Startup Entrepreneurs: What would you do differently?

Yesterday I went down to the Auburn University Harbert College of Business to deliver a speech on lean startup methodology, customer discovery, and pitch practice. Afterwards we had a few minutes of open Q&A. Here are some of the questions that I was asked by senior entrepreneurship students at Auburn.

Looking back at your entrepreneurial career, what would you do differently if you could go back and change things?

I’ve started 7 companies. Five of which failed. The one thing I would do differently, from the beginning, is find a startup mentor. I did not have, nor know that I should have, a mentor during my years operating CWNP until 2009, when the whole thing imploded. I started CWNP in 1999, and called Charlie Paparelli in 2009. Charlie, or any other sound minded mentor, could have spared me from making some of the decisions that led to the near demise of the company.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and what did you learn from it?

Pivoting my startup deductmor (B2C mobile app for self-employed individuals to capture receipts with their smartphone camera) to a B2B Fintech offering. Not that the move itself was a bad decision, but my reasoning behind it was faulty, and the silver bullet customer never signed on to pay for the service. What I learned was to create a plan and stick to it. My mistake was seeing the bright shiny object that was (what I thought) a multi-million dollar opportunity. Stay the course until you are forced to pivot, rather than chasing every opportunity that looks pretty.

How long did it take you to write your book, “Practice Your Pitch”?

I started Pitch Practice 4 1/2 years ago. That’s when the book started. When I made the decision to finally write the book in September of 2017, I went back to nearly the first month of Pitch Practice to begin gathering content and ideas for more content. So, while it took me 4 months to actually organize and self-publish the book, the content itself took 4 1/2 years.

How does being an entrepreneur affect your family?

My marriage almost ended twice during my 13 years at CWNP. I thank God every day that my wife did not give up on me. If your spouse is not on board with the fact that your startup could literally vanish in a week or so, then you are asking for trouble. Your risk tolerance may only be as high as your spouse’s risk tolerance. It is better to be fully in sync in all areas before taking the jump.

How can I be sure no one is going to steal my idea?

Someone already has stolen, is stealing, did steal, and will steal your idea for a startup. To think that you are the only person among 7 billion people to think of your idea is arrogant and naive. Anyone can steal your idea, but nobody can steal your execution of your idea. Share your idea openly and ask for feedback. Beg for people to tell you the hard truths.

How does blogging help someone become a better entrepreneur?

Blogging helps me express my ideas better, clearer, and more regularly. There are some who argue that a full time startup entrepreneur should not have time to blog, but I disagree. Blogging is a form of mental exercise just like reading, doing crossword puzzles, or disconnecting from the digital world. Blogging (or perhaps vlogging or podcasting) is how you tell your story. We strive to exercise our bodies every day. I believe blogging is no different than that, you’re just exercising your communication muscles.

Thank you to Lucian Bifano, Director, Entrepreneurship Strategy at the Harbert College of Business for inviting me to speak to the class. I look forward to helping more entrepreneurs in the future.

What do you think about that?

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