What I Learned From Summer Camp

AnnefloAnneflo subscriber Posts: 3
edited August 2008 in Thought Leadership
Having gone to all three sessions of 2008 Summer Venture Camp put on by The Collaborative, I want to summarize the most important lessons that I took away from among all the information, expertise and advice given.
My business niche as a woman entrepreneur with Miri Market was not
the primary target of most of the panel discussions, which seemed
focused on med/tech start-up companies needing millions in venture
capital. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area is especially strong in this
industry, being home to Medtronic, St. Jude and Guidant, plus we have a
world-class University that makes strong contributions in med/tech
research. But the same things that make a strong candidate for getting
venture capital makes a strong start-up company of any size, in any
industry.
In the last venture camp session it was mentioned that you have to
give people a message 9 times for it to stick. Much of what I focus on
here are universal elements that were mentioned again and again - maybe
not 9 times, but said by enough different people, enough times over the
three sessions, that they “stuck” with me. The rest seems like just
helpful good sense, to keep in mind as I build my company. So here they
are:
1. Successful entrepreneurs need to be really FLEXIBLE. They also
need to be completely dedicated; open to input; enthusiastic, but
willing to learn; open to criticism; easy to work with; prepared.
2. Be sure to communicate to everyone - your employees, your board,
your investors - IT’S ALL GOING TO CHANGE. You need to continually
re-evaluate ideas, employee performance, compensation, priorities for
spending - with the constant goal of making money and liquidity.
Continually set up the expectation that things will be changing.
3. The saying, “Find a need, and fill it” is true. If you start with
one idea in mind, and find that your customers are taking it in another
direction or asking for some changes, go with it! Due diligence, market
research, patent searches and understanding the competitive landscape
can also help point you to the void that needs filling.
4. The main things to have down, which you must be able to communicate in a few, concise sentences, are:
-What’s your unique thing, your proprietary property/technology?
-How big is your market opportunity, your universe of buyers?
-What is the benefit customers receive from using your product? Will people pay for it?
-Management team. Management team. Management team.
5. When writing your business plan, make sure you have your above
“story” together. Often a power point with supporting schedules will
suffice, along with an excellent executive summary.
6. Hire people that are smarter than you. If you don’t have the
knowledge and experience to get your company where it needs to be, find
someone who does.
7. If you want to attract talent and have them work above and beyond
for your success, give ownership as incentive - the earlier, the
better. It’s difficult to lose key employees when you’re growing.
8. Don’t give up too much, too soon to your management team. Make
sure they earn it, that no one is “dead weight,” then reward generously.
9. Be clear about the different components of your benefits package,
and what long-term components reward as opposed to base pay.
10. If incentives are dependent on profit, put out the numbers so the employees know how they’re doing.
11. Consider that benefits have different value to different
employees. Also think about the intangibles of your company that might
help keep your employees. Create the right benefits and atmosphere for
the employees you want to hire and keep.
12. Communicate, communicate, communicate - to employees, investors, public.
13. The right management team means having the right people at each
stage. For example, having a bookkeeper –> having a comptroller
–> having a CFO. Each time you add the right person, you’re adding
value, even though the cash hit can be difficult at the time.
14. Constantly stay on top of cash flow. Check every day so you don’t have surprises.
15. Qualify your new customers. Set payment terms and credit limits.
Follow up on slow payers. Offer discounts to get customers to pay more
quickly. Offer credit card payment. Impose finance charges for late
payments (and also use as leverage.) You can sometimes renegotiate
terms with your manufacturers, suppliers. Convert sales as quickly as
possible into cash in the bank.
16. Take the time to organize your board. Over time try to increase
its sophistication to one that’s informed, and will take action when
necessary.

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