Welcome to Super Debut!
No matter what happens, you should never stop learning, says Matthew Brimer and a panel of entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs should think of their education as always being in beta with room for growth and improvement, said Matthew Brimer, co-founder of General Assembly, a start-up academy.
"We have this idea that education is this kind of an adjective that you can apply to yourself after you go through four-plus years experience in your late teens and early twenties," he said in a panel held Tuesday at Internet Week. "So you come out with a college degree and you are educated."
But this doesn't mean we're always prepared. The knowledge needed at different stages of an entrepreneur's life and career evolves over time.
"Rather than thinking of education as this thing that happens in a four year period of your life and then you are over, you are done, we like to think of education as something that should be tracked to both your life and your career, as well as your progress through it, so that it is suited to what you need and when, but is also attached to the world as it exists today," Brimer explained.
Some entrepreneurs learn from watching their peers, chimed in Bridgette Beam, moderator of the panel and Google's global entrepreneurship manager. In her experience, she's learned a lot just by talking with colleagues.
"It starts with asking for help," added Matt French, director of business development for Startup Weekend. "Most entrepreneurs don't know the answer to every question, and surrounding yourself with smart people can help answer them."
Brimer agrees. "Hire people who are better than you at specific things," he urged. "Ideally, as your company grows, you should be the least talented, the least capable and the dumbest person in the room. And if you are not, if you are the most talented, the most capable, and the smartest person in your company, then you are hiring all terrible people."
This might not make entrepreneurs feel like kings of their castles, but it will help them to build more sustainable companies and boost the value of their products.
Ready to kiss your start-up goodbye? VC principal Geoff Lewis offers four ways to tell if you're prime for the picking.
Exit strategies are rarely mentioned by start-ups, yet they are something every business owner needs if they hope to be acquired, said Geoff Lewis, principal at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm.
Speaking Tuesday at Internet Week in New York, he explained, "entrepreneurs and VCs don't often talk too candidly about how to think about getting acquired, because the best start-ups don't actually sell. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of start-ups will not IPO, and most start-ups are also not suicidal. They do not want to die. Start-ups do not want to go off into the night with no exit whatsoever."
There might not be an incentive to plan, as there's nothing to gain for investors, but entrepreneurs don't want to risk running their company into the ground before the deal has been finalized.
Here are four ways to tell if your company needs a makeover before you try to offload it:
Your old plan isn't working. Perhaps there is a lack of product-market fit or there's conflict within the team. If you no longer believe in the company's vision, perceive a threat from outside, and have no fundraising traction, you'd better grab a parachute and jump.
... Or you don't have a plan. If you've finally hit a wall, with no more restarts and pivots, something is definitely wrong.
Only you see the problems. "Ideally, the outside world thinks that your start-up is doing great," said Lewis. "Preferably crushing it; at minimum, doing OK. People on the outside don't realize the sort of issues or concerns that you have within the company," which might sound good, but could ultimately prove fatal as the cracks begin to show.
You have enough time. Lewis recommends entrepreneurs give themselves at least six months to plot their way out. Your team should have confidence in you as a leader and be able to work through this time.
Feel proud of your 70-hour weeks? You may as well boast about working while drunk.
Just how deep does the lionization of long work hours run in the entrepreneurial community? Pretty deep, according to Forbes writer Michael Simmons. When he started asking around Silicon Valley if 70-hour work weeks were worth it, he noticed founders turned cagey.
"Talking publicly about the topic brought fear of judgment," he wrote. "Two of the people I interviewed said that things like sharing vacation photos was a taboo as investors might see them. People who start ‘lifestyle’ businesses and who talk about balance and stress are often put into a bucket of people who aren’t serious about business."
In fact, taking breaks or getting a good night's rest are viewed as signs of weakness. Some even exaggerate how many hours they put in, according to time use expert Laura Vanderkam.
This valorization may be popular among entrepreneurs, but it has Julia Kirby, an editor at the Harvard Business Review, hopping mad. So mad, in fact, she wrote a strongly-worded blog post, "Change the World and Get to Bed by 10:00," a must-read for any professional.
Kirby includes a chart every business owner should take a look at. Getting drunk and not sleeping enough have roughly the same impact on performance, and neither are good. If you're coming to work consistently sleep-deprived you're basically functioning drunk. Take a look:
Kirby argues we need a social movement against sleep deprivation much like the cultural shift against smoking. Whether Hollywood producers will heed her words is an open question, but as a business owner in possession of a pillow and an alarm clock, you can take action today simply by going to bed at 10pm.
Or take things a step further, as Kirby suggests, and encourage your team to do the same. "If you're a corporate leader, you have the reasons and you have the means to change today's dysfunctional culture around sleep."
Do you think our cultural attitude toward sleep is unhealthy?
If you use any of these words, consider this your start-up slang intervention.
Ninja / • noun, a person with advanced skills. As in, "Dave is our secret ninja; he's the best coder we've ever hired." Is this a real company or a 6-year-old's fantasy? Why not throw teenage, mutant, and turtle in there while you're at it?
Value prop (or proposition) / • noun, the reason a customer would want to buy your product. As in, "I don't see the point of another crowdfunding site. What's the value prop? Another thing customers value? Plain English.
Killing it / • verb phrase, to perform successfully. As in, "Our team is really killing it right now. We hit 10,000 users two months after launch." All you are killing is my desire to have a conversation with you.
Productize / • verb, to turn a custom feature into an independent product. As in, "We took that process and productized it." Sorry to break it to you, but no one knows what you are talking about. Everyone is just nodding to be polite.
Rockstar / • adjective, outstandingly good. As in, "We're looking for a rockstar developer to join our team." OK, but don't be surprised when one of them trashes a hotel room at South by Southwest.
Grind / • verb, to work very hard. As in, "Our team is just grinding it out." Wow, sounds like a great sweatshop you've got going there! Sign me up!
Inflection point / • noun, a moment of dramatic change in the life of a start-up. As in, "We're growing 10x, month over month, and we haven't even hit our inflection point yet." Let me guess--you have a chart with a hockey stick on it.
Stealth / • adjective, secret. As in, "Ben won't talk about the stealth start-up he's working on. All I know is that it has something to do with the cloud." Are you protecting missile codes or launching a company? Careful; I think your phone may be bugged.
Not being afraid to ask, "What's in this for me?" makes women more in tune with their customers, says Forrester Research's James McQuivey.
Entrepreneurs who want to be digital disruptors should pay more attention to how they use tech, says James McQuivey, vice president of Forrester Research.
During a conference held at New York's Internet Week on Monday, the business man said women approach technology with a practical mindset. Whereas men are too focused on passion, women tend to see things from the customer's angle and ask, "What's in this for me?" This makes them in tune with their market and better able to serve its needs.
"Seeing the need on the other end of the technology, not the technology," is crucial to being a digital disruptor, explained McQuivey. "Men can genuinely say they love their technology," but "it gives us the desire to seek new things to love and to be content with their flaws."
On the other hand, women "use technology," but do not love it. Instead, they're more focused on getting things done, connecting to people, and managing resources. It's for these reasons they're helping tech to evolve and become more user-friendly.
McQuivey also pointed out women tend to be better than men at creating product experiences, which are crucial to digital products and services.
Do you agree that women are pushing technology farther?
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