Advice for Founders
Successful business founders tend to be so focused on their startup that they have no time to stand back, draw breath and take a critical look at their creation. A mentor is a supportive person with the ability to provide that critical look at what you are doing and share experience, while being both detached and yet committed.
Before starting, founder and mentor should agree on the purpose of the relationship with both sides knowing how they will work together. The founder may have a hard time letting go of ego, while it’s vital to hear feedback, even when it may seem negative. Often a firm “No!” may lead to innovative ways to make progress.
The arrangement should focus on critical issues, and most especially the value proposition, making sure that the startup is targeting a real problem. Founders sometimes are so in love with their solutions that real needs can be missed.
Chances are that using a mentor will continue for quite a while, but when it’s no longer valuable to the founder, it should stop, so long term contracts are out. It is often important to ‘try before you buy’. This can be done in several different ways, including say, a limited assignment like a business plan review. At least the founder can ask to expose her thoughts on a phone call without commitment and get some feedback. This will give each side an indication of whether the mentoring is likely to be fruitful.
Business Plan Review
Your business plan may have one or more purposes. The most important purpose is for you to ensure that you have worked through all the vital components that go into starting a business. Other reasons may include:
- convincing family or friends to loan or invest in the venture;
- applying for a bank loan or seeking equity investment;
- having a benchmark against which you can check progress following startup;
- recruitment of a co-founder or other senior team members;
Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking that there’s only one way to write a plan and that is a 50-page document, with as many pages of appendices. Business plans can take many forms including the apocryphal ‘back of napkin’, like Southwest Airlines (a simple triangle with the points marked ‘Dallas’, ‘San Antonio’ and ‘Houston’). Some are even handwritten.
Among the business plans I have reviewed concerned: fintech blockchain; an energy app; 5-a-side soccer; rowing fitness; senior services, natural burial, green retailing—and many more.
Don’t think that it’s a job you can subcontract to someone else. It’s fine to get help or start from some kind of template that will remind you what not to omit. A business mentor can save you a lot of trouble. Personally I’d suggest that you start with two things:
- defining the problem you seek to solve in a very convincing way so as to be able to write a winning value proposition;
- using the Business Model Canvas, to ensure that the model hangs together.
Build Your Business Model
A business model is the venture’s plan for how you will generate revenues and make a profit. It explains what products or services the business plans to manufacture and market, and how it plans to do so, including what expenses it will incur.
It will include a rational description of the value proposition (why a customer should buy what you’re offering); it will be clear about what kind of relationships you expect to build with customers; who those customers are and the channels you’ll use to reach them; it will define both the cost structure involved and the revenue streams that will flow from them.
One thing is for sure—you will not get there in one sitting. It will involve several iterations. There will be research to verify assumptions. It will involve may drafts and revisions. Best done with a team, particularly involving some kind of detached but committed feedback from a trusted adviser or mentor.
Improve Your Chance of Success
- Founder works with Will for creative energy
- Business Model Canvas – deceptively simple graphic
- Share with associates for synergy
- Final draft built has gained strength