When I was just starting out on my first ‘start-up,’ I had the privilege of dining with the late George Rathmann, founder of Amgen and often called the Bill Gates of the biotech industry.Today, some 15 years later, Amgen is valued at over $120 billion.At dinner that evening, George gave me one of the best pieces of business start-up advice I’ve ever received: “You don’t know what business you are in until you get into it. So just start.”I didn’t fully appreciate his advice until the day after I finally started my first company. I say the day after because on the day I started my company I thought I knew what I was getting into. After all, I’d spent a year writing a killer business plan and given George indigestion with my 30-slide pitch deck, accompanied by my breathless commentary.The day after, however, I realized that I knew very little about my business, and the sudden avalanche of issues and opportunities almost overwhelmed me.It’s fascinating to consider successful companies and then trace their history.
For instance…Wrigley started out selling soap, which is hardly an appetizing accompaniment to chewing gum. Amazon started out as an online book store, but now makes most of its profit from cloud computing, something that didn’t even exist when it began. My own first business was about developing treatments for rare pediatric diseases, but before long I found myself in the intranasal supplement market…a surprise to put it mildly.The thing is that, although we start up with one intention in mind, we can quickly find ourselves facing issues and opportunities that we would never have envisaged before we started. At this point, our business plan and pitch deck become pretty much worthless…And our ability to adapt becomes the secret to survival.Amir V. Bhide, author of The Origin and Evolution of New Business, is a leading expert on what it takes to succeed or fail as an entrepreneur. In a study examining hundreds of successful ventures, he concludes:Coping with ambiguity and surprises is more important than foresight, deal making, or recruiting top-notch teams. Entrepreneurs don’t need unique ideas and venture funding. Rather, they must be able to adapt quickly to changing business conditions.The successful entrepreneur is the person who is able to adapt unemotionally to constantly changing circumstances.This is also why so many scientists, engineers and other highly educated entrepreneurs fail: They invent a product and believe in it so much that they’re unable to see the dangers and challenges out there. These are the companies that are gone almost as quickly as they start.More often, however, I meet people who are obsessed with perfecting the business plan before they start. Others say they’re waiting for the economy to recover or for interest rates to change.
Then there are those would-be-entrepreneurs who say they’re too old, too poor, too untalented, or too dumb to start up right now. So, they keep on planning, analyzing, and dreaming.
As a serial entrepreneur having built 3 companies from scratch since 2003 for a total exit valuation of more than $300 million, I’ve never worked more than 5 hours a day, hired even a single full-time employee, or worked from anywhere but home.Additionally, I have no identifiable talent…I was poor…
I was totally unqualified (and still am) for running a company…
And I had no one to offer a helping hand.I did, however, take George’s advice. I decided there’s never a wrong time to start-up and there’s never a bad time to reinvent yourself…so I started my first company in the middle of a recession and my second in the biggest economic collapse in history.
I had to learn this lesson and experience the result for myself. Further, current statistics support George’s advice. Most of the Fortune 100 companies were started in a deep recession. All you have to do is start. The rest you figure out by adaptation.
And you don’t have to learn the hard way…All you have to do is follow along with Secrets to a Successful Start-up, and we can create your new adventure.
So what are you waiting for?Cheers,
A version of this blog post has also been published on Medium.com