Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to the Entrepreneurship class at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, my alma mater. I split my talk between “Using Decisions Patterns to Accelerate Your Business” (which I’ve touched on often in this blog) and more personal tips based on my journey as an entrepreneur. My thanks to Dr. Tom Mason for giving me the chance and for an engaging conversation about what’s happening in engineering and entrepreneurship education.
Given that I’m a bit road-weary from the round trip (~ 8 hours), I thought I’d cheat and fill my blog with some of the tips I shared with the students.
Differentiation Strategy – Value Proposition
- Whatever your business idea, you really need a secret sauce that can separate you from direct and indirect competitors. It’s easy to get enamored with your new idea and think it to be more unique than it will be seen in the eyes of your customer. Get some part of your product out into users hands early and often to confirm that you really have the basis for differentiation and a unique value proposition.
Passion for your product
- Launching a new business will inevitably lead to some very long and dark days in the process. You need a genuine passion for your product to carry you through and to motivate your team in the tough times.
Plan your exit strategy from Day 1
- It’s hard to think about abandoning “your baby” when it’s fresh and new. Even if you do have a plan on how you will leave your business, it’s easy to miss the off-ramps. They seldom occur according to your plan and may come well-disguised in some other form. Be on the lookout.
Wear many hats, but know your limits
- Every business has at least 3 high-level roles: Create – Implement – Operate. These roles demand different thinking patterns and very often different people. The entrepreneur may have to fill all 3 roles at various times, but few people are wired to excel at them all. Don’t be ashamed to get some help.
Time to capability is everything
- Commit yourself to a life of continuous learning and innovation. Every time you do something new, allocate 5% of your time and brainpower to think about the process you are using and to harvest patterns or lessons learned that you and other can use in the future. There’s a compound interest effect from continuous learning, so don’t wait until your product is perfect – get it out there quickly in basic form and get early, frequent learning cycles.
- Entrepreneurs need to learn how to fail well; transform their inevitable failures into learning and growing opportunities. They also need the humility to be willing to do whatever it takes for their business to succeed – stretch themselves and work way beyond their comfort zone.
It’s hard to make a business off of early adopters
- Even though you want a highly-differentiated product, if you are too far out on the bleeding edge you may overshoot or outrun the market. You really don’t control the formation of markets – they evolve at their own pace that you can influence very little. So if your product depends on a few early adopters for survival, you’re in for some tough early years.
Network, Network, Network
- Knowledge grows as you (use + share + link) it. The value of your business is driven by relationships, so don’t let the do-it-yourself mindset that makes you an entrepreneur prevent you from continuously networking with potential partners, customers, suppliers, industry groups, etc. You really don’t know in advance when a new relationship may open an important new door for your business. Get out of the lab!
Thanks again to the Rose guys and gals!
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