MassChallenge founder and CEO John Harthorne explains what early-stage entrepreneurs can take away from the experiences of more than 350 start-ups that have participated in his annual $1 million global start-up competition and accelerator program since 2010.
1. Everything. Now. More.
It is difficult to overstate the passion exhibited by most early-stage entrepreneurs. What many passionate founders forget is that intention without action is just daydreaming. Top entrepreneurs live every day with the fiery obsession to spark their revolution in reality. It's rarely money and greed that motivates the serious entrepreneur. It's a vision.
2. Think big. Act big.
Launching a small company is just as difficult as launching a large one. It may be even easier to launch a big company, because big ideas attract big thinkers and big resources. It generally isn't worth the effort to create a start-up unless your ultimate goal is total global domination. You may need to take baby steps at first, of course, but you should be targeting a major impact as your ultimate goal. Launch and grow a high-impact business that tackles big problems or makes big changes, or you will struggle to secure key resources and will find it difficult to maintain urgency and commitment.
As the joke goes: "Generous people give others fish. Wise people teach others to fish. Entrepreneurs do not rest until they've shaken up the entire fishing industry."
3. Be "at cause."
Setbacks are guaranteed. Every start-up has hurdles to overcome. Some face bigger challenges than others, but successful founders don't let their circumstance control their outcomes. This is not to say you should ignore reality. It is criucial to observe and listen--but don't let your circumstances define you. If there is an obstacle in your way, go around it or move it. Do not surrender to your challenges. You must remain "at cause" in your universe, even when circumstances are difficult.
4. Seek advice early...and often.
Being an early-stage start-up is lonely and difficult. With so many obstacles to overcome and so few resources, entrepreneurs need to seek out mentors and advice early and often. You wouldn't attempt to climb Mount Everest for the first time without a guide. Why would you risk your opportunity to revolutionize an industry by not seeking out expert advice? In addition to established experts, ask your peers and friends for advice and input. You'll be surprised at how valuable it is to discuss your challenges with others, and you'll be amazed at where you find the most sage advice.
5. Create and share good news.
Early-stage success in a start-up is about momentum and stringing together steps that lead to a big goal. Create good news as fast as you can, and target tangible results that you can easily track with metrics. Relatively small wins like getting press coverage, closing a small funding round, securing a high-value customer, or hiring a known developer, show that you are making progress. That momentum will attract yet more opportunities.
But don't try to fake good news. You must create real progress--but then be sure to share it with others as you go. Supporters want to ride the wave of momentum with you, even if it's not a tidal wave...yet.
John Harthorne is the Founder and CEO of MassChallenge, a start-up accelerator designed to catalyze a start-up renaissance by connecting high-impact start-ups from around the world with the resources they need to launch and succeed. The MassChallenge 2013 application deadline is April 3. @MassChallenge