Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Engineers Turned Entrepreneurs, Part 3

The more I mentor engineers-turned-entrepreneurs, the more I've noticed it requires the proper attitude, more so than the raw skills. I call it the entrepreneur's attitude. When starting off, it's OK if a new entrepreneur doesn't know a whole lot about startups, but they do need to be coachable without being overly impressionable. 

When I speak with wannabe entrepreneurs, who are coming from an individual contributor background, I frequently quote Steve Jobs's comments from WWDC '97.
You got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can't start with the technology and try to figure out where you're going to try to sell it. And I've made this mistake probably more than anyone else in this room and I've got the scar tissue to prove it.

I see two key parts to the entrepreneur's attitude that are important.

The first key part of the entrepreneur's attitude is they need to be focused outward, on customers, and think in terms of benefits before features. Don't lead off with your wants (i.e. I want our company to be the best at blah, blah, blah... save that pitch for investors.). Instead, lead off with the benefits you provide to your customers. Try to eliminate words like "I" and "we" in your pitches and marketing.

The second key to a successful entrepreneur's attitude is recognizing and embracing opportunity. I recently had a friend from NY stay with me at my home. He's made millions of dollars selling companies he founded and ran. Interestingly enough, he doesn't consider himself an entrepreneur. Rather, he prefers to be labeled as a software developer. Regardless of his title, he is constantly seeking new experiences, knowledge, and opportunities. His default position, when experiencing something new, is to immediately investigate it and give it a try.

Opportunities can be found most anywhere. Many times, opportunities first present themselves as uninvited inconveniences. With the federal government currently shut down, some people are seeing it as an opportunity.

Engineers need to think like entrepreneurs. As Steve Jobs said, begin with the customer experience and then work your way backwards.

1. Sales: How and where will your customers acquire your offerings?

2. Marketing: How will customers learn about your product?

3. Development: How do you know what features to put into your product that will benefit your customers?

Many entrepreneurs will fumble #3, from the get-go. They'll either fail to get feedback from potential customers or they'll try to bake every possible feature, under the sun, into their product. To deal with the former challenge, I recommend following the lean startup methodology. For the latter, I recommend a notional press release.

Part 2 in this series:

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