Alright, we know its been awhile since the last Insider, but we’ve got a couple of pretty good excuses. In addition to trying to find our ‘next’ opportunities (respectively), we both felt that we needed to take some time to gain a little perspective on what’s happened over the past 40 months. So, with the company officially shutting down in 11 days (that’s a good thing by the way), we’re ready to share our “words of wisdom” with subscribers. What you’ll read in the next few Insiders is simply based on our own personal experiences and may not reflect the lessons learned by other entrepreneurs. Everybody is different. But in the end, we hope to provide you with some key points to take along to your next venture, project, job or experience. Once we’ve highlighted the WOW’s (Words of Wisdom…around 18), we’ll send out a final Insider that highlights the 5 big mistakes that we made. Should be interesting.
Words of Wisdom (in no particular order)
Passion: If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to have passion. Passion is hard to define and is probably best characterized by a certain feeling that you might have. Passion is what makes you excited to get out of bed and go to work. Passion is the rush of energy you have when you’re explaining to people what you’re doing. Passion is that overly-confident feeling that you will succeed no matter what happens. And why is passion so important? At the end of the day, the only thing that is going to get you through the many, many lows is passion. If either one of us truly didn’t believe in bringing a novelty computer mouse to market, we would have lasted about three weeks. Because when you hit those lows, it absolutely sucks….and passion is what saves you. A ton of people have asked us why we didn’t bring other novelty items to market or why we didn’t go into small business consulting after the book. The primary reason? We weren’t passionate about it!
Vision: Again, another word that is hard to define and probably overused in the entrepreneurial world. Vision is all about understanding what you want to do and where you want to go. It’s not about making a lot of money or living a certain lifestyle. Vision is having a very clear idea of what you and your company want to accomplish and want to be known for. Our vision for MouseDriver was very simple: bring the product to market as quickly as possible, sell as many units as possible and exit in 18-24 months. We weren’t trying to become the next Sony or the next cool golf gift manufacturer. We were just bringing a single product to market. That’s it. Having a clear vision is going to help define your strategy, your brand, your culture and ultimately, the success of your company. For a while there, the two of us lost sight of our initial vision and tried to steer the company in a different direction (especially after the Inc. article). The result: we lost sales because we didn’t spend enough time trying to get MouseDriver in the mass distribution channels. The lesson here? Stay focused, stay the course, and don’t get distracted.
Advisors: There’s something to be said for experience and an advisor(s) is an absolute necessity if you’re serious about getting your company off the ground. We made the mistake of not bringing on an advisor and we paid the price dearly. Advisors not only provide insights and recommendations, they can also make introductions and add credibility. If you’ve done your homework and made an effort to bring on an advisor(s), you’ll find that their insights will save you time, money and most importantly, a ton of frustration. Note: An advisor does not necessarily need to have succeeded in building a business. Failing provides some of the best experiences and you might find that your best advisor is someone who has failed miserably and can help you avoid their mistakes. Just focus on finding someone (or a group) that you respect, feel that you can learn from and who are willing and excited to help out.
Patience: Despite the lore of the ‘new economy’ (1998-2000), businesses are not built in a day. Bringing a product or service to market and building a business is an incredible challenge and won’t happen without a ton of effort, a lot of passion and a little luck. You need to expect that it’s going to take some time and patience to succeed in bringing a product to market. While there is usually a need to move blazingly fast when you’re first starting a company, you need to realize that things just don’t happen overnight. According to our initial MouseDriver projections, we were going to sell $400k worth of product in 6 months and $2M in 18 months. It ended up taking us 7 months just to sell our first 400 units (we blame part of this on naivety and part on the ‘new economy’). The point: Anticipate that most everything will take more time than you’d like.
Expect the Unexpected: Inevitably, nothing is going to go as planned. You’ll assume that you’re going to hit certain goals, deadlines and targets, but in the end, the chances of you missing all of these initial ‘plans’ are pretty high. Understand that things will go wrong. It’s the whole Murphy’s Law thing and entrepreneurs certainly aren’t immune. Just realize that some pretty whacked out things are going to happen in the course of starting your business. In the book, we account for these ‘unexpected things’ by applying the Rule of Four (i.e. it will take 4x longer than planned, you’ll do 4x less revenue than planned, etc.). Whatever rule you use just remember that if you expect that something will go wrong, it will be much easier to accept and deal with.
Do Your Research: Before jumping into that next venture, make sure that you’ve done all of your homework. In addition to understanding if there is a need for your product/service, you must have a good feel for the total market size and what portion of that market size you can realistically hit. Also, make sure to look at the distribution channels and how difficult it’s going to be to actually get your product in customers’ hands. In short, make sure that your product/service can actually make money. And, when you’re done with all the research, remember one thing: It’s just research! Nothing will tell you more about your product than real customers!
So those are our first six WOW’s. We have 10-15 more to share with all of you and will get those out within the next few weeks. Again, all of our comments are based on our experience and what we learned. If you have any thoughts or want to pass along your own ‘words of wisdom’, feel free to shoot us an email. We’ll find a way of sharing all responses with the rest of the subscribers.
On a side note, the book continues to do well, especially in the educational community. As of December 1, we know of 65 different colleges and universities using The MouseDriver Chronicles as either required or recommended reading. Now that is cool!