Disregard all apparent obstacles

It started with a scatter shot request to over a quarter-million people subscribing to two professional sites on LinkedIn; followed by a personal email request to my 26 industry contacts; and was capped by an outreach effort to bloggers, discussion group contributors, and select representatives from five companies on Forbes “100 Most Innovative Companies” list, plus personalized emails to word-of-mouth referrals. Welcome to the Customer Development process: It is damn hard work.

I knew this going into the process. Steve Blank, founder and leader of the Lean Startup process says so in The Startup Owner’s Manual (page 50).

Yet I’m drawn to wonder, are startups that target BtoB markets challenged to a greater extent? In his book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank, along with co-author Bob Dorf, reference a startup snowboard manufacturer in one example. How easy is that? Take a day off,  go up to a local ski resort and speak with millennials.

And if it holds true, BtoB Customer Development interviews are harder to come by than BtoC, is there an even steeper hill to climb when setting out to serve highly-regulated companies (my company, S-T-M Axiom’s niche)?

None of which really matters if your goal is to make your startup vision a reality.

Today starts a new phase in the process of asking for insights on the capacity constraints that are underpinning my business case assumptions with Robo-like cold calls placed to companies listed in a regional directory.

Chasing a dream, questioning your view of reality

A question from the front of the room: “How do you know when to quit your pursuit of a new entrepreneurial venture?” gave reason for all present to pause for a gut check.  In a room filled with entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs, the question should not have been unfamiliar to any of us, including the presenter at this discussion on “Minimum Viable Channel: Is Your MVP A Viable Business?” Perry Evans. A serial entrepreneur and current founder /CEO at Closely; earlier, Evans acknowledged his own experience in riding the obligatory highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Speaking at Denver Startup Week 2014, only the most naïve were likely to have failed to run the risk/reward calculations, leading to this question: what event would force a recalculation?

The cited numbers vary from nine of 10 to three of four, but the reality is the same; launching a new startup is not for the faint-of-heart.  Why then, if uncertainty and self-doubt are the soul mates of the entrepreneur, and failure more likely than success, undertake this journey of introspection?  It has been suggested that the motivation can be found in a person’s DNA. Do you have what it takes?

Once you have decided that you do, here are some quick takeaways from this presentation that were equally insightful:

  • The big winners are the well-timed new entrants
  • Let the customer tell you what the price point should be
  • Live your business, talk to as many people as you can
  • Work out your addressable risks before talking to VCs
  • When assessing your business’ viability: zoom out; own your boiler room; and always be tuning.

For a copy of the full presentation, check Slideshare.

Remember when boundaries were better defined?

Remember when boundaries were better defined? When there were titles referencing regional economic differentiators that grade school children could easily memorize? If you are old enough you might recall: Northern Ohio, Southeast Michigan and Western Pennsylvania were known as the Rust Belt; the Midwest was the Grain Belt; and Northern California was known for Silicon Valley, a global leader in the development of electronic technology companies.

All that has changed, confronting geographic regions with a stark reality: Reinvent or die.

Private and state enterprise entrepreneurship programs have led the way in aiding with this reinvention process. As close as can be determined through records tracked by the National Business Incubator Association, in 2012 there were 1,250 startup incubators and accelerators in the United States to assist in the success of startups engaged in all forms of commerce. Among the top 15, according to Jonathan Shieber at TechCrunch, is Techstars in Boulder, Colorado.

Ranked second in the U.S. for innovative entrepreneurship by the U.S. Chamber, Colorado offers a unique composite of private/public entities formed to facilitate economic growth. Next week’s third annual Denver Startup Week will highlight many of those programs and, the successes that have resulted from these targeted initiatives. With so many excellent sessions scheduled, my only lament is that no one has perfected a system that might allow me to be in multiple places at the same time.

Are business plans relics? It depends

Call me a hedonist for believing that writing a business plan is an essential step to bringing clarity to your business proposal. I understand the rationale behind a lean methodology that promotes continuous iteration and pivots in search of product optimization. Yet how many of us can systematically research, analyze, and catalogue a strategic plan for a new product or service in our heads?

There is no shortage of well-credentialed business leaders taking aim at the once obligatory business plan. Steven Blank and Bob Dorf, authors of The Startup Owner’s Manual advocate “Startups should dump the business plan and adopt the flexible business model.” Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group, wrote in the Wall Street Journal “Today, it’s clear to me that business plans for startup companies are a historical artifact”… .

Yet, a report from the Small Business Administration, Are Planners Doers? , concludes that entrepreneurs who write a business plan are more likely to take the needed action to launch their business.  To determine for yourself if writing a business plan is worth the invested time, here’s a short list of scenarios where a formal plan may be of benefit.

I resemble that research

Earlier this year an article in Forbes cited that twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over the age of 50 as compared to under the age of 25. This is a counter-intuitive finding given that more than ever college students are seeking the entrepreneurial experience.

At a recent brown bag seminar on establishing stock option programs for new startups, I observed eight of the 19 participants, 42%, to be over 50 years of age. Granted, the mere observance of a person’s age is less than empirical proof, yet according to social scientist Erik Erikson’s work on psychosocial development in individuals, this observance is in line with our need for productive creativity between the ages of 40-64.

One other observation of interest, there wasn’t one woman entrepreneur in the audience; which was surprising given the pace at which women-owned firms are being created.


Why long ball?

No matter the business, every committed entrepreneur desires to have the risks and tireless work they invest validated through success.

Welcome to LongBallBlog, a chronicle of my continuing journey in the launch of S-T-M Axiom™, an enterprise software solution designed to enhance business process management efficiencies for highly-regulated industries. Over the next 10 weeks I will work alongside other innovators and company founders as one of five early-stage start ups selected to take part in the Rocky Mountain Innosphere’s Lean Launch Pad program.

What does long ball have to do with early stage start-ups and the Lean Start-up methodology? As with America’s Game, where the term ‘long ball’ applies to power hitters who consistently go to bat with the mindset of adding a double, triple, or home run to their box score; business leaders who engage in innovative long ball are swinging for the fences with the expectation of connecting on a disruptive technology or process.

No matter whether you are part of the 10% who take risks, and innovate large; or the other 90%, I invite you follow as I embark on a discovery process designed to hone ideas into viable business solutions.