Here is a great interview between Guy Kawasaki and Pamela Slim I found on American Express OPEN forum. It's worth reading by anyone fed up with being a cog in the wheel. There is no better time to start a business than now. Big companies are laying off people, the cost of acquisition is dropping as fewer competitors become aggressive, and, quite honestly, being an entrepreneur is a hell of a lot of of fun!
Always do something you're passionate about, and be sure to look at things realistically. I've found that it always takes longer and costs more than anticipated.
Question: How do you know when it is time to quit your day job?
Answer: There is no perfect formula to ensure that
you are 100% ready to quit your job and start a business—if I could
figure it out, I would be rich! But there are a few critical things
you need to take into consideration in making the decision. First, you
have to have a really clear, realistic picture of your financial life
and understand the specific risks you are willing to take. For some
people, this is a defined pile of cash to burn through, for others it
is a period of time you set aside to see if your business will work.
Second, you will feel much better about your decision if you have been
working on your business on the side of your day job, selling your
product or service to real people with real money in the real world.
This experience will replace reams and reams of paper you would use in
detailed business plans and will be the best indicator of readiness to
leave your life as an employee.
Question: But isn’t it crazy to start a business in this economy?
Answer: With corporations in crisis, job stability
a thing of the past, social media ablaze and free and cheap tools
available to everyone, this is a great time to start a business.
Depending on your financial situation and how far along you are with
your business idea, if you find a need in the market that you can serve
well, this is an excellent time to run ahead of the pack. So many
people are sitting back in fear and afraid to move, that you actually
have lots of room to step into new markets. Let me phrase it another
way. In the unfortunate case that you get laid off, do you think you
would be more happy having started a business on the side or having
spent your energy desperately clinging to your job?
Question: How do you decide which business to start?
Answer: Business ideas are a dime a dozen. From my
perspective, which is firmly rooted in the idea that the purpose of a
business is to allow you to live the kind of life that makes you happy,
healthy, wise, and wealthy—or at least well-fed, a good business idea
has four components. First, it is rooted in something you are
passionate about and which energizes you. Entrepreneurship is too darn
hard to manufacture enthusiasm. Second, you have the skill and
competence to make it happen—or at least a really great contact list of
smart and enthusiastic friends to help you figure it out. Third, you
need to do enough business planning to know whom you are trying to
serve, and how you are going to make money. Finally, you want a
business model that you have the resources to support and that delivers
the life you want to live.
Question: What is the very first step that I should take?
Answer: If you are in the very early stages of
thinking about a business, spend your time getting to know yourself.
One of the best things I learned from author Jim Collins is to study
yourself as if you were a scientist observing a bug. Pay very close
attention to the things that either make you feel great or feel
crappy. Note the kind of environment, work, people, topics,
industries, schedule, and activities that make you thrive. When you
start your business with this awareness, you will feel natural energy
and clarity which will make all the next steps of the process like
choosing a business idea, figuring out the money, planning your
business, identifying your customers, and creating a marketing process
a lot easier.
Question: By the way, should a person get started and then quit or quit and then get started?
Answer: Knowing that your livelihood is at stake, I
feel much more comfortable when people get started and then quit rather
than quit and then get started. The process of creating your first
product or service and getting paying customers is often much different
than you imagine and can require more time, resources, and support than
anticipated in your planning stage. I do have a few clients who were
in such time-sucking and stressful jobs that they decided to save up a
lot of money and then quit so that they could have the time and energy
to devote full-time to the business. Also, there is nothing more
motivating for getting new business than an impending mortgage payment.
Whichever path you choose, make sure you know how much time or money
you have to burn and have a few options open for generating income if
your business takes longer to get off the ground than anticipated.
Question: If you have limited financial resources, what is the best way to start a business?
