Monday, April 2, 2012

Guest Post from Thomas Waite


Jump Start Your Start-Up

“Write what you know” is perhaps the most quoted saying about writing. Though it is likely apocryphal, it is most often attributed to Mark Twain. P.J. O’Rourke, on the other hand, has said that any creative writing teacher who utters these words should be “confined to a labor camp.”
No matter. When I started forming the plot for Terminal Value, I confess that I did start by writing what I knew—specifically, what it was like to be an entrepreneur who decided to take a gamble and start a company. Make no mistake: MobiCelus bears no resemblance to my firm, and Dylan is not me! However, the experience of taking the plunge of starting an enterprise, and then making the difficult decision of whether or not to sell it, is definitely familiar territory.
I’m often asked for advice from would-be entrepreneurs who seem to think that I know what the magic sauce is that will ensure success. I don’t. No one does. Indeed, data from the U.S. Small Business Administration show that, regardless of the year when they are founded, the majority of start-ups go out of business within five years, and two-thirds are no longer operating after 10 years.
What are the keys to launching a successful start-up? While there are many experts out there who have published thousands of books and articles on this subject, most seem to have differing views (though pretty much everyone will tell you it all begins with a great business plan). By all means, read up. But, based own my own experience, here are seven things to consider:
First, have a very clear vision of exactly what your business will be. One way to do this is to create a unique customer value proposition—basically, a statement that defines your business from the customer perspective. It clearly and concisely identifies your most desirable customers, defining what unique and attractive value you can deliver and how it is that only you are able to deliver it.
Second, make sure you are well financed. How much you need depends on what kind of business you are going to launch. Some require a lot of money, and you may need to seek financing or be backed by venture capitalists. (Warning: taking money from venture capitalists means you are ceding some degree of control of your enterprise to others, which may come back to haunt you!) Others require far less capital. I funded my business myself by not taking any income for the first year. Of course, not everyone can do that.
Third, be dogged about lining up your customers—preferably before you even get into business. Talk to prospects, tell them what you plan to do, gauge their interest, and if possible see if you can get a commitment. This is critical—I’ve met too many entrepreneurs who spend endless hours fiddling with what their logo should look like when they should be taking potential customers to dinner!
Fourth, assemble the very best people you can possibly find. There is an old adage that “A” players attract “A” players, and “B” players attract “C” players. Don’t just hire people for the skills you need; hire people who are so good they scare you. If you think that they could someday take your job, you’re definitely on the right track.
Fifth, run your business very lean. No need for fancy offices, furnishings, or employee perks when you are getting started. What money you do have you’ll want to focus on two simple things: marketing and selling as efficiently as possible, and delivering value that far exceeds your customers’ expectations. Quickly building a strong reputation is everything.
Sixth, stay adaptable. Markets change, innovation is a constant, and your business can easily be demolished by a disruptive technology that makes what you offer no longer relevant. Pay attention to what is going on that could blindside you, not only in your part of the business world but in others.
What is the seventh key to success? Guts. I can’t tell you how many incredibly brilliant people I have met in my life who talk endlessly about starting a business—but never do. Yet there are plenty of successful entrepreneurs who didn’t get a fancy MBA from Harvard. They just did it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Simple. After a year or two, if it doesn’t work out, you just go get a regular job like everybody else.


About Thomas Waite

Thomas Waite is an author, entrepreneur and consultant whose writings have appeared in such publications as the Harvard Business Review and The New York Times and he has been featured in a wide variety of media, including CNN Money and a number of cable news programs. As an entrepreneur, he founded and co-founded two companies, including one that was sold to an Internet firm. He has consulted to dozens of technology corporations and other companies, and serves on the Board of Directors of others. He was born in the seaside town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, where his father was John Updike’s dentist. He attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Oxford University. He now lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

About Terminal Value

Terminal ValueWhen Dylan Johnson sold his mobile computing business to Mantric Technology Solutions – a red-hot technology firm about to go public – he thought he and his partnerswould realize their wildest dreams. But before the deal is even completed, Dylan senses that something isn’t quite right. He should have trusted his instincts. He quickly finds himself marginalized and his partner and best friend Tony suspects that they are all caught in sinister web of deceit. The very night of Mantric’s wildly successful public offering, Dylan discovers his best friend dead – and is convinced he was murdered. Dylan forms a close alliance – and romantic relationship – with his former partner Heather and the two follow an electronic trail into Mantric’s secrets … only to discover that the death of their friend is the result of a betrayal they never could have imagined.

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