Unlikely Business Partners
Entrepreneurship can be a plan or it can be a necessity. Follow your own path. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Diverse thinking leads to fresh ideas. Seek it out. Look at your team: If everyone looks alike, speaks alike, thinks alike, and believes the same things as you, your team is not diverse.
Differences can be your superpower. Stay different! Many companies hire people who are diverse thinkers, then train everyone to think the same way. Resist this urge.
Dig deeper to find root causes or systemic issues rather than solving for symptoms. It will spark greater innovation.
Acknowledge hurdles and forces that are bigger than you, but don’t let that deter you. Instead, find others to help you tilt the scales in your favor.
Watch Out for Grizzlies
Successful partnerships require extreme candor more than close friendship. Find the middle ground with someone you can trust but who is not in every facet of your life so you each have space.
Scaling big ideas requires common mindsets but diverse thinking and skill sets. A great partner will agree on the end goal but not always on the way to get there.
Starting a business has never been easier but scaling a business has never been harder. Don’t give up after the sexy Shark Tank part.
Scaling a professional service business is hard because you are the product and your unit of value is time. Neither scale. To make money while you sleep, you will need to acquire other people’s time or develop a deliverable not measured by time.
Look for new revenue streams that allow you to make money while you sleep. If you have a service, think about how you can productize it. If you have a product, think about how you can servitize it. New revenue streams that sell more to existing customers drive engagement and value.
It’s Not What You Know. It’s What You Notice.
You don’t have to be an expert to solve a problem. A lack of knowledge can be a blessing. Most innovation comes from what you notice, not from what you know. Give yourself permission to have a big idea in an area that is not in your area of expertise.
Get comfortable with ambiguity. Not having all the answers at the outset can lead you to new ideas and solutions you never would have considered.
Share your ideas with others. They are too busy to steal your idea. If you don’t share it, no one can help.
Your network = your net worth. A network is a living, growing organism. You can start building one anywhere. To grow a network, you need to feed it.
Look at your larger ecosystem—your customers, suppliers, partners, competitors. All can be sources of capital and value.
Customers + Commerce = Capital
Your biggest dream customer is not your best first customer. Start small while thinking big.
Focus on the Three Cs of Growth: customers, commerce, and capital. If these three start flowing, then you shift into gear and begin turning a flywheel of growth.
Look beyond the first order. Many businesses are one and done. Your goal is to get the tenth order. Be sure you can deliver the first order well or you won’t see the tenth order.
There are no second-class startups. Just because an investor or a lender says no does not mean your business is bad. You have to find the right source of capital for you, at the right time, and for the right use.
Hire Patience. Hire Patiently.
Resist the urge to hire and raise money from close friends. Your excitement will attract friends who want to help. Friends should not be both investors and employees. As you scale, if you hire friends, they should not report directly to you.
Hire patience and hire patiently. Scaling a business takes time.
Hire for mindsets over skill sets. For most positions, you can teach someone to do what you need done, but you cannot teach a person how to think. Be sure your interview process gets at mindsets. Give homework projects to candidates and observe how they approach tasks.
Hire sales and customer service first. Of the Three Cs of Growth, the first one you have to get is a customer.
Cash Is King. But Flow Is Queen.
Cash is king, but flow is queen, and you can’t win a chess match without flow. Borrowing or raising money does not create flow. Even if you borrow money to keep the business going, don’t forget that you need to address the problem of cash flow.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Focus on finding the right questions over finding answers.
Time kills all deals. Don’t let perfect get in the way of progress.
Focus on impact over product when receiving feedback. What matters is how your product helps, not simply how it works. If your ego is invested in the particulars of your product’s manufacturing or aesthetics, you’ll miss valuable feedback about its impact and even opportunities for growth.
Let go as you grow. Ensure your frontline team members have a way to communicate unfiltered feedback.
Do not play the blame game. Focus on solutions and move on.
The biggest bottleneck to growth is often the founder. You can do most things, and likely have over time, but that does not mean you should do all of them.
Growing Out of Business
More businesses grow out of business than go out of business. Build in extra time and flexibility as you plan for the future. It will probably take longer and more money than you think.
