startup/incubator


“Life is not a cookbook where you find a recipe and suddenly your are a chef.  Mastering balance, flavor and presentations are key to award winning results.” – J. Durant

We are on an eternal quest for answers.  Seeking out the story of people who have experience success often relates to what we perceive is wisdom.   We seek with intent to replicate and overlook the importance of mastery.

If you look back over articles and books on such topics as start-ups, innovation, disruptive technologies and the many things that whirl about us there is a natural abundance of ‘how to’ or ‘guidance’ sources.  Why?   Simply put these things sell, people want quick and decisive real life examples.  But in opting for speed and outcomes there is also a natural tendency to acquire intellectual command of the topics, and the pursuit of further immersion.

I recently read an article that described the pursuit of venture capital and the frustrations experience with not only the process but the deployment of resources once financing was acquired.  The real crux of the matter was an over attention on need and less of an attention to having formed a financial and operational structure to accept revenue inflows (regardless of source).  Why is it important?  From personal experience the importance lies in the value produced from having routine operational elements, including finance, to be carried out in an almost automatic fashion.  This permits us to be attentive to pressing and often disruptive events without having to be immersed in routine care and maintenance of critical business elements.   In the case of startups the failures are routinely caused by an over attention to critical elements that have not achieved steady state reliability, caused in large part to care as  you go.  As the title suggests we think too much, and we own too little in terms of intellectual ownership.  In the context of start-up organizations there is an abundance of attention given to product/service promotion but all in the wrong way.  We really don’t need to know what a car is made of or what the material specifications are, we do however need to understand the market and how it can be convinced to make a commitment (aka market conversion).

Leap of Faith

Life is not easy and while our vision is to win, our most daunting challenge is to survive.  Survival of the fitness epitomizes the struggles and the acclaims achieved during the course of life’s ventures.  Maybe this is reflected in marriages that last, our is lifetime commitment but the struggle is everyday life with another person.  In the case of business its surviving the daily on-slot not just from market or competition but societies as a whole.  Rigidity has its place but in terms of staying the course of survival we must be prepared and capable to transition at a moments notice.  Talk is cheap when trying to characterize ourselves as flexible or are we?  Are we simply saying we are because our world of flexibility is dependent upon a rigid framework for addressing change?

To leap forward means that we need to change our behavior (aka transition).  We need to view knowledge as the fuel for adopting personal knowledge, not as an instruction to follow.  Think beyond the norm, looking for big questions that possibly don’t have answers (because they haven’t been asked before or thought about in a particular way), and a search of wisdom from places that are on your hostile radar will open your mind in ways that you might not expect.  At the same time we must be resistant to pessimism, refrain from dooming anything to unacceptable before you have taken it in, pondered, prodded, experimented and adapted to characteristics (personal and professional).

I’m not a name you would see on a billboard list of successful entrepreneurs because I haven’t achieved multi-billion dollar levels.  But is the achievement of a level a sign of commanding understanding and abilities?  Maybe so, by your scorecard, and thus the reason why the words of wisdom reach a level of respectable acceptance.  But you also may remember cases in which the wisdom was inappropriate for your needs.  Why is that given that it resulted in success?  Was it that we didn’t dig deep enough to understand the conditions by which success was achieved, or was it a matter of conditions taking place at the time of the success story?  Maybe it was first to market, or maybe it was simply something as simple as selling an interest that was in fact the source of the success.   This is somewhat like a book on Success that creates a revenue stream of success or a methodology that sells you on discovering who you are (when we would hope that you already some idea of that already).

Recently I experienced an opportunity to question a person who contrived a model.  The model was interesting, although more confirming than discovery.  What was more concerning from my perspective was the lack of credentials (thus personal opinion and packaging) and the forward thinking as to where to go beyond the model to affect organizations.  In retrospect, and without malice, it was an example of marketing creativity over material substance.  Many of you have heard the term, “we can sell ice cream to Eskimos”, but is this a condition we are apt to subject our livelihood to or for that matter wish to be associated with?

Honor and integrity in business have been cheapened by clever wordsmithing to legitimize our mission to produce growth and revenue.  I think of this a bit like a petty thief who steals to feed his family and uses this to justify the illegal behavior.  The decision rests in your hands whether need over rides principals.  What hinders us, once again, is fear.   Whether it be the fear of failure or the fear of the unknown we shackle ourselves to opportunities in which we marginalize ourselves.

