Friday, September 21, 2012

Entrepreneurs, it takes a village...

Today Bob Dorf delivered some harsh but important words for budding entrepreneurs working on their product in seclusion. His main point was that by not involving others, for example possible customers/users, early in the development process, you do not know for a fact that you are solving a problem that needs solving. Or in a way that potential users find attractive. In essence, what Bob is saying is that you are willingly forgoing a lot of knowledge, either because you are worried to let the secret out, or to actually test your idea and have it fail.

I agree with Bob on the importance of being open, early, even if it means that you become aware of that your plan is not going to work out. At least you could move on early to something with greater potential instead of digging in.

The way I see the process, an entrepreneur need to spend a lot of time building a network around his or her idea very early on to increase the chance of success. Obviously, working hard on the actual product is paramount, but having a good network is critical to long-term success.

This network I'm talking about has three main components.

First, users. As Bob mentioned, input from potential users is critical at an early stage to make sure that the product is good. But this process also have a second use which is to build up a stock of potential customers that can become paying customers after launch. In addition to soliciting feedback, you are basically selling the product as it is being developed. This group of users are going to set you straight when you stray from what they actually need.

Second, team. In addition to interfacing with potential users, an entrepreneur should very early on be on the lookout for potential team members to join the cause. This can mean everything from developers, sales people, marketing to management if the entrepreneur realize he or she is not the perfect CEO. A team will give you the opportunity to scale and delegate.

Third, advisors. A very important component of any startup is to establish a group of advisors as early as possible. It doesn't have to be as formalized as an advisory board or an actual board of directors, that may come later, but definitely a group of people who can offer advice and more importantly can offer connections when appropriate.  Advisors will be able to put you in contact with your first investors, with potential team candidates and equally important, offer advice on how to move forward in moments of entrepreneurial darkness.

A startup is not a one man or woman gig. It takes a village...

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