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September 10, 1997. The Entrepreneurial Bug
Special thanks to Asian Women in Business for giving me this forum to share my thoughts about starting a small business. I will draw from my experiences in starting go-Digital Internet Consulting Group. I will also raise some ideas about using the Internet for your business.
Before you begin, prepare.
Some of you may be wondering if you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur. The answer is yes. Even if you haven't taken business courses or worked for a large corporation, a good dose of common sense and ingenuity can go a long way for entrepreneurs. Do you have the entrepreneurial bug? Have you ever had a good idea, only to see it duplicated by someone else? If yes, don't be discouraged; be encouraged that your idea was such a good one that someone else took risks to make a business out of it. Keep coming up with new ideas; perhaps one will become the basis of your new business.
When you have an idea that you just seem to think about all day and all night, even in your dreams, then you may be onto something. But before you launch your company, take some time for the following things. You must be the most critical critic of your own ideas, because you will have the most at stake. You should carefully articulate the need in the marketplace that your idea, product, or process will satisfy. If you can tell it to someone in 30 seconds or less, then you know you've grasped it. This is dubbed the "elevator test."
Second, consider the complexity of your idea, its replaceability, and the competitors you may face. If your idea is complex, start by acquiring the skills, experience, and resources necessary to implement it in the future. If your idea is replaceable by something else, consider how to make it more unique and difficult to replicate. This will give you a little more competitive advantage when throngs of competitors spring up. Then scope out your existing or potential competitors. Sometimes it is much more efficient to learn from their experiences and mistakes than to make your own.
Third, consider your financial and philosophical sustainability. Once you have a solid grasp of your idea you should also have a sense of how long it would take to implement it. While being an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean you have to leave your day job, some projects do require a tremendous focus and constant attention. So set some financial resources aside and plan a creative way of surviving before launching your company. Also, philosophical sustainability, perseverance, is critical. You will have to dig deep inside yourself to find that passion and dedication to pursue your idea even after having knocked on 100 doors, been turned away by 20 venture capital firms, and worked 20 hour days crafting your product with your own bare hands. Remember, though, that the hardest part is getting started. If you have done the due diligence above, then pursue your dream; make your idea happen.
When you begin, commit.
When you embark on this journey, here are a few pointers for the road. Keep your eyes on the destination but be flexible how you get there. Keep learning and making minor adjustments based on new data collected every day. The most nimble and innovative entrepreneurs increase their probability of success. Learn to be proactive as well as reactive. Being proactive means you have a game plan and milestones you strive to achieve. The business plan is your game plan; read it frequently and keep all your new ideas centered around achieving the plan. Being reactive means you can innovatively adjust your tactics when new situations, complications, and issues arise. Being an entrepreneur is about being prepared, focused, and passionate.
Learn to challenge your own assumptions. Bounce ideas off your colleagues and friends. Soak up experiences and learn from them. And pave a new road. The more you can innovate and create new paths, the more sustainable your lead. Those small companies which create a new playing field force established players to start from scratch, at the same level. The Internet "phenomenon" provides rich examples. Netscape created the new Internet industry and now competes head-to-head with Microsoft. Amazon.com sprung up to sell books online and now competes with Barnes & Noble. Believe in your idea and stretch the limits of your skill and imagination to make it a reality. And while you work, surround yourself with the resources and tools that make your efforts more efficient.
When you work, use tools.
The most widely publicized and perhaps one of the most powerful tools in recent history is the Internet. The Internet started as a communications network between government agencies and universities in 1969. It was not until 1993 when the browser was invented that it started its cosmic growth. The browser gave the Internet point-and-click simplicity, attractive graphics, and multimedia capabilities. It was based on open standards which meant that anyone, using any computer, anywhere in the world could access and use it. And it cost next to nothing to "publish" on the Internet. Never before had individuals been empowered to reach out to the world in ways that were previously limited only to the largest media companies.
Today the Internet is utilized by millions in ordinary or extraordinary ways. It is an incomparable tool for any business to reach a global audience, interact with customers in unprecedented ways, and even develop communities of interest, which span space and time. The Internet is a uniquely powerful tool unlike any medium before it, television, radio, or print. For example, FedEx uses the Internet to deliver package tracking at one-seventh the cost of human customer service. Amazon.com offers 2.5 million books, is always open, and is globally accessible. General Motors provides surround videos of car interiors and exteriors. ESPN delivers up-to-the-minute sports scores before they appear on TV.
For a small business such as yours, the Internet is a vital communications and marketing tool. It gives you global reach to disseminate your information, while reducing the costs of traditional paper-based or broadcast-based distribution methods. And as customer needs evolve and enabling technologies improve, new applications can be quickly deployed to give your business maximum competitive advantage.
So before you start, prepare; when you start, commit; and while you work, use tools.