As stated earlier I’m not a named commodity except to a few long time followers who have come to realize the virtues that I possess at a personal and professional level.  These has resulted in loyalty but also a life journey stewardship.  I am also a strong believer in survival and as a result believe that aside from traits we must be capable to exist in disruption.  Disruption that has valued purpose and not leaning towards it being a ‘Distraction’.   The separation in meaning is quite clear to me, it’s the difference between a plausible occurrence and one that is of little to no value.  But be careful because what may be of little to no value today, may be essential tomorrow.  Sometimes we need to give a bit of pondering thought and other cases we simply need to file it away for periodic examination.  Often what may fade has the probability of re-occurrence later on, almost like the idea that is ahead of its time.  This is an example how failures can and often are more valuable than the sagas of acclaimed success.

In Conclusion

There is no conclusion, only a continuum.   The river doesn’t dry up because we can’t make it upstream, it expects us to understand the ebb and flow, the rapids and the flat waters of our journey.  We command the river when we understand our role and the conditions by which we chart a path to the headwaters.  The same holds true in our journey in life and in business.  We are driven not by answers but by wisdom, and that is further embellished with our rendition uniquely crafted to fit our needs to produce a valued outcome.  Mastery however involves an intuitive reflect in the application of knowledge.  Not a quick reference or a set of notes but a humble and childlike inquisitiveness that is never satisfied.  As parents we know the stage of ‘Why?’ that occurs.  Unfortunately it gives way to answers and principals that stems the question of ‘Why’.  This creates a sad state, but it is not without redemption.  While we can postulate on what causes this, it’s really not important because the cause isn’t what needs correction.  What needs correct is us, today, at this very moment, to act upon a need to redeem our desires to own the ‘Why?’.

During a recent conversation with a dear friend and respected intellectual we discussed the concept of #Transitional Sciences.  As with most there was a bit of confusion as to how this was different with change and the management thereof.  After a considerable amount of dialog it became clear that we need to start with the basics in order for people to consider the relative importance and depth of the topic.

Step 1 – Why Change?

Change costs money, time and introduces the potential for the risk/reward condition.  Therefore it is imperative that we examine closely, move cautiously and act appropriately.  As in the past we live in a world of change and as a result we sometimes will act based on compulsion and not based upon rational foundations.  The glitz and glamour aside will change meet with value generation or simple serve to keep us in boot step pace with our competition?  These decisions are all a part of the change/act decision.  The very same situation will hold true as it relates to the adoption of a transitional framework.

Step 2 – Why?

The deployment of change is driven by expediency.  As a result we frequently see a “life and drop approach” whereby whatever is about to be implemented is simply put into application.  Relying on hope isn’t the best policy because it sometimes works and other times it doesn’t.  More challenging and daunting change receives the benefit of a plan and the assignment of champions.  Although a bit more organized in terms of things that need to be done they are constantly challenged by culture, tradition and adoption into a much larger established organizational model.  The upshot is unfortunately less then stellar outcomes, unlikely to be a total failure but leaving a lingering bitter taste on this and future projects.

So why adoption a transitional framework model?  First and foremost it is new and unique.  These attributes are not in and of themselves reason except for the fact that it represents a void that needs to be considered worthy of filling.  Secondly transition deals with both the validation of the approach as well as the actual dynamics of operational, psychological and value dynamics.  These elements are relate back to supporting of justifications and to leverage efforts toward success rather than simply replying upon the plan.  A suitable example is if we look at the Agile Manifesto used in the software engineering community.  One of the tenants is “working software over following a plan”, in the transitional science world we prescribe to “achieved value over following a plan”.

Step 3 – When?

Has the risk or the occurrence of less than satisfactory results occurred in which answers are sought.  It is likely that you have attempted planning improvements, champions and even pilot exercises.  These are all good and highly suggested.  However, these help with overall improvements in transitioning changes but they don’t solve the absence of moving operational behavior from present to future state.  While doing a major project for a leading computer manufacture we were faced with a very similar situation, the audience of implementors was doubtful of results any different that what had been experienced previously.  On one hand I wished they had faith, but why should they?  Repeated attempts with a slightly different twist, to which allot was based on solid traditional engineering principals, had failed.  So why was it that they could expect anything different?  What was different was a focus on the effect and not on the methods.  With one simple real life application in which the effect bore evidence of capability what was met with reluctance was now endorsed and became an epidemic of change.


Step 4 – How?

Revelation isn’t always understood, even less adopted or implemented.  In concept the reason why this occurs is the result of coming out of no where and the lack of contextual examples that might be illustrated.  The concept of transitional sciences is revolutionary to the technological and business world.  While it can be applied to almost any element of change one must better understand change itself.  Change comes in many forms;

  • Voluntary Adoption
  • Surprise Introduction
  • Disruptive Circumstance and
  • Evolution.

Each of these will discussed in separate and specifically focused writings, for now consider that change occurs.