Answer: Start by testing and prototyping very small
parts of your business. You don’t have to set up a huge infrastructure
or print shiny brochures or to buy new equipment. Be ruthless about
getting as much information and coaching as you can for free. People
are very generous with good content, and you can learn tons by reading
smart blogs and attending free teleclasses or seminars. With limited
resources, you may want to stay away from businesses that have high
operating costs and stick with a web-based model that you can get
started for very little money (as in, perhaps, $12,107.09).
Question: Do you have to have a PowerPoint pitch?
Answer: If you have five hours a week to work on
your business outside of your day job, save your PowerPoint skills for
the office. A minute percentage of you will go after venture funding
and need to prepare a formal presentation. The more you get in front
of real customers and tell a compelling story in few words about how
you can solve their problems, the less you will need PowerPoint as a
crutch. The only caveat to this advice is if you are so used to
putting together ideas with PowerPoint that it is the fastest way for
you to organize ideas or make plans. Whatever you do, don’t bombard
poor, innocent people in the real world with corporate jargon. You just
may find your paradigm is shifted right out the door.
Question: Do you have to have a business plan?
Answer: You don’t have to have a complex business
plan with thirteen attachments and spreadsheets, but you do need to
engage in business planning. Know the kinds of problems you are trying
to solve, and what value solving them would bring to your customers.
Get clear on resources needed to bring your business to life. Start by
guessing how many widgets you plan to sell, so at least you have a good
laugh the next month when you look at actual sales. But as business
planning guru Tim Berry told me about projections, they are only
guesses for a month. After that, you have real data to compare. So
move quickly, test often, fail fast, and discuss and document your
assumptions. If you keep everything in your head, you will limit your
creativity, and in the long run limit your growth.
Question: What is the fastest way to build buzz about a company?
Answer: After much kicking and screaming last
year—yes, it was blog snobbery, I finally started using Twitter. And I
am now convinced it is the absolute quickest way to get to know your
customers, build relationships with partners and mentors, and get the
word out about what you are doing. Of course it cannot be your only
marketing strategy, since people hunger for more than 140 character
bites of you, but if you aren’t on Twitter, you are missing great
opportunities, plain and simple.
Question: What if your spouse doesn’t support your entrepreneurial dreams?
Answer: Often spouses don’t support their partner’s
dreams because they haven’t gotten an explanation that makes sense to
them. You may spend all your time thinking about your business,
evaluating the market, and developing your products or services, but
your spouse doesn’t see inside your head and understand the reasoning
behind your decisions. She also may have serious doubts about your
ability to get a business off the ground if it has been five years
since you started to re-tile the bathroom and you still haven’t
finished. So demonstrate in big and small ways that you can follow
through with plans, listen with openness and without judgment to
concerns raised, and make a plan that feels like a reasonable amount of
risk to both of you. When you go into business, your whole family goes
in with you. So be sensitive to concerns.
Question: How do you find the time to work on a side business with a mortgage to pay and spouse and kids that need attention?
Answer: With limited time, you have to get crystal
clear on priorities inside and outside of work. Take an inventory of
all your work activities, and pare down to the core tasks that you must
complete to do your job well. Evaluate how you spend your time outside
of work. Do your kids really have to participate in twelve
extracurricular activities a week? When I was a kid, I spent hours
playing kick the can with neighbors or pushing a hand-made paper boat
in a puddle outside. I had a great childhood and have done just fine as
an adult. When you are running on a very lean and efficient schedule
and have a manageable list of weekly tasks for your business, you will
make progress. It is better to take small steps every day—like writing
one paragraph of your book or crafting a handful of code—rather than
waiting for a huge block of time to open up because this will never
Question: What is the most common mistake the “escapees” make?
Answer: The most common mistake is thinking that
they have to get all their plans absolutely perfect before launching. I
have listened to people explain why they spent two months crafting an
introductory email to a potential client. Perfectionism will cripple
your business and thwart your plans faster than anything. Get used to
pushing things out that feel not quite ready and then be completely
responsive to fix them as you go. There will never be a perfect
product, service, market or economy, so the most passionate,
enthusiastic and responsive entrepreneur will win.
