As I wrap up 2010, my first year on an entrepreneurial walkabout, I’ve learned a ton about entrepreneurship and myself. I must admit I’ve enjoyed the journey much more than expected (despite the negative income stream). In addition to meeting fascinating entrepreneurs for Founder Collective, I’ve also been fortunate to become Chairman of one company (Novophage) and an active advisor to a couple of exciting projects.
Here are some thoughts following nine months as an “itinerant entrepreneur” …
1 – Personal brands matter
When I finally left Brontes, I probably had a few thousand contacts in my CSV file. 80% or so were related to the dental industry (yup, pretty geeky) in which I had spent the past 8 years. I practically had to rebuild my brand and network from scratch. It’s been a great exercise but I’ve learned that the next time around I’ll work hard to remain visible to VCs, attend technology conferences, meet with other entrepreneurs, etc. It’s possible to stay relevant even while running a business, and in fact, in some ways it’s an even more powerful platform from which to brand oneself.
2 – The marathon before the marathon
Going from a napkin concept to a funded, focused enterprise with a handful of good people developing a 1.0 is not a quick exercise. Every business is different but I think a year of “incubation” is commonplace – time is needed to build the team, talk to prospective customers, sketch out a product and raise money. Given the time it takes to launch a business, one needs to think hard about joining an early-stage venture with some pre-existing inertia (I certainly do). The power of some existing IP, a few people rallied around a goal, etc. can help shorten the incubation period and reduce the entrepreneur’s risk.
3 – Breaking up is hard to do
I’ve come very close to going “all in” on a couple of projects – in fact, I’ve killed three projects that I had spent months working on. Once you spend months validating and building out a concept, it’s hard to say “this one just isn’t there.” Still, I’ve learned over and over again, if you have doubts about a venture even after a significant investment of time, it’s best to walk away. It’s emotionally draining and at times can strain relationships. Still, it’s much better to cut it off before taking other people’s money.
4 – It’s true about Serendipity (Reference to my blog title, not the Cusack flick)
Some of the most powerful connections I’ve made, and the most interesting people I’ve met in 2010 were totally random. Paradoxically, the meetings I was least excited about or the informal cocktail party chats have led me down some of the most interesting paths. This element of randomness gets me excited to wake up each morning knowing that the next big thing could come in from anywhere at anytime.
Happy 2011 everyone – may it be full of serendipity!