Making Entrepreneurship An Infectious Cultural Disease

You have no idea how bad I want you to catch this disease.

We usually have a negative connotation to the word disease, but not in this instance. I believe entrepreneurship is a disease – albeit a good one – that can positively affect entire societies.

I recently ran across this statement on PandoDaily and it sums up how I feel about entrepreneurship:

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I believe the key to creating a new Silicon Valley is to make entrepreneurship a cultural and societal norm for the region you’re trying to affect. Once it becomes a norm, it spreads like an infectious disease. If you believe entrepreneurship is what’s expected of you, it’s highly probable you’ll go after it regardless of how many VCs are nearby or whether or not there’s a local tech happy hour.


More and more often I am reading articles touching on a new norm in our society – college grads and people looking for jobs should prepare for a life of ‘temporary jobs” “part-time positions” and “a lifetime of ever changing job markets.”

Sounds promising, huh?

If you are a life long employee this is not good news. The traditional employee mentality will not cut it anymore.

But if you are an entrepreneur, or someone who views the world as a multitude of opportunities just waiting to be jumped on, you are embracing the times like there’s no tomorrow. You know that like it or not, your future is 100% dependent on you and you alone. The world is now your oyster and it requires you to think more like an entrepreneur than ever before.

So how do we spread the entrepreneurship mentality like a disease?

1) Education

There was a time when jobs were secured and a lifetime in one profession or trade was the societal norm. Times have changed, yet we are still educating our children with the assumption they will have one job when we should be preparing them for a life of uncertainty. We need to adequately educate them on how to evaluate markets, find problems, build solutions and market services to the masses. We also need to prepare them for failure, and how to appropriately navigate around it when it inevitably hits.

Formal education such as Entrepreneurship courses and qualified majors are starting to pop up at universities around the country. This is a great first step but not at all good enough. I am encouraged with the movement of accelerators and incubators in the technology space, such as Founders Institute (which I experienced in 2011) as well as YCombinator, TechStars, 500 Startups and many others. Although great organizations, the challenge with these is the fact that they put the cart before the horse at the expense of many would be founders. One must enter pitching their product/service idea, already have a highly talented team, and previous successful experience in-so-much that they can pass the admittance interview. Unfortunately, it’s easier to get into Harvard than it is to get into YCombinator.

What about those who are too early in the process to gain acceptance to these elite programs? I believe entrepreneurship needs to bleed deeper into our society, influencing our youth at an earlier age. Hopefully, junior high and high schools will start to focus on entrepreneurship just as we previously focused on wood shop and auto shop. Also, more media attention and resources can help permeate the spread of the disease. This is where resources like Founders RAW (selfish plug), Under30CEO, Coursera, Udacity, entrepreneur.com and others must continue to focus on educating the early stage founder on a daily basis and in an easy to access virtual environment.

2) Publicity

The stories need to be told. People need to be able to learn about other founders and realize these successful people are no different than the rest of us. Yet, I see a disturbing problem creating an unfortunately negative influence on our society. The stories of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg have become folklore to the point where they are unrelatable to the common man. The story of a Harvard dropout becoming a billionaire doesn’t help most people who are just trying to get to the next level in their newly started company.

The reason is we tend to compare ourselves to the other people, so stories about a billionaire doesn’t necessarily help a college grad taking their first step in creating their own startup. They need to hear realistic and relatable stories from people closer to their viewpoint of society. We need to do a better job of showcasing and publicizing early stage founders stories. We need to celebrate smaller wins, rather than wait till a founders sells their company for hundreds of millions of dollars. Again, this is one of the primary reasons we are starting Founders RAW, to share the truth about entrepreneurship and illustrate how founders can be relatable to others wanting to start their own business.

3) Events

Startup events like meetups, sponsored events and weekend gatherings are paramount to community engagement. We need more! The already established startup community needs to be able to open their arms to newbes who are shy or unwilling to open up in new environments.

Why? These are the places where people can get acquainted with their local startup communities, where they can meet other founders face to face, and possibly even meet their next co-founders. Also, events like Hackathons are a great way to grease the wheels of creativity, sometimes these are seminal events where an individual hatches first project. More events create more connections, which create more opportunities for innovation.

Encouraging entrepreneurship is great, but simple encouragement misses the point. We need to infect our family, friends and neighbors with the “go getta” disease if we are to survive the next century in the U.S.

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Why Distribution Will Make or Break Your Company

Yesterday, as I was sitting with a friend talking about his early stage company, it hit me.  We were reviewing what he has built, where he is currently and what he is looking to do next.  It was becoming more obvious to me as the meeting went on he was experiencing a common startup dilemma: Great product, No distribution.

Here’s a little background:

This founder has an incredible technical history.  He has worked for very a large tech company here locally and knows his stuff. You can tell he is quite intelligent.  His product is a bit over the average person’s head, more enterprise and B2B focused.  His target customers are business owners and website owners.  He has vast domain knowledge and understands where his product will benefit his users.  He even has a beta version with a small initial user base.   I told him he is in a good situation but has a few big hurdles to figure out.

The problem is he is technically bent, not marketing bent.  Technical people think all you have to do is build a great product.  Although that is true, marketing people understand the positioning of the great product is what determines how big you will grow as a company.   Being foreign, he lacks the clarity in speaking English required to deeply explain his product.  This is fine, but since it is just him right now he cannot depend on a sales oriented approach.  His product is not inherently social, so he cannot rely on word of mouth.

This person is not alone.  I was a part of the recent Founder Institute Seattle winter 2011 class and encountered many companies with similar challenges.  Highly technical team.  Very interesting product.  Solves a unique problem.  But no clear distribution model.

So if you are not building the next social sharing tool, how the heck do you find the vehicle to expand your user base?

Find distribution channels.

1.  Where can you get a free listing or publicity?  There is a magnitude of places on the web where galleries or showcases of applications bring  additional tools to product users (think Google apps).  Is your product is an add on, a second generation tool of an existing product, or interactive with a larger ecosystem?  All these allow you to be highlighted in galleries supporting the main ecosystem.  Find ’em or you will wither on the vine.

2.  What major company needs your product?  One of the best methods to major distribution is to land a very large and visible company as an initial customer.  Maybe you allow them to use it for free with the agreement they will promote it.  Maybe book them with a very large price tag to help you float for the next 6 months.  Whatever the agreement is, make sure you can find a market leader who will provide the credibility necessary for others to follow.

3.  Social Proof.  Although your product is not inherently social, you can still figure out ways to bake in social proof to the everyday use of your product.  It’s the old hotmail bit… every time an email message was sent, hotmail automatically added to the end of each message “Get your private, free email at http://www.hotmail.com”.  This idea is still one of the best marketing concepts every created.  Figure out how to implement it your own unique way.

4.  Find the Influencers.  The main thing I tried to nail home with my friend was he needed to find the one percent, the main target users who will become the influencers for his product.  Together with the above mentioned ideas, this is how you integrate yourself into the proper distribution channels.

And to bring it home, here is the only way I could describe it to him.

Dude, I just started blogging 2 weeks ago.  When you start a blog, you begin writing with the knowledge that only 20 or 50 people will be reading your stuff.  I quickly realized this and decided I needed to ink a few distribution deals if I was going to grow my readers.  I reached out to John Cook at Geekwire.com.  He like it and got me on there.  I reached out to an editor at BusinessInsider.com.  She liked it and hooked me up.  Now, thousands of people are reading my stuff and it is starting to grow.  People are adding me on Twitter like crazy (that was your que) and now they are connected to me independent of those resources.  Without those distribution deals, I was dead in the water.  You need to do the equivalent of that with your product or you will never grow.