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Insights March 6, 2013

Find your entrepreneurial sea legs faster

Building a successful startup rarely is plain sailing. In fact, almost all startups have to weather not one but quite a few storms on their path to whatever they define as success. Out of them, only a very small percentage actually make it. Is this low number somehow determined by an invisible law or can we actually do something about it? I do believe in the latter!

First, I think that the world needs innovation more than ever and that we need many more successful startups to drive this change. The incumbents will never drive change fast enough. This means that the odds for startups are in fact improving all by themselves.

Second, we can also actively increase the odds for success. There are so many unnecessary mistakes and unforced errors made by startup entrepreneurs that could be avoided.  Why do you think the VCs prefer a serial entrepreneur anytime to a first timer?

As an entrepreneur I’m coaching said, “There are a thousand pit falls before you even get to buy a ticket in the lottery.” Cynical? Yes, maybe a little, but unfortunately there is quite some truth to it.

When you are first-time entrepreneur, venturing a startup is like crossing the Stockholm archipelago (22 thousand islands and countless shallows) without any navigational tools whatsoever, or, if you are getting tired of my marine analogies, it is like playing BRIO Labyrinth – the wooden maze game – blindfolded. It doesn’t need to be like that, however.

So how can you find your sea legs faster? Where can you get hold of the navigation equipment? How can you, as a first timer, act as a serial entrepreneur from day one?

  1. Bring in an experienced navigating officer. Find someone who has done it before. Make him or her join the team. It is worth the skin in the game you have to give them. This person does not necessarily need to be full time, be involved in operations, or do the legwork. The important contribution is startup experience. It could be a business angel. It could mean joining a business incubator or accelerator.
  2. Get a sonar, a radar, and a GPS. Understand everything about your customers’ desires. Build measure, learn. Buy the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Read it carefully. Many buy the book, some read it, but very few understand the beauty of it.
  3. Use a pilot whenever necessary. This person could e.g. be someone who knows your target customer by heart and knows how to navigate through the intricacies of the industry logic of your target market. This will save you tons of mistakes. But be careful though, make sure that the person understands the difference between the startup approach and a launch made by an established player and brand.
  4. Sail, sail, sail. Most important, though, get out of the building as Steven Blank puts it. And get into the boat! Get out there and sail the rough waters and find you sea legs. You will never become a seasoned entrepreneur unless you leave the drawing board and your ppt-plans behind.

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