You can download the first chapter of Pamela’s book here.
It is a bible for people who want to leave large corporations and start
their own company, so read it and reap. And don’t say that I didn’t
warn you if you do.
TakeLessons is actively engaged in using social media to share our ideas, hear customer feedback, and start interesting conversations about things going on in our industry. It takes time and effort to be a 'real person' instead of an untouchable brand, but we feel the benefits will pay off over time by helping establish us as the authority on all things related to the music lessons service industry.
One of the great challenges for anyone who loves Twitter is to show
other people why they should love it too. Often it’s like explaining
something you find funny: “You had to be there.” The contextual,
ever-changing, and high-volume nature of Twitter makes explaining it
difficult. Here are ten tips to help you demo Twitter to your friends,
family, and colleagues.
Sales and support. Truly, Twitter is no longer
predominantly about people telling strangers that their cat rolled over
or that the line at Starbucks is long. You can start off by showing how
businesses use Twitter. For example, AmazonDeals increases Amazon’s revenue, and ComcastCares provides support to Comcast customers. Zappos promotes the caring brand image of the company because its CEO, Tony Hsieh, is doing the tweeting.
Competitive intelligence. Another business use of
Twitter is monitoring what people are saying about a company or its
product. For example, look at this search of mentions of P&G and Swiffer.
You can also monitor what people are saying about the competition—for
example, if you work for AT&T Wireless, you should watch what
people are saying about Verizon with this search.
TWIBS provides a comprehensive list of companies using Twitter.
Personal passions. Like the business examples, the
ability to find people around the world, 24 x 7 who are discussing ones
passions removes the scales from people’s eyes about Twitter. Here are
some examples of Twitter searches for more personal topics:
Twitter desktop applications. Using a web page to
demonstrate Twitter is like using a web interface to demonstrate email.
For many people. a dedicated desktop client helps clarify the value the
of Twitter because they can show the results of custom searches. I’ve
found that Twhirl, Tweetdeck, and Seesmic Desktop are all useful for demos and ongoing use of Twitter.
Star struck. The good news and the bad news is
that celebrities are now taking over Twitter. If the folks you’re
showing Twitter to are impressed by celebrities, then show them these
stars: Lance Armstrong, Oprah, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, and “Weird” Al Yankovic.
Lance Armstrong is the coolest of the lot because he really shows his
bikes, the snowman his kids made, and sends out appeals to try to
recover his stolen bike.
Funny folks. There are a handful of people who
tweet stuff that just make you laugh your ass off. If you’re showing
Twitter to people with a bleeding edge humor, show them The Bloggess and Penelope Trunk.
Here’s an illustrative sample from Penelope: “I woke up hung over:
bad-parenting-hung-over from yelling at my sons before bed. Do moms who
yell at boys create men who choose mean wives?”.
To find additional interesting people, use these resources:
FollowFamous is a compilation of celebrities on Twitter organized by categories such as music, sports, and tech.
Twitterati.alltop. This is a collection of the the last five tweets of the twitterati. (Disclosure: I am co-founder of Alltop.)
The single best way to determine the most interesting tweets is to see
who gets retweeted (think of this as forwarding tweets to others).
This site factors in people’s signal to noise ratio, generosity in
retweeting, quantity of tweeting, and clout to provide a list of
influential Twitter users.
Twittercounter. If you believe that popularity (that is, the number of followers) is an indication of quality, this site is useful.
All the news that’s fit to tweet. Showing Twitter
to news hounds? Perhaps they want to be the first to know that a plane
landed on the Hudson River. Here are three very good sources of
breaking news: Breaking Tweets, Breaking News, and New York Times. (CNN
may have more than one million followers, but its tweets aren’t
comprehensive.) If it’s geek news that will impress, be sure to show Mashable and TechCrunch.