Unfortunate change has been encapsulating everything without consideration for whether its the right wrapper to produce success.  In credit, planning is immensely helpful and has saved untold amounts of catastrophic outcomes.  At the same time plans by they very nature are rigid, inflexible, burdensome, not always comprehensive and seem to be subject to a lack of adherence.  It is uncertain whether adherence is the result of the plan, the people or even changing circumstances but even then it still remains a major contributor to value goal attainment.   The concept of a transitional framework envelopes planning by address the question of adaption, adherence, conversion (in both real and intellectual contexts), “Plan B Gates” and Preparation.  Preparation looks beyond the goal to the next horizon.  One such example of next horizon perspective is the close examination of information technology (IT) solutions and scoring their present and future states in order to prepare for goal driven changes.

Clearity

To illustrate this point lets think about change in your personal life.  There are some changes that are routine and can be dealt with because of experience and repetitive exposure.  However there are some that at first became disruptive that evolved into routine.  There were other changes that were much further reaching such as the purchase of a home or the maturity of a family.  Some of you may have already experience some of these changes, did they turn out okay or did you have to feel your way forward placing trust on elements that were not within you reach of control?  For purposes of this point specifically lets look at the adoption of a cell phone.  Easy to acquire and start using, right?  How deep did you dig into the features and functions of that phone and how long did it take you achieve at least 50% utilization more than superficially?  If you didn’t reach 50% utilization and it took longer than 21 months (average cell phone life) then you paid for excesses.  Was it  your intention to purchase solely on price, ignoring features, or was it unintentional?  A Transitional process would look at the participants, their abilities, interests, goals, aptitudes and the state of technology and drive a program to produce value based outcomes.  Bear in mind that this is simply an example and unlikely that you would do this for a cell phone unless you were driving implementation for thousands or it would be used for a value generating solutions by Mpesa (Kenyan money transfer/bill pay solution).  Upcoming writings will introduce the Transitional Process Framework and how it can be applied to business and IT related change.

Conclusion

#Transitional Process Sciences are about achieving success by consideration and attention to the impact of change without loosing sight on the goals and the means by which change is implemented.  It is purposely intended to be lean (in process), readily adopted by people (not processes), and achieve results without negative time impact.  Stay tuned for more from #3rdLAW.

Each and every day we face change.  Our autonomic response isn’t always logical, planned or successful.  Even when facing success outcomes one has to understand where its the result of fate or the result of experience.  In more pragmatic endeavors we cannot rely on these two elements completely and need to adopt a framework that guides these efforts.

Daily Life

In 2010 I made the decision to move to Asia.  My decision was driven by circumstances and opportunity.  Relying on my many years of work in the region, and supported by solid pragmatic skills I venture forward.   Was I confident… YES, was I committed and determined… YES, was I confident to address the unforseen… YES but did I really understand the full extent of the endeavor and all of the things would come my way?  I can honestly that I was to confident to see the barriers even after decades of living life.  This situation is akin to many projects and transitions facing business whether it be the disruption created by technologies or the advent of new leadership in the company.  The transition is seldom without issues and excesses that could have been avoided.  So why didn’t we avoid these repetitions?

Part of our challenge is to avoid looking at the end point (goal/objective) and then reverse engineering a plan to fit the commitment of scope-schedule-cost, also known as the triple constraint.  Instead we need to better understand and craft a consistent means of achieving sound transitioning.  Yes, we still need to have goals/objectives.  Yes, we still need to understand the triple constraint.  But we also need to have a means by which transitioning will occur in a lean, consistent, risk reduced fashion.

Next…Next

As with many things in life it moves on whether we like it or not.  We can hold onto the car with both hands or we can grasp the steering wheel to guide it to its objective with major concern for a calamity.   I have also had a fond love and adopted the principal of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “for every action there is an opposing and equal reaction” (thus the formation of 3rdLAW).  The concept of Transitional Sciences is that for every transition it will create equal and opposing reactions in so far as achieving success points.  Out of concern of making the topic too complex let it suffice to say that these embarkations of transitioning produce outcomes that can have equal consequences.  There is no such thing as too small to address this concern since a wasted moment involves time-costs-diversion of focus-lost/gain in confidence.  I was recently challenge by a colleague as to the mere term “transitional sciences” and in response I chose to break it down into pieces.  “Transition” the means of movement from our present to our next state. “Science” a body of facts or truths supported by research and experience.  Thus it seems quite appropriate and proper to state that “Transitional Sciences” is properly titled.  Furthermore, while it involves change it commands the need for the sound management thus the concept of “Transitional” control.

