Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Are the best startup founders young or old?

November 23, 2009

I recently heard a University lecturer say “entrepreneurship is a young mans game”. Investors do prefer younger founders.  The well-respected startup investor Yossi Vardi: “I generally invests in young entrepreneurs”. The average Y-combinator or Seedcamp winner tends to be in their 20’s.  However there is no best age to be an entrepreneur.  There are benefits and draw-backs to both young and older founders. Being  a successful entrepreneur is derived from the ability to  learn, having  an inner driver and maintaining the right attitude.

Our web app startup operates from a student/post grad startup incubator. I see alot of young startup entrepreneurs coming through. Most startup founders at the incubator are either young or middle-aged.  A recent US report showed that the average age of startup founders is 39! There are benefits and draw backs to both young and old founders:

  1. Energy – Youth brings an abundance of energy. Startups require alot of energy. You have to work hard, often and late. However startups are more of a marathon than a sprint. They  require long-term mental and physical stamina to succeed.
  2. Enthusiasm – The danger with enthusiasm is it does not always last  in the young and inexperienced. Startup projects can be dropped as enthusiasm wanes and reality kicks-in. It is important to be committed on a path whether young or older.
  3. Experience –  A younger entrepreneur is often eager to learn and has fresh ideas untainted by working as an employee. Whereas an older founder often has great industry knowledge. Research shows that companies are more likely to survive if the entrepreneur is older, and has previous business experience.
  4. Money – Older startup founders tend to have more capital to invest than younger entrepreneurs. However older founders outgoing’s tend to be much higher with kids, houses, etc..
  5. Risk – Younger entrepreneurs are often less risk averse than older founders because they haven’t got so much on the line i.e. outgoings and responsibilities.
  6. Time – Without responsibilities a young founder can focus just one  thing – working hard on the startup. Sequoia Venture’s Michael Moritz.:  “distractions like families and children…that get in the way of business” . They also have time to make mistakes that can be learnt from and then try again.
  7. Innocents – The young tend to be more naive on how hard startups can be. Whereas the older tend to be more worldly-wise.

VC’s prefer more youthful startup founders because they have  fresh ideas and can more easily be managed. The best founders are probably older serial entrepreneurs with both startup know-how and market experience.  However they can suffer from destructive excessive egos at times.

There is no best age to start a company. Age plays both ways. It can be a strength or a weakness in either age group. Attitude and an inner driver, with a sprinkling of luck, is more crucial than age. An entrepreneur is  made by building upon an individuals fundamental personal qualities, including determination, and not age.


Learning from big & small startups successes

August 4, 2009

Just as you and your startup needs to learn from failures you should also learn from success. This is not as easy as you think. The vast majority of startup successes are small and subtle incremental steps. The startup that hits upon a instant meteoric rise to fame and fortune is rare. These are the ones we hear about in the news. We can learn from the small incremental successes within our startups, from our competitors and from the well publicised successes of others to build greater success with our businesses.

Reach for the Stars

Startups reach for the stars (Source)

Five sources of learning from success:

  1. Others successes – Learn from other startup founders, business managers, sports people, etc. Much of  where, when and how they succeeded will probably be different from your situation. Success is  often anchored to a  time and a place. However the fundamental principles of success remain the same. Understand these and use them. These principles are all around us: in books, the Internet,  at conferences, etc. Listen and learn from them.
  2. Successful startups – Where are other startups in your industry succeeding and growing in the current market? Understand their strategy: offering; route to market; and messaging. I’m not necessarily suggesting copying them. Use and adapt their successes to your own startup and target market.
  3. Investor advice – They are often brutally harsh but also honest. Get out there amongst the investment community. Speak to Angel’s and VC’s. Their opinions are based on experiences of what  they’ve seen work successfully. They may tell you your strengths and how you can play on them.
  4. Successful competitors – What’s working for your direct competition? Find out where they are  achieving success and improve on what they do or how they work. This could be their messaging, channel, pricing, etc. If the market is growing fast and big enough you could even simply copy them and share the success.
  5. Your own successes – Startup successes are often very small and subtle. Listen and look out for them. These small successes need to be connected to a startups overall goal and purpose. In this way they can be  built upon, nurtured and grown into much bigger successes.  Experiment with new ideas from others and learn from where they work.  Jason Fried of 37 Signal fame believes rather than just learning from failure “you should put most of your energy into studying your successes.”

