I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs. Most of them want my feedback. More often than not, by “feedback” they mean, “tell me how great and revolutionary I am.”
When people are emotionally connected to their ideas (which most entrepreneurs are), it’s hard to give honest feedback. I want to be as helpful as possible, but I don’t want to discourage them from getting started based on feedback that very-well could be wrong.
Nonetheless, I’ve encountered my fair share of thick-headed entrepreneurs. If I’ve talked to you, you’re probably at least one of these. But don’t take it personally; I’m still three.
1. Change the World Charlie
Charlie just came up with the most brilliant idea ever. He Googled it and he can’t believe that no one has ever done it.
He has never started a business, but how hard can it be? He just has to find the right people and convince them of his vision.
Charlie starts by telling all of his friends about “Charlie’s Wonderful Project to Change the World!” Everyone appears to be excited for him, but no one takes him seriously.
Like him, no one is willing to do anything about it. No one gives him money. Nobody offers their time.
Charlie gets frustrated that people just can’t understand how brilliant and innovative he is. So the idea fizzles out. Until Charlie’s next genius idea, but that never gets going either.
Lesson: As a first-time entrepreneur, start with something simple and manageable that you can fund yourself. Innovation comes later.
2. Business Plan Billy
Billy is a 23-year-old engineering graduate who can’t find a job because nobody is hiring. So he smartly decides to take his career into his own hands.
While in school, Billy developed a neat widget that has 1,000 uses. Since Billy is a go-getter, he walks into his local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and they tell him that he needs a business plan.
Over the next three months, Billy researches all the latest trends and plans out every dollar he’s going to make over the next five years. He proudly takes his 35-page business plan back to the SBDC. But they tell him that the formatting is all wrong.
So he spends another month rewriting it and adding fancy, irrelevant images to make it look nice for potential investors.
Once it’s flawless, he smugly presents it to the bank. Then he takes it to the local incubator. Then a potential investor. No one bothers to even read his masterpiece, let alone give him much-needed startup capital.
Rejection after rejection, he decides to slip it under his rich uncle’s placemat over Easter dinner. Billy’s uncle takes a cursory glance and says, “That’s nice, Billy. Was this one of your school projects? When are you going to get a job?”
Billy stomps off to his room and waits there until a smart investor knocks on his door.
Lesson: If you need more than two pages to explain your business or more than $1,000 to start it, then it’s too complicated. Don’t bother planning if it’s going to get in the way of doing.
3. Pixel Perfect Peter
Peter is a perfectionist. His dad always taught him that, “a job’s not worth doing unless you do it right.”
One day, Peter comes up with a business idea. So he goes to the library and checks-out 15 books on how to start a business. He reads them all. Every word. Peter wants to make sure that everything goes without a hitch.
Then Peter spends months researching the snazziest design firms, the most cost-effective suppliers, and the most well-respected manufactures.
After a year or two, Peter has a product. But the lever makes a small squeaking sound when he uses it in his frigid cold basement. So he sends it back for a redesign.
After spending $100,000’s developing the perfect product, Apple releases a much simpler product that does the same thing.
Peter writes to his local newspaper about how Apple’s product is defective and his is better. The next day, the journalist flatters him with a 100-word excerpt in the back of the paper.
Lesson: Don’t wait until it’s perfect, because perfection is impossible.
4. Business-of-the-Day Bob
On the other hand, Bob is a mid-level manager at a large corporation. To occupy his other eight hours, Bob starts businesses. 15 per year, to be exact.
Bob doesn’t have any skills. But according to the coffee mug that his daughter bought him, he’s the “Best Boss Ever.”
When Bob comes up with a new business idea, he sends it to his team on-call in Singapore. One-week and $87 later, they send him a mock-up of his game-changing website. He loves it. It goes live.
While sitting in his corner office at work, he spends all day refreshing his Analytics. One-by-one, he researches all the cities where his visitors are coming from to better understand his customers.
After a week of almost no traffic and absolutely no revenue, Bob gives up the business and blames it on a bug in the coding.
But that’s ok. This is normal for a real entrepreneur like Bob. One day, one of them is going to hit.
Lesson: You need to focus on one business. Within that business, you need to focus 90% of your time and effort on the money-making activities. And dedicate yourself to it for at least a year.
5. They’ll Buy it Cuz it’s Cute Cathy
Cathy has the most darling business idea. She’s starting a private school that’s going to teach kids how to make adorable stuffed animals for the homeless children in Western Kazakhstan.
It’s going to be every Saturday, year-round. To have their kids attend, parents pay just $60 per week (less than $10 per hour of learning).
Cathy rents out her friend’s basement because it’s well-lit for crafts. She opens up shop but no one comes.
So Cathy writes a column for a local magazine about the importance of cultivating creativity in children through crafting. The magazine goes out to its 300 subscribers, but still no one calls.
Disgusted, Cathy lets her friend have her basement back. For her failure, she blames irresponsible parents for not allowing their kids the opportunity to learn the valuable life-skill of stuffed-animal making.
Lesson: Sell pain killers, not vitamins. If you’re business doesn’t solve an obvious problem, you’re going to struggle.
6. Facebook is My Marketing Martha
Martha has this viral marketing thing figured out. She’s had a Facebook profile since 2006 and has over 1,000 friends.
All she has to do to launch her new book is make a Facebook page for and message all 1,000 of her dearest friends. Since they’re her friends, they won’t mind. In fact, they’ll probably tell all of their friends too.
If all 1,000 friends tell at least 100 of their friends (which is a worse-case-scenario), then that’s 100,000 people who will know about Martha’s book in the first week.
Let’s say 5% (again, on the safe-side) become customers. That’s 5,000 book sales. Since Martha has done such a great job with her book, all those people are going to recommend it to all of their friends.
Pretty soon, all 500 million people on Facebook will know about it and we haven’t even started with Twitter.
Lesson: Social media isn’t a marketing strategy. It’s an outlet for customer relations. As soon as you start “marketing” on Facebook or Twitter, your “prospects” are going to start ignoring you.
I Gotta Tell Ya…
I’m still a ‘Change the World Charlie’, a ‘Pixel Perfect Peter’, and a ‘They’ll Buy it Cuz it’s Cute Cathy’. And I’ve been all of them at one point or another.
Which of these dumb entrepreneurs are you?
Post image by: promopeddler