03 lug 2014

Startup Strategy: A Fixed Passion and a Flexible Approach

In 1994, I left a job as a consultant at an insurance company with a
big check that I viewed as an investment in my startup -- a firm that
helpstechnology companies profit from growth opportunities -- based
near Boston. I wanted to do work that I was good at and loved, rather
than spend my remaining career navigating the maze of big-company
politics. Beyond that, I did not have a clear idea of the specific
steps I would need to get there.

What I did have was a fixed reason for starting the business -- an
interest in advising high-tech companies on growth strategy -- and a
willingness to be flexible about how I would pursue that mission.

If you love what you're doing, your venture will be more like fun than
a way to make a living. Finding that focus is essential for startup
success and if you do not feel good about your focus, stop what you
are doing.

It's this balance between fixed values and a flexible approach -- one
I believe every entrepreneurs needs to have -- that allowed me to grow
my business to the point where I was able to invest money in other
startups I believe in.

But the path there was not direct.

At first, I was helping publicly-traded technology companies in Japan
identify, evaluate and profit from new business opportunities
resulting from changing information technology -- most notably, the
rapidly growing use of the Internet for business.

What I discovered was a valuable lesson for any entrepreneur: the
market is a great judge of your ability. If you are succeeding, the
market is telling you that you are better than your competition. If
not, keep trying until you do.

In my case, an unexpected opportunity came along that opened up a new
line of business. A client in Japan was asking questions about a study
we had done on how U.S. technology companies survive waves of
industry-transforming innovations.

That inquiry got me researching on the topic, which made me realize
there was enough material for a book there. So I wrote my first book,
which led me in a new direction altogether.

I believe it is a mistake to rest your entire business on a single
product because demand for that product category can fade and leave
your business fighting for cash flow. You must add new products -- but
only those that tap into what you are good at and love doing.

I began giving speeches to corporate and business leaders at
conferences around the world -- most notably throughout Asia and in
Europe.

I was suddenly turning my attention to a new approach and ended up
writing 11 books, which introduced me to business partners in
countries such as Spain, Portugal, Singapore and China.

These countries were eager to replicate the entrepreneurial success of
Silicon Valley and sought me out as an expert. I viewed Harvard
Business School strategy guru, Michael Porter who helped countries
identify their competitive advantages, as a role model for this kind
of work. Through these connections, I was introduced to opportunities
to speak at conferences and advise governments on startup-promotion
policy.

Teaching seemed to me a natural extension of the consulting work I had
done for companies. I learned a valuable lesson here: the need be open
to learning new skills. When you broaden your venture's product lines,
you will have to learn new skills. Before you start down that path,
you should take a hard look at whether you think you have the will and
the skill to master them.

While I had never envisioned reading and grading student's papers, I
started teaching at Stanford, Columbia, MIT, the University of Hong
Kong and Babson College. I did not think I would be a good teacher
initially, but with experience and training, I got better.

In the last 19 years, I changed my venture's original idea -- from
just consulting to consulting plus venture capital plus writing and
teaching -- while maintaining its core focus on researching growth
strategy for high-tech companies. I've been flexible about how I
present the result and to whom.

What are some ways you have been both fixed and flexible in your own
startup experience?

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