This handbook is dedicated to all my students and coaching candidates who, over the years, have taught me almost as I much as I have them.
It takes a yard of guts to start a business, any business. And every startup, every new organization is an experiment until proven otherwise.
No amount of pre-planning can substitute for contact with the marketplace.
While I strongly believe in 1-page business modeling, I am not a fan of 30-page business plans full of graphs and charts often signaling nothing of importance. Huh?
That’s right—it’s because no business plan (like no battle plan) ever survives more than a few hours or days without significant changes after contact with the “enemy,” ie, the marketplace.
Business models also have to be reviewed and updated regularly lest you get swept into the dustbin of history, but at least here you are updating a one-pager, which is fast and cheap.
Your business model is the engine of your business—it shows clients and customers on one side, suppliers on the other and you in the middle. It also has a brain on top (matching clients and suppliers much like an online dating app does) and it has an orthogonal dimension—a marketing side. Because, if you can’t obtain new clients and customers in a cost effective manner, your organization doesn’t have long to live3. Your model may also have an NFP (not-for-profit) enterprise bolted onto the main business and vice versa. That is, an NFP may be permitted these days to have a for-profit business bolted onto its main charity function, like what Habitat for Humanity does with its ReStore network of shops selling (gently used and new) renovation and construction materials as well as appliances.
Recently, I tweeted (@ProfBruce) this out: Is it just me or have slide decks, business models and presentations essentially replaced 30+ page business plans that hardly anyone ever reads? Most biz plans have graphs in them that look
Hockey Stick Growth Curve
Have you ever heard of a startup that tells investors, lenders, employees, or suppliers that their revenue growth or subscriber growth is likely to be flat and remain that way? No, you haven’t, which means that, if every organization experienced this kind of exponential growth, the entire population of the planet would, by now, have Jeff Bezos-style wealth (less whatever he will share with his soon-to-be-divorced spouse and mother of his four children.) All this to say that business plans may not be very helpful in evaluating a startup organization. The differentiated value inherent in their business model plus their ability to execute excellently is much more likely to be evident (or not) during a slide deck
presentation of the opportunity by the founders themselves. You can read their body language and tonality plus other
non-verbal cues that way too.
Was Google the first search engine? It was not. Remember WebCrawler and Lycos from 1994? How about Excite and Yahoo! from 1995 or Ask Jeeves from 1996 and AOL NetFind from 1997? Google was a 1998 late-entry to the party, but they had three things (or soon would have) going for them—a trusted do-no-evil algorithm that produced (largely) unbiased results, a stupendous ability to execute on a planetary scale, and a business model that clearly differentiated advert placements from search results.
By the way, one of the responses to that tweet was from @scottawarattray who said: “Based on my kids’ school assignments, slide decks have won out there too.” [slightly edited]
These case studies show people at their most inventive—how they get themselves into a jam and then (hopefully) out of it. I also deal with failure because you can learn (sometimes more) from your lack of success too.
It’s often said that: The two sure things in life are death and taxes.
They’re three things: Death, taxes and change.
So, be prepared to alter course and learn as you go.
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