I recently familiarized myself with undoubtedly one of the great leaders of the written history: Napoleon Bonaparte
What could a 21st century entrepreneur learn from him?
That question in mind I borrowed a few quotes from Napoleon.
1. If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.
This idea seems strongly counterintuitive but depends a lot on what kind of a success you’re after. The hint of truth that I see here is the fact that delivering nothing is actually a bit overrated. A half-assed effort on making things happen often looks worse than completely dismissing the task. But I have to agree that there is great power just in the promise itself. Aiming high is the key.
2. Ability is nothing without opportunity.
Being an entrepreneur, you will work with people with enormous amounts of skills and abilities. I feel the entrepreneur should be the least able person of the team. But the entrepreneur is the person who shows the opportunity and directs the ability to where it’s needed.
3. When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to the level of their mediocrity.
This sounds like saying don’t try anything big cause you’ll fail. But I will argue there’s a bigger truth underneath. The greatness of the entrepreneurial team is dependent on the amount of balls they have on their effort. The factual evidence seems to indicate that most teams eventually “get real” on their vision. Reality is what brings great ideas to mediocrity. But there is an easy way out and that is not accepting the reality. A good reason to do something is that people tell you it can’t be done.
4. There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time.
This is a fact. Still few people act accordingly. Irrelevant things and chores keep stealing the time of people. People work without knowing why. No money in the world can buy back your wasted time. It should be criminal to make people do work that they wouldn’t do gladly even without pay.
5. To do all that one is able to do, is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do, is to be a god.
So true. God was an entrepreneur.
Yesterday, the eyes of the world were targeted on a royal wedding. Sweden got a new royalty but could it be that they got something more than that?
The monarchy is not a corporation.
This statement was given by the king of Sweden in a television interview. Although the comparison seems a bit abstract there is some logic behind it. Monarchy is not considered to be producing anything. It makes no profit, only losses. Still, it has an enormous marketing budget and a bunch of employees.
But as a corporation in a monopoly, the monarchy isn’t exactly looking for internal change. Monarchy embraces tradition, not innovation.
So what happens if you turn an entrepreneur into a monarch?
This is something we should ask the new prince himself. Or just wait and see for ourselves. In an interview he has already stated that he wants to step up and promote health and entrepreneurship.
If we define the concept of entrepreneur as creative innovator and successful manager of risk then this poses a challenge for our new prince. After all he is now more like an ambassador of Sweden than a royal entrepreneur. But if he successfully manages to promote an entrepreneurial atmosphere inside the monarchy, we should probably establish a similar role here in Finland: “the prince of entrepreneurship“.
I was recently interviewed about education and need for professional courses in my business activities. I think I gave all the wrong answers.
In a short period of time my respect for extensive education has collapsed.
I used to believe that education and especially university-level education are the solution to success in our society. Most people still believe that the education you get will predestinate the success for the rest of your life. On average this is true.
But is the success actually caused by the education or could it be that the people who complete their education had been successful regardless of their education?
I will argue that people will learn anyway what they consider inspiring. School works for people who don’t have the passion and motivation to learn stuff themselves.
So, when I was asked what kind of professional courses I would like to have to help my business, I couldn’t think of anything. Even the best people giving courses are seldom passionate about what their students do. In contrast, if there was a person who was both knowledgeable and passionate about their subject and could provide their skills for the students to use, that would be a completely different thing.
The importance of learning cannot be denied.
But everyone should stop and ask why they are learning stuff the way they’re doing it. Are they learning for themselves or for the system? And if the answer is for themselves then why do it as inefficiently as the school system tends to do it. Ask why and try to understand the answer. For example:
Ask your mother why she made you do your homework.
If you want to be big, you don’t want to be well-known in Finland. Almost all of the popular websites in Finland are irrelevant on a global scale.
Being global means being approachable.
FinderBase.com served today as an example of the global economy:
- An Israeli man
- using a Finnish service
- to search for an item lost in Kenya.
Being global isn’t necessarily about market entry strategies and marketing campaigns. It can be about helping people regardless of their whereabouts.
But why are there so few global Finnish brands?
Our country only has one single global brand, Nokia. The only way to create more global brands is through growth entrepreneurship. We keep subsidizing R&D, thinking it will create the next Nokia. But it won’t.