While We Spin

We can’t stop the world from spinning nor should we even suggest that it should as we might fall off this planet.  The same can hold true as it relates to inhibiting advancement of technologies.  I’m sure that there are others who feel a bit like I do that overnight we have experts in a emerging topic that previously were sitting in some other area of expertise.  We see data scientists, big data managers, cloud professionals, artificial intelligent gurus (have you heard of LISP or ADA?), and so on.  Maybe its from an acquired educational foundation, as we see with statisticians owning analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) by those who had some experience with preemptive logic.  However with all due respect a point of reference does not make you an expert simply because you need to understand the broad context of cause-and-effect.

So why am I (and my team) qualified in the area of Transitional Sciences?  When I asked this question the response that I got was less than reassuring.  Upon closer examination I discovered that it wasn’t the topic but the question, so I re-framed it.  “What kinds of work engagements have you had that encountered challenges?” was my next question.  I got a loads of examples and upon closer examination two elements were revealed.  The first was that they all involved change, and nearly all of them had some sort of project plan to guide change.  So what went wrong?   It was then we discovered, in somewhat of a bolt of revelation,  was that the plans failed to address the transition from where we are to where we want to reach.  Further it overlooked the impact of interim events, the human factor and was too heavily oriented towards tasks.  It was that moment we realized that transitioning wasn’t being considered.

Our next step was to investigate whether others had been involved in transitioning.  A simple search revealed that it was really non-existent treatment in the worlds of business, technology, innovation, startups and even management disciplines?  We were particularly concerned not for simply this void but the plaguing question of why, had the issue already been addressed or had we stumbled upon the holy grail of needs?  Deeper examination showed that it wasn’t something overlooked, but it became buried in deeper programmatic processes of plans and goals.  In other words instead of removing the paint of past behavior the direction followed was one of a skim coat over the top of what had been taking place.

The final step was to question was to whether this approach was ok.  We relied heavily on an examination of the change in project management during the last four decades.  The range involved ad hoc process, craftsman paradigm, simplistic waterfall, permutations of waterfall to present day agility and all of its variations.  Resounding the evidence showed two things.

  • the transitioning from each and every project management paradigm was a significant problem (created allot of consulting opportunities to help with… “transitioning”, and
  • secondly that project management has shift from ‘the plan’ to ‘the means by which an outcome can be achieved’.

Therefore we have come to realize that to save time and money we have to be equipped to transition efficiently.  Whether you are the customer receiving new technology solutions, a company producing product, a company changing leadership or business direction transitioning plays an essential role.

Our Transition

Looking forward is exciting but it can also be, for some, with trepidation.  The key in transitioning new discoveries is market conversion or the ability to transition tradition thinking into productive gains.  Often this relates to importance of saving time and money while doing so with minimal disruption and risk.  Our confidence resides in the reality that these aspects are in fact ‘transitional’ and to prove the model to be sound we must be successful in doing what we are promoting (hope that makes sense… so read it slow again and maybe you will understand).

Transitioning is not only exciting for me, it is also essential in dealing with a successfully producing forward moving outcomes.  The transitional framework has to be lean, efficient, effective and can be understood without exhaustive workshops, skill development and customization.  Much of this will be illustrated by some upcoming papers, projects and presentations that will be taking place over the next several months.

If you have any interest in or got ideas and suggestions please forward them to me at TECTL@hotmail.com

With thousands upon thousands of startups taking place as we speak the most resounding question asked is “how can I make my startup successful?”.  The result is a cascade of advise on what to do and how to do it, some with even a self-indulgent suggestion of their ability to help you reach acclaim.  Unfortunately while advice is abundant the proper question should be about how I can go about making my enterprise fail.  As many that have followed the time worn path of success blueprints they still fail?  For those giving advice its always reverts back to casual and common conditions that relate to market readiness, funding, immature ideas and even too lofty goals set.  In fact the real fact is that the failures were the things we did incorrectly.   To this end, I decided to create a list that reflects the many mistakes made.  Hoping that these will be taken serious, considered and appropriate action being taken.

