Entrepreneurship can be a long, lonely and arduous trek into the unknown. It’s easy to get lost along the way as one sorts through all the possible paths forward.
Thankfully, there’s a new roadmap available in the form of “Unleash Your Inner Company,” written by entrepreneur John Chisholm.
Silicon Beach often looks to Silicon Valley for insights as to what might come next. What kinds of deals are getting funded now? What’s new in technology? Chisholm, a tested Silicon Valley tech veteran, has started (and sold) two online survey companies – one to Google, another to Confirmit. Chisholm now runs a fund that invests in startups.
Entrepreneurs may be passionate dreamers and salespeople, but Chisholm makes clear that building a successful company requires more than a “build it and they will come” belief in the future. Passion must be combined with persistence – and then attention must be paid to building a foundation that’s strong on logic – and the basics.
Toward that end, Chisholm’s book combines an “MBA in a Bottle” with self-help advice that forces the reader to dig deeply into his or her own psyche, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Thinking through what could happen tomorrow – the good, bad and the ugly – allows the reader to prepare today.
For example, just because something is a great market opportunity doesn’t mean it’s a good fit with the individual considering that opportunity. The ideal company for an individual to start is unique to that individual. Chisholm’s framework shows the reader how to find the opportunities that best fit their skills, passions, knowledge, relationships, and other key assets; recognize and avoid competitors; pick the right partners; and choose the best opportunity overall.
Your mind is one of those key assets, and Chisholm says it’s important to never say anything bad about oneself. He’s not worried about what others will think; he’s worried about what he calls your most important audience: your unconscious mind. Besides, any weakness or adversity can be turned into a strength, he argues.
And then there are all the numbers. For non-MBA types, Chisholm’s chapters on finance are a must; for the more financially astute, “Unleash” offers an excellent refresher course. “Unleash” offers a healthy respect for all this, for failure to watch over the basics can undermine a potentially great idea. The converse is of course also true: Getting the basics right lays the foundation for potential greatness.
Chisholm also employs real-world examples to instruct – and inspire action. His two companies faced plenty of ups and downs along the way. Frugality alone – often in short supply in today’s startup world – can be a company-saving strategy when the inevitable downturn occurs. “Unleash” requires the reader to pay attention and think it all through.
Chisholm explains it all in very plain English, accompanied by charts and graphs that help the reader visualize what is being said. At the end of each chapter are exercises that help the reader lock down lessons learned.
We live in go-go times with abundant dreams of ideas-sketched-out-on-napkins turning into quick riches. But Chisholm points out that this is more the exception than the rule. Chisholm says entrepreneurs should not waste valuable time trying to raise money for ideas that aren’t quite ready for prime time. Much time can be lost pursuing money that rarely comes when a concept is still in the idea stage.
Instead, the entrepreneur should focus his or her energy on doing whatever it takes in order to show real traction and attract customers actually willing to pay for a company’s goods or services. That’s what will draw investor attention, argues Chisholm.
Once the entrepreneur climbs this first big mountain – showing that what the entrepreneur has is real – then there will be many more mountains to climb after that. Maybe the company is, at this later stage, finally ready raise money. “Unleash” offers tips on how to go about negotiating that part of the journey.
But Chisholm’s focus is less on fundraising and exit strategies – and much more about asking all the right questions before taking the very first step. Chisholm says entrepreneurs make societal progress possible. So he’s all in favor of people taking the entrepreneurial leap.