The Micro-Entrepreneur

I recently met with a group of young entrepreneurs who are seeing early, strong signs that the business they have launched is going to be wildly successful. The immediate problem I saw was that we spent a decent portion of our time together discussing the OTHER things they wanted to do. These things were NOT part of the core business and, indeed, could be launched as separate stand-alone businesses.

Don't get me wrong, the other ideas were not bad ideas. As a matter of fact, they were actually very good ideas, but focusing on good IDEAS when you've got a WORKING MODEL is a BAD IDEA.

Here's what I wrote to this group of young men to encourage them in their entrepreneurial journey:

"It was great to meet all of you guys and exciting to see your rapid growth and aggressive determination. As a fellow entrepreneur I'm very happy for you all. At the same time I understand that opportunities like this, where you really lock onto something that is growing rapidly and has few limitations, don't come along very often. I believe this is one of the big reasons that 9 out of 10 startups fail – simply picking a horse that was never destined to run. You've got a stallion with this startup and my encouragement for you to focus goes well beyond simply helping you raise the money you need, to ultimately growing a life-changing endeavor. 

One of the most difficult transitions for an entrepreneur is to go from inventor to operator and I sense that all of you are struggling with this transition. There will always be entrepreneurial opportunities in your business, but should you choose to grow this business you're going to be moving from macro-entrepreneurship (bringing big, new, bold ideas to market) to micro-entreneurship (making minor enhancements to products, procedures and policies). It's still very creative and absolutely necessary but it's about building a better mousetrap than building a brand new bear trap. 

 I can only provide this encouragement as a guy who has blown an opportunity to grow rapidly in a previous endeavor by feeding his entrepreneurial appetite and chasing the new shiny object rather than focusing on the obvious. In Nashville, the ultimate entrepreneurial endeavor is songwriting. The entrepreneur gets to create, polish, present and (possibly) cash out over and over again in a very short period of time. Most of the successful writers spend most of their time polishing and presenting. Most of the unsuccessful writers spend most of their time creating and never take the time to polish and present, thinking the next one will be THE ONE. 

 It feels to me like you guys are on THE ONE – so polish, present and cash out (eventually). You'll have plenty of other opportunities in the future to pursue the next big thing – and if all goes will with this venture you can do it on your own terms and out of your own pockets, which is a much stronger and opportunity-filled position. 

 Allright, I'm putting my soap box away – sorry for the speech! 

 Much success to you all - Andy"

Should you try to raise money for your new startup business?

Having raised money for several startup businesses this is a question I get asked all the time. While I don't claim to be an expert on the subject matter I can certainly speak to my experience. I also need to say that this is an exhaustive topic that takes far more than a simple blog post to cover. That being the case, I'd like to address just a small piece of the puzzle today, what I call the TWO ENTREPRENEURIAL PRESSURES.


TWO ENTREPRENEURIAL PRESSURES

Pressure 1: Customers
As an entrepreneur you will always be dealing with customer pressure. And as the business founder you will never be far from the front lines. I've heard a number of business owners refer to the feeling of always being "on call" for their customers on nights, weekends and even during vacations. Been there, done that. Like it or not, that's real, unavoidable pressure for every entrepreneur.

Pressure 2: Investors
While Pressure 1 is unavoidable (or you'll quickly find yourself out of business), Pressure 2 is optional. I don't want to spend time here today discussing how to decide whether or not you need to take on an investment for your business, but I do want to point out that once you go down that road you have opened up pressure from a whole new dimension... Investors. It turns out that investors don't invest in your business because they like your idea or like you as an entrepreneur, although those are preliminary requirements. Investors give you money because they like money and believe you can make them MORE! If you meet or exceed your business plan you'll hear little to nothing from most experienced investors as they'll be confortable that you're hitting the goals you proposed on the front end which means they're on track for the returns they expected when they made the investment. However, when things don't go according to plan, an lets face it - they rarely do, your investors are going to demand (and deserve) an explanation and demand (and deserve) a revised plan and demand (and deserve) up-to-the-minute play-by-play until you get back on track.

SUMMARY

This post is not meant to suggest that taking on an investment in your business is either good or bad. As a matter of fact my personal experience is that the right investor brings far more than money to the table and far more good than bad to the table (see this post for details). The main point I'd like to make here is that as you consider taking on an investment for your business keep in mind that the pressure you now feel from you CUSTOMERS will potentially now be bookended by new pressure you will feel from INVESTORS. Many entrepreneurs start businesses because they believe they can build products and provide services better than anyone else in the market and don't need anyone pressure from anyone to tell then how to do it right. When you start "working" for an INVESTOR you potentially compromise that ideal scenario. 

Can you get on the next season of Shark Tank?

Since my national InkFlip TV debut (which also happened to be my national TV finale) I often get asked by other entrepreneurs about both the PROCESS of getting onto Shark Tank and the LIKELIHOOD that there will be another season.

PROCESS
Personally I found the process of getting on the show for InkFlip.com to be relatively painless. Here's how it went.

  • In early July of 2009 I was told by a friend that she heard about a show for entrepreneurs that ABC was filming and that they were still taking applications. I believe she said, "You've always got all these crazy ideas - you'd be perfect for them".
  • Not knowing anything other than what she told me I went to the ABC web site, found the Shark Tank section and clicked on the Casting link.
  • On this page I found the following information - which is still there as I make this blog post:
  • I typed up an email, included the photo below, and, as I was about to press send literally said, OUT LOUD, "This is going off into hyperspace, I just wasted a bunch of time."
  • In less than 24 hours my phone range and I was being interviewed for 20 - 30 minutes by a representative from Mark Burnett Productions. I was STUNNED!
  • 24 hours later I was asked to submit an official application which included signing a lengthy legal agreement and submitting a home-made video. The video included me both giving my "pitch" in 2 - 3 minutes and answering a number of questions (posed by an off-camera neighbor).
  • Within a week of submitting my official application and video I was interviewed several additional times on the phone and then told that I was a "finalist" which meant there was a good chance I would be receiving a plane ticket to Hollywood.
  • Three weeks later my plane touched down at LAX... and the rest is history.
All in all the application and interview process was pretty simple and pretty low stress. I would absolutely do it again and I would absolutely encourage anyone thinking about applying to hit the send button and see what happens!

LIKELIHOOD
Before you apply, however, you may want to consider that there has been NO CONFIRMATION THAT THERE WILL BE ANOTHER SEASON OF SHARK TANK. ABC has not said yes or no, they simply have not said anything. Just the same, there may be an alternative worth considering.

Dragon's Den, the Canadian version of the show, is now casting (Season 6) and, as best anyone can tell, it's open to all (i.e. not just Canadians). Here's a LINK if you're interested. The show is very similar in format to Shark Tank and even has two of the ABC Sharks on the panel - Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec - who are both Canadian born. It seems that you can apply online like I did for Shark Tank or in person (ala American Idol) by looking at the Audition Cities and Locations tour schedule (follow link above). Auditions are currently in progress so if you're interested you'll need to move quickly.

Having no idea about the audition process for Dragon's Den I would say it's likely not the same as I described above for Shark Tank.

Should Shark Tank be picked up for another season I'm sure the application pool will be much larger and thus make it more difficult to get on the air. As I discovered through my Shark Tank experience however, if you've got a solid idea and an entertaining presentation (meaning really good OR bad - again think American Idol, specifically William Hung) you've got a shot and SHOULD take it.

Next thing you know you'll be writing your own blog - feel free to plug InkFlip.com!