4 Startup Lessons from TechPoint's Indiana Entrepreneur Bootcamp
1. Let your passions drive you.
What activities do you love to do? What are those things that always seem to make time fly? For me, it’s those creative projects where I’m building something. I think back to 14-hour design binges where I never left my desk and struggled to sleep because my mind was churning with more ideas. These projects invigorate me and always give back more than I put in. That passion is a requirement for any startup venture.
Launching a successful business is a long and arduous journey. With passion, an entrepreneur is fully equipped to whether the tough times. Your venture is an act of scratching an itch. Simply having that itch can be an early market validator that there’s an actual need for your product or service. Passion also transforms you. You become confident about your convictions. Handle adversity with gusto. Rather than languish on past mistakes, the passionate entrepreneur learns from their errors and redirects course.
2. Know when to ask for help
Maintaining focus as an entrepreneur is key to success. But you can’t know everything. You have to know when to ask for help. This was the essence of a problem I ran into in the first year of my Orr Fellowship experience. Rather than ask for help when creating a new report, I defined my own KPIs. I thought I knew it all—until another department took a closer look at the data and unraveled my mountain of assumptions. Had I asked for help, the report would’ve been accurate and far less painful. We all make mistakes, but the bottom line is that entrepreneurs should seek input from the start.
Seeking help is free and mentorship is often a mutually beneficial exchange. Mentors can minimize your weaknesses. Don’t spread yourself thin trying to master all angles of business ownership. Efficiently allocating your efforts is the name of the game. If accounting or IP law is not your strong suit, save yourself the trouble and lean on others to point you in the right direction. Don’t get hung up on the small tasks, you’ve got business goals to achieve.
Mentors can help mold your idea to specific business requirements. Early decisions can seem scary for the first-time entrepreneur, but the vast majority of startup problems are not unique to you and your business. Reach out to others to see how they solved them. They’ll be honored you asked and, by teaching you, reinforce their own lessons.
3. Don't go it alone.
The “lone innovator” is an attractive myth but not feasible in execution. Where do good ideas come from? What are the common innovation ingredients that disrupt the market? Despite being heavily romanticized, the idea of the individual genius with a sole vision is a fallacy. Most of my greatest work is a product of a critique or brainstorming session. Involving others in the creative process helped add context and new perspectives that added value.
That’s not to say you can’t think of good ideas independently. Rather, refining good ideas to transform them into great ideas requires a strong team. Good teams create synergy that fuel motivation and innovation. They hold you accountable, challenge your assumptions and help you maintain focus. With a team, your startup is more agile and quicker to respond to an ever-changing market. Quickly creating a minimally viable product with a team means you can get your product or service in the hands of the consumers sooner. A strong team can be the difference between a failed attempt and a successful pivot. You don’t need to cross the chasm alone.
4. Leverage the community.
Your business venture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Startups should provide solutions to market problems and the community is your customer base. Don’t underestimate their willingness to help. Remember, your product or service should making their lives easier. A fresh set of eyes and ears can help while toiling away in the trenches. Continually socialize what you’re working on to test your assumptions. I had a similar experience while working on landing page designs at the Speakeasy. My design employed all of the best practices for landing pages, but it wasn’t until someone else asked 'What does your company do?' that I realized I failed to address some of the higher-level themes.
Engaging with the community is also a good way to practice your pitch. It forces you to distill your ideas and see what resonates. Each time you describe your product you refine your message. Collecting user feedback helps identify if that new feature actually adds value. Community engagement is startup PR. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
The startup community is often willing and eager to help. Startups success is not mutually exclusive. Other entrepreneurs want you to succeed and they often enjoy exchanging ideas. By sharing common problems and learning from varying approaches, this cross-pollution offers new perspectives to old problems. Innovation begets innovation.
The key ingredients of a venture are people, ideas and money. The startup community, especially that of Indianapolis, is a hotspot for this trio.
About TechPoint's Indiana Entrepreneur Bootcamp
TechPoint, Indiana’s technology growth initiative, and it’s partner Ice Miller taught entrepreneurs how to transform their business ideas into successful ventures at TechPoint’s Indiana Entrepreneur Bootcamp this past Thursday, Sept 20, 2012. The daylong seminar, held at the Mavris Arts & Events Center, featured panel discussions on a broad array of startup topics with 25 well-known successful Indiana entrepreneurs and service professionals. Attendees earned real-world advice on how to overcome common startup obstacles and focus resources on the best practices for creating thriving businesses.
TechPoint is Indiana’s statewide technology initiative focused on growing Indiana’s tech sector by promoting the successes of technology companies and professionals; supporting the formation, expansion, and attraction of technology companies; and advocating appropriate public policy.