01 Jun Entrepreneurs get crash course for building a successful company
The second annual Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference got off to a dynamic start on Tuesday morning at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, treating at least a hundred entrepreneurs and industry representatives to a crash course in making a new company a success. The ‘entrepreneurial boot camp’ was designed serve both veteran and novice business owners, by providing a loose outline for success from a panel of seasoned industrialists.
“Our purpose is to focus on what we’re doing here,” said Ken Wanek, founder of the banking research company Datatrac and a member of the entrepreneurial panel at the workshop. “We’re trying to make a little noise so the other coasts know what great opportunities we have.”
John Byrnes, executive managing director of the venture capital company Mason Wells reflected back on his 20 years of experience in providing funds to entrepreneurs looking to establish a company. Byrnes has seen many portfolio companies rise and fall and was more than willing to share his experience with the attendees.
Byrnes use of darkly humorous quotes illustrated the reality of being an entrepreneur, including “Life is hard, and then you die”. He stressed the fact that the road toward becoming rich through your own company is not for the easily discouraged, as no entrepreneur can expect to succeed instantly. He stressed tenacity and stubbornness as vital to success, as failure is an effective tool to developing skills.
“There is no prescription, there is not formula, there is no textbook,” Byrnes said of starting a new company. “You become an entrepreneur by trying things and failing at things and trying again and failing again…you will find the way or you will make one.”
Byrnes did not define an exact blueprint for success, but rather presented attendees with a list of “meta systems” – models for the best general strategies – and illustrated how to avoid common pitfalls. The major point emphasized was the fact that creating a system is not the ultimate solution, and there is no way to make a method failsafe unless it is able to adapt.
“You have to distinguish between the business plan and the business…the plan alone does not make it a success,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes illustrated that for a plan to succeed, it must have its goals and accomplishments defined in a way that is “sustainable and scalable”. It must be designed first and foremost to solve an existing problem, and do so in a way that guarantees a constant payment from customers. Repeat business was stressed as the key ingredient to profit, as it creates an established base for feedback and a keystone product, both of which lead to further revenue and development of new merchandise.
From a market perspective, the most important thing is to recognize the cost inherent to actions, and understand where you want to fall in the system: producing high- or low-cost products, and serving a broad or narrow customer range. Byrnes pointed out that the most successful products are those which choose one of these four combinations and stick with it, placing effort into this specialization.
Byrnes noted that high-tech companies are often most difficult to get established, as the products are often so new that customers don’t know they need it. The key point is to find the market for a product early, to aggressively hunt down the ‘early adopters’ and turn them into a majority.
“Most customers are lemmings…finding early adaptors is the challenge, and making room for the pioneers,” Byrnes said.
Finally, Byrnes emphasized the importance of ‘venture assets’ in a company, those resources such as designs and alliances which are not profit but its components. Development of these investments guide a company through its first stages, as these resources are what lead to a steady growth of capital in the long run.
“Most of building a business is common sense,” Byrnes concluded.
Following Byrnes’ speech, two panels of entrepreneurs with considerable experience spoke to the audience and shared the knowledge they had obtained through starting their own companies and working with others. The panelists shared general tips for growth, including a healthy line of communication with the customers, remaining passionate about the goals of the company, and choosing a staff which is both gifted and trustworthy.
Chief among them was again the fact that failure always haunts an entrepreneur and the trick is to take what it teaches you rather than how it harms you. “Some of my greatest opportunities were also some of my biggest failures,” said Kelly Hansen, CEO of Neohapsis and a self-proclaimed ‘serial entrepreneur’. “Other than tenacity, the greatest gift is the ability to adjust.”
Audience members were impressed by the information presented at the conference, especially with the firsthand experience the panelists possessed.
“It was interesting to get a variety of perspectives from those who are entrepreneurs and those who counseled entrepreneurs,” said Alan Goldenberg of RoleFlow, a firm which produces business management software. “It was helpful to hear a return to the ideas of passion and integrity, and keeping an eye on the customer.”