I was once asked: Why should students learn social skills?
Friday, August 27, 2021
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Entrepreneurs aren't just business owners. They actively seek out opportunities to create something better. That might be a new pizzeria, an innovative product line, or a new digital service that will save time and money. Entrepreneurs are society’s most positive change makers.In fact, social progress depends on entrepreneurs. It wasn’t a corporation or university that developed the telephone, but inventor Alexander Graham Bell. A century later, neither Bell, Kodak nor IBM developed a digital platform for exchanging personal photographs – but a few energetic Harvard undergrads built an online student directory called Facebook.
Going forward, the
world will need even more entrepreneurs. They are essential problem-solvers.
A century ago, cars, airplanes, mines, steel mills, chemicals and expressways became essential elements of daily life. Now we know many of these systems to be toxic. We must swear off of high carbon fuels, unsustainable lifestyles, and unhealthy foods. We need new solutions fast. Big businesses can fund it, big government can regulate it, but only entrepreneurs can come up with speedy solutions at scale.
And not just business needs entrepreneurs. Science, medicine, education, governments, communities and non-profits all face huge challenges today. They all need entrepreneurial leaders who can boost efficiency and develop creative solutions to common problems. Those that embrace innovation will thrive.
Whether you're a leader or a worker, a teacher, student or volunteer, you can contribute more by embracing entrepreneurial approaches.
How do you start?
Here are five ways to hone your entrepreneurial edge.
1. Be curious. Notice how things work. Track the things that irk you and your friends/coworkers. Things that frustrate and peeve are opportunities in disguise. Consider Pierre Omidyar, who wanted a more efficient way to sell his old Pez dispensers, and created eBay.
Flaws in service and product quality may be your best business opportunities. Start with the question, “What if we could…?”
2. Practice a pro-active mindset. Entrepreneurs are notorious for tackling problems with gusto. (An old joke says that the entrepreneur’s motto is “Ready. Fire. Aim!”) By all means, plan your work before you begin, but chase your ideas with energy and tenacity. If it’s just a side hustle, find time to work on it every day. If you're not sure what to do next, just roll up your sleeves and start doing; a path will emerge. Develop a bias for action: no problem can survive an all-out assault.
3. Be a research fiend. If you think you spot an opportunity, don't just start building a new product or service. Research the heck out of your idea first. Find people who are likely prospects for your innovation, and relentlessly ask them how they feel about the current conditions/marketplace. What bothers them most? What would make them buy something new? How much would they pay? How often will they buy? What other solutions would you be competing against?
Like any good researchers, don't just pay attention to positive evidence. Listen carefully when people pour cold water on your idea. Keep asking what they would buy. Chances are, your first idea won't be the best solution. Winning innovations evolve, over time, based on evolving experience and market feedback. When the research points you to a new path, follow where it leads.
4. Build your network. No entrepreneur succeeds alone. Engage with other people to find friends, partners, allies, resources, prospects. Share your ideas with everyone you meet. (Secrets are for the weak). Seek mountains of feedback.
Socialize with active, dynamic people who appreciate your passion and energize you with their own. Stay in touch – never let valuable contacts lapse. Create ongoing value for the people in your network – often, the best way to do that is to introduce them to each other. You never know what will result.
Business is primarily about people – and success comes from hanging with the right ones.
5. Think bigger. It takes no more energy to pursue a big dream than a small one. Today’s information technology makes it possible for individual and small groups to tackle huge problems. Once you have an idea, "embiggen" it. How can you boost its impact? Look for ways to tweak your innovation, add new features, serve new audiences, and otherwise expand its reach. If you face direct competition, the winner will be the group that scales it ideas to help the most people and create the most value.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
This week I was asked by an entrepreneur friend to review a recording of his pitch, along with his PowerPoint deck. I thought his presentation was terrific. But it could have been better.
