SBJ/December 5-11, 2011/Opinion

Keys to startup success: Motivation, discipline, support team

Motivation, self-discipline and a strong support team are vital attributes of successful marathoners, such as those who recently completed the ING New York City Marathon. Without these traits, the hopes and dreams of personal accomplishment often rest closer to the starting line than the finish line.

The same can be said of entrepreneurs. Today’s economic challenges, general disdain for corporate governance, and the fragile nature of family life/work balance have many wondering if they should go out on their own. Sure, there may be an immediate adrenaline rush of entrepreneurial grandeur, such as creating the next Under Armour, being the next Cuban, Jobs or Knight, or simply collaborating with former industry colleagues — but that’s just eye candy for the uncommitted.

The reality is that you start out as a jack-of-all-C-suites for your NewCo, with an untested brand name. Can you stomach uncertainty, uneven income, constant No’s, and the continual need for working capital? It’s not for everyone. In fact, the vast majority of new businesses fail within the first five years.

Before you spend your own money on a URL, lease stylish offices, or build out a website, there are several factors to consider when you examine a startup opportunity.

Motivation

First, analyze your desire to develop a startup or join a new business venture. It seems obvious, but knowing who you are and what makes you happy is a critical first step. Find the “passion point” that bonds your emotional, physical and financial investment together. Sometimes it’s an extraordinary opportunity and a moment that you can’t afford not to consider. Or maybe it’s the joy of creating something new and bringing it to market, or making a positive difference in people’s lives with a rewarding solution.

Make sure your entrepreneurial motivation is positive and consistent. It should be a resource when the hard times arise (and they will). As always, lean on your personal board of directors for timely assessments on any career changes or entrepreneurial considerations.

Discipline

Athletes are prime examples of how discipline can create or diminish careers. They devote themselves to lofty goals that occur in a transient life stage with the hope that it provides for a lifetime. Their value proposition is always there for us to see during competition. When their enthusiasm wanes, their effort and decision-making suffers. This is no different from what we witness in our jobs and those of potential entrepreneurs — though perhaps at a different pay grade and with less media coverage. You must be willing to invest 100 percent of your personal resources and reputation, all the time, to have any chance to achieve your goals.

A reliable measuring stick of self-discipline is when you’re on your own. The entrepreneurial world can be a lonely place, but a confident self-starter doesn’t require corporate structure to succeed. It helps knowing where and when you do your best work.

Staying within your strengths is also important. You may not be the best athlete, but success usually follows a hustler — one who gives his or her all every day. Are you prepared to pick up the phone and cold-call? Are you ready to admit what you don’t know and seek help?

Lastly, if an opportunity looks to be too good to be true, it probably is. Resist shortcuts, such as easy financing, relying on family members or friends “just doing you a favor,” or hiring former colleagues looking for any type of work, etc. They all may be legitimate, but you need partners and team members who complement your skills and business concept and share your personal commitment. There are no E-ZPass lanes to entrepreneurial success.

Support team

As an aspiring entrepreneur, I have learned quickly that you shouldn’t go about this journey alone. There will always be someone to report to: investors, a board, customers and your spouse (not necessarily in that order!). Make sure you have the support of your spouse and that basic living expenses are covered before you start out.

Take time to identify and “test drive” potential partners. He or she doesn’t have to be a former work colleague but may be a vendor, direct agency/client contact or past business school classmate. It needs to be someone you trust and respect and that you have a history with, both in good and not-so-good times. Forming a partnership is like a marriage and a lifetime decision. Take your time to vet through the business strategy and management structure, financial expectations and partner compatibility. Be prudent in any addition to a potential equity structure and clarify what everyone contributes to the startup stage and sustainability of the business.

There’s a big gap between thinking about a new business opportunity and being a successful entrepreneur akin to a driver vs. passenger seat perspective. If you feel the urge to be a startup, talk to those who have ventured out and/or are still planning to do so. There are various business models and structures to consider as well as an abundance of books to help you along your way. The opportunity must be built on positive motivation, discipline and a support team in order to have any chance to compete in what will be a once-in-a-life experience.

Glenn Horine (ghorine@handhconsulting.net) is the executive director of Iona College’s Center for Sports and Entertainment Studies, a business development consultant, an industry career counselor/lecturer and an aspiring entrepreneur.


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