“To live through an impossible situation, you don’t need to have the reflexes of a Grand Prix driver, the muscles of a Hercules, the mind of an Einstein. You simply need to know what to do.” - Allan Dib
We live in an age where we enjoy an unprecedented level of information egalitarianism; a plethora of people today have access to virtually limitless information on any subject, anytime, anyplace, instantly at almost zero cost. As a result, businesses are sprouting daily; whether it be a meditation app, a savings platform, a clothing line, you name it, it exists. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to serve as a panelist at a social gathering where impact-driven entrepreneurs with diverse interests congregated. Although a burning flame danced with passion in the eyes of attendees, I was baffled that most of them were so obsessed with their idea yet had completely overlooked their ideal target market. The adrenaline and excitement had blinded them of a simple rule; to succeed in launching a business, your priority is to not focus solely on your idea. Rather, to appreciate, understand, acknowledge, empathize, and respect where your target demographics’ view of life is at the moment because that will determine how you deliver. The fancy term used today is empathy.
The founding father of modern capitalism, Adam Smith, shared in his book - The Theory of Moral Sentiments - the ethics based on our ability to empathize with others and to care about their opinions. Through our ability to empathize, we are able to understand how other people are feeling and imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. Cultivating empathy does not come overnight. It is developed from months and years of market research amongst your target demographic. While in college, my marketing professor was always fond of saying, "a brand is nothing but a promise." Most founders set themselves up for failure by simply neglecting to deliver on that promise.
Based on my experiences working with and consulting early stage startups, I’ve found that most founders/aspiring entrepreneurs have a plan yet never think as far as creating a business plan with well-researched financial projections, using data to drive decision making or even calculating costs. The difference between the good entrepreneurs and the great entrepreneurs is the capacity to build and manage a business that is effective, efficient, and innovative, despite its growing substantially. To increase the probability of being a great entrepreneur even during the early stages, it’s imperative to ask the following five questions:
Can you provide value at all times?
Investors are not necessarily interested in how great your idea is. They mainly care whether you are well equipped to execute on the idea you propose. Business, in a nutshell, is not about making as much money as possible. It is about creating value for stakeholders. We live at a time where there's a wealth of information and a poverty of attention. As a result, the ability to provide consistent value to your target demographic is proving to be increasingly challenging. However, a proven tactic to bypass this challenge is to produce more quality than everyone else in your category, cutting edge marketing, and superior customer service.
Is now the right time to start?
There’s no such thing as a million-dollar idea however, there’s definitely a million-dollar execution. As Mark Zuckerberg - co-founder of Facebook - said, “people think innovation is having a good idea but a lot of it is just moving quickly and trying a lot of things.” Successful businesses operate on the principle that you need to work with other people (cultivating partnerships) to get things done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can. Thus, spending a lot of time creating the ideal team is not only necessary but highly imperative because small groups of people who bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better.
Are you starting with a big opportunity in a small market?
As Malcolm Bane said, “If you wait until you can do everything for everybody instead of doing something for somebody, you will end up not doing anything for anybody.” For a business to be successful, it’s important to find a niche and dominate a small market. Take Facebook, it started as a service for just one university campus before it spread to other schools and then the entire world. However, considering the myriad startups today, this will be very difficult to attain without a credible brand story. Achieving credibility to catapult success is contingent on the uniqueness of your marketing. In January 2013, Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, tweeted to his 2 million followers: “Success is never accidental.” To increase your odds of attaining success, you must be willing to share what your competitors are just not willing to. Claude Hopkins - an advertising pioneer - did this best.
Will your potential impact be defensible a decade into the future?
According to author and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, “every entrepreneur should plan to be the last mover in her particular market. This starts with asking yourself: what will the world look like 10 and 20 years from now, and how will my business fit in.” The single greatest danger as a founder is to become so certain of your own beliefs that you lose your vision. Most business structures allocate ownership among founders, employees, and investors. The managers and employees who operate the implementations enjoy possession. And a board of directors, usually comprising of founders, investors, and advisory board, exercise control. The responsibility of all people involved is to continuously measure the impact of the work being done and to collect analytical data to enhance future decision making. Without metrics or data, how can you gauge your impact and eventually, scale?
Have you identified a unique opportunity others don’t see?
More than anything else, competition is an ideology that pervades our society and distorts our thinking. We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it – even though the more we compete, the less we gain. Imagine a business that views its competitors not as enemies to be crushed but as teachers to learn from and fellow travelers on a journey toward excellence. Instead of looking to compete with another company on market share and profits, it’s rather imperative to cultivate trust with your target demographic, progressively innovate, and focus on your unique opportunity. The belief for most is passion alone will guide them when building their companies. I beg to differ. It's rather important to get really good at delivering on your unique opportunity and then you eventually grow passionate about it. By demanding excellence, your unique opportunity leads you to maintain a solid competitive edge.
Knowing how much time you are able to spend will help you evaluate the timing of the decision to start a business and most importantly, the type of business you should launch. Provided you answered yes to all the questions above, the next step is to take some time to identify your “Why” prior to launch. What drives you to create a business is far more important than how you implement. The drive is what leads you to persist even when the road gets rocky - and it will. We all have a unique gift, talent, or skill that someone is willing to pay for, however, we often launch businesses that share no alignment with our skill sets. Henceforth, to increase your probability of success on an entrepreneurial journey, it’s imperative you find the intersection between what you can be the best in the world at, what drives your economic engine, and what you are most determined about. You will surely be on your way to creating something meaningful.
Any other questions I may have missed?