In the classic book Good to Great Jim Collins refers to the flywheel analogy. The flywheel is slow and heavy to start and requires many small pushes. But once moving it has powerful momentum. This idea also applies to startups. Understand the fundamentals of small successes. Build momentum through each successive achievement towards your startups overarching goal. These early successes can easily be forgotten or missed. Look out for them and be persistent. Also be patient and keep focused on moving forward. As Benjamin Disraeli said “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”


Learning to fail: Startups aren’t really trying unless their failing

July 21, 2009

Your startup baby will fail at some point. Failure is natural. Its just like when you took your first steps. Failure is an inherent/systemic part of learning. The moment a baby tries to walk they will fall but they always get back up to try again. Will  you and your startup try again after  failing? Startup failures can be small or catastrophic. The thing is to overcome failures quickly. Lessons must be learnt. Otherwise the same failures will be repeated again and again. Failure will then become permanent.


Taking our first steps

Learning to fail from a startups first steps:

  1. Step 1 – Fail to trySome startups have  heaps of ideas but don’t actually implement a single one. Fear of failure may hold them back or they run out of enthusiasm as the reality of the challenge kicks in. Be prepared to fail.
  2. Step 2 – Fail & learn – Startups fail all the time. Small failures can be an unused feature or a poor marketing campaign.  Constant  small failures are an extremely important business lesson. Use them. An old friend calls it “the MBA of life”. We have to learn to be entrepreneur’s and innovate through failure.
  3. Step 3 – Learn & change – We are all at different levels of personal development. The important thing is to Know thyself. See your strengths and weaknesses. Learn to compensate weaknesses with others and let them bring out your strengths. VC’s and Angels look for well balanced teams for good reason.
  4. Step 4 -Try again – If a startup is not getting customer traction re-align the service or product around customers real needs. If the startup won’t or can’t change, quit and move on. Startups often fail to engage customer needs.
  5. Step 5 – Keep learning & trying –  Even when you have a successful startup pulling revenues ,  managing cash flow and  enjoying profits you have to  continue to  fail.  Any startup or mature business has to stay ahead of their competition. Successful Amazon boss Jeff Bezos still fails trying.

You and your startup aren’t really trying unless your failing. Failure does not mean taking all or nothing chances. Put yourself in a position where your experimenting with smaller manageable losses and keep trying. Churchill said: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Related posts:

I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard.

Learning is the source

June 25, 2009

I’m starting to sound like a Brad Sugars fan.  The thing is he makes some good sense. Brad seems to have a strong understanding of people and business. This was learnt from being an entrepreneur since a teenager. He’s put this knowledge to good use and has been successful.

Like me, Brad has a passion for learning. In this video Brad talks about the five stages of learning to truly become an entrepreneur:  (0) Employee (1) Self employed (2) Manager (3) Owner (4) Investor & (5) Entrepreneur.

CAUTION: Brad will try and sign you up to his coaching service

I have repeatedly talked about the importance of learning in this blog: ‘The spirit of Entrepreneurship‘ being in us all; learning how to pitch an idea through repeatedly trying and failing; learning  to over come your fears to live your dreams; Rachel Elnaugh’s learning experiences; and anyone can learn to be a designer.

The one thing we can’t make more of is time and learning takes time. If your not fulfilling your learning potential start now. Learning is the source in life!! 😉

The spirit of Entrepreneurship

May 19, 2009

This is a great video! It’s viral but worth talking about. Micheal Acton-Smith Re-Tweeted the link last week.  The video is very well made and makes some good points.