  • Lack of market evaluation and planning.  Its not that there isn’t room but if you can’t differentiate or show aggressive value additions you will be met with resistance.
  • Too good to be true opportunists.  Yes, there are people lurking to capitalize on your dream.  These may come from a number of sources; investors, partners and even customers.  So beware and protect yourself on the fronts of intellectual property rights (IPR), business relationships and sales opportunities.
  • Marketing Failures.  Choosing the wrong medium (yes, you have to have a social media presence but if you customers are not acquiring from social media sources limit your investment) where your targets are located.  Deciding on where to promote is as crucial as what to promote and to whom.
  • Amateur packaging.  If it looks cheap it is cheap but the expectation remains the same as that of higher priced alternatives.
  • Failure to acknowledge the need for market conversion.  The best ideas have died for the sake of an inability to convert market.
  • Lack of vision beyond the present.  Because of shallow funding we are anxious for sales, funding and partner support.  But you need several alternative sources to pursue in order to create a balanced flow of revenue.
  • Knowing when to move on.  Most startups fail to look beyond wanting to have success.  Know when its right to move on and pass along the opportunity to others (hopefully these will be candidates that acquire your enterprise).  Staying with a success story reduces the overall return on investment unless you can establish success in the first 2 or 3 years.
  • Your profile.  The startup grows from you and your colleagues.  It moves from it being a personal endeavor to one that is professional.  Yet we continue to post and repost and share a individuals and not as newly founded enterprise heads.  As a result, your profile presence may be your liability and not your selling point.  Be mindful of the need to reset focus and know what image you are wishing to set.
  • Commitment.  We are all committed, but at what level?  Is this a part-time endeavor or a full fledged operation?  Do you have a location or is it your kitchen table?   Depending on the cost and the commitment that you are seeking will determine what you need to show your level of having skin in the game.
  • Spending like drunken sailors.  Money burns faster than gasoline.  Money spent must have value earned.  For this reason many investors choose to invest in elements of your business (like product development or market reach) rather than in operating expenses (office, salaries, supplies, etc).  Its the clear separation of overhead vs. value earning capitalized investment.
  • Lifting Alone.  You need to plan for support, you cannot sustain viability and growth without some form of assistance.  We are reluctant in doing so because we view this resource as labor and not as potential partners.  A startup must build a team and you as the innovative head (possibly) need to share in the wealth of the business with those that can and will commit.  Its an investment decision and not one of building size for the sake of size.  You need intellectual collaboration, division of effort, call for specialized talent, and in simple terms time bandwidth.  Without it time will pass, opportunities will be lost, and all for the sake of thinking an ‘alone’ pursuit will bring you wealth and fame.  Enterprises like Microsoft and Facebook, while seen as success stories of individuals was not possible without the involvement of a team that shared the outcome (good or bad).
  • Pitch Failure.   Know who you are talking with and what you want to achieve.  There are three basic groups;  customers, investors and partners.  Each has a need and you as the startup enterprise needs to speak to them in a way that satisfies their needs and is not clouded by excess information.
  • Over come YOUR fears.  As I have said numerous times, where you stand today is a road divided.  You will either succeed or you will fail.  But if you don’t take any step at all you will have failed when you may have had the chance to succeed.  It is important to understand your limitations and your strengths, making sure that these truthful and not simply you desire to have them be yours.  Others need to examine this in a critical and unbiased fashion to give you an idea of where you need to put forth efforts of improvement.
  • Unclear abstract market.  Vague but ambitious targets, not understanding geographic markets from vertical sector markets or the creation of markets (using viral strategies).  You just can’t announce here I am without considering who you are in a practical way.
  • Under utilization of channel partners.  Despite having the ability to create exposure, social media sources have their limitations.  There is nothing more powerful than feet on the ground (refer to Microsoft and their early engagement of Rogers from Altair).  Be selective and ever mindful of success and not another grand experiment gone bad.  Bad press will have dramatic effects on a startup.

In conclusion, these are a few common observations on how startups fail.  Hoping that if you have other reasons that you share them either on this blog or on a social media post.

Out of nothing grew a startup crazy.  Startups are nothing new, in fact every company since the beginning of time was a startup.  They grew and prospered because they did things right, made fewer mistakes and were able to ride the wave of opportunity.  At the same time there have been many who failed and will go down as hard lesson learned.  So why the present craze?

First of all governments see an obligation to create jobs without having to be the only source for employment.  For each job created there are a multitude of others who become the beneficiary of this.  Whether it be a merchant, our families, the community or government all will benefit.  We also benefit by becoming a productive part of the world community.  For the community, healthy commerce means that the quality of life can be improved upon.  Parks, schools, transportation and infrastructure are all advanced through the contribution of commerce.  Its for these very reasons that governments and communities are investing in the development of the startup up enterprise.  Unlike in the past where you were left to your demise, today we seek opportunities to avoid failures.

Let’s start out by establishing a few definitions.  A startup is an enterprise comprised of one or more people who have an idea for a role to play in commerce sector.  It doesn’t always have to be about ICT (Information Communication and Technology) although many regions have this as a pivotal service.  There are also companies with great ideas that rely upon ICT enablement in order to achieve their operating mission.  If I was asked what should the focus be, I would say both.  I believe that putting all of your eggs in one basket does not provide sufficient flexibility to address ever changing market conditions.  At the same time singular focus creates a market saturation that places competitive stress on other upstart enterprises (in an unhealthy manner).  The value of diversity increases the economics of scale by utilizing common discipline guidance across a broader audience base.  A incubator is a environment in which a startup can operate.  Normally associated with a facility/location, an incubator is accompanied by a shared space for learning and development.  For some the concept of an incubator can be met with a bit of reluctance, fearing that a concept or idea might be exploited by others.  Proper protection is always in order but this still allows for a general concept to be discussed without the fine details being disclosed.