To penetrate the global marketplace you only need a few hundred dedicated fans. How much should you pay a person to digg or like whatever you do, even once per day?
The funny thing is that not a single company with a few hundred employees could ever get all of them to like you online. The need for this is obvious and still no one does it.
If there was a company that would pay you for liking what they do, would you join it for the money?
I’ve been told entrepreneurship is not about finding good solutions but about finding good problems. Companies tend to concentrate on solving problems that do not exist.
When you start to develop a company, start solving a problem that is tangible and that you can relate to.
For the last two months we’ve been solving a problem that we’ve learned to love. We love our problem because it’s both demanding and rewarding. Our problem raises emotions and can be easily understood.
Ask yourself these two questions:
- What do you do when you accidentally lose something precious?
- What do you do if you find something someone else has lost?
Without going too deep into the solution or the business models, we should stop and think if the problem is any good. Any problem should produce answers to these questions:
- Is there an existing solution? Yes, definitely. There always is.
- Are people unhappy with the existing solution? Yes. On quite a few levels actually.
- Is the existing solution a sizable business? Yes. A few M€ annually in Finland.
- Could it be done better than currently? Yes. It can be done cheaper, faster and with higher level of customer satisfaction.
- Could our team do it? Absolutely!
Now count the yeses. If you don’t have 5/5 your problem most likely sucks.
I attended today an event where four panelists got to present their ideas about growth entrepreneurship. Most of the attendees were likely there to hear the ideas of the big gurus like Risto Siilasmaa and even Marko Parkkinen.
Was it any good?
Well, it was ok. Absolutely nothing spectacular but usual chit-chat about growing your business and making it international etc. However one thing got my attention over the others. Risto Siilasmaa presented his list of four critical factors in a successful start-up.
I disagree with every one of them.
- Great idea. Saying it is about the idea sounds like the words of a cynical business angel who has to hear 300 bad pitches per year. Not a single idea out there is great from the start. Think of Google. Two guys wanting to make a search engine bigger than Altavista by using a slightly different algorithm to rank the pages. Think of the milliondollarhomepage.com. Guy wanting to sell pixels on a random website. Idea is great after it has become reality. Before that it’s absolutely worthless.
- Competence. With competence Siilasmaa refers to competent people. It is obviously utter rubbish that the pure competence of the team would have anything to do with a start-up’s success. Academic degrees and experience have their place but the true success stories are built by semi-competent people. Or better yet the real experts join a new venture team when it’s exciting and compelling enough. Making a company sound exciting requires drive, ambition and passion. These have nothing to do with competence. This is something anyone can have from day one.
- Capital. Saying a company needs capital to be successful is like saying a baby needs diapers to pee. It can protect the outside but will never fix the problems inside, only complicates them. On the other hand, money is the most abundant resource out there. Ask for money and everyone thinks you’re ripping them off. Offer them a good service and eventually someone will give you a generous tip.
- Functional infrastructure/environment. This last point was about the need of an environment where you find the necessary consultants and apparently also about the socioeconomic situation on the market. Whichever it was or even if he meant both of them, I don’t agree. The causality is missing in this argument. Is the environment causing the success or is the environment actually a consequence of the success itself?
What’s the bottom line?
Don’t buy every half-baked comment the gurus tell you. Form your own opinion.
I spent the afternoon today attending the kick-off session for the Aalto ES Boot Camp. Big thanks go to Petteri Koponen and Taneli Tikka for the inspiring keynote speeches.
But what were you doing there?
I was asked this question a couple of times. Someone might consider it a bit awkward to attend an event that not only were you uninvited but your were especially rejected from the list of participants. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad but I still was the only rogue attendee.
This first event of the boot camp was about the essence of entrepreneurship. One recurring theme in all the keynotes was the persistence of the entrepreneurs – you have to persist through failure. You have to pitch your idea a 1000 times to get good at it.
The program itself presented the justification for my stay.
In the end of the day, it all came down to a one-minute pitch by each team. I wasn’t especially invited to pitch but I asked for a permission to do so. Hard to say to no to that.
The end result was that three people came personally to thank me for an excellent pitch and considered it to be the most memorable of all the 14 pitches. They could even be right. The whole situation was on my side:
- My presence there showed true entrepreneurial spirit.
