Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Formula for a Successful Start-up

Towards the end of an engaging coffee meeting with Harold Brown, a well known and self defined serial entrepreneur and investor in the rising tech community of metro Atlanta, he made this observation, “As I am getting to know you Mike I’ve come to the conclusion you are not a ‘creator’ you are instead a ‘doer’ and I bet if we paired you with a good creator we’d get one heck of a start-up.”   

I wasn’t insulted by that observation at all.  In fact he captured me perfectly.  I am a doer and always have been.  My consulting company is all about helping business owners become more disciplined doers.  There is no doubt the aircraft engineering degree (process orientation) and military upbringing (Dad was career USAF) contributed to these traits.  The whole conversation got me thinking about what the necessary ingredients are for a successful start-up – outside the risk taking, free spirit characteristics you hear about most often. Here’s what I concluded:

(C + D) + Fr = SSu
(Creator + Doer) + Financial resources = Successful Start-up

Leave it to a former engineer to turn an observation into an equation. Let’s take a moment to dissect this formula.

Financial resources:  The inclusion of this in the equation should not be a surprise to anyone. It takes money or equivalent to start a company.  We all know that - whether that means going without pay for years or writing checks for website, business cards, office space, travel, capital equipment, etc…. I read somewhere that one of the top three reasons for a start-up failure is being under-capitalized.  In other words they simply run out of money before sales revenues are sufficient to support the business.  Now I will argue that a vast majority run out of money because they spent unwisely namely because they lacked a Doer who would ensure a plan was in place to control precious cash.

Creator:  This is the passionate idea person who can see a problem or need as well as the business solutions to address it.  Though there are common traits between a creator and an inventor the difference is dramatic.  A creator in this case conceptualizes a business solution before a technology solution. Sadly an inventor‘s approach is exactly opposite, which explains why so many inventors are flat broke.  Jeff Stibell wrote this in a Harvard Business Review article titled, Are you an Inventor or an Entrepreneur?

“But don’t confuse being an entrepreneur with being an inventor. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Action is what differentiates an entrepreneur from an inventor. If you want to focus on ideas, become an inventor — not an entrepreneur.”

Guys like Henry Buckley typify the definition of a creator. He conceived and started 10 businesses, the latest a jogger-based door-to-door pamphlet delivery service called JogPost.

Doer:  This is a person (a) with the discipline and skills to develop and execute a credible business plan, (b) who possess fundamental selling and marketing skills, and (c) who is versed enough in financial balance sheets to make critical and timely decisions, (d) who knows how to find, hire and motivate a talented workforce, and (e) who knows when and how to engage outside experts (legal, accounting, etc…). 

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that this is an entirely different person from the creator.  Though quite rare, a creator may in fact possess some or all of these traits.  The important message is a business cannot make it without a well thought out plan, good marketing, strong sales and a disciplined approach to how capital is being utilized.  Take away any one of these and you’ve significantly impacted your chances of success.

Jim Flannery, Founder of the Four Athens technology incubator, reinforces this formula when he shared with me the reason the word “Four” is in his incubator name.  His experience says that you need the following four things to make a successful start-up:
  • A business person
  • A marketing/sales person 
  • A technical person that can implement an MVP (software/hardware start-ups exclusively) 
  • A service provider (legal/accounting) 
“I am very fearful of solo founders,” Jim says.  “My advice, rather than say "do you possess these traits", is "can you find two other people that possess one of these traits each AND believe in your (creator) vision"  

My strong message to those creators is to be brutally honest when assessing your skill-sets and if you lack any of those under the category of doer don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get by without it. I’ve seen enough to confidently say you can’t and won’t.

Want some growth advice for your metro Atlanta start-up from a proven "doer"?  Let's chat over a cup of coffee.  Contact me here.

Mike Gomez is the founder of Allegro Consulting, a business growth specialty firm.  He has served as a program manager and business development executive in both Fortune 100 companies as well as small businesses. Through the use of sound yet simplified business processes he has helped Georgia companies achieve remarkable sales growth. Mike is a growth strategy and complex sales expert, prolific writer, speaker, guest lecturer at GaTech and UGA, and a mentor at FourAthen technology incubator and Atlanta Tech Village.