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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.
Leaving presentations to chance is like embarking on a trip without a map (hat tip to Amanda Schnieders for the metaphor). If you don't know where you're headed and how you'll get there, you may not reach your destination.
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.
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.
Accenture's Liz Tinkham interviews salesforce.com's Polly Sumner about entrepreneurship that occurs in both large and small companies. They both agree that innovation and risk-taking occur in any-sized company where the culture emphasizes "no idea is a dumb idea." Sumner advises young entrepreneurs to not fear risk: every failure teaches you a valuable lesson, and once learned, success is that much sweeter.
Candace Fleming’s résumé boasts a double major in industrial engineering and English from Stanford, an M.B.A. from Harvard, a management position at Hewlett-Packard and experience as president of a small software company.
But when she was raising money for Crimson Hexagon, a start-up company she co-founded in 2007, she recalls one venture capitalist telling her that it didn’t matter that she didn’t have business cards, because all they would say was “Mom.”
Another potential backer, reports Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times, invited her for a weekend yachting excursion by showing her a picture of himself on the boat — without clothes. When a third financier discovered that her husband was also a biking enthusiast, she says, he spent more time asking if riding affected her husband’s reproductive capabilities than he did focusing on her business plan. Ultimately, none of the 30 venture firms she pitched financed her company. She finally raised $1.8 million in March 2008 from angel investors including Golden Seeds, a fund that emphasizes investing in start-ups led by women.
While every state continues to experience the impacts of the economic downturn and resulting recession, it will be many years before we understand the full nature and causes of the financial crisis. But it appears that one of the contributing factors to both the crisis and the anemic nature of the recovery has been the weakened position of the U.S. economy in global markets. This relatively untold story of the recession and recovery is, in fact, perhaps one of the major developments in the U.S. economy, one that will have significant impacts on state economies for decades into the future—particularly if the nation continues to ignore the issue.
A culture of fun and respect for customers and employees pervades this family-owned furniture business that has been sold to legendary investor Warren E. Buffett, writes the author. Culture is what can't be taken away, even after a company is sold, as both the author and his brother are still actively involved, he notes.
Entrepreneurs confronting the unhappy task of having to downsize when business conditions change need to execute in a way that preserves the dignity of, and, ultimately, the relationship with, the employees, says an entrepreneur who laid off her entire staff in the wake of the dot-com crash. Downsizing well involves throwing away the rulebook and dealing with people on a personal level, she writes.
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