Sunday, May 31, 2015

Entrepreneurs: Building Businesses, Driving Prosperity

Entrepreneurs have always propelled this economy. It all begins with the drive to create change. The unique breed of people ride the roller-coaster of building a business and have fun doing it.

The inspiration for the this post is from a talk I heard at TiE Boston by Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School. He spoke about the trend where currently all businesses are SMAC. SMAC = Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud. Nitin Nohria identified healthcare and robotics as the two fields that will emerge besides the SMAC businesses. I believe moving forward the value creation and innovation will happen when this current trend of technology applications interacts with other fields. For example, using mobile devices for delivering healthcare - think telehealth; using cloud computing capability of the business for agriculture - think quickly responding to changing environmental conditions based on multiple data points, etc.

For entrepreneurs, we always hear about aspects of having a good team, great opportunity, funding, network of family/friends or ideally business prospects, etc. I will elaborate my thoughts on some of these topics below.

You can't build a great venture without a great team. The goal is to have simple functional teams that can perform the work. Also critical is to understand that building a great team is not necessarily having a group of your best friends, although it might be good fit if there are complementary roles.

We always hear cash is king. For entrepreneurs this translates to why sales is king. We think about the market price at which cash is available. Ventures fail because they fail in customer acquisition. People underestimate sales cycle. Don't run out of customers or cash.

Entrepreneurs need strong beliefs. Entrepreneurs need exaggerated convictions. Entrepreneurs also need truth tellers. This is why trust is key between entrepreneurs and mentors / advisors. As one goes through the highs and lows of entrepreneurial journey, this group of people show us the compass, to point us in the right direction and keep us oriented towards the end-goal.

All businesses need to have a business plan. From an investors point of view the important thing to evaluate is whether the business looks like the business plan? Everybody invests in a business plan but plans mean nothing. Planning is everything. The imperative thing for entrepreneurs is to be permanently adaptive. One should have belief in the plan but continue to evolve. This is where the business should have the capacity to pivot in case things don't work according to your plan.

Yet, when we look at the sky-high valuations for many of the SMAC businesses, I wonder if we are in a bubble. The only comparison point I have is the Dotcom bubble, and believe that the current situation is quite different as the startups have an underlying infrastructure this time. This results in the potential for value creation.

I remember attending another event where Vivek Randive, former CEO of TIBCO quite nicely summarized the keys to success:
1. Anything that is already done can be done better
2. Surround yourself with really smart people
3. Once you go down the entrepreneurial path, never ever give up and you will succeed.

Entrepreneurs are the true rocks stars and especially in today's economy entrepreneurship is the platform for success while keeping the curiosity and hope alive.

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