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I had the pleasure of participating in a Startup Canada #StartupChats last Friday April 3, 2015 on the topic of Seniorpreneurs. Being 50+ myself, and working with several tech startup entrepreneurs who are also 50+, this subject was of personal interest.

Here is the Storify digest of this Twitter conversation:


5312435881_19982faa7c_bRead in a startup forum I manage: “How do you answer when a VC asks you in an interview ‘Why are you the best person in the world to execute your idea?'”

I believe the question asked by the venture capital investor is stupid and naive. (And I know the firm who asked the question.)

Stupid, because the question is formulaic and bland. It’s almost a “shibboleth” – the VC is expecting a certain answer, a secret password that will get you past the gate and to the next level.

Naive, because it assumes that the Silicon Valley stereotype of a brilliant, monomaniacal and borderline autistic founder is the only one that works.

If you truly believe you are the best person to execute this idea, then you’re doomed. Any business cannot survive with just one person. It takes a team of committed people and a big dollop of luck: being in the right place, at the right time, and with the right preparation. The problem is that you cannot know what is the right place, the right time and the right preparation.

Believing that the founder is the best person in the world to execute their idea is a symptom of Silicon Valley hubris. It blinds you to what you do not know about what you do not know about yourself and the world around you.

Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly in imagination, creativity and innovation. Actually, I wish there was more humility in Silicon Valley. The ego of the place is ripe for disruption. But then again, when billions of dollars are at stake, humility tends to go by the wayside.

Why would the investor ask this question, especially when then entrepreneur knows that a good chunk of the accelerator participants are disqualified on the spot for not answering it to the investor’s satisfaction?

I hope if you are asked this question of a VC, that you don’t try to project an ego-driven caricature of who you really are. Answer directly: there exists no such perfect person. Challenge them on the assumptions and hypothesis behind the question. Turn humility into strength.

All you can do is work hard, constantly challenge your assumptions, be open to input, and stay true to your what and your why.

I don’t know if this is the magic answer to the VC’s question, but it is the truth.


For more information:

Indirectly related, but interesting:

The Decision Trap by Roger Martin in HBR


Image credit – Pascal via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/96rC76 Used under Creative Commons licence


I’m working with an established business in which the large majority of their income comes from technology consulting and services, however they have developed a software which they use in conjunction with their service.

They are considering shifting their business model from 80%/20% service/product, to the opposite. This is a major decision, which requires a deep level of analysis to consider.

After a recent work session with them, I decided to map out the “problem space”: a series of questions looking at all the different aspects to consider in determining the transition strategy. It’s not complete but it is a good start to exploring the problem.

20150222 Transitioning from service to product business v2.mm


(link to PDF: 20150222 Transitioning from service to product business v2.mm )

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What’s The Hurry?

6738872293_e3782f1306_bI often meet startup entrepreneurs who passionately believe they’ve found THE billion-dollar idea and who are anxious to launch their web site NOW!

The problem is that although they think the value they offer is obvious and people will be lining up as soon as their site goes live, they have not done the hard work to figure out what will get people to not just look, but to buy.

Take the time it takes to explore the customer space. Launch only when you’ve nailed down the purchase decision trigger: the right fit, the right place and the right time when the right people recognize you have the right solution to a critical issue they’re experiencing in the moment, and who decide to buy right here and right now.

It’s not first to market, it’s first to profit.

For more information

Image credit: Chrlster via Flickr
Direct link: https://flic.kr/p/bgutXk
Used under Creative Commons licence



The Funding Dilemma: Bootstrap or VC?

3298287657_a296897cba_bFinding the funding to launch and grow a startup keeps many an entrepreneur awake at night: do you bootstrap or do you attract external investors? The path you choose has a big impact on the kind of business you will build.

Many choose the self-financing approach, using savings and generating cash flow on the side by selling services or other products. Earn during the day, develop at night. It is a lot of work, and it takes monster project management skills to keep on track.

The other option is to go “fat” by seeking and closing venture capital rounds as early as possible. Cash in the bank gives you the runway to more fully explore your market potential and build out more of your product.

The advantage of the bootstrap approach is that your limited resources require you to run smart. You need to become very good at validating assumptions before acting. Bootstrapping forces you to listen closely to the market and build only what your customers are willing to pay for, now. You can freely iterate or pivot as you discover bigger and better opportunities. This is the essence of the Lean Startup approach.

Running Lean allows you to gain real traction in your market as evidenced by recurring cash flow. This is the essence of being in business. Bootstrapping also prepares you to avoid much of the “Death Valley” syndrome where funding is necessarily scarce. Jason Fried of 37Signals (Basecamp, “Rework“) is a big proponent of bootstrapping.

There are a couple of traps hidden in the bootstrap approach:

– Transitioning from a service business to a product business: If you generate most of your income from services and develop a product at night on the side, it is very difficult to pivot your business or your team to become mainly a product business. You may be locked into a long-term (and lucrative) consulting gig. The mindset and team culture needed to succeed in a product business is different than that of a service business.

– Undercapitalization: A bootstrapped business rarely has reserves to take full advantage of a sudden opportunity, or to survive economic hiccups. The longer you bootstrap, the harder it is to raise substantial capital when you need to scale, because VCs like to get in early, before the business has a significant validation.

– Trying to do it all alone: Bootstrapped entrepreneurs don’t have the same access to outside mentoring. You absolutely need to invest time, effort and money to get a mentor-coach and establish an advisory committee. This ensures you are seeing all options around you as you otherwise bury your head in the day-to-day of keeping your business afloat.

Professional money has a lot of advantages, too. The biggest is that the money comes with a support system of experienced mentors to help you focus on the big picture. They have been there, done that, and can steer you around the potholes before you see them.

The downside is that getting outside capital is expensive. Expect to spend 10% to 20% of the capital you want to raise. Expenses include the roadshow and the professional legal, accounting and marketing help you’ll need to be successful.

Professional capital makes your startup less agile, so the more market validation work you accomplish before the investment, the better.

There are other options appearing also. Consider crowdfunding (product or equity, if available) to get cash and gain valuable market insight before moving to the production stage. Angel capital can help at the validation stage, but is less able to help you as you grow because the angels get priced out of subsequent funding rounds.

One approach is not better or worse than the other – it always depends on your particular situation, the maturity of your idea and your offer, your market and your goals. Whatever path you choose, it is a good idea to always be visible to investors, in order to build relationships, validate your idea and demonstrate your ability to perform. In this way, you can quickly shift strategies to access the appropriate financial resources at the right time.

But remember, whatever your financing strategy, the ultimate goal remains the same: get customers who recognize the value you offer them, and who are willing to pay you more than it costs you to make your product. A healthy profit margin is always the best source of cash.


For more information

“Rework” by Jason Fried: https://37signals.com/rework/

“The Bootstrappers Manifesto” by Seth Godin:  http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/bootstrap.pdf

“Bootstrap Finance” by Amar Bhide  https://hbr.org/1992/11/bootstrap-finance-the-art-of-start-ups/ar/1
– A 1992 article in Harvard Business Review which is still highly relevant, and explores this topic even deeper

Image credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr.
Direct link: https://flic.kr/p/62sA1z
Used under Creative Commons

Article adapted from an original text on my French-language blog: