Monday, October 26, 2009

"Find Heroes. Do Demos. Tell Stories."

As anyone who has read these post for a while knows, I am a really big fan of Tom Peters and his work in designing management structures and work policies that achieve results.

I have been reading Tom Peters for decades now. Tom writes for a more urban crowd I think. What I find really interesting is that as I move into rural economic development work I am finding many farmers and rural entrepreneurs who also embrace Tom's work.

Busy weekend doing economic development budgets. Lost the time for a proper post so I thought I would share a quote from Tom Peters that I read recently.

Here is a short summary of how to effectively approach enterprise. You don't need glitz, you need truth. Here it is:

"Find Heroes. Do Demos. Tell Stories."
--Tom Peters

You want to get into enterprise? You want to explore small business? You want to know what to do next? Do that.

Tom Peters site

Photo is from the really fun plant kaleidoscopes at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite board rooms

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Slow startups. Get a realistic understanding.

Slow startups allow people to fit a small business into their lives in sustainable ways. You get to decide how much time and money you can spend. Both can be small but if you act on your small business during the time set aside, you can come out the other end with something valuable to you, financially and culturally.

At that point you have a real enterprise. You'll have a base of unique skills and knowledge that will allow you to take your enterprise in any direction you want. You will have customers, cash flow and a track record. You will have learned to control your data. These are the pieces required to jump to the next stages, if that's what you want to do.

This is NOT an approach for people who need immediate relief. That's a different story. This story is about slowly building a platform that can support your life and your dreams for the long term.

However, this does not advocate dreaming only. This idea is about doing. Making mistakes, pulling/learning yourself up. Becoming a professional entrepreneur. Spending as little money as as possible. Getting a realistic understanding of your market.

How do you do that? It means going slowly, with time and money allocated as you have available, but once allocated that plan is executed.

It means trying. Learning. Capturing the data. Try, learn, repeat.

Our new Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point (they've poured concrete!) will be a great platform for testing this idea. People will be able to try out different models of food entrepreneurship at radical-cheap price points due to wonderful public/private partnerships in our region.

I'm very specifically designing paths into the Innovation Kitchen in such a way that it makes its easy for new startup entrepreneurs to say 'no'. This will help create better, smarter and more sustainable entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs need clear paths for easily and inexpensively testing their ideas. However, at any point in the learning process the entrepreneur should be celebrated for saying 'no' and supported when switching directions as markets dictate.

Giving up on your preferred, stated direction - saying 'no I don't want to do THAT'- is not a sign of business weakness it is a sign of enterprise (and personal) strength. Learning to say no is perhaps the most important skill to develop while gaining a realistic understanding of your ideas.

So, back to the new Innovation Kitchen for examples. This is a unique opportunity to put these slow startup ideas in play.

Anyone who wants to launch a new food business by working in the kitchen will be offered the opportunity to do a low budget shakedown cruise with their idea.

New entrepreneurs can first meet with the foodservice staff at the Innovation Kitchen to discuss their recipes and processes. Our staff can help with everything from business planning to vendor sourcing to cooking tips to nutrition labeling to packaging and everything in between. The entrepreneurs can take a dry run through all the steps in the process. Innovation Kitchen staff can also help prepare custom production plans to match the needs of the entrepreneur and prepare cost estimates for production runs.

The entrepreneur can plunge in or change plans at this point. They can evaluate the demands on their time and money and may choose to launch their enterprise using a different model. Fine! Good to learn early and inexpensively. First ideas are rarely the best. Changing isn't failure. It's success.

If they get this far and still want to proceed, the new food entrepreneur will be offered free slow startup business plans to start filling in and help to launch their enterprise.

This shakedown cruise can also include a production run of the food entrepreneur's recipe. The entrepreneur will get to cook in a professional, state-certified kitchen under production conditions. The learning opportunities will be invaluable.

