Not understanding and agreeing what “Entrepreneur” and “Startup” mean can sink an entire country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
I’m getting ready to go overseas to teach, and I’ve spent the last week reviewing several countries’ ambitious attempts to kick-start entrepreneurship. After poring through stacks of reports, white papers and position papers, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.
Venture Capitalists who are serious about turning their firms into more than one-fund wonders may want to have their associates actually start and run a company for a year. Running a company is distinctly different from simply having operating experience – (working in bus dev, sales or marketing.) None of that can compare with being the CEOof a startup facing a rapidly diminishing bank account, your best engineer quitting, working until 10pm and rushing to the airport and catching a redeye for a “Hail Mary” close of a customer, with your board demanding you do it faster.
How to build regional entrepreneurial communities has just gotten it’s first “here’s how to do it” book. Brad Feld’s new book Startup Communities joins the two other “must reads,” (Regional Advantage and Startup Nation) and one “must view” (The Secret History of Silicon Valley) for anyone trying to understand the components of a regional cluster.
For many entrepreneurs “raising money” has replaced “building a sustainable business” as their goal. That’s a big mistake. When you take money from investors their business model becomes yours.
I had a group of ex-students out to the ranch who were puzzling over a dilemma – they’ve been working hard on their startup, were close at finding product/market fit and had been approached by Oren, a potential angel investor. Oren had been investing since he left Google four years ago and was insisting on not only a board seat, but he wanted to be chairman of the board. The team wasn’t sure what to do.
Every startup I see invariably puts up a competitive analysis slide that plots performance on a X/Y graph with their company in the top right.
The slide is a holdover from when existing companies launched products into crowded markets. Most of the time this graph is inappropriate for startups or existing companies creating new markets.
Here’s what you need to do instead.
Investors sitting through Incubator or Accelerator demo days have three metrics to judge fledgling startups – 1) great looking product demos, 2) compelling PowerPoint slides, and 3) a world-class team. Other than “I’ll know it when I see it”, there’s no formal way for an investor to assess project maturity or quantify risks. Other than measuring engineering progress, there’s no standard language to communicate progress.
Eric Ries was kind enough to invite me to speak at his Lean Startup Conference.
In the talk I reviewed the basic components of the Lean Startup and described how we teach it. I observed that now that we’ve built software to instrument and monitor the progress of new ventures (using LaunchPad Central), that we are entering the world of evidence-based entrepreneurship and the Investment Readiness Level.
Larry had the DNA I’ve seen common with all the successful entrepreneurs I’ve backed in my 25 years of Venture Capital work—only he had a more exaggerated case than most. Without a doubt, Larry was the most potent entrepreneur I’ve known. It was a gift to be able to work with him and see him in action.