Interview with Stephen Greer

December 23rd, 2010 → 11:24 am @

Norman Evans: You say it’s difficult to “teach a heart”, while conceding that an MBA programme gives an entrepreneur valuable skills. I’d like to reverse the question: can an MBA programme crush an aspiring entrepreneur’s “heart”, making them more of a conformist? ie Is there downside risk for an entrepreneur in doing an MBA?
Steven Greer: I don’t think an MBA will do that to you – but the more you know the easier it is to become scared of all the risks. I may never have expanded as aggressively if I’d known then what I know now. Not knowing how to analyse all the risk makes you more bold. This is an important characteristic for an entrepreneur. The perfection is to understand all the risks and still have the courage to move forward – you’ll never have absolute certainty in analysing a business plan.
Norman: Yes, in my book I describe the “accountant profile” – the reason they don’t build great businesses is they know too much!
Stephen: An MBA programme is a breeding ground for entrepreneurship. They are all chomping at the bit waiting to get out into the business world. A lot of great ideas have been born in MBA classrooms. The $100k MBA fee is seed capital for a business.
Norman: What do you think of the idea that aspiring entrepreneurs learn best by working with experienced entrepreneurs? The value is obvious, but does working with “the Master”, take away the need to face the personal risk factors which drive an entrepreneur to learn?
Steven: If you are the inexperienced [person] you are looking to the generosity of the more experienced ones to see you though. I don’t like to bet on others’ generosity.
Learning by doing is better than learning by watching. You don’t want to expose yourself to bankruptcy unnecessarily. Take smaller risks and learn by doing – understand your strengths and weaknesses. My overconfidence from early success and over-ambition meant we grew too fast and nearly lost the whole company because of it. Accumulate as many tools in your tool belt as possible on your MBA.
Norman: You say you would have benefitted from an MBA. But you succeeded without it. Would you advise an aspiring entrepreneur, who had plenty of “heart” but not much education, to seek more education, perhaps including an MBA, before building a business, or to leap into the business while the opportunity was still hot?
Stephen: Don’t be 100 years old and still acquiring tools. If you see an opportunity you’ve got to grab it. They don’t hang around. Everyone on earth has an amazing opportunity presented 2, 3 or 4 times in their lives. By the third time you’d better start grabbing because you’ll run out of them. You should go do it. If you think you can come back and do it later after your MBA, [the opportunity] won’t be there.
My friend has a book in which he wrote down ideas for businesses. Whenever he saw a problem he wrote it down… as any kind of problem is an entrepreneurial opportunity – he’s now 42 and hasn’t done any of them yet.
Norman: Many business schools are now offering both undergraduate and postgraduate entrepreneurship programmes as alternatives to an MBA. Do you believe such courses have the potential to both teach theory and give useful experiences? i.e. Is a business developed as part of such a programme likely to give the experiences entrepreneurs need?
Stephen: I have been speaking to a lot of universities and speaking to students.
Any kind of case study opportunity is great for potential business people – learn from successes and mistakes. But these undergraduate MBA programmes [are not good]. These people should have gone out and worked, and be learning on top of their work experiences. If all you’ve done is study business the learning experience is a bit of a challenge. They have a fine degree from a fine school but no work experience. That is not a compelling package.
If you have no intention of getting an MBA, get as much business study in as possible as an undergraduate. Once you have that the MBA would be a duplicate of the work.
Take as many business courses as you can. The entrepreneurship courses teach using case studies but learning about Coca Cola is hard because you’ll never have the marketing budget that Coke has.
Norman: Thanks Stephen

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Confidence can become cockiness

December 22nd, 2010 → 3:06 pm @

Entrepreneurs need unusually strong levels of self-confidence to allow them to survive the rigours of start-up, and particularly pressure from nay-sayers who criticise their business model, product, or approach to innovation. But that confidence can easily become cockiness.

I’ve been watching one cocky entrepreneur for over a year. He prances around the city, promoting his vision, and gets a lot of support. I know his chief developer very well, and the developer is enormously impressed by the cocky entrepreneur’s self-assurance, and is proud to be working with him. But that self-assurance goes way beyond healthy self-confidence.

The cocky entrepreneur is happy to tell other entrepreneurs what’s wrong with their businesses, but dismisses criticism of his own business, and even offers of help, too easily. His business will stand or fall on the cocky entrepreneur’s wisdom. He told me that if he succeeds he wants to be able to say it’s entirely through his own acumen. But in taking that view he’s putting the economic futures of his partners and staff at greater risk. If he comes unstuck through his cockiness, then they will suffer significant loss.

In my book, “Becoming an Entrepreneur”, I describe entrepreneurs as ‘resource gatherers’. The cocky entrepreneur is committing the cardinal sin for entrepreneurs… he’s cutting himself off from resources which can help him to succeed, and doing it for egotistical reasons. What he sees as self-confidence, is a cocky behaviour which undermines his chances of success.

Mature entrepreneurs have learnt to maintain strong self-belief, but also to accept any help which is likely to move the business forward. By contrast with the cocky entrepreneur, the two star entrepreneurs in my stable of companies accept every bit of help they can get. When they receive awards, they recognise all those who contributed, claiming none of the glory for themselves (although they deserve most of it). They have the confidence to make the hard decisions, the confidence to accept the blame for the bad ones, and the confidence to offer credit for success to everyone else. They’re a pleasure to work with, and they’ve built strong sustainable businesses, with loyal teams… and not a prancing cock in sight!

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Confident Cocky
Do I find ways to share the credit for achievement with my team? Do I claim all credit for achievement myself?
Do I take responsibility when things go wrong, even if it’s not my fault? Do I blame others, even when I’m partially at fault?
When I exit team members, partners, or customers from my business, do I
leave them feeling well-treated?
When I exit team members, partners, or customers from my business, do I
leave them feeling abused or disrespected?

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There are many other questions that could demonstrate your propensity to cockiness… but how you handle sharing credit and blame, and how you handle people when you’re disengaging from them, can be the simplest and clearest indicators.

Entrepreneur behavior

Questions and Answers – Launching your product

December 7th, 2010 → 11:08 am @

I have started reading Quicksprout and writing answers to some of the entrepreneur’s questions posted there.  Publishing the answers I give both on their site and here should give the opportunity to build a catalogue of answers.  Please contact me if you have a question you’d like answered.

At what point of a lean startup model should the product launch process begin?

As some one who works as a product launch manager I have been looking at how to find the right angle to approach VC’s to due product launches for their incubator’s as a outside consultant. I believe the right approach on this is to talk with VC’s. Can someone add some valuable insights on how I should approach this?

My answer

I’ve launched 40 start-ups and the answer is always the same… “You should begin the launch process as soon as you are sure you can sustain theprocess to completion.”  That means, the earlier the better as long as you have enough money to fund the launch, product available to meet expected demand, channel relationships in place, and so on.

The value you can add as a consultant is to get in early and help plan the launch so that the company goes to market as soon as possible, but fully prepared.  I have a marketing person helping me with a launch right now.  She sold her services by adding value in the pre-launch phase so I was prepared to trust her with the launch.

This perspective is not a VCs. I am an entrepreneur and investor, but I also run a business incubator so I’m pretty aware of what investors, incubators, and the entrepreneurs need.

They need credible help.

Unfortunately, the world is full of “consultants” who talk a big game but can’t deliver.  Be prepared to prove you can deliver and you’ll never be short of work.

Questions and Answers &Start ups &Uncategorized