A Commencement Speech for Entrepreneurs in the Class of 2013
Tis the season for the drudgery of graduations. No offense to the graduates, but most graduations are 90 seconds of interest, (the march across the stage by your child or one of their friends), packed into hours of tedium, often pinnacling with 20 minutes of platitudes in the form of the dreaded "Commencement Speech." With a few exceptions, most of these speeches are just recycled encouragements voiced out to a hot and sweaty crowd which is more excited for the after-party than the graduation itself.
If I were to give a commencement speech to all of the new entrepreneurs of the 2012-2013 graduating class, it would be short and sweet. Here it is:
"Congratulations on getting started in the great adventure of building businesses and realizing your dreams. As you launch out into the world with your ideas, business plans, and market-conquest offerings, let me give you a few words of advice that apply to all entrepreneurs regardless of your business.
First, Always start with your customers--You may be tempted to start with your logo, website, message, pricing, or methods of approaching your market. Resist these distractions. Get clear on your customer. If you really want to build an amazing company, you need to be crystal clear on who your customer is. Where does she eat, shop, walk, visit online, and follow on social media. What does he worry about, pay too much for, and scrimp on as he makes his purchases in life. Always start with your customer. If you feel yourself getting stuck in your growth or having problems in your business plan, don't check your reports and spreadsheets. Go sit with customers.
Second, Revenue can't be delegated--Inventors like to create. Accountants like to count and technology people like to play with new tools. Regardless of your bias, the one part of your business you cannot delegate to someone else is the vigilant focus on generating revenue. No one will be more intimately connected to the need for oxygen than the person who is choking. Revenue is oxygen. It's your job to keep the oxygen flowing.
Third, Build your company like you'll own it forever, create value to sell it tomorrow--There are lots of stories of Silicon Valley teenage millionaires. I love rags-to-riches stories as much as anyone- after all, it is a part of the American Dream. Every step you take in building your business should have the idea that the value you are creating is measurable RIGHT NOW. Every day you have a chance to opt out of your business--to sell it, close it, or change it. That's the great opportunity of being an entrepreneur. If you can't measure the value that a buyer would see in the business, it is very possible you are not building a valuable business. That means that it's not a business, it is a hobby that funds your lifestyle. Businesses have measurable value. Build a company that you love to run forever, but make certain that it is valuable enough someone else would pay to have it.
Fourth, Do your own math--The stories of mishandled bookkeeping, accounting and reporting are LEGION. "I don't understand the accounting side of the business very well..." is an unacceptable approach to running your business. Do your own math and you will understand your business. Of course you need accountants, auditors and bookkeepers- but make certain you do your own math when you look at all of this information.
Becoming an entrepreneur is the path you have chosen. Be forewarned that this is the road less traveled. The destination is limitless--get on the road. One last note, don't travel the road alone. Surround yourself with entrepreneurs who have already gone down the path you are just starting to travel. They love the road and most will be willing to walk alongside you if you ask."