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The Challenges Entrepreneurs Face

Jay Dwivedi
04/04/2005

Coming up with a business idea is a big step by itself but the biggest challenge lies in translating what may only be a concept into a real business.  Despite the fact that some entrepreneurs are really good at one or two things (think Bill Gates), most entrepreneurs simply tend to be idea-machines, great leaders, and excellent at getting things done (think Steve Jobs).  In other words, if you want to develop a business model that creates shareholder value, you will need a lot of help from people with diverse sets of skills and backgrounds.

Challenges of an entrepreneur
Guy Kawasaki was recently asked about the greatest challenges that entrepreneurs face.  According to him, “Seven (out of ten entrepreneurs) would say raising money. If you experience great difficulty in raising money, it's not because VCs are idiots and cannot comprehend your curve-jumping, paradigm shifting, revolutionary product. It's because you either have a piece of crap or you are not effectively communicating what you have. Both of these are your fault.” 

That is where teams are important.  And when I say teams, I mean not just your employees, but also your bank, law-firm, potential customers/suppliers, and anyone else you might need to jumpstart your business.  In summary, once you have firmed up the idea, as an entrepreneur you will need to build a network of people who will share their skills to make your idea a real business (refine the business model, work out the kinks, and sell it to potential investors).   In your garage, all ideas seem great, but only when you have several minds working on it, can you turn it into something that makes sense to the rest of the world.

How to build a network?
Assembling the right team of people that can wow the VCs, sell the product (or service) to a customer who sees its value, and then every single day keep the business ready for changes in the increasingly global economy, can seem like a stupendous task.  It can only be done by networking with as many people as you possibly can.  That is why I have found that a conference that brings together entrepreneurs, VCs, law firms, and business leaders is a great opportunity to build your network.  On the East Coast in the United States, TiECON EAST is one event that provides a good mix of all that an entrepreneur might need to build her/his network. This year event is scheduled to be held at Sheraton Wakefield between April, 29th thru 30th. This year’s conference has more than 90% of speakers who are CxO level at various established and upcoming corporations. Additional details of TiECON EAST can be found at http://www.tieconeast.org

Jay Srinivasan, Charter member of TiE Boston and Co-chair for TiECON EAST, says, “Over the years in my discussions with aspiring and successful entrepreneurs, I have found that it is extremely difficult for an entrepreneur to find the right people unless you are part of a group that is already screened.  TiECON EAST is a gathering of like-minded people, or if I could borrow the words of Guy Kawasaki, “Entrepreneurs who want to change the world.”  When you are at an event like this, the person sitting next to you is more likely to appreciate exactly what you are talking about because either she has already been down that path or is walking on it as you speak. ”

How to get the most out of networking events?
Despite the fact that many entrepreneurs polish their presentation skills fairly quickly, schmoozing at conferences can be uncomfortable to almost everyone, particularly if you do not know anyone.  That can be good news, says Altaf Shaikh, founder and CEO of Hitechclub, who is advising TiECON   on marketing-related matters.  “It is human nature to gravitate towards people you already know.  While I would say that events like this are great to reconnect with old acquaintances, but when you are an entrepreneur, my advice is that you should develop a networking strategy before coming to the event.  And then make sure that you can meet with these new people who will make a difference in your business.  People go to conferences to meet others and at a conference, everyone is equal.  So there is nothing wrong with approaching the person you want to meet, tell them the reason why you are interested in knowing them, and then exchange contact information before leaving.  Finally, always send a brief note later to reinforce the message.  Two months later, it will be easier for you to pick up the phone to reconnect,” Shaikh advises.

What speeches and sessions should you attend?
Companies sometimes make announcements or release new products at conferences.  Apart from that, rarely is anything “new” said at a conference.  Most of what you will hear is probably already in the public domain.  So I rarely go to a conference to listen.  For me, the greatest value comes from meeting like-minded people. Geetha Neelakantiah, Channels Account Manager at Genalytics, who has advised TiECON   content and communications, agrees.  “Attending a specific session simply allows you to connect with individuals who share your passion.  When you choose to attend a session on “Investment climate in life sciences sector,” you are essentially making sure that you will run into VCs who want to invest in life sciences companies and technologists who are working on groundbreaking technologies in life sciences.” 

Venkat Perumal, CFO at AGCS, Inc., who has advised TiECON   on sessions, themes, speakers, and panel members, says that conference attendees need to plan ahead on what session they should attend to get the most out of the conference.  “I recommend that you research the background of the speakers on the web and find out more about the topic.  If possible, jot down a couple of questions as well for each session that you can either ask during the session or use them as discussion generators with other attendees at informal networking opportunities.”

Networking for entrepreneurs has to be a habit
“If you think that attending a conference here and there will do the trick and put your business on the fast track, then you are destined to take forever to grow your business,” says Nishith Acharya, CEO of Empower Learning.  “Unless you make networking a part of your personality, it will be hard for you to succeed as an entrepreneur.  So, while attending an event like TiECON   is a good step, you might want to think of getting out of your lab/office a bit more often,” he advises.

(Jay Dwivedi is a senior advisor at iProceed helping clients on developing strategy. He may be reached at jay@iproceed.com. )

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