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Want to Become an Entrepreneur?
Dreamers Unite!

by Lenora Chu

     If you have a pulse in the '90s, chances are you or someone you know has toyed with the idea of starting a business. It's almost the definition of trendy these days! The success stories boast fabulous perks: making a difference, ownership of something you believe in, freedom, flexibility, and yes, there's always independent wealth.

     Join the club! After cornering a few brave souls who have armored up and ventured out into the world of startups, I've compiled a short list of their advice. Here's what they have to say to budding entrepreneurs about to take a dive into the deep end.

1. Be passionate about your great idea.
You don't necessarily have to own the proprietary technology to make cars fly like spaceships, Jetsons' style. Good business ideas can come from anywhere. If you've got an area of expertise, from cutting hair to preparing research reports, why can't you market it? Or, you might encounter a hole in your everyday routine that needs to be filled with a service. What about bringing someone else's successful idea to your neighborhood? What's important is to believe in your mission, otherwise you will quickly lose steam.

2. Be nice to everyone and network, network, network.
Opportunities to meet people who can help you will pop up anywhere and everywhere. Keep in contact with old bosses, former professors, old school buddies. Remember to tip big at restaurants and thank everyone you meet; the next door neighbor or yesterday's waitress could unexpectedly be the one degree of separation between you and venture capital gold. Turn every encounter into an opportunity to tell someone about your business and make a connection that may be useful at a later date.

3. Ooze confidence.
So you weren't the first kid to start up a senior-prom singles hotline in high school. You didn't run the neighborhood's window-washing business. Don't think you can't knock 'em dead. If you've got the mad passion and the will to succeed, then you have the juice to be an entrepreneur. If you sound like you believe in yourself, no one will take the time to doubt you.

4. Market yourself.
Overblown egos can be a turnoff at a cocktail party, but a moderated "toot your own horn" approach can work wonders. Be your own cheerleader and get your name and ideas out there; trust me, no one else will do it for you. By the way, the right company name can speak volumes. Instead of another "Big Earth" or "Computer World," dream up a name so catchy that it rolls off your tongue and tickles your brain.

5. Realize that ideas are a dime a dozen; Execution makes the difference.
Don't delude yourself. If you've thought of it, chances are someone's already tried it. But, a commitment to execution will put distance between you and the other dreamers out there who do only that -- dream. Stay focused. Methodically forge ahead with your plan and do what needs to be done.

6. Know your market.
You must buckle down and research. You don't want to run ahead with the inspiration of the century, only to find that a little company in Kansas already has a critical headstart. Who's your competition? What does the customer need? What are the ups and downs of the industry you're getting into? There are many ways to get the information you need, from holing up in the library to calling up industry and trade associations. Having done the work will pay off in spades later on down the line.

7. Draw up a business plan.
If you can't lay out a detailed explanation or strategic plan for your business idea, chances are you need to focus on stamping out your objectives. Most of what you need is already swimming around in your head; tracking down the relevant data to support your plan becomes second nature. Write it up and whip it out at opportune times. What better way to show potential investors that you mean serious business?

8. Be persistent to the point of obsession.
Besides sheer luck, the biggest difference between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail can be found in the drive and motivation of the founders. Don't stop when the phone hasn't rung in a week. You can will it to ring. Don't be discouraged if you haven't gotten any good press or your 100th potential investor has just hung up on you. Call the next contact on the list. If idea #1 fails, try #2. Push on, even after PG&E turns the lights out. Remember, no pain, no gain.

9. Do good work.
Whether your business idea is service- or product-based, quality will speak for itself once you get rolling. The word-of-mouth channel can be very powerful, especially when it's flooded with raves instead of complaints. Happy customers grease the grapevine gears, and free advertising is always a good thing.

10. Be realistic.
Starting a company is a tough business. Overnight successes are few and far between; those are just the ones you hear about in the media. On the other hand, somebody has to make it?why can't it be you?

So there it is. Do you have a dream? My name is Lenora Chu. I live in San Francisco and I have a dream as much as the next kid on the block. Eight years ago, I traded Houston's humidity and my Texas-bred accent for the beauty of the Bay Area. After graduating from Stanford University, I tackled the corporate world as a management consultant for a number of years, most recently with Strategic Decisions Group in Menlo Park. At SDG, I developed marketing and business strategies for Fortune 500 companies in the high tech and pharmaceuticals industries.

After realizing that my true calling lay in the arts, I decided to pursue the dizzy life of freelance writing and editing. On the business side, I enjoy creating marketing and public relations materials for startups and non-profits; but, my true love lies in publishing and the creative arts. Currently, I devote much of my time to acting, editing, writing and contributing to Bay Area newspapers and publications.

Outside my professional pursuits, I have a passion for reading, tutoring, shopping and goofing around with friends. I love to travel, and have so far touched down on 5 of the earth's 7 continents. If anyone is planning a trip to South America or Antarctica, you know who to call! Keep in touch!

--------------------
E-mail any thoughts to
LenoraChu@alumni.stanford.org

 

 


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