3 Things You Should Know



I recently spoke at two meet-ups geared towards early-stage entrepreneurs hosted by Philly Startup Leaders and Walnut St. Labs.

Compared to today, the journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur was much different in 1998 when I co-founded ITtoolbox. Although the internet Bubble was inflating, becoming an entrepreneur was still an unconventional path with fairly limited sources for support. Frankly, resources for assistance were either hard to find or not packaged in a way to maximize their benefit.

Today, being an entrepreneur is mainstream, even sexy, with the Social Network, Shark Tank, The Lean Startup, and HBO series Silicon Valley all raising awareness to new heights. In tandem, floods of new resources are available including groups and incubators like the ones mentioned above. Social technologies and vast online tools provide assets like sample legal documents, benchmark data for financing, and the opportunity to directly engage with experienced-based peer groups.

It is a very different world, but that does not mean it is easier.

In many ways, the increase in offerings to help entrepreneurs has made successfully scaling to sustainability even harder. With the surge in the number of deals and the dollars invested in early-stage deals, the competition to acquire customers and recruit a good team has ramped.
I love being an entrepreneur, but it is not for everybody. Most of the time it is more a curse than a blessing. When grinding out 14-hour days, the romantic notion of chasing a big idea starts to feel very heavy.

Before you take the plunge to start your own company, here are 3 questions you need to ask yourself.

1) Do you understand the market you are looking to disrupt?

When I talk to a startup company’s leaders, I quickly want to understand if they have a firm grasp of the market they are looking to disrupt. ITtoolbox provided a platform where IT executives and professionals could share best practice information. Prior to that, I had a small technology consulting company, so I understood the pain point and nerve of the market. If you have not worked in a market, it is very hard to understand the nerve that elicits new buying behaviors.

It is a gating item we consider when evaluating potential portfolio companies. A good example is PeopleLinx. Prior to becoming a SaaS company, PeopleLinx provided social business training. For them, it was not a question of the value of providing guidance on how to leverage social. It was about how they could scale their know-how to help large sets of employees within an enterprise. They already understood the market.

2) Are you solving a problem or building a product?

When a company comes to pitch MissionOG, we ask them to start with the problem. Before hearing anything about their product and what makes it great or different or special, we want to understand the problem they are looking to solve.

Your product will change. The problem in the market rarely does or does so slowly. The product needs to change in order to unlock the opportunity.

The overwhelming odds are your product or service will change dramatically when you go to market or attempt to scale. It is imperative that you understand the problem and the value of solving it, so that you are always building and prioritizing to solve that issue.

3) Can you commit to something knowing the odds are against your success?

Being a good entrepreneur is understanding that you are going to fail a lot, but still have the stubbornness and belief to leap out of bed every morning ready to solve problems. Starting your own business means pushing a rock up a hill everyday to see it roll to the bottom on many occasions, and having the courage to get up and start rolling it up the hill again.

It is hard. Very hard. Things take 3x longer than you think, and the whole thing only gets more complicated when you have employees. It gets even harder once you bring on investors and need to retain existing customers while winning new ones.

To succeed, you need to commit and be prepared to adjust to your many failures along the way.

So, what you should do.

If you understand the market, have clarity on a problem worth solving, and are prepared to fail often, then maybe you are ready to give it a shot.

If you are not able to definitively answer the three questions above, then I would suggest starting with a job in the industry you are looking to disrupt or in a startup to see first-hand what it is really like before taking the plunge.

We are always looking for talented people to join our portfolio companies. If you are interested in a challenging position, visit our Careers page to view available positions.