career to a traditional approach, entrepreneurship is in – being in charge of your own destiny, that kind of thing. But being an entrepreneur is hard. It’s the hardest thing that you will ever do. It’s rewarding, but hard. It’s fun, but hard. You can win or you can lose; either way it’s hard. Being in charge of a startup is not a straight path. It’s not just crooked – the entrepreneurial path is treacherously unpredictable. So, this life is not for everyone. You have to have the stamina, the will to survive, the never ever give up philosophy, what I call “sticktoitiveness.” You have to have what it takes. Because it will take that and then some.

Are you up to the challenge? Do you want this more than anything? What drives you towards entrepreneurship? Is it because it’s a popular thing to do, or because you are driven like a maniac to solve problems, create solutions, and climb the mountains that are necessary to get to the Happy Valley where customers live (and buy your product)?

More than passion, you need strength of character, flexibility, decision-making skills, and the ability to recruit others to your cause. You have to embody salesmanship and be able to win over those who are skeptical. If that’s you, great. If not, take a second look. Work for a startup. Intern with one. Volunteer to help mentor one. Stay for a few weeks or months. If you are still up for it, then proceed. Otherwise re-evaluate your career options and take another look at the various paths in front of you.

diverging-dirt-pathsRemember, not all paths diverge. There are multiple jumping on and jumping off points along the way. You will get smarter as you gain experience. One choice is not for all time. But the choice to be an entrepreneur is not one to be taken lightly.

If you are going determined to be entrepreneurial, then do it right. Use what I call the Pinocchio principle: if you want to walk and talk like a real boy, not a wooden puppet, in other words if you want to be a real company, then make sure that you are solving a real problem, that you have a viable solution, that customers WANT what you are developing, and that you have what it takes to see this through. Develop a strong advisory board that will do that – give you advice – and a startup board of directors that will teach you how to run a board and be a professional – a real – company.

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  • Yes Babs, I like the idea of reading the first 50 and last 50 pages of a business book. Also, your advice given to me almost 5 yrs ago about creating an advisory board still serves me today. Thanks for continuing to write such helpful articles.