With technology today, entrepreneurs can build almost anything. But there is not an entrepreneur alive who can manufacture customers.
Among startups, the temptation is great to focus on product, technology and financing when the number one thing that causes most companies to fail is the lack of people who are able and willing to buy at a price that is profitable.
There is no business unless what the entrepreneur is creating solves a serious problem — a problem that involves something significant like love, money, house, or job — for a large group of customers.
That's the mantra of Bob Dorf, serial entrepreneur and author, along with Steve Blank, of the best-seller “The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company.”
“Before you start writing code or building a prototype, or doing whatever it is that you are going to do,” Dorf says, “put at least equal energy into talking to customers, figuring out who they are going to be, how you are going to get them, the problems they have that you can solve, and what they are willing to pay.”
Dorf will be the keynote speaker Oct. 11 at Oklahoma's Entrepreneurial Summit, a new event that combines an exciting program created specifically for entrepreneurs with the popular Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur event for college students.
An adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School in New York City who teaches entrepreneurs and coaches companies from Mexico to Russia, Dorf's message to entrepreneurs is to not talk to friends and family — but use friends and family to gain introductions to people who are one step removed — to get honest, even painful, feedback, to prove or disprove all the elements of the business plan.
We've invited Dorf to talk to Oklahoma's best and brightest entrepreneurs and our student “want-to-be's” because we think his message is spot-on.
The effervescence of the 1990s has long fizzled out. In today's economic climate, investors want to see marketing traction before they write checks. They want to know that a solution is unique, repeatable and makes real customers' eyes light up.
From Ardmore to Ponca City, entrepreneurial Oklahomans have the ideas, intellectual capacity, and tenacity to start successful companies. On Oct. 11 at the Entrepreneurial Summit, Bob Dorf will teach them the importance of reaching out to customers.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
In the first quarter of 2013, 18.1 percent of reported angel-group investments were in the Southwest, edging out investments in California (17.4 percent), with 81 percent of investments made in angel groups' home state.