Hashtag discussions. One way to show the breadth of
Twitter is to tap into existing discussions. These discussions are
typically marked by “hashtags” such as “#gtd” for the “Getting Things
Done” community. A search for this hashtag yields this result. You can find a list of popular hashtags here for your demo. (Thanks to @JDeLuccia for this tip.)
Answers galore. To demonstrate the real-time power
of the Twitter community, ask a question that one might have to scour
the web to answer. Examples: “What do I need to do drive a 30-inch
display from a 13 inch MacBook at high resolution?” “What size lens cap
do I need for a Nikkor 18-105mm lens?” or “How should I demo Twitter to
a newbie?” The accuracy and speed of responses on Twitter are often
amazing. (Thanks to @martindelaney for this tip.)
If all else fails, then just give your friends and family some time.
This is year three of Twitter. In a sense, it’s like the Internet was
fifteen years ago. Remember when people said, “Why would I go to a web
site when newspapers and magazines come to my house, I can see people
in person or talk to them on the phone, get driving instructions by
looking at my AAA map, and buy books by going to the mall?” That’s
where we are right now.
I've been fortunate to be involved in several business start-up. Some have done well, others flopped. Some were well-funded, others were not. A natural inclination is to think that those companies that were well-funded did the best, but that's not always the case. Some of the most rewarding companies start off in a spare bedroom with a dream, and no cash.
There is something I find stimulating and satisfying when bootstrapping a company – at least while it's getting started.The peril of struggle builds character, will, determination, and a scrappy sense of perseverence. It allows you to trust yourself more, focus on what you can change, and build a team that will fight with you – even in the bad times.
Of course, cash is the blood of any business. Without it, you die. Guy Kawasaki has written a good post about bootstrapping at Always On. A couple of his key points:
Forecast from the bottom up. Build conservative cash-flow models and focus on generating cash. NOTHING trumps cash. If you're still living on investors, do whatever you can to get to cash flow. Don't fool yourself into thinking that because you've done a round, you've made it. That's not your money. You haven't earned it yet.
Ship then Test. Which is the equivalent of saying that your product or service doesn't have to be perfect. I always tell my team that this is the worst our service will ever be. Tomorrow, we will be a little better. And next week, month, year, we'll be incredible.
Pick a few battles. This is absolutely key. I've heard so many presentations where the entrepreneur knows they are going to be able to tackle 18 different opportunities at once – all for a $1.5mm Series A. Hello? Lights on. It's not going to happen. Focus down and do one thing really, really well. Also, don't try to go head to head with a bigger, more funded Fortune 500 company. Find a niche for starters and exploit it.
Guy Kawasaki has an excellent post on Plan B: Another way to grow your company. Over the past few years, I've seen so many companies with stars in their eyes. I know what it looks like – I've been there myself. Somehow, the idea of a big round of venture funding solidfies their existence and proves that their concept is destined to be the next big hit.
It's very similar to getting signed on a major record label.
It is imperitive that the artist is solid and can make unbelievable music with or without the label. The label then ads the firepower to get the the next level. But if the artist is relying on the idea that the label is proof of their superiority, then the artist probably won't get traction.
It's the same with your startup. Struggle and fund it yourself. Fail fast. Understand that your model will change 2-4 times in the first few years. Commit yourself to persevere through the chaos and find a way, no matter what, to understand what the market is willing to pay for. Then, focus on developing a service or product that answers those needs better than others.
Kawasaki's best advice on this article: "Rather than trying to boil the ocean, try to boil a tea kettle." We've found that mantra to be true within TakeLessons. Rather than focusing on the entire world/country, we've targeted specific geographies. Rather than focusing on everything related to lessons, we've focused down on what we do best. This allows us to direct our strategy in the areas that will provide us a true competitive advantage. The truth is that we will never have enough time, money, human capital to do everything we want at all times. So the power of focus has proven to be an invaluable tool.
Steven is an entrepreneur from San Diego, CA. He is the founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com, one of leading companies for live learning.