They will come out the end of this process with plans probably modified from those they entered with. Importantly they will have a production run of their recipe, professionally processed and packaged, ready to commercially market. They will have created their own product that they can use to test market and launch their new businesses or product lines with. The thrill of getting to this point with a unique product of your own creation and taking it into the public space is exhilarating.

As an economic developer I see my role as giving as many people as possible as many opportunities as possible for testing entrepreneurship. The next step is to provide as many alternatives as possible for those who want to switch directions. They have self-selected as emerging entrepreneurs. They are a seam of gold. The next thing to do is provide as many enabling paths as possible for smelting that gold into value.

The slow startup entrepreneur trades their time for knowledge.

Slow startup entrepreneurs pull themselves through the early learning curve utilizing the best help and the best tools available to them.

The slow startup entrepreneur carefully builds a realistic understanding of what it takes to wake up an idea, as well as the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and how to plan for both.

One foot in front of the other. Try, learn, repeat.

That's how you gain a realistic understanding of your entrepreneurial idea.

This is not a doom-and-gloom scenario. Just the opposite. Slow startups are a path to an achievable solution that can make your life better. Every mistake you make, every bit of wisdom, every new digit of data puts you ahead of potential competitors. It's your intellectual property. You are earning your 'patents'.

How do you get a realistic understanding of the process? Start now. Get smart. Go slow.

You can do it.

Driftless Appetite. One of my favorite food blogs, celebrating life and local foods in Southwest Wisconsin. Also new friends!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Slow Startups. What to do first.

The economy is rebuilding, but I don't know anyone who feels relaxed about their future economic security.

People want to put some stability and meaning back into their economic lives. There are certainly many paths to get there.

I've been writing about slow startups as a viable path for creating smart new enterprises that can make significant financial and cultural improvements in people's lives.

We've got slow food, and now slow money. Why not slow startups? Everyone wants viable new solutions and the emerging model is competence and sustainability, not speed.

Just as there is great honor in slow foods and what that idea brings to commerce, there is also great honor and long-term value in creating slow enterprise models.

We need to make entrepreneurship simpler and more accessible. We need to nurture entrepreneurship that builds and sustains our communities and our regions. We need to help people create and build their own enterprises in ways that fit into their lives appropriately.

Slow startups take into account whatever your personal and financial status is. This model allows you to build and test your own enterprise at your own pace, so that in the end you will have a service or a product that you're passionate about and a sustainable business model supporting it.

Slow startups certainly match up well with my own boomer demographic. I also think these kind of slow launches will fit in well with the wonderful artisinal young people doing so many cool things out there. And if you're in the middle, what's wrong with trying to create a long-term job for yourself by slowly starting your own business now?

So, here's my news: Most startups take far longer than the people think. This is especially true for small, self-funded startups. That's not a bad thing, it just is. What this should be saying to you is to start creating your own small business ASAP. It will take longer than you think to get underway. Start one while you have a day job. Start one in your spare time. I know, this is not easy, but the time is there. Find what time you can and put it to work.

By taking the process slowly, you will learn far more than by rushing through it. You will learn to enjoy the journey.

If you REALLY love this process after trying it out, you can circle back and do startups over and over - a perfectly viable and compelling career path in the 21st century.

In trying to help some new enterprises through our economic development office, I've been re-using the Micro-Enterprise courses I wrote and taught through the Small Business Center at WCTC in Waukesha. It's my slow startup manual.

Slow startups perfectly suit micro-enterprise and vice versa.

What do I really mean? I mean you can invest a few hundred dollars and a year or two of part time effort and come out the other end with a viable enterprise that's making money and building greater security and independence into your life. From there you can nurture and grow it in any direction you want.

If you have more time and money to invest, you can shorten your timeline to launch. This also makes it possible to make expensive mistakes. Careful.

So, start now. Start slow. Take some time to think about this and explore the possibilities. Here is my outline:

Slow startups. What to do first.

