Monday, March 5, 2012


A Necessity for You or for your Business?

Kid riding a bike with training wheels
 ~ Initially, most of us learn to ride a bicycle with training wheels. Most of us can’t wait to get the training wheels off, and many take them off too soon. Sure, we all want to look like the cool kids, whipping along apace like we were born with the 27-speed as an extension of ourselves. Greg Lemond and other top riders capture our attention and admiration, but who saw Greg Lemond learning the basics of riding through trial and error on his bike? We know of him only as the consummate expert; his ascension to the top tier of competition was mostly unseen and unknown.

If we ride, we all aspire to be Greg Lemond, or some other world-class cyclist who makes the exhausting hill climb and the later leisurely triumph down the Champs-Élysées look easy, even effortless.

Learning to build a startup is much like learning to ride a bicycle; you need to start with the training wheels.

Many first time entrepreneurs aspire to get to the Tour de France without dispatch. But you can’t compete at that level or get sponsors until you first show that you can really ride. How do you do that? Practice and demonstrated mastery which is the result of tireless and sustained effort where you both learn and show you have the potential, the grit, and the work ethic to succeed. You do this mostly alone, in obscurity, and for your own benefit.

Startups are no different. Investors (sponsors) first want to see that you are a very good rider who is already a master, with skills and the temperament to continuously excel.

Sure, having a sponsor early solves a lot of problems. You can buy equipment, fill out your team, fund all kinds of expenses in getting you, your team, and your equipment to those venues that will allow you to show you belong in major competitive events. But land that big sponsor too early, and fail to perform, and you will lose not only your sponsor, but any real chance to acquire sponsorship ever after.

Bootstrapping a business is like using training wheels on a bicycle. You can learn how to ride in a restricted environment where it is harder to fall on your face. You learn the basics of steering, of guiding the business where you want it to go, and mistakes have minor impact on anyone other than yourself.

With the training wheels of course it is also much harder to go fast. But first things first.

I’ve bootstrapped businesses. It’s great but limiting at the same time. The challenges of imagining, creating and building your own business are great, but also rewarding. You can, and must, go a long way on your own before you have the credibility, and the experience, to have the sponsors and the team.

Can you compete at the Tour de France without sponsors? It's possible, but also very unlikely, and very hard to be a top finisher. Sponsorship, in the form of investors for your business, matters, but you must earn them as you earn everything else in building your success.

First show you have what it takes to succeed on your own, and then others will come to aid you you in achieving at a higher level. Try to go too far, too fast, and worst, too soon, and you'll just fall on your face. First be a solid and proficient rider, and only then seek the backing for greatness.

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