Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clarity Within the Noise

I was recently invited to be a mentor for an incubator called StartEngine, which is a 90 day program for very early stage technology companies to get their startups off the ground.  I’ve met with several companies since and I’m noticing a recurring theme – the entrepreneurs are getting conflicting information from the various mentors/investors/advisors around them, and they’re having trouble making sense of it. 

Here was an exchange I had last week:

Entrepreneur with a social media / mobile app company – “Last week we had an investor come in and say that we had to have a business/revenue model from the outset.  Then one of our mentors told us that we don’t need to worry about a business model right now and instead just need to build product.  Then a separate person told us that it’s all about users.  Which is it?”

Me – “It depends.  What do you ultimately want the company to be?”

Entrepreneur – “(insert standard 30 second pitch)”

Me – “Doesn’t answer the question.  Let’s try it this way – why did you get into this business?"

Entrepreneur – “To make life easier for my market of users.”

Me – “Ok, then answer me this – one year from now, would you rather have 100,000 free users and be dependent on outside funding or have 10,000 paying users who each pay a couple of bucks and have you on the road to sustainability?”

Entrepreneur – “Not sure, which one would investors look more favorably upon?

Me – “That depends on what you ultimately want your company to be.”

This discussion is typical of several conversations I’ve had with other entrepreneurs about the unique challenges and decisions they face with their business.  It’s not too different from the process I go through daily with folks interested in starting a TGA franchise.  With all of the noise out there offering business advice and guidance – blogs, books, Twitter, advisors, mentors, investors, etc. – it is understandable why many young entrepreneurs find themselves with spinning heads.

When it comes to big decisions, my advice is simple – always remember why you got into the business (vision) and know what your long-term goals are (strategic plan).  Then make decisions that align accordingly.  It works because the vision is set in stone at a period in time, and thus will keep you grounded, while your long-term goals are malleable and thus will allow you to adjust and pivot. 

I was discussing these thoughts yesterday with our Curriculum Consultant at TGA who has a doctorate and 25 years in education, and she told me about a book called “The Element” by Sir Ken Robinson.  She described it as a book that identifies four conditions for achievement – aptitude, passion, attitude and opportunity.  The two features of being in one’s “element” are aptitude and passion, and the conditions for it are attitude and opportunity.  Basically, you’ll be successful if you do something you’re good at and passion about, so long as you have a positive attitude and the right opportunity.  I ordered the book last night and I look forward to diving deeper into the concept as I think it aligns with the advice I’ve been giving to the entrepreneurs.

I make a concerted effort to constantly read, learn and surround myself with people smarter and more experienced than me.  I certainly encourage all entrepreneurs to do the same.  But when it comes to big decisions with your business, the focus shouldn’t be on what others are telling you but rather on what aligns with your reasons for getting into the business and what you ultimately want it to be.


  1. I enjoyed this Steve. It helps build confidence in some of my decisions I make as I try to navigate the "right" path in growing a nonprofit. Getting advice is great. Advice from people smarter than you is great. But ultimately, rely on you and what made you put this thing out there. There are iconic entrepreneurs that were told this or that will never work, can't do it this way, you ought to do this....and in the end, NOT following conventional wisdom resulted in their success. Kudos.

    1. Great points. Thanks for sharing them along with your kind words. Best wishes with your non-profit!