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Some of the very first decisions founders must make early on in their ventures are crucially important to the future of the business. Many of these decisions concern the ubiquitous "people problems" that challenge even experienced entrepreneurs. When should I found? Should I co-found with someone? With whom? How should we split the equity? Bad or ill-informed choices at critical junctures could have significant consequences for startups. In fact, research has suggested that 65 percent of new firm failures were related to problems within the management team.
Our founder, Ewing Marion Kauffman, once said: "It's your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed". He was talking to entrepreneurs: those people who create new ventures, building visions into reality. Indeed, entrepreneurs are uncommon in many ways. They create something from nothing. They see problems (and solutions) that others might not. They take personal and financial risks.
During my years at the Kauffman Foundation I have seen firsthand the effect that education can have on the development of entrepreneurs and their companies. The entrepreneurs with whom I have worked have taken the lessons they have learned and applied them to great effect in their endeavors as founders. These entrepreneurs benefited from opportunities to learn critical skills, and from gaining an understanding of crucial decisions or junctures that often can derail entrepreneurial businesses.
In a matter of weeks colleges and universities across the country will be teeming with students. A new school year will bring the excitement of new discovery, opportunities to meet new people, and the anticipation of learning. On these campuses students will also find a vast array of opportunities to explore entrepreneurship.
When I read Meg Hirshberg's book "For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families" I knew instantly that I wanted Meg to join our slate of Founders School experts. The goal of Founders School is to provide entrepreneurs with crucial skills and knowledge, and to do so with an eye to topics that are important but rarely discussed in typical entrepreneurship education programs. The subject of Meg's book is just such a topic. We all know that entrepreneurs have to juggle a variety of considerations when founding a company: team building, assessment of product/market fit, intellectual property, and how to get that first important customer. What many entrepreneurs and, more importantly, their families, know is that there's a juggle on the family side of the equation as well, but it's one that many entrepreneurs may be reluctant to talk about.
"No business plan survives first contact with customers," Steve Blank says. What? Isn't the point of planning that you maximize the likelihood of success in the marketplace? Well yes, but perhaps not the kind of planning you might be thinking about. A business plan conceived on paper, powered by a great idea or invention, enhanced by research on the size of the market and a customer profile, has great potential. But it also has a crucial flaw.
Once you've heard the insight--that startups are different from big companies--it seems so obvious. Yet too often entrepreneurs, and those that teach them, approach the building of new companies with the same goals, staff structures and assumptions that motivate the management of large companies. Startup founders build teams to focus on engineering, and on the process of creating a product and bringing it to market.
What's in a name? Read one medical business and marketing consultant's take on the conflicting demands of naming medical technology and medical device startups.
Strategic words are out. Personal search is in. This week, the Kauffman Foundation held a seminar on "Online Branding for Startups" with help from Mark Traphagen of Virante, a SEO marketing firm out of Durham, N.C. I learned a number of things in the hours we discussed branding with entrepreneurs and Kauffman associates, but here are my top four takeaways.
Even with the most intuitive educational material, sometimes the most important thing a students needs is the ability to ask questions. For entrepreneurs, who are often lifelong learners, this is essential to the application of the material to their business. While online learning can facilitate opportunities to learn lessons anytime, anywhere that might not otherwise be available, the opportunity to engage directly with experts creates important connections and discussions.
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