Flying Lessons in Serial Entrepreneurship
Benjamin W. Bobo, MBA, CEO of Cerenetex, serial entrepreneur and trailblazer in the medical device space, sat and sipped some business-growing caffeine with me. He got his start as a pilot in the AirForce and eventually migrated to the medical devices field where he has learned how to fly through a lot of business storms, including six startups. He is currently in the early stages of his startup, Cerenetex, and shares wisdom gleaned from this and other experiences.
“Finding an early-stage investor keeps me up at night,” he says.
This is understandable for any early-stage startup that doesn’t yet have their MVP (minimum viable product) and needs to get capital investments to move forward. Yet it’s kind of a “chicken and the egg” challenge where you need the capital to complete the product, and you often need the product to get the capital. This is why finding an early-stage investor, someone who is willing to take those big risks with you early on, is so crucial. If you need to attract capital to reach the product stage, then you need a proven proof of concept to sell.
“I would say to anybody doing a startup, especially from an investor perspective,” says Ben, “is invest in that third party research so it validates your thesis or premise . . . that is probably the biggest investment you can make early-stage as you try and track or draw your investors in.”
Halle-freaking-lujah. It has always been mind-numbing to me how many people skip this market research stage. So many spend so much time and money to go into the market with a product–with a “build it and they will come attitude”– not even knowing if they have a valid product. So to invest the time and money to really understand if you have a product somebody will even buy is so essential.
If you’re offered money at the beginning, never say no. Some people understandably want to be very thoughtful about their investors, but when you’re trying to just “get liftoff” as Ben says in an early-stage startup, anything and everything helps. Once the risk has been taken out, a lot of people will “come to the dance,” and you can be more selective.
Another piece of advice: slow down. The road to growth is not a straight road and you need to be able to stay steady and focused. CEOs can feel like they are under a microscope at a high velocity, which makes you miss a lot of the obvious stuff (like market research). Sometimes you need to slow down and think about things methodically and thoughtfully–make sure you’re asking the right questions. Maybe it feels like you are accomplishing a lot of things, but they might not be the right things that convert to success.
To be an entrepreneur or not to be? Perhaps the most important question, even before all the early-stage stuff, is to ask the critical question and determine the critical answer: do I even want to be an entrepreneur? In big corporations or large organizations, life is more safe and certain, but often your soul must be sacrificed for that security. Yet there is a lot of romantic idealism about what being an entrepreneur is about. There is a tremendous risk being an entrepreneur, so it’s important to do your research and really know what you might be leaping off the ledge into. A lot of people will look to the stories of the Apples, Microsoft, and Facebook and think “that could be me,” but there are a lot of similarly smart people whose luck did not give them that liftoff. Entrepreneurs in it for the long haul need to have risk-loving personalities, patience and find the work soul-filling in order to stay on the often dangerous and unpredictable road to growth. You also need to make sure that what you’re doing is true to your heart and to yourself. Don’t listen to doubters, even if they are in your family.
Who you bring to work at your table is as equally important as the money you put on it.
Ben has “a no asshole rule.” I like that rule.
“There are people that will come in with a lot of things they haven’t settled in their psyche. You can tell early on based on their interactions that they don’t have a lot of emotional intelligence . . . sometimes you need an antagonist, but at the core of it, there are certain machiavellian personalities.”
You need to do a personality test to see if they’re a good fit (this echoes my show on hiring HERE) for you and your company. You don’t want the guy or girl that just pushes back to be difficult or wants all the attention in their room all the time. You need people who are comfortable with push-back and challenge along with sharing their opinion, but fundamentally understands the collaborative need of the group.