The Art of Partnering
- How will the partnership affect your spreadsheet? As a rule of thumb, if a partnership doesn't enable you to increase sales or decrease costs, you shouldn't do it.
- Is your partnership a win-win deal? Are both parties truly going to benefit, or did you pull a fast one? Because if you did, rest assured that the partnership won't last.
- Is there an "out" clause in the deal? At the beginning of a partnership, you hope that it will last forever. Forever is a long time, and if the terms of the partnership are too ironclad, claustrophobia will develop. Include an easily exercisable out clause to prevent this condition. It will help everyone relax and focus on making the partnership work.
The Art of Branding
- Have you created a contagious product or service? The foundation of all great brands is a great reality. Think cool, effective, distinctive, disruptive, emotive, deep, indulgent and supported. This is a long list, but the point is that branding is easy when you sell something great. Branding is hard when you sell crap.
- Can a mere mortal get your product up and running right out of the box? The best and cheapest form of branding is word-of-mouth. To achieve this, customers must be able to use your product or service without reading a manual--much less having a Ph.D. in applied physics. Think of setting the clock on a VCR, and make sure what you sell is easier to do.
- Are you taking care of your evangelists? Customers who spread the word for you are called evangelists. Their compensation is the satisfaction of making the world a better place. Embrace evangelists with inside information, gifts and seminars because they will carry the battle forward for you.
- Can your employees "talk the walk"? Let's assume you have a meaningful product or service, and that you are "walking the talk." Don't assume your employees can talk the walk. Ensure that they can tell your story as well as you can, because a brand is built one conversation at a time.
The Art of Rainmaking
- Are you "letting a hundred flowers blossom"? This is stolen from Mao Zedong, but it's not clear that he walked the ideology. Startups often see that people who were unintended customers use their products and services in unintended ways. Embrace this--don't freak out. These flowers are lighthouses that illuminate the markets where you can achieve success. Flow with the go.
- Are you going after agnostics instead of atheists? Selling to big, well-known firms supposedly yields eye-opening numbers and credibility. However, big companies seldom believe in the products and services of startups. Spend some time on atheists, but focus on believers and agnostics instead.
- Are you sucking down and sucking across? To make sales, most entrepreneurs suck up to people with impressive titles like CEO, CIO, vice president and director. Unfortunately, the higher you go in most organizations, the thinner the air, and therefore the harder it is to support intelligent life. Focus instead on the people who do the real work: secretaries, administrative aides, customer service people and technical support people. Suck down and suck across, and you'll reach the real decision-makers--and differentiate yourself from the clueless companies that only suck up.
- Have you enabled people to test drive your product or service? Instead of bludgeoning people into becoming your customers, enable them to test drive your product or service with demo versions or samples--whatever it takes for them to try before they buy.
- Have you provided a safe, easy first step? Or are you trying to force prospective customers to do something risky to try your product or service? Provide a slippery adoption curve so you can suck people in. Don't force them to throw out everything they've done in the past or change a lot of infrastructure if you want them to convert.
For even more information about the various "arts" of entrepreneurship, refer to my book The Art of the Start. At the very least, tear out this article, discuss it with your co-founders and determine how you're doing, because doing--not wanting to do, learning to do or planning to do--is the essence of entrepreneurship.