By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
I have learned over the past six years that the single most important advice I can give an entrepreneur is this: Never underestimate the importance of going fast. Once you stick your head up, the world is going to respond.
Some people will buy into your idea. Others will be quick to tell you why it cannot work. And if your concept is really good, be assured better established market participants with deep, deep pockets will be watching and waiting, ready to pounce.
So how does a savvy entrepreneur go about moving fast? It’s all about cash and customers.
Entrepreneurs need to accept as gospel that cash rules the roost. It’s a hard fact of entrepreneurship that no matter how much investment a startup receives, it will never be enough to do everything the company wants or needs to do.
From Day One (and likely for years thereafter) entrepreneurs succeed by driving a dollar’s worth of value out of every quarter and dime. This takes constant focus and a keen sense of managing the organization to work on only the highest priorities on a startup’s critical path.
In the beginning, that discipline is intuitive as many entrepreneurs live with the very personal pain of tapping into a hard-earned 401K or drawing on a home equity line of credit to fund their ideas.
When outside concept funding finally does materialize, it comes with the temptation to relax the cash management discipline just a tiny bit. And that’s where entrepreneurs can benefit from the advice of someone who knows how difficult a path they still face.
In Oklahoma, our nationally recognized concept fund, the Technology Business Finance Program (with additional funding recently provided by the state) comes with venture services that help entrepreneurs match critical milestones to capital at every stage of the business. Not only do we reinforce the cash management mentality, we help entrepreneurs see around the corners. Having worked with hundreds of Oklahoma startups, we may not know where every pitfall may be, but we have lived through most of them and can certainly help founding teams lower their risk and increase their likelihood of ultimate success.
As important as cash management is, no startup ever became successful through belt tightening alone.
It doesn’t matter how great or ground-breaking the intellectual property is, or whether a startup is in information technology, advanced manufacturing, or biotechnology, every successful startup must find a way to drive sales before the money runs out.
Sales start with connections to potential customers. Oklahoma corporations and other organizations with a vested interest in boosting our innovation economy can help. Investigate the Oklahoma startups in your industry. Consider becoming an early adopter, entering into a joint development project, or connecting your network of potential customers with these innovative new companies.
In entrepreneurship and innovation, speed is the competitive advantage that leads to cash and customers. It is the currency of success.
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.