On Thursday, January 3, the Accelerator Group reconvened after a ten day holiday break. It really didn’t feel like a break, as over the holidays the emails among the Finalists were flying as they shared information on many topics including web site development and the use of Facebook and Twitter (thank you Bobbie!).
We started the year on good footing – everybody made it to the meeting, had lots to say and report on, and were fully very engaged with our guests.
We had two star guests: Ken Zolot and Desh Deshpande. Ken is a lecturer at MIT and teaches the very popular engineering course, The Founder’s Journey. Ken has been involved with a number of startups personally and has roles currently with numerous boards and foundations related to entrepreneurship.
Desh is the driving force behind the Sandbox – he’s a world class entrepreneur (Cascade Communications and Sycamore Networks, among many) and is a strong supporter of entrepreneurship around the globe. He also happens to be an amazingly creative, enlightening, and inspiring speaker.
The two men had much to share! I don’t think anyone took perfect notes, so I asked the class to tell me what they remembered, and we came up with these anecdotes and analogies (I added the pictures to break things up!). Many thanks to Ken and Desh for a thought-provoking evening. -David
Desh on Cold Calling
So, for me, the truly unforgettable thing that Desh said is that he thinks cold calling is the BEST way to see what people really think of your idea. I think it was shocking for more than one of us.
Ken on Steve Jobs/Figuring Things Out
Even Steve Jobs stumbled around in the dark for a while.
Desh: Divide A Big Project into Distinct Efforts
Another way to look at success and failure is in carving your project into the small steps that Desh refers to and then testing and revising them such that each is a development experience.
Desh On Entrepreneurs
You are one of these two people-either you’re an entrepreneur or you’re not. Entrepreneurs are a special breed. We have high stress tolerance and enjoy simplicity living for a greater vision. Failing at something won’t be the end of it because your passion for entrepreneurship will prevail.
Desh on “Family First”
We also loved the fact that Desh said that ‘family always comes first’. His story about him and his wife making sacrifices really inspired us. I see that one of the mistakes a lot of business owners do is to be all business and leave the family behind. I learned that there has to be a balance.
Desh on Market Definition
As Desh said when I asked him about my marketing plan. “If you know everyone with a red shirt and yellow tie will buy your product, you know your exact target market and who to market to.”
Ken on Reaching Customers Early and Spending Money Wisely
One Winter when he was a kid, Ken wanted to earn money the next day shoveling neighbors’ driveways/paths from an expected snowstorm. In anticipation of the coming hard work, he wanted buy a bigger shovel. But Dad the businessman had other plans: He told Ken to pre-sign all the neighbors to be shoveled out the next day (after the storm, to lock in their business), then do the shoveling the next morning, and THEN he could buy a new shovel. Ken followed his Dad’s directions to great success.
Lesson: Communicate with customers early, before you spend money building up your infrastructure, and as well to lock them in to your business even before you’re ready to serve them. Then, after verifying that your customers have paid and are happy, you should feel comfortable investing in your business for efficiency gains and growth.
Desh: Manage Your Startup Like You’re Driving Across the Desert
Managing a startup is like driving a car across a desert, in that you need to keep your funding events (raising money, bringing in revenues) close to one another, just like you would want to have gas stations close to one another as you drive across a desert. If you space your funding events/benchmarks too far apart, the risk grows that you might run out of money – and have to close up shop (or, run out of gas in a desert).
Desh: It’s Easier to Pivot if You’re Moving
Analogy: Managing change in a startup is like steering a boat, in that in order to shift (or pivot) toward a better idea, it’s much easier to do so when you’re moving than when you’re sitting still. Likewise on a boat, speed and momentum make turning considerably easier.
Desh: Fire Quickly
Advice: If an early employee or co-founder isn’t in synch with you, fire them, and do it quickly.
Ken: Manage Your Mentors
Have an active role in managing mentors. Instead of simply listening to everything that they have to say, keep them engaged by assigning them focused and specific tasks.