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NINE THINGS THAT SMART ENTREPRENEURS DO

NINE THINGS THAT SMART ENTREPRENEURS DO

NINE THINGS THAT SMART ENTREPRENEURS DO

Some people think business is about crushing the competition. Smith School professor Anil Gupta says smart entrepreneurs focus more on collaborating with partners in their ecosystem. "Find the stakeholders who actually want you to succeed," he says. Here are eight other ways that smart entrepreneurs manage risk.

 

 

 

1. Pick an opportunity with asymmetric barriers to entry. One of the worst things an entrepreneur can do is to follow the herd because it seems like an obviously good opportunity to everybody. Instead, look for opportunities with asymmetric barriers to entry i.e., where the entry barriers are low for you but high for others. This could be because you have unique and early insights into the market opportunity (example — Facebook), unique technological capabilities (example — Google), or simply an early mover advantage that enables you to scale up faster than copycats who enter the market after you (example — Amazon).

 

2. In the early stages, minimize complexity. Focus on a carefully selected niche and keep the early business model simple. At the time of founding, the new venture is desperately short of resources and managerial bandwidth. Starting out with too complex a business model is almost always the “kiss of death.” Look at Amazon. Jeff Bezos has said that he picked the name “Amazon” because, eventually, he wanted to sell anything and everything. However, his first move was to focus only on books and nothing else. In eCommerce, selling books requires the least complex business model.

 

3. Never ignore an economic analysis of your business model. Even in the beginning, you need to have at least some clarity about your eventual path to profitability. What factors will determine your prices? Your cost structure? And, your return on investment? Take the case of a Silicon Valley microprocessor company that is currently among the “walking dead.” When we interviewed him, the CEO noted that all he needed was a 10% market share in his target segment to start generating profits. He overlooked, however, that competitors with 30–60% market share would have bigger scale and lower cost structure than his company’s. In this type of a scale-driven business, there is no chance for a company with a 10% market share to survive profitably.

 

4. Have a bias for conducting multiple low-cost experiments. Given uncertainties on all fronts, one of the fastest ways to achieve more clarity is to conduct multiple low-cost experiments, ideally in parallel. Perhaps you can segment the customer base geographically (or, on some other basis). For each segment, can you experiment with different product/service features, different pricing structures, and so forth? Such experimentation is the core idea behind the concept of “lean startups.”

 

5. Reduce cash burn without slowing down the business. Never buy new if you can buy second-hand; this applies to everything — from computers to furniture. In fact, never buy if you can lease. Never sign a long-term lease if you do a shorter-term rental. Never rent if you can borrow. Might a bigger company have extra space that they may be willing to let you borrow, at least on a short-term basis? How about incubators or science parks? And, of course, never borrow, if you can salvage. Is some other company trying to get rid of excess stuff? Might they be happy to have you just solve their problem?

 

6. Convert fixed costs into variable costs. The goal here is to retain flexibility in case your business model changes or you start running into financial difficulty. Variable costs help you pivot faster than fixed costs. For example, until you have traction and more confidence in your business model, it may better to rely on subcontract manufacturing rather than build your own plant. Similarly, it may be better to rely on independent sales reps rather than create your own sales force.

 

7. Build a balanced team of complementary people. Make sure that your leadership team includes people with the necessary — but different and complementary — capabilities. In the case of technology ventures, these often include (a) technology development, (b) operations, (c) marketing and sales, (d) finance and accounting, and (e) people management. It is very difficult for a “jack of all trades” to excel at any of these important tasks. Also, if too many people excel at the same task, the risk of blind-spots in other weakly-managed areas goes up significantly. This can happen because people often feel comfortable with others like themselves and thus look for similar (rather than different yet complementary) partners.

 

8. Leverage selected customers, suppliers, and complementors. Every company is embedded in a broader ecosystem. Can you identify which customers, which suppliers, which technology partners, which channel partners and the like will benefit from your venture’s success? As with employees who hold stock options, these companies have a stake in helping you succeed. This makes them your “natural” partners today. Think of how you can leverage them to get early feedback on various aspects of your business model, give you endorsements, reduce your cost structure, and reduce your cash burn.

 

9. Look for “smart” money rather than just money (or, worse, “dumb” money). Last but not least, be neither too stingy nor too greedy in raising capital. Raising too much too capital too early can force the venture to start scaling up before key uncertainties in the business model have been resolved or key capabilities built. Research studies indicate that premature scaling is one of the biggest factors behind the failure of VC-backed technology ventures. Also, as much as possible, avoid “dumb” money i.e., funding from investors who will interfere too much and give you bad advice to boot.

 

In sum, you can never eliminate risk. Like smart entrepreneurs, however, you can systematically reduce the risks for your venture and let your competitors be the dumb ones. It is far better to be smart and a bit risk-averse than to be dumb and a gambler.

 

 

Dr. Anil K.Gupta is the Michael D. Dingman Chair in Strategy, Globalization and Entrepreneurship and Distinguished Scholar - Teacher at the School of Business, the University of Maryland. He is ranked by the London-based Thinker50 as on of the world`s "50 most influential living management thinkers". 

 

Dr. Gupta has been visiting China several times a year since 1997 and teaching regularly in the Smith Global Leadership EMBA program in Beijing since 2003.


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