Tag Archives: American dream

The Mature Entrepreneur – Part III

(This post is the result of a collaboration between Amy Shelton and Nicole Radziwill. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at http://www.hyperactive.to)

In our first post on this topic, we talked about the thirty-something entrepreneur who, after building a career working for others, is now ready to be her own boss. In our second post, we talked about possible attributes of a mature entrepreneur (perhaps you are an A player?) and why such individuals might find themselves doing a start-up. From a business point of view, both of the previous posts were focused inward, that is, they explore the qualities of the people behind a start-up.

But how does your customer benefit from your creativity, and your freedom to explore big ideas? Face it – a business will not last long without customers. Ultimately all your work and energy must create value for your customer. And you’ve got so much energy to make your great idea fly! So share that energy with your customers.  Listen to and apply customer feedback. Co-create a great future together.

Probably, the first step you took on your journey into entrepreneurship was to identify a need. In fact, many start-ups spring up because a founder either personally has a need, or knows someone who needs a particular product or service. The “A player” that’s typically at the helm of a start-up will take that identified need — and immediately start brainstorming ways to meet it. “A players” have “the room to explore hypotheses and make mistakes” within the environment of a start-up. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who marry creativity and innovation with customer desire.

But how do you actually listen to them? What can the magic of your entrepreneurial environment do for your customer, in a practical way?

One actionable way to leverage this freedom is to employ the Lead User process pioneered by 3M. How do you do it? Just pick a group of 3-5 users who definitely need your stuff – you might be one of these users, or already know them – and then let them dictate how your product or service will satisfy their needs! It’s that easy. Keep them with you as trusted advisors throughout the development process.

Future posts will explore creative ways to make “listening to your customer” an actionable task. They’re already out there talking, on Twitter, and Facebook, and discussion boards… what else can you do to hear them, and interact with them, and work together constructively?

A start-up can excel where others have failed. Listen to the needs of your customers. Think creatively. Take risks. Create some magic. Make your customers happy.

The Mature Entrepreneur – Part II

(This post is the result of a collaboration between Amy Shelton and Nicole Radziwill. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at http://www.hyperactive.to)

In our previous post, we talked about the 30+ entrepreneur who, after building a career working for others, is now ready to be his or her own boss. Presumably, you’re reading this post because this person is you. (If not, imagine for a few minutes that it is.) Whatever your start-up is, it probably represents a passion for you. You have innovative ideas and you’ve branched off on your own because you need the freedom to realize your vision. But how did you reach this point? How did you figure out that starting a new initiative was your calling?

You’ll have your own answers. We’ll share ours.

Nicole’s favorite definition of quality is from the now-deprecated ISO 8402, which defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and unstated needs.” Now, imagine the entity is you. What characteristics of your self or your environment will help you satisfy stated and unstated needs – in other words, get things done right and produce solutions that customers or users will really love? Nicole needs an environment that’s flexible enough to hear her out on her craziest ideas and maybe even work with her on them, respect her for the times when her crazy ideas have panned out big, and provide extra support for her (sans unconstructive criticism) where she needs it, and the benefit of the doubt when she can’t totally explain her intuition.

Amy also needs freedom to explore intuition. But above all, she craves an environment where everyone brings their A-game to form a collaboration greater than any one of the individuals, with each of the individuals committed to collective betterment of the company and to creating useful products customers love. So what happens when your work environment works against you? You might find yourself reading this post.In “The Curve of Talent,” Eric Paley talks about A players. We all know an A player when we see one. They exude optimism and skill, their ideas are big and risky, and they can create absolute magic given the opportunity and right environment. The problem is, according to Paley, that “few large corporations create cultures that give A players room to win.” What happens to A players when they aren’t given room to win?Paley doesn’t really go into much detail here. But from personal experience, we can give you a synopsis of the downward spiral:

1. The A player comes up with some revolutionary idea that could solve some really pertinent problems. In most cases, he or she is really interested in sharing that idea with other A players (or open minded B players), sculpting those ideas into even better ideas, and creating a shared plan for doing something awesome.

2. Often, there are few A players around. The A players who are around are usually interested in hearing the idea, adding their awesome ideas to the idea, and brainstorming until a totally new and even more amazing idea emerges that everyone’s all psyched to work on. This A team (no pun intended) will figure out how to bootstrap the time, effort, energy, and funding (in most cases) to realize their idea. At this point, they’re all super excited and can’t wait to go.

3. In the absence of other closed-minded B players who would get in the way of the awesome idea, the A’s will fly and do great things! But usually (in a large organization), they will have to convince some B and C managers that their idea is worthwhile. Often, the B’s and C’s will resist the idea. There’s not enough time. Not enough manpower. The way we do it has worked just fine for a long time. Maybe they’ll drag the argument on for a few months. Or a year or two. Lots of talk and time lost in idleness.

