Friday, May 29, 2009

Bootstrapping as a weapon of mass reconstruction

I've been fortunate to meet many new people through this writing who are working on entrepreneurship issues.

A new friend of entrepreneurs caught my attention this week. She is Sramana Mitra, a tech entrepreneur and a columnist for Forbes. Ms Mitra has a Masters degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, has founded 3 companies, and consults with Silicon Valley VCs.

Importantly, Ms. Mitra has been writing a series of books under the theme of 'Entrepreneur Journeys'. Her second volume in the series was recently released under the title "Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction."

While most of the examples are small tech companies, the lessons Ms. Mitra evokes from them are universal. A quote from the middle of the book is a great place for us to start: "I remain resolute that if entrepreneurs the world over learn to build sustainable small businesses without requiring large sums of outside financing, the global economy will run without a hitch. No doubt, many of these ventures will go on to seek large-scale expansion capital, in building out larger enterprises, but those who don't grow exponentially will still enjoy the pride and privilege of being small business owners. And we as a people, and we as communities and as nations, will enjoy the health and wealth of their contributions."

Yes. A thousand times, yes. The subject of Ms. Mitra's book and the approach she recommends is clear: You need to bootstrap most businesses. The next step is mentor capital, not venture capital. This will come when you've got customers and a track record. Use your bootstrapping phase to get smart, make mistakes and build a market. It will take more time but less money than you think.

I'd like to post a nice piece from the prologue to introduce this book. It matches very nicely with the themes of the writing here at Sustainable Work. You not only can do it, but you need to do it. Starting your own small enterprise is MUCH safer than not doing it. The world needs you and your contributions. You need your independence strengthened and validated.

Ms. Mitra talks about the current financial collapse and resulting economic mayhem in her opening…

"So, what next? Where to from here? From my perspective it is clear that small business must be a top policy priority. There are approximately 5 million small businesses in the United Sates with fewer than 20 employees. Another 20 million mom-and-pops endeavor day in and day out without employees. Let us hope that in the coming decade, those numbers will double, then triple and quadruple. For here is the most powerful engine of economic growth and sustenance. Here is our way back"

"If the next Google is to emerge and bring with it thousands of new jobs, it must first start over some kitchen table where not only hope but opportunity is readily available. Where entrepreneurs not only start businesses at a higher rate, but also survive and thrive at a higher rate."

"Through much discussion, writing, and brainstorming on each topic, I arrived at one core thesis: Not just entrepreneurship, but bootstrapped entrepreneurship is the true weapon of mass reconstruction."

"Businesses often fail to take flight because they cannot raise funding. Well, start with the assumption that funding will not be available until the business is substantially further along, if ever, and that bottleneck is removed."

"In this volume we will explore a dozen stories of entrepreneurs who have mastered the art of doing more with less, creating a great many options in the process. And making clear for the world over that prosperity and independence are not mutually exclusive. That in fact, they go best together."

That's been a major theme of this Sustainable Work site since it started. Self-enterprise is a path to personal independence and growing, vibrant communities. But for most new enterprises, that journey needs to be one of bootstrapping, self-funding, and longer timelines than you expect.

Remember however, this isn't a reason NOT to do your own startup; just the opposite. You need to start now and get the journey underway.

You can do it. The world needs your contributions and you need a better tomorrow. A perfect fit. Take that first step friend.

Amazon link to Ms. Mitra's new book: Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Boomer Entrepreneurship Renaissance

A short post this weekend, but something near and dear to my heart.

If we boomers are going to have to work longer, why not work at something we love through our own small businesses?

The most recent Kauffman Foundation Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that the highest rates of entrepreneurship came from people age 55 to 64. Boomers had the highest rate of business creation of any age group in 2008. The only other demographic with higher startup rates were immigrants. Both good stories needing attention.

The Kauffman story breaks down new business startups into high and low income types of businesses. However, I would posit that many boomer startups are not intended to be high growth, big money operations.

Boomer businesses are typically small enterprises based on work the entrepreneur loves and skills and knowledge the boomer entrepreneur has developed over decades. They are typically self-funded and are designed to produce an income or two or three. If it grows from there all the better, but if it reaches these plateaus and can contribute financially in this awful market, good on 'em.

In my work as an economic developer and when I teach startups, I see the boomer demographic most strongly represented as the emerging power in new business creation. They have subject expertise. They have love for a niche. Most importantly they have wide ranging contacts in their field they can turn to as peers.

If we're going to have to work longer, why not be passionate about the work? Why not design the work to fit into our lives rather than vice versa? Why not put those years of hard work to use for ourselves for a change?

Whether you want to do it or need to do it or just are looking for an enriching challenge, you can do it, my boomer friends. There has never been a better time. This is the Renaissance Age of Entrepreneurship and it's just beginning.

We boomers are perfectly positioned to take advantage of it to help ourselves and help the planet. More on this specific subject in upcoming posts….

Kauffman Foundation Index of Entrepreneurial Activity highlighting boomer entrepreneurship

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The essence of the leader

I've run C-Corps, S-Corps, LLCs, and sole proprietorships. Right now, I have the opportunity and good fortune to help run a non-profit. In that day job, I'm helping organize Co-ops.

Structure, structure, structure. It defines a lot of what works and what doesn't work once the rubber meets the road.

This is not a piece about legal structures however. Structures don't make organizations work, leaders do.

I've been thinking about what connects leadership across all the kinds of enterprises I've had the opportunity to participate in.

Fortunately I don't have to think too hard. One simple thing stands out. I just came across a wonderful quote from Tom Peters that sums up my own philosophy better than I could:

"The essence of the leader is to induce people to grow." --Tom Peters

Induce: "to lead or move by persuasion or influence, as to some action or state of mind."

Grow: "to increase by natural development."

If you are a person considering a startup or working in an emerging enterprise, you need to be a leader, no matter your specific position. The world needs your solutions and you need to get those solutions deployed. If you are leading a small team or even if you are only leading yourself, you need to create states of mind and actions that help people get better through natural, reproducible (sustainable) solutions.

Short post, thanks (again) to Tom Peters.

My friend, lead by inducing people to grow.

Tom Peters