Wednesday, December 5, 2012

One Entrepreneur's Not-So-Off-The-Wall Advice

As you know, I'm a sucker for anything that sounds counterintuitive at first, but then seems obvious later in a palm-slapping-the-forehead sort of way.

My buddy, who is the CEO of a company based in Allston (but who shall remain nameless for this entry), said this over coffee the other day: "The biggest thing I'd tell anyone who is about to start, or who just started a business, is not to spend too much time around other entrepreneurs."  

I gave him my puzzled look.  Yeah, but isn't all the conventional wisdom about how you should be constantly networking, constantly learning about best practices, staying looped into the "ecosystem?"

"Sort of," he replied.  "Some of that is worthwhile.  But it's almost never a better use of time than talking to your actual customers and building your business."  He went on to say that many people lose sight of this -- they become obsessed with the start-up "scene" and completely ignore the fact that businesses are, at their core, all about dollars being transacted.  He added that the start-up scene is like any scene -- it has its own insular lingo, faddish concepts, groupthink, etc.  There's a big obsession with homeruns as opposed to solid hits:  if you're pitching something that involves a) mobile devices, b) the cloud, c) the developing world, and d) scalability, then many will think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread.  You could stand up and say, "I'm going to bring streaming educational software to Uganda through a scalable app that tracks student progress with a proprietary algorithm," and people might line up to buy you drinks and shake your hand.

But guess what?  Unless you can somehow monetize that, it's less of a quality business idea than that of someone down the street with half your formal education who thinks he knows a great place where a car wash could go.

That second guy might not use all the right buzzwords, and he may not know or care about mobile user interfaces for orphanage locator apps in Burma, but if he can get the attention of people with dirty cars who seek clean cars, he will be in business.

He went on to explain that other entrepreneurs are more likely to act like restaurant critics than kitchen line staff when they hear about what you're doing...makes sense, right?

He wasn't pooh-poohing the idea the CEO-to-CEO networking.  I'm not trying to, either.  Everything in its place, and to everything, a season.

It's just that the execution side of things -- the moment in which someone says, "I would rather have [that service or product] than [this money in my hand or account]" is where business actually happens.  

Amidst a lot of jargon and buzzwords, people can lose sight of that.  

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