Monday, March 1, 2010

Entrepreneurs can achieve Olympian glory

The Great Olympic Party officially ended last night; capping 2 weeks that started with nervous anticipation and ended with a record Gold Medal haul for Canada. More importantly, it was our athletes who inspired all of us to believe it is possible to achieve greatness through the power of a dream.

In tandem with the Olympic festivities was the dosage of inspiration from entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams at the monthly VANTEC meetings of angel investors. Yes - I fully admit that I am under the Olympic spell. Nevertheless, here is my take on how entrepreneurs can achieve their Olympic moment to build a successful company:

1. Decide - and then go for broke. It seems so obvious but how many would-be entrepreneurs think up great ideas but never follow through? Or give up at the first sign of adversity? I'm thinking of Bronze medal winner Joannie Rochette - but can you imagine (insert your favorite athlete here) saying, "No, I'm not going to compete in this sport I love"?

2. Gather your forces - it's a team effort. Clearly Team Canada's Gold medal win was the result of many different players coming together and doing well as a team. However, one mustn't forget the "players" (coaches, trainers, etc.) behind the team that made the dream possible; nor the many people working with the athletes who compete in individual sports. Likewise, a successful entrepreneur does not go it alone; but recruits and retains people who have the skills and talents to realize the entrepreneur's dream - and who also believe in the dream.

3. Prepare. It's self-evident that athletes do this before they perform. The entrepreneur's equivalent is to understand the market first and foremost. What is the problem faced in the marketplace? Can you identify and fully understand the real customer pain? Why hasn't anyone else (aka the competition) solved this problem? Why do YOU think you can solve this customer pain? What steps (building market channel relationships, hiring talent, getting investments, etc.) are you taking to ensure the success of your company?

4. Train. Another self-evident part of the athlete's pre-performance regimen. The entrepreneur's equivalent is prototyping or continual iterations of the solution to the customer's pain. Just like how the athlete relies on the advice and support of trainers, physiotherapists, dietitians, coaches, etc. to help him/her to do better in practice sessions, the entrepreneur must also rely on others (e.g. beta customers, marketing, engineers/scientists, investors, advisers, etc.) to test out solutions to see if the identified customer pain can be solved.

5. Perform. All the preparation and training comes down to this event for the athlete. For the entrepreneur, it's often the first customer sale; a major milestone for the company. Like the athlete, can this company perform (e.g. make sales) repeatedly? Is there a management team in place that can execute on the business plan - and who can react effectively to market changes - time and time again? Is the company structured operationally and financially for the long-term?

6. Achieve the goal. For 6-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, her exit strategy was to perform her final sport on home ice in Vancouver. She did just that and she exited in style with a Bronze medal in the 5,000-metre race. Entrepreneurs - what is your exit strategy? How and when do you want to exit? What are you doing about executing on your exit strategy? I'm a huge believer in aligning the interests of the entrepreneur founders and the investors to give the best possible outcome for the company. Whether that means an early exit or hanging in a bit longer because you're convinced a home run is within grasp, you will get support for your exit strategy so long as the interests of all the stakeholders (see my point #2) are aligned.

Go forth ... and achieve!

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