Having a mentor: #2 on startup list

startup

The article What You Need to Know Before You Startup by Charu Mitra Dubey on Entrepreneur India is a good short-list of advice from Indian entrepreneur Vaibhav Kakkar, Co-Founder of NotifyFox and RankWatch Inc.

Here’s his list, with as usual, my comments below:

Take Action First

With the tsunami of information about startups – including this blog – it can be easy for first time entrepreneurs to spend all their time reading and watching YouTube videos of successful entrepreneurs. But as I wrote yesterday, entrepreneurs need to have a bias for action. It’s important to get out of the office or Starbucks and do something to move your venture from your mental image to a tangible effort. The best way to do that is to start talking to would-be customers. What do you need? A set of a few questions, perhaps a sketch on a napkin, and the ability to offer something to people who take the time to talk with you, such as a first peek at something new and exciting.

Have a Mentor

I can’t say it better than Mr. Kakkar, so I’ll just quote him directly:

Without a mentor, you may get lost in the paths or take wrong decisions but having one will refrain you from making a lot of mistakes. “A lot of people take a deep dive into entrepreneurship without having a mentor, they don’t realize how troublesome and lonely the journey can be at times and having the right mentor can make all the difference sometimes, someone who has already been there, ”

Focus

I’ve said all I need to say in the post The three F’s you want on your report card. However, there’s a great quote from Akshay Kingar, Co-Founder and CEO of Appsfly: Identify a difficulty/ experience a gap where technology isn’t used to it’s best potential. Not every problem is a business. I’ve made the mistake of confusing a problem with a business myself. Just because you have identified a gap where technology isn’t used to solve a problem doesn’t mean you have a viable startup idea. Far from it! That’s why the customer development phase is so critical. You need to find out how many people share this problem, whether they consider it a mere annoyance they can live with or a serious problem they need solved – now. And what will they pay to solve that problem? I had the idea for a startup called LetMeKnow that would enable purveyors of fresh food to notify their customers that their were deals to be had at the end of the day. But after talking to several potential customers I discovered that perishable inventory was indeed a problem, but that bakeries and others just used Twitter to notify their followers. So much for LetMeKnow!

Don’t do it just of value your “EGO”

Here’s where I resonate with Mr. Kingar: start something when you feel like your idea can help the people around you and in the process you earn more than what you spend. If you are helping your customer exactly what are they paying you for and why? Every business is a service business in the sense your job as an entrepreneur is to serve your customer. As Bob Dylan sings, in Gotta Serve Somebody:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Share your Idea

I find far too many would-be entrepreneurs afraid to share their idea, for fear it would be stolen. If only their idea were that valuable! Execution is 99% of success. As Kingar says, Hiding your idea and thinking people will copy is pointless. The best-executed idea wins, not the best idea. As a founder you need to start to immediately validate your idea by talking to as many prospective customers as possible. What’s more likely than someone stealing your idea is that someone has had it before you. Google your idea. You may be surprised by what you find!

Word of Mouth

While many would-be entrepreneurs seem fixated on social media marketing, SEO, SEM, and so on, good old word of mouth – one customer telling another person that they should try your product is invaluable. In fact, if you are not generating word of mouth that’s an early signal that either your target market is too small or your product is just a vitamin, a nice to have; not a pain pill, a must have.

Profit is the Value System

It’s too easy today to be seduced by the success of company’s like Uber or Tesla, that hog the news and attract billions of dollars in investment, despite the fact that they are losing billions of dollars. Comparing yourself to these unicorns is  like comparing yourself to a NBA star – they are one out of hundreds of thousands in height alone, let alone one in millions in skill, coordination, strength, endurance, and knowledge of the game. Get your nose out of the startup news and into the business of your customers. It’s customer cash, not investor cash, that will generate profits for you and make your company valuable.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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