Go for the Black Diamond — startup to scaleup
I feel fortunate to work with innovation, startups that in essence means working a lot with other people to change mindsets, building companies disrupting common practices to increase efficiency and remove bottlenecks. Over the years, I have worked in corporates, had key roles in eight startups, been an advisor to probably close to a hundred startups (in various industries and countries). I have enjoyed very much the possibilities to work with large international corporates as partners and customers, where we have jointly been able to change the business solutions with a great impact.
Being an Entrepreneur is Great — But do You Dare to Win?
Working as an entrepreneur, you develop skills with comprehensive risk management and mitigation, extreme hands-on and agile take on how to learn, adapt and pivot constantly. It is exhausting, can be mentally tough, but it is also highly rewarding with all the learning and competence generated.
As an entrepreneur with your startup, you go from idea creation with co-founders to start building something. This something is the first early prototype and from which you can get feedback from user to further enhance your product and/or solution. The ideation should tackle to solve a problem, then you can think about what tools and skills you need to develop the solution. Typical tools can be sensors, AI, machine learning, software etc. Don’t push the tech in front, first look at what you are solving, prior to starting the product creation.
Cool, so you got here, and you might even get paying customers. Wow! Then what, do you feel that this is how far you are going — perhaps doing funded R&D projects or some consulting generating revenues to make a living and have the freedom of being your own boss. That might be the goal for many and that’s ok.
But what if you would decide to push for the growth and scale-up. Go into the unknown, this scary journey where you don’t know what challenges you encounter on a daily basis? It hurts, it requires a lot of work and constant problem solving to get forward. Are you up for this — do you want to attempt of reaching the peak of the mountain? You are up for a massive challenge, with extreme learnings as one of the key rewards. Do you dare to win?
The Black Diamond
This is where I think about the BLACK DIAMOND. As an entrepreneur you might think that you need to keep full control and do everything yourself. Literally. This will not be scalable and also you have a high risk of getting a severe burn-out. Don’t do this, look at how you can engage a TEAM, both own employees, and external consultants (think about what is core for your own company and keep that inhouse). Ensure to build a diverse team, see this as a business opportunity.
You might not have access to users, customers with your brilliant idea. Use your network and locate any early users. The most valuable thing you can get from them are FEEDBACK. This is how you learn what problem you are really solving and how to create value. Pivoting might be required and be ready to be agile. Don’t love you PRODUCT but your business. With this feedback you can build the MVP (minimum viable product) and start to generate revenue. You are building your own brand, take care of that. Think of every project as your whole reputation is on stake. Handle it with care, deliver what you promise. Doesn’t mean everything is perfect. This is how your MARKETING is building value for you.
Now, in order to not just develop your market and company slowly being boot-strapped, you are probably going to seek funding. Where are the investors — you have such a great idea!? Well, sometimes it might work even in the ideation phase, but I would say that the likelihood for successful funding is even greater when you can show that you have an MVP, you have a skilled diverse team, you have early paying customers. And you are solving a problem with your unique solution. Now it is getting serious. You want to scale-up. You need rocket fuel to make this happen and quickly becoming the market leader in your beachhead market. There we go. Funding is available, network by participating in innovation ecosystems, accelerators and participate in pitch events. Continuously enhance your messaging, but stay firm on your big idea. Look for investors that brings you the FUNDING to take you to the next major milestone, but ensure that you have investors that can bring value — do they know customers that are relevant for you? Do they have domain expertise? Can they help you with the supply chain? Remember that you will be on a journey together with the investors for several years. See to that YOU think that the investors are the right ones for you, not just monetarily. Otherwise it can become a very sour relationship that lasts for a long time. Getting the funding is actually the starting point of the commitment to deliver something. It is now that the serious work starts.
Based on getting your TEAM, MARKETING, PRODUCT and FUNDING aligned, it means that you will have the right setup to EXECUTE your strategy and plans. This is the BLACK DIAMOND. It is all about execution. Have a strategy everyone is committed to, also your board and shareholders. Ensure that you have communicated this well to your team and that both the company KPIs and team OKRs are supporting this. You will have to say no to certain requests. Be very hands-on minded, learn from mistakes, pivot if necessary. Always have a customer drive, this is what generates your business and allows you to create value.
Voilà — you might be the new scaleup master. And think about all what you learn on the way. Best of luck with your endeavors!