Start-up specialists on tips to success (cont.)

In an Innovation special of the February-March edition of the magazine we asked start-up specialists to give their words of wisdom to budding entrepreneurs. Continuing from an earlier feature, Omar Mohout (48), a former technology entrepreneur, and Toon Vanagt (43), an internet entrepreneur, offer valuable advice for today’s new class of creators.

Omar Mohout

Omar Mohout is a widely published technology author, C-level advisor to high growth startups as well as Fortune 500 companies and Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Management School of Antwerp.

Addressing yourself to an audience of budding entrepreneurs, what would you say are the challenges they must remain attentive to?

Launching a startup requires the willingness to fail and learn. Getting business ideas is often not the problem, validating (value creation), monetising (value capture) and scaling (value sustainability) is. The steps to launch a company should not be taken lightly and might be the most important decision in your life. It will take over your life to a degree you can’t imagine for a long time to come, especially if you’re successful. Startup life is not glamourous, most of the time nothing happens. But as a founder, you will have the privilege to shape your own destiny. You will figure out your true purpose in life. Life is too short to pursue anything other than what you are most passionate about.

Taking both a national and international view, what do you feel are the growth areas representing the most opportunity to emerging entrepreneurs in Belgium today?

Belgium is a business-to-business oriented country. It’s the opposite of Silicon Valley that is a business-to-consumer environment. If you take a circle of 500 km around Brussels, you have the greatest diversity in industrial capacity and expertise in the world. Add to this the fact that 60% of the purchasing power of the European Union is in the same range and creates a unique recipe for success. Don’t go for a “sexy and cool business idea,” instead select a dull industry that gets little attention and make the difference in that area.

What would you warn the budding entrepreneur about? Pitfalls to avoid?

Do’s:

  •          Aim for a profound understanding of the problem or need that you want to solve.
  •          Keep in mind that success is 1% inspiration and 99% execution.
  •          Share your ideas.
  •          Connect with others.
  •          Great ideas are raised, not born.
  •          Work to learn, not to earn.
  •          Over deliver during the first 100 days to new customers.
  •          90% of entrepreneurship is sales.
  •          Not running out of money.

Don’ts

  •          Fall in love with your ideas and develop a tunnel vision.
  •          Assume that others perceive your idea in the same way you do.
  •          Build a pitch, build a business.
  •          Think more than 6-12 months ahead.
  •          Give away stuff for free.
  •          Limit your credibility to the internet.
  •          Compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
  •          Think that you have no competitors.

Toon Vanagt

An entrepreneur since 1995, Toon has worked and co-founded of Lean Fund, Lean StudioCasius, Data, Lex.

Addressing yourself to an audience of budding entrepreneurs, what would you say are the challenges they must remain attentive to?

Focus on building your product. Don’t get distracted by ‘nice-to-have’ feature requests. Start lean and work from a coworking space. Don’t waste your initial capital on fancy offices or furniture. Get out of the building, conduct customer interviews and read Steve Blank on “Customer Development.” Ship early, because your product will never be complete nor perfect. Measure, measure, measure. Learn from your first customers. Cash is king and you need customers who pay their bills to build your business. Cashflow management and cash recovery should be high on your task list. Don’t forget to enjoy the entrepreneurial journey. Look back and into the mirror once a month to track progress. Focus on building an ever better product and attract more happy customers.

What would you warn the budding entrepreneur about? Pitfalls to avoid?

Stop hesitating and jump, but make sure you have a financial parachute to cover a few months without pay. If not, keep saving or borrow enough cash from friends, family and fools. With a proper ‘runway’ the survival stress will eat you. Don’t partner up with people you don’t really know. Put your co-founder and partnership conditions in writing. Make sure to include good leaver and bad leaver clauses. Don’t start a company with more than three co-founders… Don’t fall in love with your first idea. It is very likely you will need to pivot quickly.

Don’t “give away” too many shares to your initial advisers or business angels. Enjoy the ride, you’ll learn a lot, whatever happens.

Which public agency do you think the emerging entrerpreneur should seek advice / assistance from?

Check out Innoviris and Impulse if you start from Brussels, but beware of becoming a ‘grantrepreneur’. Don’t depend on public agencies too much and aim for a profitable business based on real customer revenues. Only take public funding (grants, subsidies) as a temporary building block towards that goal. Make sure your venture knows how to survive without that public funding and advice…