I stole this content from my old blog.  I’m speaking on a related topic today at MinneBar so I thought I would re-post it here.
[Original Content]
This post is regarding a new presentation that I have developed called, “Being a Technology Entrepreneur.” The speech was delivered on May 1, 2010 at Iowa Code Camp on the University of Iowa Campus, and again at the TechFuse conference in Minneapolis on May 6. I’m expecting this presentation will likely be repeated at future dates as well.
In preparing for this presentation, I sent emails to over 50 entrepreneurs I know, asking for their best bits of advice for emerging entrepreneurs. The response was overwhelming. Rather than attempt to filter the information, I’ve decided to include the responses below. The order is nothing more than the order the responses were returned.

 

Farhan Muhammad – President – ILM Services

    Here is my advice: 

  1. Don’t cheap out on accountant and lawyer
  2. Be watchful of those who are willing to work for free or very cheap

Brain Lockwood – Entrepreneur

    I use information and guidance from the book “The back of a Napkin” by Dan Roam on a daily basis. It’s so very true that you can explain EVERYTHING with pictures. Even if you aren’t that good. It always helps convey a message.

Chad Boeckmann – Owner – Secure Digital Solutions

    ALWAYS “try before you buy” when working with talent for the first time in a new company and never offer “ownership” out of the gate unless they have ALOT of money and have bank statements to prove it. :) Be sure to issue a technical writing or coding (whichever is more appropriate for the position) portion of the job interview for new talent coming onboard. And remember the first 5-8 people that become the first employees end up dictating (whether you like it or not) the culture of the company. 

    If you can, develop sales through referrals, networking and channel partnerships before hiring a full-time sales person. Again it goes to the “try before you buy” mantra. Ensure your message and the product is enticing to the marketplace you seek before investing in heavy duty sales salary that produces little in return.

Rick Weyrauch – Owner – Implicit Domains

    Make sure you do “all the right things” for “all the right reasons,” with no expectation of reward.

Paul Scivetti – Chief Idea Officer – Synergen

A couple of thoughts…
  1. There is a BIG difference between “a great idea” and “a great business.” If you can’t monetize it and make it easy for customers to buy from you, it isn’t a business.
  2. If you have partners, make (damn) sure everyone is clear on what they are expected to do. If you expect ‘operational partners’ and your partners expect ‘silent investors’ you have an inherent conflict. The reverse is also true (where you expect ‘silent partner’ and they expect ‘hands on’)
  3. If you are married or otherwise attached, never, ever go into a business where your spouse has significant reservations. You will have 10X the stress and you’re likely to ruin your marriage.
  4. ‘Free’ services are often overpriced and not a good platform for building a business. Examples:
    1. Google Mail. OK for personal, but not really enterprise class. (sidebar: my CO client uses gmail under the covers for their corporate mail and they’ve had issue after issue – and there isn’t a lot of support when you have problems)
    2. Vista Print. (the ‘free’ business card guys that always seem to cost you $70 for your ‘free’ cards). A lot of folks design their business cards on Vista Print from their art library. Unfortunately, they hold the copyright on all that art, so you can’t get that design printed anyplace else. It is far better to pay someone to design your logo so that you own the rights to your artwork.
  5. Join Toastmasters. As an entrepreneur, your FIRST job is Chief Communicator for your company. Toastmasters is an excellent training resource for improving speaking and listening skills. Added bonus: it can also be a good place for networking.
  6. Build systems and processes that make you unnecessary. This may be confusing: why start something so that you can be replaced? But that is precisely the point. If you don’t lay the foundation for the business to grow without you, you will be forever chained to the business. You can’t sell it.   You can’t leave it. It will haunt you on vacation (if you even get to take any time off).   Ultimately, it will kill you.
  7. If you’re a technology business, own your core technology in-house (as opposed to outsourcing it). You can get help building the technology, but the sooner you can bring it back in-house the better. There is no substitute for the deep domain knowledge you get from knowing your product inside & out.
    2 great books for any entrepreneur… 

  • The Dip by Seth Godin
  • The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
    The 4 Hour Work Week is more for ‘lifestyle’ entrepreneurs, but it gets you thinking about how to design systems and processes so you can get out of your own way.

Tyler Olson – President – SMCpros

  1. Always make IT fun
  2. Always think bigger than you are currently thinking
  3. Believe you can do anything and you will typically get close

Scott Litman – Managing Director – Magnet 360

    For the MN Tech Entrepreneurs….I’d say have them participate in the Minnesota Cup (www.mncup.org).  It’s a good challenge, there is no cost to enter, for those that move on in the competition there are great benefits of which perhaps the best is that the top 10 High Tech entries will be seen by the high tech review board (http://www.breakthroughideas.org/page/1/MeetTheReviewBoard.jsp) has some pretty good investors / contacts on it.
    Also, tech entrepreneurs should participate in Minnedemo (http://minnedemo.org/) and if they have innovations to show – get out there and present.  It’s a great way to network and polish of those presentation skills in front of the local tech community.

Brian Hoppenstedt – Owner – Minnesota Label

    Technical “good at my job” skills only get you so far, you are an entrepreneur now, learn the skills needed to run your business.

John Opgrande – Owner – Opgrande Consulting

    One piece of advice that I have received that comes immediately to mind is this “the best deal is that one that you do not have to make.”   This seems fairly obvious once you think about it but it has bit of subtle meaning as well.     This may not be exactly what you were looking for but there is a lot truth and experience offered up in that simple one statement.

Dan Wisniewski – Partner – Datacom Consulting Corp

    It sounds like you are looking for a ring of golden keys that will allow entrepreneurs to be successful and we both know that those golden keys don’t exist.
    One of the things that I would tell anyone in business is to continually be diligent in networking. At a minimum networking with 2 new people every week. Nothing can help you more than always having someone to be able to turn to.

David Pickett – Entrepreneur

    Inspirational and/or Anecdotal
    WSJ: “So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur”
    “It Never Gets Easier Than Now”
    “Why do you win?”
    Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs
    “8 Things I Wish I Knew When Starting My First Business”
    Diary of a Failed Startup: Postmortem
    Resource Lists
    The Entrepreneur’s Handbook — 59 Resources for First Time Entrepreneurs
    100 Financial Calculators Every Entrepreneur Needs
    Inc.: E-Commerce Starter Kit (somewhat dated…you may have a better option)
    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/13_seed_funding_options_for_entrepreneurs.php
    How-tos and Information
    Inc.: Cash Management Basics
    Inc.: How to Structure a Business Plan
    WSJ: Why Business Plans Don’t Deliver (The five most common flaws and how to fix them)
    13 Seed Funding Options for Entrepreneurs
    Will it fly? How to Evaluate a New Product Idea
Scott Burns – CEO – GovDelivery
    Learn how to sell.  Read Spin Selling by Neil Rackham
Mike Bollinger – Owner – Livefront
  1. If you have to work hard to motivate your employees, you hired the wrong people.
  2. The person in charge of marketing a struggling service/product always thinks adding features, which requires programmers, will attract the customer base or traffic they’re missing. Almost always NOT true. It’s the demise of many good ideas, the depletion of a lot of money.
  3. http://getharvest.com for time tracking and invoicing. Love it.

Todd Mortenson – New Venture Stategist

    1.  Perhaps one of the most important items in being an entrepreneur is “Faith.”  Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

    You are dealing with the future. You are attempting to manifest a vision. There are a multitude of things, people, and events that are not inclined to embrace your venture and even more that come out of nowhere to challenge and conflict your venture. To overcome and give life to your vision you need a passion that finds it source in faith.
    God had a vision for the world and had enough faith to speak it into existence. Being made in the image of God, we are creative beings, hence our love to create, design, and launch ventures. Our visions begin as internal thoughts but begin to take form as we speak, write and communicate. Overtime through faith, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen take form.

    2.  “Culture” is Key. This is an absolute! 

    Your company will have a culture whether you create one or not. If you are not the one creating it, you are destined to have a confrontation with it at some inconvenient time in the future. You must design your culture proactively. You must make decisions regarding the core values and personality your venture aspires to. Then you must defend it relentlessly. Your people, your team, they are so incredibly vital.   Your role as leader is to develop them, serve them, and protect them from what I call ‘culture cancer’. You will need to vigilantly monitor the culture and remove any and all that effort to change it. Culture shift is a slippery slope and the smallest, apparently insignificant cracks in the windshield of your culture are certain to spider web.
    Experts say that it takes 20 years to change the culture of a 100 person organization.   The only other option is to melt the ice cubes and then refreeze them in the shape you desire. In other words, you may be forced into dramatic change, essentially breaking everything and then rebuilding.
    Ultimately, as leader your actions cannot contradict your words. You must live and breathe the culture you communicate. For example, if your company has a core value of reliability, than you cannot show up late for meetings or miss internal deadlines that you commit to.
    I believe this is most often overlooked and misunderstood because this is not easily measurable. This is a soft skill that is foundational to a company’s strategic competitive advantage. This never shows up in business plans and is rarely discussed in business school. As Jim Collins states in his book, Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.”

Mark Stephan – Owner – Holos

    First and foremost, a Technology Entrepreneur means that your goal is to benefit humanity in really big ways. That means focusing on bringing leading-edge technology to the people that will liberate them from the current power grid and power sources—and sustainable technology that will last for hundreds of years, and not subject to the whims and arrogant demands of shareholders and investors.So, to get there, you need Vision. You can’t proceed without vision. What is your company vision? What really big thing are you here to do on this planet that results in the good for all? Following vision is the mission—How will you accomplish your vision?

Art Gorr – Consultant – Gray Matters Software

  1. The first thing that came to mind in under 2 minutes is Highrise contact management software from 37Signals. http://highrisehq.com/

Donn Felker – Owner / Principal Consultant – Agilevent

    The #1 thing I can say about someone starting up a new business is to make sure all you’re #’s are in order ($$$$/accounting/etc). Use a service like Quickbooks online (qbo.intuit.com) and find an accountant who works and has experience with start-ups. They will then know how to work with the online system as well as advise you on your business accounting. Having this online with a login for your accountant makes life real easy, saving you time and in the long run, money. Don’t use Quickbooks online and then find an accountant who doesn’t know how to use Quickbooks online. It will be a waste of you time and money (on both fronts).
    The short of it. Get your numbers in order within the first month of starting your business. You’ll be glad you did.

Brian Hugh – Consultant & Owner – Business Technology Solutions

    Here is my quick rattle off:
    Difficulty of being/becoming an Technology Entrepreneur. 

  1. Getting “Free” time to focus on idea generation, building business, learning new technologies while still bringing in revenue.
  2. Coming up with that killer product/service that someone else hasn’t already thought of.
  3. Breaking out of your current niche or area that pays the bills.
  4. Tips on getting going

  5. Use of MS Action Pack(2 types now) or MSDN or Technet to get inexpensive licenses with MS Technologies https://partner.microsoft.com/40016455
  6. Use of Google Apps to host your domain and provide other cloud services
  7. Use of virtualization, Hyper-V or ESXi to have inexpensive development POC environments.
  8. Use of EC2 or other Hosting providers to provide some of your cloud infrastructure at relatively inexpensive costs that give you a bigger enterprise capability.
  9. Always leverage your network, Including other Entrepreneur and Vendor resources.

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