So I thought I would share my comments with you. I don't have the entrepreneur’s permission to disclose his details, so I revised my notes to speak to generalities rather than specifics. I hope you will find them useful the next time you go out on a limb to present your dream offer, venture or opportunity.
1. You rushed right into the presentation without introducing yourself properly. Don't just give us your first name – give us your full name. (Maybe someone in the audience will know your cousin. Bingo! You have a new contact.)
3. Start early to build your audience’s confidence and trust. As part of your intro, let us know a little more about your background, skills and experiences. Keep it short – but prove to me why you are the ideal person to be promoting the product/project.
4. Be very clear about the problem you're solving. Who will benefit from your solution, and how will it benefit ME? (My friend was actually very good at this. I just added this note now, because it’s such a common problem.
5. Can you explain your revenue model better? What is your price point, and how many customers/how much market share will it take for you to break even, or start making a profit?
6. You mention some quite diverse customer segments. How have you tested these markets to suss out their potential? If you haven't done those tests yet, why do you think this will work? Are there similar products/solutions that your target market already supports? There should be no untested theses in a pitch like this! No one cares about your guesses.
7. You mention you will be launching in a specific test market. Please explain why you chose this market, and what makes it the best place to start. I want to know you’ve put a lot of thought into this plan.
8. What is your plan for expanding beyond that first-mover market? When, where, how? (This demonstrates your confidence, as well as good planning skills.)
9. You briefly mentioned the names of some potential partners. The names alone mean nothing to me, and likely nothing to most of the people you are pitching to. Please give us a few words about each of them to explain why they would be such valuable partners.
10. Plus, tell us how these talks are going. Even if it’s just, “They seem very eager to work with us, as they see that we have the same goals and offer very complementary services.” Not telling us something like this makes me think your negotiations are not going well – or haven't even started. If you haven't begun talking with these partners yet, why are you pitching now? Start building those relationships, then pitch – when you have something other than hopes to go on!
11. You mentioned the names of some important advisors/supporters. You didn’t have time to tell us who they are and why they matter – so why tell us at all? Every aspect of your pitch should add value or position you as a winner who works with other winners. Please give us a few words that show why these people deserve my respect.
12. I think I get what you do and why you're doing it. But I sure would like to have heard a short, punchy mission statement that sums it all up in 10 words or less. Not only does it demonstrate your marketing savvy, it will cut through the clutter like a hot knife through butter.
13. You communicated a lot of good information in just a few minutes. But one thing I missed was “the voice of the customer.” Give us some idea of the feedback you've received so far. (It turns out my entrepreneur friend has done lots of interviews and collected some great quotes. Hopefully he will incorporate them into his next pitch. A solid testimonial is gold. Commitments to buy are even better.
14. (The presentation I saw was recorded on video, with a voice-over by the entrepreneur. Because Covid presents us from meeting in person. But it also puts an additional barrier between you and your audience. So this was my final note:)
Finally: in future videos or presentations, please work on putting more animation into your voice. You're a strong, passionate person, with a big heart. This video is very good, but it doesn't reveal the real you. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! And smile more often while you’re speaking. Even if people can't see you, they can still hear your smile.
Feel free to share your best pitching tips in the comments below.
Tuesday, March 09, 2021
Does your startup have just too much information to jam into one short pitch? Let me help you nail it!
That's not really an ad. It's the premise of my new focused Twitter channel, PitchSolutions. (Which Twitter of course decided to call @SolutionsPitch.)
Follow PitchSolutions for regular content on developing your startup pitch: who you are, why your business exists, what it's trying to do, how it's gonna get there, who's helping you, and why you are all going to win. That's a lot of stuff to cram into a five- or 10-minute pitch, but as a lifelong writer and editor (I was helping my mom mark high-school English papers when I was 13), I know you can get it done.
My tweets draw on my own experience as well as popular experts, book and articles to bring you the most useful intel. To get you fully up to speed, here are some of PitchSolutions' pithiest tweets since its launch last month: