Sunday, October 2, 2011

Interview - Cynthia Kocialski

Today I have Cynthia Kocialski, author of Startup From The Ground Up, answering some questions about entrepeneurs, business, and her book. What inspired you to write the book? Many entrepreneurs come to me looking for suggestions and advice. I’m afraid I disappoint them most of the time because they are usually looking for the magic or secret that will instantly propel their company and product to success. And it doesn’t exist, overnight business success doesn’t happen. What they need more than anything is inspiration. They need to know the challenges they are encountering are not unique to them, that they can work through them and prevail. Friends and colleagues encouraged me to write a book because they like hearing the stories about start-ups and what it is really like inside one of those famous successes. I think it’s the stories that are most helpful to the budding entrepreneur and their early stage businesses. What advice can you give other entrepreneurs feeling overwhelmed by the business, especially when a lot of things are going wrong at the same time? Every entrepreneur feels overwhelmed. It never seems as if there are enough hours in a day and everything seems to take longer than wanted. Until the new business takes on a life of its own, the entrepreneur will always feel as if they should be doing something more. The way to get past this feeling is for the entrepreneur to ask themselves whether what they did today moves their company closer to their milestones and goals. If it has, then you’ve done a good job, even if there is still lots more to do. My advice is to automate as much as possible. A working, highly productive computer is still less costly than labor. If something isn’t getting done because the entrepreneur can’t seem to find the time, then outsource the work. Eliminate tasks that don’t move the start-up closer to its goals. Lastly, realize that entrepreneurs are the captains of their ships. They set the tone and direction of the new business. Spending time thinking about the big picture and where the start-up is going may not have a tangible work result but is important. In this case, doing nothing is doing something. What other advice can you give women entrepreneurs? I ran into a researcher who was doing her doctorate dissertation on serial entrepreneurs. This candidate told me that before they started interviewing these entrepreneurs, they would not have hypothesized how different women and men approached entrepreneurship. While these entrepreneurs were all successful in the end, the paths they took were quite different. And this is what I’ve seen in my personal experience with women in business. As a woman entrepreneur you have to accept that “women are from Venus and men are from Mars”, and it’s unlikely you will reach your goal by emulating a path that a man took to success, which is unfortunate because the bulk of the proof points are men. As a woman entrepreneur, you are far more likely to have to take the path less trodden or forge a new path, and this requires creativity. How does this book help startups? It shows entrepreneurs how to think about creating a business, what are the basic elements beyond the product that they need to focus their attention on. It also shows entrepreneurs how other entrepreneurs have solved challenges and how they have addressed these challenges in creative ways, not in common industry methods because an early stage company can’t act like an established company. What marketing advice do you give new business owners? Marketing should be started as soon as possible, even before the product is ready for customers. Marketing creates demand for the product or service. Marketing builds awareness for your company and product. Like it or not, products don’t sell themselves. Customers always prefer to buy the familiar. In the customer’s mind, that which is familiar is less risk. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? I find that writing forces one to organize and consolidate one’s thoughts. I found it immensely helpful to write about how to transform an idea into an early stage company. It made me think about all those start-ups, and what I’ve seen work and what I’ve seen not work, and question why. The thought process was enlightening and made me better understand the keys to making a company thrive and succeed. While not the actual writing of the book, I often relate my personal experiences to the creation of a new business. Like a first time entrepreneur, I had to learn about the book process as a first time author. The process of bringing a book to the readers and attracting an audience is a micro-version of an early stage start-up company. The book writing is the product development, and while a substantial effort, it is far less than the task of marketing the book and gaining an audience. The book process is also about assembling a team of various editors, publishers, consultants, marketing firms, and setting up sales and distribution channels. I’ve met many authors, who wrote and published books. Some told me few people bought their books. They quickly followed that up with how they weren’t willing to spend money and time to market and promote their book. That they didn’t realize at the onset what would be required of them. It’s just like an entrepreneur who believes, “If we build, they will come”. And then the realization sets in, that creating and building a company is a long, involved process. I’ve met successful authors and they talk about how long it took them to be successful, how they tried various different marketing avenues, and how they were forced to hire assistants and outsource tasks because as their audiences grow, there is more demand on their time. The title of your book what does it mean? The title is meant to imply the seed stage or early stage start-up company, those new businesses just opening up. The subtitle shows