When one considers becoming a part of the startup community you will be motivated by several reasons.

  • Education – Gaining crucial knowledge in areas of the unknown.  It isn’t enough to expect that you know even what you are missing and therefore your first steps become a general awareness about the overall startup landscape.
  • Visibility – Finding and establishing ways to be seen.  In most cases this is limited to local or regional market but seldom reaches beyond borders.  Exceptions like MaGIC Malaysia’s Accelerator Program which has reached out to foreign investors, advisors and successful incubator communities as are found in Silicon Valley, CA  USA.
  • Funding – Startups are poor, thinly funded with very steep needs for revenue flow to sustain formation and advancement.  Whether it be funding, alternative collaborative sharing, partnering, investing or seed capitalization the startup community attempts to fill a much needed void by providing a one stop shopping source for funders.
  • Infrastructure – For many startups their only resources are an idea, a computer and a cell phone.  The lack of physical space and a consistent location creates barriers.  This is the most expensive element found in the support of startups.  It takes community and governmental backing in order to provide this necessary element.  Failure to do so creates protracted time to implement.
  • Mentoring – It isn’t just about training if one cannot apply it to their situation.  All startups need objective and constructive examination of where they are at, what needs to be done, and what can be expected beyond the initial introductory period.  A key mistake is using what we might refer to as those ‘one hit wonders’, those individuals that have had ‘some’ success but lack in diversity of repetitive successes and experience.  At the same time its also a bit of a hazard to rely upon those with loads of experience but may lack in thinking beyond a single model.  So who is the mentor?  First and foremost is compassion and caring, startups are particularly frail and therefore need constructive neutering.  Secondly the mentor must be objective.  Just because the concept isn’t for you doesn’t mean that it fails in market potential.  Finally, and again these are ‘my’ opinions, the mentor must be creative.  Should a region aspire to create a startup community they might not find these elements all in one person but may require a broader composition of collective mentors in order to achieve balance.

Most recently I was involved in a startup competition comprised of both ICT and ICT enabled enterprises.  The two lessons that I shared are instrumental in knowing why you are there and what you are trying to achieve.

  1. Who is your pitch for?  Are you pitching to potential customers (meaning you are market ready), investors (meaning you are ready to go but you need fuel for your enterprise engine) or collaborators (you are ready but you need some help to introduce a broader market potential).  If you aren’t ready or you don’t know who you are addressing you need to step back and get your affairs in order.
  2. The best ideas will die if you don’t have a plan or a means to convert market thinking.  Maybe the timing isn’t right, or that your zeal for your concept is so great that you expect everyone else to jump on board.  Often they weigh superficially benefit and risk, you need to do likewise.

In conclusion, startups are in vogue at the moment.  My fear however is that with many man conceived initiatives that the luster will wear off and the forward progress will die.  To keep the dream alive the startup enterprises must prove their efforts, use these to justify the framework commitment and to recommit to the further development of positive measures to produce success and reduce failure risk.

Situation-Propose-Conflict, an all too common occurrence today.  Whether it be on a personal or professional level we find ourselves continually challenged by our mere existence under continual attack.  There are choices, we can avoid the conflict by retaining buried our proposal to a situation; we can propose and prepare for conflict or we can better understand the situation in order that we act appropriately.  It’s not just about others understanding the value that is often buried in the ‘proposal’ but also appreciating the spirit in which it is being offered.

I have a multi-cultural family and I often find that by sharing my beliefs I create conflict.  What starts out as good intentions often results in them being viewed as criticisms to which they cycle starts on a defensive tone.  So the question is how do you resolve it.  I can tell you this, old habits die hard and this is especially true for those that have a mindset that takes you from point A to point B.  Over the last several months I have been thinking about this, all the while continuing my direct and purposeful A-to-B mindset.  It came to me a short while ago that my message is being lost because I have failed to answer, for myself, why does this situation exist and how can we reach a common purpose.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s what the children watch,  joint planning on events (I almost said ‘important’ but there again that might also be questionable whether we are on the same page of thinking) or deciding on what to eat.  So what is it that I am really trying to achieve?  All the while I am thinking that I am preparing them for the future, for a place in a global society, when in fact I am possibly doing more damage by not allowing them to find a place in their own culture to grow from.  In this regard I am, in a round about way, inferring that their culture has problems to which I want them to avoid.  But in doing so I am not only isolating them, but also depriving them of growth and development.  So the hard pill that I need to swallow is to permit growth through experience and only intercede when disaster would be eminent.

