A few months ago, Patrick Whitney and Matt Mayfield invited me to teach an intercession course on Entrepreneuring at the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I figured that by March 3, Chicago would be out from under the brutally cold winter weather. Wrong.
I got my own week long full fruity flavor of the deep cold and snow of a Chicago winter. However, the warmth of the welcome from former students, current professors, current students and new friends from my public lecture on “Discovering, Developing and Trusting Your Inner Entrepreneur” made the trip beyond worthwhile.
One of the many gifts of teaching graduate students who are working professionals is that our paths continue to cross over the years. It was a delight to see so many former students from the ten years that I taught at ID during the 1990s.
I was excited to find that he tweeted out one of the sidebar comments “Find. Copy. Paste. Tweak.” is the new black when it comes to computer programming and the “maker” world.
I started the talk with a not too subtle summary of what it is like to be a serial entrepreneur:
Here are a few of the 12 steps to recovery for the serial entrepreneur:
As with all Entrepreneur’s Anonymous meetings we closed with the Entrepreneur’s Serenity Prayer.
Raina Russ and Ashley Lukasik did a great job organizing the event. They shared that there was a lot of interest from students and ID community members in entrepreneuring who couldn’t spare the time for the intercession course. They hoped that I could share what the world of entrepreneuring looks like on the west coast (Silicon Valley and Seattle) and how designers can link up with the entrepreneuring ecosystem.
The slide deck from the talk “Discovering, Developing and Trusting Your Inner Entrepreneur” can be found here. The core theme of the talk is that there is an incredible richness of resources for the entrepreneur. However, the entrepreneur quickly finds that many of the resources and “helpers” advice is in conflict. What David Robinson and I call “mentor whiplash“.
One of the surprises of the evening was finding out that a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, Cheryl Jackson, was covering the event. Once again I am reminded to always understand who is in the audience. She wrote the following in an article titled “Why the business should get more attention than the product“.
The average entrepreneur often pays too much attention to the product, and that’s a mindset that needs to be corrected, executive coach Skip Walter said Wednesday during a talk at IIT Institute of Design.
Rather than product, entrepreneurs need to focus on the valuation and the exit, Walter said.
“Everyone is focused on a product instead of on the business,” he said. “The founding entrepreneur has to be focused on the business more than the product and separate the two things. The valuation is when you sell the business as an asset.”
Entrepreneurs also tend to overlook better sources of money, he said. They often have friends, family, angel investors and venture capitalists on their radar but don’t consider corporate investors, who could do double duty – provide funding outright to a budding enterprise and buy services or products from that business, Walter said.
“Corporate or strategic investors often become a customer,” he said. “If they’re going to invest in you, often they have a problem internally that they want you to help them solve. So you get your first customer.”
“And you’ve got your exit partner,” he said, adding that such relationships often have larger companies buying ones in which they have invested.
Until they are flush, startups need to do a lot of experimentation, he said. Instead of the ready-aim-fire method of corporations, smaller operators need to think ready-fire-aim, Walter said.
“A large company will do ready, aim, aim, aim, aim and aim for years, and then launch something into the market,” he said. “They have all kinds of resources. An entrepreneur, because they have fewer resources, has to say ‘Let me experiment. Let me try a couple of experiments that will help me sort out where I want to aim my product.’”
Walter was founding CEO of Attenex, which was sold to FTI Consulting for $91 million in 2008. He has raised more than $25 million in new venture funding for companies, and he said it’s easier to launch a technology business than when he started.
“It used to be if we wanted to program anything, we had to write in this arcane computer language,” he said. “Today, there are libraries of programming code, which we call recipes. You copy it and edit. It takes like minutes, when it used to take us months.”
However, the real treat was to wake up to a sketchnote from Stefani Bachetti. Stefani nicely captured the visual gist of my talk in the following sketch: