(Originally posted in Harvard Business Review on May 24th,2013)
Cool ideas for new businesses are a dime a dozen. That — plus all the new tech enablers such as instant websites and e-commerce platforms — makes it deceptively easy to start up a new venture. The bigger challenge is to start up a big venture that just happens to be small at first.
Fortunately, real entrepreneurs are growth-obsessed: they cringe when you call them “small.” In fact, I don’t think you can call something entrepreneurship unless it is driven by big vision, big aspiration, and a burning desire and ability to grow — that is a key message in my new book, Worthless, Impossible and Stupid (due out in July). In the book, I tell the stories of scale-up entrepreneurs from around the world, and how they beat the odds to make a mark on their markets.
Here’s a quick test to help you figure out whether you are cut out to be a scale-up entrepreneur. Just answer each question as honestly as you can, Agree or Disagree.
- Something inside compels me to make something that will impact the marketplace.
- I am great at selling things to people that they may not know they want, nor think they have the money to buy.
- I have people on my team who are better than me in several areas of knowledge or practice.
- My venture already has the procedures, policies, and processes in place to be ten times the size we are today.
- When I don’t know what my next step is, I have experienced people I can turn to for ideas.
- There is money out there to fuel a venture that is growing fast; I just have to find it when I am ready.
- When I achieve my objectives I keep raising the bar higher and higher.
- I am one of the best sales people I know.
- Think big; thinking small is a crime.
- I know entrepreneurs just like me who have grown big, fast.
- The sales process is just starting when the customer first says no.
- If my venture stands in one place too long, it runs the risk of perishing. We have to keep moving forward.
- I know how to find great people to hire.
- Nothing gives me a bigger rush than closing a big sale.
- It is more important to know of a big problem that customers have and then look for a solution, than it is to have a solution that is looking for important problems to solve.
- I used to think our great technology would take us to leadership in our market — now I realize it is our team, our organization, our marketing and our ambition to sell.
- Even though I am a startup, I think more like a market leader than a small business.
- (extra credit) If Isenberg were smart, he would make millions from this test and retire.
If you scored 16 or more, the sky is the limit. Go for it.
Why the emphasis on sales? I recently met the head of a startup accelerator who said that entrepreneurs should not be concerned about selling; they can always go out and hire a vice president of sales when they are market ready. Indeed, many would-be entrepreneurs who are drawn by the romantic vision of developing a snazzy new app or product pooh-pooh selling as beneath their dignity.
I don’t think so. I learned a lasting lesson when I was in charge of the Japan market at Voltaire, the Israeli pioneer in the lab and field proven Infiniband open standard technology that makes super computers out of huge racks of commodity computers. Voltaire got the technology down pat but struggled with selling a product that enterprise customers were leery of. It was the CEO’s incredible persistence (and experience) in all aspects of selling — sales organization, compensation, pipeline management, and selling skills — that not only saved Voltaire from oblivion, but eventually propelled it to a NASDAQ IPO. Sale is a big part of scale.
Why the emphasis on attitude? I have found that ambition, which seems to have become a dirty word in some cultures, is a continental divide between self-employment and entrepreneurship. Without it, you will always be a mom-and-pop operation. In Denmark, they call this the “BMW Syndrome” — make enough to buy my BMW, and I have made it. Nothing wrong with that, it just isn’t entrepreneurship. As Apax founder Sir Ronald Cohen puts it, “Your business will grow to the size of your vision .”