Organizing my office today, I found some really good notes from a March 29, 2001, meeting, “In An Environment Like This…What’s An Entrepreneur To Do?” The Dot-Com Bust was in full force. The meeting was co-sponsored by the Churchill and Commonwealth Clubs and held at the Hyatt Rickeys Palo Alto (since torn down to make room for a housing development). During the discussion, Steve Kirsch, founder of Propel, Infoseek, Frame and Mouse Systems, shared 15 tips on how to start a successful company “today,” during the dot com bust. But the timeless advice applies now, more than a decade later:
1) Educate yourself.
2) Get a vision. Find a niche where you can solve a problem, where you can be superior, and where there is a large market.
3) Line up your financing: Not easy even if you go the friends route, but necessary.
4) Get a customer up front.
5) Be flexible. If the market shifts, you should shift, BUT, don’t constantly shift either.
6) Get the talent you need for your company to be successful.
7) Will the timing of your product or service work?
8) Solve a clear problem.
9) Figure out packaging for your product.
10) Passion. Still have the passion? Think of different ways to convince customers that they need your product or service.
11) Refine your story so that it sells. Make your story compelling.
12) Think about a 2nd act. What’s your follow on?
13) Don’t give up. Get through it.
14) Do contingency planning. Think through one or two levels of “What if?”
15) Never pass up an opportunity to pitch your product.
Larry Page, founder of Google, advised that entrepreneurs should focus on products that people like using, as having a lot of happy customers helps to lower marketing costs. He also advised:
- Have a fanatical devotion to your products.
- Have patience when staffing your firm: Hold out for what you want in an employee.
- Build a great team. Grow slowly.
- Try out ideas, but don’t get caught up in hype.
- Watch carefully how start-up capital is spent.
- Don’t focus on the exit strategy, do it because you have a passion and are helping solve a problem.
- It really helps if other people aren’t doing what you are doing.
- Keep in mind that running a small company is demanding. You can make lifestyle choices as you get bigger.
- Good ideas still get funded. Persevere. Change your pitch, figure out what the problem is. Change your idea to be less risky, or add credible people to your team.
The question “When do you throw in the towel?” was raised. At discrete points you need to decide if you’re going to abort or stay in the game. How much cash do you have left? What’s the chance that you can raise cash while the company is under construction. Is the company ready to take off? If you’re going to continue, commit yourself to a window of time and then go for it! The panelists at the “What’s An Entrepreneur To Do?” meeting also advised entrepreneurs to get away from the idea that a company can’t be launched without venture capital. Come up with a product or service idea that solves a problem, line up customers, and your proof of success will open doors for financing for scaling up.