Starting a Start-up
It has been two weeks on the job as an Executive-in-Residence at the Innovation Factory and I have met with about a dozen entrepreneurs looking for advice. The meetings range from companies with a management team in place and a product or prototype ready to launch; to single entrepreneurs with an idea or technology, looking for help to validate their vision and build it into a company. A common statement that I hear from many of these single entrepreneurs is "I'm the technical guy and I don't understand the business or marketing side".
The Yin and the Yang is a Chinese philosophy that complementary opposites interact to make a greater whole. As I compare these single entrepreneurs with those companies that are ready to launch or those with whom I work in my consulting practice, it is obvious for the need to partner to create a start-up. Generally, it is only in the case of serial entrepreneurs who have done it before that I see an exception to this rule. In the cases where a single entrepreneur starts a successful company, if you look closely, somewhere in the background you will see one or more very active advisors providing the Yang to the entrepreneur's Yin.
So what do you do if you are a technical entrepreneur with a great product idea or a business entrepreneur with a solid market opportunity? I think the first thing is find your partner. Building a company is hard work. Over the first few years, you will like spend as much or more time with this person than you will with your spouse, so you better figure out your criteria for choosing your partner.
Different but complimentary skills are the obvious starting position. Generally the three big macro areas to be covered are Technical, Sales and Finance. Successful entrepreneurial partnerships go way beyond this. Trust is a must. Your success or failure will depend on this person, as will theirs on you.
You also better both be passionate about the thing you are building. Just making money is not enough of a driver to sustain your partnership. I think you need to also match and balance your tolerance for risk. Matching means you have to be in the same zone for taking risk while balance refers to one putting the brakes on the other before they drive the car over the cliff.
Not a lot of advisors have the time to be the Yang to your Yin because it is really a full time job, so don't expect this from your advisor. They can coach the team, but you need to create the team.
So if you have a great idea, see a great market opportunity, or invent a new technology and you want to commercialize, my advice is first, find a partner who is the Yang to your Yin.