Sam’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

VCET Vice President, Sam Roach-Gerber, gives her top 10 tips for aspiring entrepreneurs! Check it out:

I was recently asked by our friends over at Burlington Code Academy to host a Lunch & Learn. I queued up my go-to “about VCET” presentation but quickly realized that there was something seriously missing. I had talked about tips for getting hired by startups, but I hadn’t talked about my passion: getting smart people to start their own company!

Dave and I met with over 250 entrepreneurs last year alone, so as you can imagine, I have a lot of thoughts about what makes a successful entrepreneur. As Dave says “we’ve seen a lot of movies.” Needless to say, patterns emerge. So in attempting to convince BCA’s latest cohort to start their own companies, I was able to boil down all of my advice for aspiring entrepreneurs into one slide: Sam’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs. Drumroll, please…

#1 Begin with the hardest question: What do you want out of it?

You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs I work with can’t answer this question. The bottom line here is this: if you cannot clearly and succinctly answer this question, you are not ready to start a business. Take your time, and really think about it. Do you want a side hustle? Do you want to be able to quit your “day job”? Do you want to exit within 5-7 years and make millions? Whatever it is, you MUST have a clear vision at the beginning. No excuses (especially since you’re allowed to change your mind).

#2 Build a prototype but know when to stop.

This applies to everyone, but primarily I’m looking at YOU, coders! Just because you CAN build something, doesn’t mean you should. Unless you are doing it purely for fun, you are wasting your time with a fancy-schmancy app, website, tool, etc that no one besides you (and maybe your mom) thinks is awesome. It will be difficult, but contain your excitement and build something (typically called a prototype or an MVP) that is just good enough to test. This applies to you too hardware, apparel, and CPG people!

#3 Find your customer and LISTEN to them.

This may be the #1 mistake that I see. Proving your idea is worth pursuing (and investing in) is only possible if you’ve found lots of customers that are excited about the idea and willing to pay for your solution. And yes, you need to do this BEFORE building out your fancy-schmancy product or service. This is the “traction” that investors care so much about. But don’t stress out…in some cases, this could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet with 150 people that have shown interest in your product or service.

#4 Are you solving a problem? Is your solution either better or cheaper than others?

This is another big one. You must be able to prove that your business is solving a problem…or as Dave would say, solving “friction or frustration” for the customer. Otherwise, your business is not appealing to anyone besides you (and maybe your mom). It’s also worth mentioning that your business doesn’t necessarily need to be a novel idea…as long as it is better or cheaper than the competition. In other words, what’s your secret sauce?

#5 Prove profitability (even if it’s still fiction).

This should be obvious…but you’d be surprised. Your business needs to make money. If it’s not currently making money, that’s okay! You just need to prove that making money is feasible with a solid business model (these are your financial projections). And I have some good news…pretty much every possible business model has already been invented! Yay! So you don’t have to reinvent the wheel…just find a business model that works, and apply it.

#6 Solo founders can be a red flag. Build a team. Find people that are good at the things that you are not good at.

The old saying “two heads are better than one” is no joke. Also, having more than one founder is a signal to investors that there is real buy-in and momentum. Haven’t found the right co-founder(s)? Build a small but powerful group of advisors to help get you moving in a convincing direction.

#7 Keep track: conversations, milestones, mistakes, etc.

You’ll thank me later for this one. Trust me, you’ll want to remember this journey whether for logistical and financial reasons or otherwise. Also, every single thing you do helps prove that you have traction, which is useful to track especially if you’re fundraising.

#8 Ask for help: Advisors, investors, interns, etc.

This just in: you don’t have to do everything yourself. I’m going to say it again…you. don’t. have. to. do. everything. yourself. There are people (like me) whose job it is to LITERALLY just HELP people like you start businesses. So don’t be afraid to ask! More good news…the worst thing that could happen is they say no – and you move on.

#9 Be coachable. Criticism will make you stronger, so don’t get defensive.

If there is one characteristic most successful entrepreneurs I know carry, it is that they are all coachable. They receive feedback, criticism, or rejection with resiliency and grace…and guess what? They always bounce back.

#10 It’s okay to change your mind.

Entrepreneurs don’t hear this enough…but it’s true! Behind every successful entrepreneur, there is usually a laundry list of failed attempts, big and small. Learn and grow from each attempt, and move on! Your health, happiness, and family should always come first.

Published and edited by VCET Marketing Associate, Nicole Mattos-Parodi.