that it is a how-to business book, and was chosen to embrace target keywords for search engines. The book title itself was crowd sourced. I conducted surveys and asked recipients to name the book. I selected the best ones and conducted another survey to see which title was the best choice. My original title was Start-Up In The Sky, a variant of pie in the sky. I thought it was clever, but nobody liked it. How important should money be as a motivation for succeeding in business? Most entrepreneurs aren’t driven by the money. They are driven by their desire to create something and achieve a goal. Money is simply an indication of how well they’ve met their goals. For an entrepreneur money is like their Olympic gold medal. It’s not the medal itself, but what is represents and the accomplishment that matters. Entrepreneurs should focus on building the company and winning in the market place. If the entrepreneur aspires to be funded by investors then money as the end goal is very important. Investors care about the exit strategy and the return on their investment. Once the entrepreneur takes investors’ money, it means the stopwatch is ticking and the race is on. Investors mean oversight and the pressure to perform. Describe your book in 3 words. Practical Business Creation Why did you write Startup from the Ground Up? I see entrepreneurs and listen to their stories all the time. First time entrepreneurs follow the same paths. Often, the first phase is develop the product and then simultaneously try to market and sell it, and attracts investors at the same time. They eventually realize that marketing is not easy and investors aren’t impressed by a product alone. Investors point out that their proposal is a product, not a company and this leaves entrepreneurs in a state of confusion. After all, they’ve incorporated, they’ve named the company, they’ve got a product to sell, what do the investor’s mean by this statement? A second common approach is the entrepreneur starts by presenting the product idea to investors, hoping to get funding, and realizes that investors aren’t impressed by vapor designs, ideas, and non-existent, potential customers. The third approach is to go it without investors, to self-fund or bootstrap the company. In the second phase, the entrepreneur accepts that the product isn’t enough, they need the everything else that makes the project a company and not just a product (or the entrepreneur declares the non-believers to be idiots because the value and potential of their product is blindingly obvious to them). The entrepreneur starts delving into marketing, sales, distribution, pricing, finance, accounting, funding options, and every facet of a business. And while the general statement of needing marketing is good, the detailed and specifics become more than the entrepreneur can handle – attracting customers and convincing them that to pay for your product is never easy. The entrepreneur begins to feel overwhelmed with all the facets of business that needs to be addressed in detail, the workload is mounting, and entrepreneur is drowning and needs help. Here’s where the projects begins to fall apart, when the founders take on too much and no single effort gets enough attention to be done well enough to succeed. This is the purpose of my book. What the entrepreneur needs is way to simplify what they need to focus on and in a way that is doable and manageable for them, not an army of staff. Most implement the various aspects of a business because the other companies in the market are doing it, but that doesn’t make it the right choice or direction for their small start-up. What a big company like Microsoft can do, or a venture-backed company like Facebook can do, may not be what a bootstrapped start-up can do. Just because a company is mentioned in your competitive analysis doesn’t mean your start-up can act like them at this stage of your corporate life. The reality is best industry practices become common practices, and a start-up needs to differentiate itself from the crowd and not be common. My purpose is to get the newbie moving in the right direction from step one without getting them to be overwhelmed by the largeness of creating a company. Stop looking at the big companies as a model for a start-up, to build a company with a small staff you need get down to the basics and focus on a few key areas. How does this book benefit the reader? Hopeful, it gets the entrepreneur thinking in the right direction about building a business, not just a product. Every business is unique and there is no single way for a business to thrive, it’s impossible to tell an entrepreneur what to do about every aspect of every business. Startup From The Ground Up intent is to show the first time entrepreneurs HOW to think about creating the business and gives examples of how other entrepreneurs have tackled different hurdles. Who is your intended audience? The intended reader is the first time entrepreneur. It is mostly geared towards tech companies but applicable to small businesses that intend to stay small as well. The reality of the matter is tech companies are predominantly founded by 20- or 30- something men. It’s not intended for the seasoned entrepreneur, who has already encountered much of the challenges discussed in the book. It’s not intended for the person working in corporate America, which focuses on process improvements, efficiency, and optimizations. Even if they start a new product line, established companies have the power of their brand and the financial might of their balance sheets behind them. This is completely different than creating something from nothing. Thanks, Cynthia, I really appreciate you stopping by my blog and sharing such great information. If you're interested in Cynthia's book, click here for more info.

1 comment:

I love comments! Thanks for taking the time to make me feel happy.

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