The term Entrepreneur has many different interpretations. Unfortunately academics can’t seem to agree on a definition. The press often put Entrepreneurs onto a heroic pedestal. They tend to focus in on the big risks and the big winners. Like the video I believe we are all Entrepreneurs. The essence of Entrepreneurship is about experimenting and learning. Which most of us did alot more of as ‘kids’.

Companies can also be entrepreneurial. Some organisations learn and adapt better than others. Universities can even be entrepreneurial risk takers. Employees don’t even have to leave their jobs to be entrepreneurial. Just as long as they are learning and growing. Why can’t an employee dream of over coming difficult challenges, making a difference and a better world? They can! However the problem comes when employers hold back employees ideas.

Unfortunately organisations often don’t let employees experiment and innovate. Business politics gets in the way of trying new things. Employees can then loose their individual entrepreneurial spirit and the job becomes a 9-5 routine. Being self employed holds a dream of hope for many. However the risks can seem just to high to leave. I’ve heard this so many times, “I wish I could have my own company”.   The answer in this video is that you can. You just need to be prepared to try out new ideas and learn fast.

Elevator Pitch 2.0: Are you Listening & Learning?

May 15, 2009

I took part in another pitch competition this week and didn’t win, yet again.  However I learnt alot more than the previous pitch. The first pitch was to a camera in a booth. Unfortunately I received no feedback from the judges. How can I improve if I don’t get feedback! This weeks two minute Nott Tuesday pitch competition was to a live panel (Mike Butcher The Editor, Doug Ashby The Entrepreneur and Duncan James The Lawyer). They gave me some excellent feedback during a three minute Q&A to learn from.

Nott Tuesday Pitch Q&A Photo

Aware Monitoring looking more  like Rappers (photo by Nick Walker)

Here’s a link to all Nick Walkers’s event photographs. The pitchers at the event were (in presenting order):

  1. Simon Oxley and I from Aware Monitoring with our Website monitoring and Web infrastructure monitoring service. Click here for our pitch slide deck on Slideshare.
  2. Darren Ramowski from, who’s a really nice bloke,  gave a very relaxed pitch about his great golf website. The judges loved Golfshake and its international potential. Time for Darren to learn how to go Global now!
  3. Next up was Kamran Hussein from Buyers4Cars with an innovative startup that allows car buyers rather than sellers to advertise their vehicles.
  4. Tadhg Kelly from Simple Lifeforms have just released their first social game and I’m sure they will go very big with this game or one of the next games they’ve line-up.
  5. Last, but no means least was Nik Le Page who pitched an idea on online profile management. Nik won an extra award because he was a last minute and enthusiastic entrant.

I’d like to have come first in both pitch contests, who wouldn’t. However there is probably more to gain from not winning. Sore looser you may think. But learning often means putting yourself in a difficult situation where you will be challenged and probably won’t succeed. We have to go out of our comfort zones to learn. It’s the hard lessons that often have the most impact.

Pitching is a vital skill for any startup. As founders we need the ability to effectively pitch to everyone: investors; journalists; customers; partners; co-workers; etc. Therefore we’ve got to work hard on our pitching skills. For more tips on pitching listen to Tim Berry (Angel/Entrepreneur) and his seasoned advice.

All situations in life can be learnt from whether we win or loose a business pitch, customer deal, sports competition or our new product is a failure. Only by listening and learning from the challenges we can improve. The business coach Brad Sugars said something that stuck in my mind – “work on yourself as much as you work on your business.”

Growing as an individual is about Lifelong Learning“the pursuit of knowledge is not confined to childhood or the classroom, but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations”. So what have I learnt from my Pitch 2.0 feedback? I’ve understood the importance of being relaxed, spending more time on what the product is, our forward strategy and the investor greed inducement.  Until the next pitch! Which is going to be real soon with a National Pitch competition. I’m a sucker for punishment 😉