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iKC Event Raises Vital Startup Questions

Nathan Kurtz

nathan_kurtzLast Thursday, I joined 120 problem-solvers from around the Midwest at the iKC event at the H&R Block Headquarters. The event was an un-conference, meaning there were no pre-set rules or even an agenda. We came together to choose and vote on several topics of discussion we found interesting, and we then had four breakout sessions throughout the day to meet and discuss the 28 selected topics.

These topics ranged from idea validation to bridging education opportunities across school districts and state lines; from start-up funding lessons to creating community eco-systems, and a host of other social, economic and educational topics.

I particularly enjoyed two sessions. I was reminded of lessons learned in my own start-ups, and I think these topics are relevant whether innovating at existing companies or starting up new.

I have an idea, now what? The initial premise of "just do it" was followed up with, "Just do what?" Raise money? Seek capital? Build a team? Bootstrap? What do all these mean? Our group coalesced around needing to determine if this idea was truly a problem that a customer would pay for, before choosing to raise capital. This decision can be particularly hard if the person with the idea really believes this is a million, or billion-dollar idea.

You may have a great idea, but do you know if anyone is willing to pay for any solution to this problem? And if so, then would they pay for your solution? A little work asking people you don't know on the front end can save you a lot of time, energy and money on the back side. Find the problem and customer before building anything. The group progression was fascinating, and I wish anyone with a new idea could have joined us. It can be extremely hard to separate from a new idea. But without talking to unbiased (you don't know them) potential customers, it's really hard to determine if this is a game changing idea.

The subject of outsourcing. This topic was especially interesting because of the stigma related to the word outsourcing. Our group had several entrepreneurs with young companies that wrestled with whether some outsourcing is good and some is bad. Whether some is necessary and some is greedy. I can't say enough about the honesty and transparency of the people in this room with regard to wanting to do the right thing without letting fear get in their way.

Many entrepreneurs struggle with the thought of outsourcing. Is hiring someone onto the team different than finding a contractor with the skillset needed to complete a project? Is it sustainable to hire someone if you’re unsure if this is a long-term position? Does it matter if you hire someone in this country versus another country? Sometimes there are no easy solutions. But ask yourself and your advisers--who is best equipped to complete this project? Is it short term or long term? Do I risk losing my quality control by hiring somebody else, to do this job?

Determine your critical quality control points. Understand the price and value risks.  Understand you and your team's finite amount of time in a week. Understand your social and economic impact. No matter what you decide, be ready to tell your story, and how you have brought your own employees, or your outside partners, into your product/service. There are some outstanding resources for telling your story and engaging your audience at the Kauffman Foundation's Founders

We didn't solve all the world's problems. But we did come to a much better understanding of some of the practical, every-day things entrepreneurs face in their own lives that affect their businesses. Talking about these subjects among city organizations and entrepreneurs can helps us all become better resources to our neighbors and our community.

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