- I was instantly different from everyone else.
- Being different means being more memorable.
- Since I was rejected, my idea wasn’t expected to be any good.
- I had absolutely no pressure to pitch well.
So, whatever you do, find a way to stand out in a positive way. Sometimes it’s good to be bad.
During Easter I stumbled upon a classified ad on the largest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. The ad promotes a website:
www.ideatykki.fi (roughly translates to http://www.ideacannon.com)
Their business idea is to sell “business ideas”. This basically means founding a company and selling it to a new owner who avoids the “paperwork”. Filling in the paperwork yourself costs 350 € for a limited company in Finland. These guys should obviously add their margin and especially if they are not only selling the paperwork but a “business idea”.
And they do!
Their ideas cost between 7.500 € and 50.000 € and this price includes the newly established company and a few Internet domain names. What is even more interesting is that they don’t even have a single actual business idea, all they have is a set of B-grade names with a price tag.
Selling a real business idea is quite difficult since an idea is not worth anything before it has been turned into business. The cutting edge name that the guys at Ideatykki are selling for 50.000 € is NaturPower Finland that could be doing “applications with renewable energy sources”.
Here’s a better suggestion for the first taker
If you want to start a business in renewable energy, how about ViherPower Finland Oy (roughly translates to GreenPower)? With this name you could even get both the dot-com and dot-fi domain names unlike just the dot-fi for NaturPower.
All you need to do now is to think of what you really want to do. Without any searching of potential competitors, here’s a bunch of ideas you could do with that name (even with rather limited previous knowledge in the area):
- Import and retail of solar cell powered battery chargers
- Import and retail of bicycle powered battery chargers
- Consulting on small-scale solar cell power system choices
- Website for comparing renewable energy power system alternatives
- Website for comparing and rating subcontractors that install renewable energy power systems
- Website that makes it easier for people to show their friends how they have saved energy
If someone finds the name ViherPower or any of these ideas a least bit interesting, I’m happy to help you in founding the company completely free of charge.
The more time I spend developing my own business the more similarities I see in it to my personal life.
Romantic relationships and business life have a lot in common.
I want to present here five lessons that I’ve learned both from love and from my career in entrepreneurship:
- Passion. I consider passion to be the number one success factor for both business and love. Some philosopher might say love is what is left when the passion drains from a relationship. I will argue that passion is a crucial component of love. Nobody can be passionate about everything but everybody can find their passion both in love and in business life.
- Purpose. In business we call the purpose a goal, a vision, a mission or a strategy. In a relationship you and your partner are the “business”. You have to have the same goals in life. When you can trust that the other person is pursuing the same goals and backs you up in your personal decisions, there is a huge potential for success.
- Openness. Both the passion and the purpose come through open discussion. There is no other way. Verbal communication has a very similar role also in business life. A functioning professional organization is based on openness. Companies don’t achieve anything by themselves, it’s the people who make the success through communication.
- Constant learning. Without learning there is only one way and that way is failure. In a healthy relationship you can learn new things about your partner after 50 years of marriage. The same goes for companies. A professional organization should keep learning faster than its competitors to succeed. Again it’s the people who learn, organization only facilitates their learning.
- Conflict resolution. No relationship or business is made without conflict. Conflict is inevitable but can be avoided through the process of learning and through openness. Bad handling of conflicts can deteriorate even a successful company or a relationship. The best way to handle a conflict is to do it firmly, friendly and immediately.
So whether you want to success in business or in love, keep these factors in mind. And let me know if there is something you’d like to add to the list.
The success of a new venture is almost entirely dependent on the commitment of the entrepreneurial team.
Let me present you the classic story of the pig and the chicken:
What can we learn from this?
In a typical case the whole team is made of chickens. That is, people who contribute to the common goal but in the end have nothing to lose.
But a team made of chickens has rarely achieved anything remarkable. People appreciate commitment and especially when the team is looking for venture funding it’s critical that they are committed.
Why on earth would the pigs commit?
If you’re the pig, you should ask yourself two questions:
- Is the ham-n-eggs business really what you want to do?
- If yes, could you get more pigs to share the responsibility?
After that it’s easier to calculate your risk and expect a reward accordingly.