"Around the table advice" for new entrepreneurs...

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

A short while ago I found myself "around the table" engaged in the conversations of business and the opportunities to be found in an ever shifting economy; the odd bourbon*, MBA's, CA's, CPA's, Six Sigma functional excellent "black belt's", CFA's and decades of leadership fuelled the discussion.

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would eventually blurt out, "Is it me, or is everybody today an entrepreneur?"

This, along with another round of bourbon, ignited passionate discussion that ebbed and flowed around the topic of entrepreneurship; opinions and examples seemed endless.

With most of the conversation still fresh, and my memory holding up as much as could be expected (after a bourbon or two), I wanted to get the highlights down "on paper" - I might as well start with what one of the entrepreneurs said:

"Just because you don't want to work for someone does not make you an entrepreneur" - He went on to say it's also not something you call yourself between "gigs" while you look for a "job"; he was rather emphatic as he said it's all about a fire inside to create and own something sustainable that you can call "yours". He did admit he couldn't work for someone though. 

Although an "idea or invention" is important, it is all about creating a viable business that "generates revenue" - Revenue will catch the attention of investors and will "feed" cash to your insatiable business.

There is a big difference between being "CEO of a company" and being "CEO of a business" - The CEO of a company entails less than $100 dollars and half an hour on a government web site to register, whereas being the CEO of a business entails building out a product or service to sell, creating a process from order to cash, involves an endless amount of time to expand the business, hiring people to lead, etc, etc, etc.

There was a good amount of discussion and examples of how entrepreneurs needed to really, really, really understand the cost structure of managing their business - There were more than a few examples of CEOs who quickly ran out of "cash" because they didn't understanding their processes, didn't understand the cost structure of the business and assumed there was an endless amount of "easy" money to be raised. Declaring bankruptcy, having to tell investors there is no return on their investment, and having to lay off people is a ghost that may haunt you longer than you think; people will remember and think twice the next time.

As an entrepreneur you have to be honest with yourself and ask, "Is my idea a solution looking for a problem?" - If you do not have a clear line of sight to the problem you are solving for and if you can't plainly articulate it, you will most likely have great difficulty selling your idea because there isn't a customer need - The harsh reality is you may think you have the "greatest idea ever" but no one else does.

Entrepreneurship is not predicated on age and thinking an entrepreneur has to be under 30 is asinine - More than one person pointed out that they've seen entrepreneurs of all ages and the most successful ones were those who had cross pollinated age and experience in their business.

And this leads to the final point...

Self-awareness; the best entrepreneurs seem to be self-aware - They understand their strengths and weaknesses and hire people who can fill in the business gaps.  

In the end, someone pointed out that much of what we were talking about applied just about everywhere, but as an entrepreneur the "tolerance for mistakes" is so much less because there's little insulation to absorb them. From there I think we shifted to our "selfie ready" Prime Minster and the next round was ordered. 

Feel free to join us around the table the next time we get together. You can buy the first round.


* I'm not advocating the need for alcohol to have a good discussion but I will add there is something about having a Woodford Reserve in hand that just makes the conversation a little bit more enjoyable.  

A growing awareness of being an entrepreneur...

I will say up front, that I struggle with the word entrepreneur for a number of reasons, one of which, I constantly spell it wrong. With this said, I find myself "playing on the entrepreneurial side of the business fence"; I am building a business to support small and medium sized business leaders with their "commercial problems". I thought I would start with this particular idea, as I can leverage my experience; as they say, "go with your strength". You could say the plan is to become an entrepreneur to support entrepreneurs.

One of the biggest struggles I am having with the word entrepreneur is the definition. Is it a person, a state of mind, or representative of the life stage in a business? 

  • Is an entrepreneur a person who is interested in making money, but simply has the inability to work for someone other than themselves?
  • Is it simply the state of mind of wanting to creatively build something from an idea or concept, opposed to administrating a business process or business function?
  • Is being an entrepreneur an aspect of the size of the business? When it is tiny you are an entrepreneur, as it gets bigger you manage to an entrepreneurial spirit, and finally when it is large you are "corporate".

As with all things, it's probably a combination of the above and a few other things that haven't come to mind. There is definitely one thing that has become apparent... the word "entrepreneur" is a badge of honor for those building a business from an idea or passion. There is also no doubt, no mater how you define an entrepreneur, they by necessity are salesmen. Being an entrepreneur is a sales activity, as you are selling your idea to anyone who will listen; building awareness, looking for support (either in money or in time), and building a viable revenue stream. 

As I continue to wade into this pool we call entrepreneurship, a number of business fundamentals have come to the forefront... some of which if I am honest with myself, took for granted when I was surround by a corporate structure - 

  • You have to build your business infrastructure yourself, and the expertise to get it done may not be close at hand. The trap I have already seen is that "having a brilliant idea" and "being able to build a business" are two independent skill sets; having one does not mean you have the other. More often then not skills to build a business will probably have to be brought in and those early decisions will reverberate for years. The people who you want to partner with initially, are crucial.
  • For those organizations that are five, ten or more years in business, (with a proven model and customer base), a "forecastable" revenue stream comes across as "straight foreword". When you are much earlier in the business developing process though, the cold reality is that revenue is hard to realize. There is a large amount of work between that first product idea and having someone ultimately pay you money for it.
  • The timeframe between your idea and "exiting" as a millionaire is counted in years, not months. Yes, there will always be exceptions, but it is better to settle in for the long haul. The big dream is very important, and will carry you far, but as they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day".
  • Most likely you will have to involve investors or bankers so ensure you spend their money wisely - You will need to borrow more of it down the road. To this point, it is being said money is readily available; although this may be true, you will still have to sell your idea and it's value. An investor will always be looking for a return.
  • I am learning quite a lot... with so much more to learn.

Can I call myself an entrepreneur at this point? Sure, why not. Can I call myself a proven, success entrepreneur? Nope... but give it time and I do have an idea after all. Wish me luck.