“I love start-ups and all the wonderful gizmos and gadgets they make,” said Cynthia Kocialski, a veteran of three start-ups and author of Startup from the Ground Up (www.cynthiakocialski.com). “The problem is that most of these wonderful things never make it because the entrepreneur is in love with the technology, and they lack an understanding of the technology business. It’s one thing to develop a new gadget or piece of software that does something cool, but entrepreneurs need to ask themselves if it actually solves a problem. Cool doesn’t sell. Meeting the needs of consumers and businesses does. In the final equation, it is the business of technology that determines the ultimate success or failure of the product.”
Kocialski’s experiences have led her to create a series of tips for anyone considering launching or financing a start-up company. These tips include:
It’s Not About the Product — Start-ups are not about the technology or product. The product is the heart of the company, but the product no more makes a company than a heart makes a human being. There are many components to a company that all have to work together harmoniously in order to achieve a success outcome.
Don’t Be Afraid to Discover — The early stage start-up process is a discovery process, not a step-by-step execution process. Many first-time entrepreneurs believe you come up with a great product idea, then they come up with a detailed business plan, and finally they hire the people to execute the steps in the plan. Discovery is simply a starting point from which the product and business with evolve, iterate, and be refined as the concept meets the customers, the market, and the investors.
Retool and Revise — The first product idea is never the final product that makes the company famous. In reality, the worst work you will ever do is the first work you do. Press forward past the first iteration, and make use of the lessons you learn along the way.
Build Your Team – You need a team, but not just any team. You need the right team for that stage of a company’s life. You wouldn’t hire a college professor to teach kindergarten. For that, you need to find early elementary teachers. Ditto for start-ups. Find the right people for the right job, as well as the right attitude and stage of their careers to make them a match for working with a start-up.
Think Like an Investor — Investors know and accept that investing in a start-up is a very high-risk proposition. If investors wanted a moderate return, they’d invest in publicly traded bellwether companies like IBM and Coca-Cola. What entrepreneurs don’t get is that, to an investor, the company itself is THEIR product. Entrepreneurs need to understand the investor’s perspective. Entrepreneurs engage in the deliberate creation of their end-user product, but what they also need to do is engage in the deliberate creation of the company. Investors buy into companies, not end-user products. For an investor, the best case scenario is a tested, proven business with a market that is poised to expand and grow rapidly.
“The spirit of American business is embodied in the start-up,” Kocialski added. “Innovation and guts are the foundation of the start-up, and those qualities also happen to be characteristic of the most successful mega-firms ever to hit the market. Let those qualities form the dynamic of your start-up and you’ll be off to a good start.”
About the author: Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three companies – two fabless semiconductor and one software company. Currently, she is a consultant for start-up companies. What makes her unique is that she has experienced many start-ups see them from the inside out, including the day-to-day trials and tribulations, not just the milestones and status presented to passive investors and outsiders. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups and has served on various advisory boards.