Now let’s step forward in the context of business and the innovation/startup culture.  Over the course of my working career I have been blessed with advising hundreds of individuals and businesses.  From CEO to newbie, from global companies to incubator driven startups the same condition exists.  In various regions of the world the fact of age, race and nationality give you a certain privilege of attention.  With this gift comes a responsibility to exercise the same care and acts that are expected of me as a father.  It’s not that a foreigner knows more by comparison, its about the person having more experience and exposure to the world outside.  However, this all is lost when the message (Propose) meets the Situation that ultimately leads to conflict.  It’s not always visible it is often cloaked in silenced, fueled by buried emotion that later erupts in major conflicts.  To guide means to permit experiences to occur, to intercede when hazards are eminent but to counsel in such a way as to answer the question of ‘why’ are we doing this.  It’s far more than being a mentor, a guide, or a coach… its about caring enough to eliminate conflict (and unproductive and wasteful act) for the sake of situational improvement.  Therefore, as I have observed in myself and the acts of other mentors (guides or coaches), we need to stop and answer in our own minds the question of ‘why’.  But, we can’t stop there we must also totally understand the value and possible conditions that our decision to engage plays in the overall outcome.   I recently was involved in mentoring a group of startups.  Many were still in a formative and conceptual stage.  There were many things they needed to do, situations to consider, options to exercise and directions to go.  It would have been far to easy to start firing off lists that they needed to act upon.  Instead it was far better to look at what they had done and build upon this than to dismantle the house for the sake of one loose brick in the foundation.  What I observed was a remarkable transformation in outcome both in terms of progress as well as reach a basis of possible potential in these grassroot businesses.  Sadly however it isn’t without having a level of mortality.  In retrospect, I ask the question of why did a couple fall out of having interest?  Was it because of the message or was it something else?  Upon closer examination it was the direct result of readiness of their enterprises, they were barely a concept and therefore all they saw is barriers and not the light on the other side of those barriers.  At the same time the message became the barriers and not the solution.  As I have often said, whenever we have a condition we own 50% of the outcome and with that I take total and complete ownership.  How should I have reacted?  It goes back to being a father, it goes back to finding out how they see their situation and asking what they need to move ahead.  I should have done that rather than take them from zero to 100 in a series of direct and specific steps.  They weren’t ready for step two let alone step one hundred.  The years and the miles of experience brings about opportunities but they also bring about knowledge.  I plan to use this knowledge and my continual self-assessment to serve with a high degree of respect for the role I play.  Its not a role driven by the story line of others but driven by the unique realities exist.  The path, steps and speed of others are only a resource and not a template.

Beware of the SPC (Situation-Propose-Conflict) condition.  Culture is not bounded simply by nationality it is also a situation created by beliefs.  Understand why, determining need and maintaining a healthy observance of goals is mandatory.  Goals are important but at the same time they become a distraction on progress.  Require them but permit them to become realized organically and not through measured acts enabling progress.

I have been an avid follower of the incubator/startup movement since its inception nearly 20 years ago.  Up to then most people with an idea and a committed drive would venture out and find ways to make it all happen, some won but most lost.  But loosing was not without the benefit of understanding and developing new ways that employed an new found awareness of what things should be avoided.

My ‘Brief’ History

Not to belabor or hold myself out as a poster child but I have a long life as a serial innovator.  Tradition to me was something to advance and not something to accept as without opportunity.  To many this made me a critique and not viewed as someone who cared enough to walk a different path for the mutual benefit of all.  Needless to say my success stories did not achieve the acclaim that others had, all to their credit for having that magical combination that pushed it beyond the normality.  But having said this I have learned immensely about what works, what doesn’t work and how decisively flawed the incubator/startup model really is.  For these reasons I decided to write about this topic and how advancement remains to day a topic in question.

Problems on the Home Front

What does a incubator/startup look like and behave?  Almost all are a meeting place, initially a form of group meet up to share, lament and build enthusiasm for the journey they are one.  Most still holding on to their full time jobs to fund their pursuits while a small number are living off of some meager fund has not been allocated for specific purposes.  This lack of underlying plan often forces the startup into spending on necessities and avoiding, to their demise the promotion the so desperately need to build following and visibility.  Whether this following is customers or the all important investor community that can provide seed funds to advance the introduction.  The positive vibe however is essential, a sense of hope and community bring forth a ‘can do’ attitude while providing an all important sounding board for the rationalization of concepts, ideas and approaches.  It also builds connections where to some it may mean two heads are better than one, and not simple a feux collaboration where both parties remain committed to self and not to the collaboration.