There are six fairly simple, but critically important steps to launching a slow startup. These make slow startups sustainable:

- Get a realistic understanding of what it takes to wake up an idea, as well as the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and how to plan for both.

- Learn what information you'll need, how to find it, and how to use that information once you find it.

- Learn how become a professional at what you do, and where to turn for help.

- Create a management structure that builds your own confidence, deals with the details, and creates peace of mind for all involved.

- Learn how to market and sell in your niche.

- Learn to capture your data and turn it into commerce.

These six approaches to slow startups were the core of the six courses I wrote and taught through the Small Business Center.

They are my roadmap for creating slow startup enterprises. Each one of these topics unfolded into a 90+ minute discussion in my Micro-Enterprise courses when we dug into all the how-to stuff. There are multiple, discreet steps behind each of these major categories. I really loved sharing these ideas in depth.

I want you to know that it's not complicated. It just takes time. Take informed, measured steps. Develop mastery in small valuable steps. Make as many inexpensive mistakes as you can as quickly as you can. Execute. Innovate. Repeat.

It is not hard, but it does take time. Slow startups. Start one now and you'll thank yourself down the road.

As Tom Peters says, "Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark."

This is the Renaissance Age of entrepreneurship, and its just beginning.

Welcome friend. Now get going.

Tom Peters site

Friday, October 02, 2009

Creative Birthing

In most discussions about entrepreneurship, the talk usually comes around to 'creative destruction'. This is a term created by economist Joseph Schumpeter. It describes the inevitable loss of value in enterprises that do not innovate.

Wikipedia's description: "In Schumpeter's vision of capitalism, innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power."

If you are on the losing side, it is painful and sad when the market share of older companies is eaten by younger more innovative enterprises.

What's useful here is that innovation is available to everyone. Innovation does not have to equal high, unmanaged growth. Innovation can be increased value and service to your stakeholders (think of the excellent book, Small Giants). Indeed, innovation is limitless and never-ending by its nature. So yes, there will be creative destruction.

The next step is to build platforms for 'creative birthing'. I see 'creative birthing' as a way to prosper through the inevitable destruction by allowing ever-increasing numbers of individuals and groups to participate in innovation and entrepreneurship. Even as creative destruction overtakes the less nimble, people involved in those dying companies will have the advantage of easily participating in new, more creative and innovative launches.

Hybrid entity/governance models will likely emerge. New kinds of stakeholders will likely emerge (think of the great new work forming within the Slow Money Alliance). By supporting 'creative birthing' processes and platforms, I think economic regions can prosper. Those that don't help enable easier 'creative birthing' processes will eventually suffer.

In a previous post I linked to a study showing that regions with the highest business 'birth rates' (startups, which everyone celebrates) also had the highest 'death rates' of companies going under. Many places treat these business closures as failures, while the most successful places (highest birth rates) celebrate the culture of entrepreneurship and make pathways into that model easier.

Working in a social profit (non-profit) organization that is neither private or government, I feel a wonderful nimbleness to work on models to make entrepreneurship easier. Governments shouldn't do this stuff. Too often, private enterprise is locked in to their own form of 'creative destruction' and not interested in new options. The best enterprises don't do this, but they are typically a minority.

I think the local food processing cluster we are trying to build is a worthy experiment in 'creative birthing'. However, this is not 'The' experiment, it's 'an' experiment. There are countless other experiments possible across all types of enterprises and geographies.

There is no other way to deal with creative destruction than acknowledge it and build systems to temper and even utilize that destruction: creative birthing is here to stay.

I greatly enjoyed sharing some of these ideas with many new friends in the Regional Food Systems Working Group at the Leopold Center this week. The meeting was held at the beautiful Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, IA. I highly recommend a visit!

Wikipedia, 'Creative Destruction'

Prior post on birth rates / death rates

Slow Money Alliance

Regional Food Systems Working Group

Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham

Iowa Arboretum