It is an inconvenient truth that you often need cash flow to borrow money to help with cash flow. A circular argument for sure! Break the circular argument. Get your cash flow from customers and suppliers. Get up-front deposits and accept credit cards. Then you can borrow money for things like inventory, equipment, and hiring.
Not all dollars are equal. A dollar of equity is more expensive than a dollar of debt, and a dollar of debt is more expensive than a dollar of cash flow from operations or revenue. Cost is not just the number next to the dollar sign. The greatest cost can be the wrong structure, which restricts and does not match your business. Unregulated online lenders look fast and cheap but are not tailored to your business and can even kill it when the loan structure doesn’t match your situation.
Level Up Now
It is easy to feel powerless when you experience failure but you must look at the root causes of the failure. If you failed, maybe others did too for the same reason. These are big opportunities!
When tackling a problem, get a 360-degree view. Most people naturally have, at best, a 180-degree view. Find someone who sees the other side and include them in the development of the solution.
Think outside the box and look outside your market for inspiration. Just as our inspiration for NowAccount came from lunch at a restaurant and not at a fintech meeting, your greatest inspiration typically happens when you are not trying to solve a problem. Be open and curious.
When solving a problem, use an engineering mindset. Describe the problem or points of friction in as much detail as you can before you start to design a solution that connects all the dots.
Sometimes what is holding you back is not a glass ceiling but rather a sticky floor. Don’t let your self-doubt overcome you. Why shouldn’t you be the one to solve this problem?
Know Your Numbers
Entrepreneurs have lives too. You do not have to give up your personal life to be an entrepreneur. This is a fallacy propagated by those who have sacrificed their personal lives and want company.
Roles evolve. Don’t get married to your title.
To secure your first customers, look at who your ideal customers trust and partner with them to leverage their voice.
Get advice from people who have been in your shoes, not people who have read about shoes. Has your banker ever run a small business? When they give you advice, ask to speak with another small-business owner they have helped.
Know your numbers and the story behind your balance sheet. You don’t need to have studied accounting or finance, but make sure that your bookkeeper, accountant, or CFO can clearly explain your numbers to you.
The Big Bad Wolf
Understand the power dynamic of large corporations. The fact that a senior executive gets you in the door does not mean you have a customer. In large corporations, there is no one person who can say yes, but there are lots of people who can say no. Your goal is to get through the nos.
When trying to secure a customer, show the customer why they need you instead of trying to sell your product or service. The presentation should be about them, not about you. Sell your impact.
Look under the hood of a big customer for opportunities in their supply chain. Many small businesses set their sights on the Goliath customers and run out of money trying to catch them. Serving Goliath’s suppliers is a great way to level up with less risk.
Negotiations can be scary, but don’t go into them with the mindset that one side has to lose in order for the other side to gain something. Focus on how to grow the pie for all. Figure out where each party’s assumptions differ and create a scenario in which each party benefits if their assumptions turn out to be true.
Always look to change the game. If the game is designed to work against you, change it. If you are a small business who competes with larger competitors on price, offer extended terms and change the game. Be honest about what works for you and what doesn’t, and don’t be afraid to push back.
Through Thick and Thin
Partnerships that stand the test of time will see each partner’s role change over time. Great partnerships flex to fit changing life circumstances and new opportunities.
Stuff happens. How you respond to problems defines your future.
Be honest. Admit mistakes. Apologize. Own it. ALWAYS.
Step back and analyze what went wrong. Often when we experience a failure, we are so quick to vacate the premises that we never look back. Force yourself to look at what happened from all angles. You will realize that there are not only great lessons to be learned, but that the same misstep can’t take you down again if you own it.
The Future Is Now
You are the captain of the ship. Keep smiling.
Think outside VC. Venture capital works for some, but there’s no shame in not being the kind of business that VCs want.
Do your homework on investors. Ask them for references. Ask them for examples of successes and failures and what they would have done differently or what they did to contribute to their success.
While policy makers need to address the systemic forces that keep small businesses from accessing capital, commerce, and coaching, business owners can help one another change the game: Buy from one another. Collaborate on deals. Share knowledge and contacts. Be vulnerable about challenges and mistakes. Raise your voices to draw attention to structural weaknesses. Together, we can level up NOW.