The bigger problem and the reason why I decided to discuss the incubator/startup realms is the lack of professional and experienced leadership.  I have seen a churn of leadership comprised of shallow one hit wonders that are allot on bravado and less on capability.  The good news they continue and build upon the informal meeting community as mentioned previously.  They might even bring to light some big name success stories and the occasional road trip to some recognized base of innovation, knowledge and startup success.  However, when we look back we remain with the same sad story of spot successes and a large number of failures.  Were the spot successes the result of the incubator/startup endeavor or would it happened because of some other things like timing, luck, the person, the idea or a hidden talent that is not readily available to all?   In lies a serious challenge to overcome, the lack of skilled business leadership for the incubator/startup enterprise.

Who are You?

How would you describe yourself?  Obviously you have an idea and want to get rich from it and possibly along the way it might provide some sort of social good.  Not wrong to be in the situation, but getting from Start-to-Finish isn’t about randomness (which most would later call coincidence) but its about assessing who you are, where you need to get, how to get there, what it will take, how much it will cost and what enablers you need to be working on right now.  Unfortunately most of you that are in the incubator/startup culture have attended workshops and talks on a wide variety of topics.  I would say most are good, but one must understand they are but a single piece of a much larger puzzle.  If you don’t even know what kind of puzzle you need to assemble these pieces become devoid of usable and applied value.   I recently had the occassion to talk with a bright young person who had an idea and was all excited about his innovation and was looking to get funding for manufacturing his idea.  Yet he didn’t even have a budget on what he needed to package, promote, sell or distribute.  More important however was no consideration had been considered for the production beyond the initial release.  Looking at this I dug deeper into why he felt he needed funding and it was quite typical; idea but not source of funds and a talk that presented the sources of investor funding.  Had he continued I would suspected he would have allowed his passion to give away what had great potential, all because he didn’t have his needs in order.

Beware-Beware

Sharks circle the source of blood, and the incubator/startups are no exception.  We see sources of packaging, marketing, manufacturing and even guidance that offer very attractive deals.  They don’t often direct their attentions on the new entries, but certainly if there has been some funding provided to the incubator/startup they can smell the blood of opportunity.  This isn’t something new in business nor unique to the incubator/startup enterprise it has been around for much longer than can be remembered.  An earlier example was contract opportunities for newly formed Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs) and these suppliers smelled the blood of opportunity.  For a small placement fee they would provide contracts, some of them never existed and others had such a high threshold for performance compliance that it could never be attained.  The same is happening in the incubator/startup culture.  You may have even seen some come and talk about their services under the guise of education and not for it really is…. a smartly crafted scam.

Why This?

I recently thought about the status of the incubator/startup concept.  As mentioned previously the leadership has been right for community building and holding out hope. What remains is still a unfinished raw material, you the innovator/entrepreneur.  Whether out of desperation or dispair you move on and attempt to go it on your own without the benefit of the culture.  If successful, you will point to yourself and if you fail you will point to the ineffectiveness of the incubator/startup organization as a systemic reason.  The reality is that you ‘get what you pay for’.  Its no longer to go about this in an amateur fashion.  Countries and enterprises need to invest and do so where it matters, leadership.  This includes not just the organizational leadership but in the boards that direct them.  You simply can’t take a few success examples and expect them to have the requisite skills to do it again, and again and again.  It requires people who can not only do that but understand when to take risk and when not to.  It requires people who understand what needs to be developed and what needs to provided, not withstanding an appreciation for shared service opportunities coming from the incubator/startup as well.  You cannot expect these sources of opportunity to have sufficient funds to do this, it has to come from outside.  One might view this as an investment opportunity for the future and not simply the clinical thinking of ROI.  With failure rates at 50% plus the ROI for the remaining will double the time needed to achieve that ROI.  So while a positive return can be achieved, it can also re-channel lost ventures to productive ones and help to reduce the recovery period to something that is more reasonable.   This will not happen by luck, a pretty face, a smart campaign, a cheer leading mentality it will take strong executive management skills.  However, my concern remains as to whether the excitement can be retained from the cult atmosphere that exists?  Is the older authoritative presence going to drive them away or will they be attracted to the ancient oracle that may be the new leadership?  Obviously allot will depend on the person and how they provide leadership.  Key however is the need to demonstrate value to them, even if they have nothing more than their time to invest and no money to do it with… there remains perceived value.  For some it will be a transitioning exercise from prior popular regimes, some from failed lost confidence endeavors and others that are moving from the ranks of informality.

Incubator/startups are essential to the life blood of nations.  It is often the tipping point for those emerging to new world global enterprise countries.  If these are left to fail or pass as a ship in the night as just another attempt we will never know whether it was a lost opportunity.  Things cannot continue as they have been.  Tedium is important for prepetative tasks but a killer to the free thinking that exists in this community.  Those that are empowered to promote, support and develop free enterprise pay notice, the ball is in your court whether you want more of the same or whether you want to bridge the gap between the incubator/startup community and commerce.