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!

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