4. The A now has to make a choice between two options: Option 1) Do it anyway, and hope that when the B’s and C’s see the idea in action, they’ll pretend it’s their own and forget that the new idea was not originally part of the accepted plan. Option 2) Abandon the idea. Feel contempt for the shortsighted B’s and C’s who wouldn’t (or weren’t able to) see the genius in the vision. Try to ignore that sinking feeling in the gut that comes when your new idea is shot down.

5. Since Option 1 rarely works out in the A’s interest, Option 2 is probably more likely to be selected. So what happens after an A player selects Option 2 a few times? He or she might sink into a terrible depression, lose all sense of professional confidence, feel no satisfaction in any work any more, change jobs to get away from the naysayers, get on mood stabilizing medication, bring the professional dissatisfaction home where the dark cloud will linger over everyone who lives there indefinitely, or all of the above.

Or, the A will go launch a startup.

So what environment is best for A players? Answer: Startups and other entrepreneurial ventures, of course! Paley states:

To succeed, most startups need some core team of A players; folks who can “write the book and not just read it.” These are an incredibly rare breed of people who not only have a clear idea how to competently accomplish their functional objectives, but actually lead the organization to innovate and be world class within their functional area.  They raise the bar on the entire organization.

Moral of the story: the Mature Entrepreneur is likely to be an A player. If you have a great idea – coupled with the guts, energy and knowledge to go make it happen, you might be an A. So if you’re a little nervous about striking out on your own at your “advanced” age, take comfort in the fact that you wouldn’t be doing this unless you were part of this rare breed.

And just think about how fun it will be to finally work with other like-minded A’s.

The Mature Entrepreneur

(This post is the result of a collaboration between Amy Shelton and Nicole Radziwill. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at http://www.hyperactive.to)

Up and coming young entrepreneurs in the U.S. are often the focus of articles because their success is the American dream. Start from nothing. End up with everything. But what happens when you aren’t starting from nothing? Maybe you are a 30+ professional that dreams of making a decent living doing what you love. You already have a career and maybe even a family too.  Now you’re ready to be your own boss and take a chance. You are the mature entrepreneur.

The struggling entrepreneur is often romanticized as living in a post-college frat house where co-founders scrape by on peanut butter and jelly, Ramen noodles, and sharing a house – creating a start-up commune of sorts – until they make it big. However, the 30+ entrepreneur probably has a family and, although the thought of working with their co-founders is inspirational and exciting, the thought of actually moving in with them is not. (We even know a few entrepreneurs who – gasp! – moved themselves and their families back in with mom and dad for a while to save money while working on their start-up.) Rather than making it big, the mature entrepreneur is probably more focused on applying his or her life experiences and expertise to earn a decent living doing what she loves.

There was an interesting thread on Hacker News recently where a woman was asking advice from fellow hackers who work from home and have kids. The conversation thread was very long and is still active, talking about the practical concerns of pursuing entrepreneurship while fulfilling family obligations, and finding balance between work and life. According to Wikipedia, the average age of marriage today is 28.4 years for men, and 26.5 years for women. The average age of first time mothers was 25 in 2006. So anyone interested in entrepreneurship post-30 is probably married and probably has children. This adds a huge layer of complexity to planning any business, especially since the mature entrepreneur is often taking a big financial risk that could easily impact his or her family.

In addition to financial risk, there is also an emotional risk associated with being an entrepreneur who’s starting a new venture. First, it’s very easy to become a workaholic. You might be holding a regular full-time job while chasing your passions and making your new ideas real at nights and on weekends. Conversely, it’s very easy to become a “lifeaholic.” That might seem strange, but when you’re pursuing your true interests, it might seem like you’re not working at all. Most of you might say “Hey! That’s great! That’s exactly what I want!” But there can be a deep sense of dissatisfaction associated with being able to make your own schedule and call your own shots, especially in the early stages of a venture before your ideas really take off and start to pay off. You can spend as much time as you want with your kids… with your spouse.. you might ask yourself “Am I really working hard enough?” The mature entrepreneur will devise a means to continually self-assess to achieve a happy medium between being a workaholic and a lifeaholic, recognizing that it’s easy to fall on either end of the spectrum.

The best part about being a mature entrepreneur (whether you’re living with your partners, your parents, or your own nuclear family) is that, like we said before, you aren’t starting from nothing. You have plenty of experience behind you, and whether your venture succeeds or fails, you know that it will be a valuable learning experience. You also have a network of people around you who will support you and share in the victory when you make it big, or be there to console you when you fold.

Most importantly, you aren’t starting without the awareness that the ultimate goal is to become a passionate workalifeaholic (or lifeaworkaholic) who can realize new ideas with ease!