Ever since I was young, I was a huge proponent of “being prepared’. I think it was especially hammered home as an Eagle Scout — “Be prepared” is the Boy Scout Motto after all. And in Entrepreneurship, I think being prepared can be a game-changer — one that separates the good from the greats.

I learned the importance of being prepared while preparing for and running my Eagle Scout Project — a food and clothing drive with North Fulton Charities. Coordinating with the North Fulton organization, the local Kroger, the many neighborhoods in the Alpharetta area, and of course, with my hardworking Scout volunteers… it was all a pain. No doubt about it.  However, the drive ran so well, we received donations that overflowed one of those trailers you see being towed by monster SUVs.  It was really was, I believe, a rousing success, and it ran so well because of preparation and planning.

As I’m heading into our second year (since launch) of Body Boss, the notion and importance of “being prepared” has never rang more true.  In my effort to keep my blogs going with bullet points, here are a few “be prepared” moments that come to mind…

  • Conferences. Conferences are especially great places to market and sell many products and services.  However, preparation can really set yourself apart and really be a great marketing and sales diving board if done well.  Be prepared to standout from the sea of vendors.

  • Get in the mind of your customers.  Sales is all about understanding needs, right? Well, being prepared in this case means knowing who the buyer is, what’s he/ she looking for, and being prepared to answer the hard questions. Think of it like an interview. Be prepared so the interviewer asks you a question you’re ready for, or to show that you’ve done your own homework.
  • Be ready to pitch at a moment’s notice.  At any given time, there’s a 50-50 chance I have my computer with me, or at least a pen and paper. I also carry a deck of business cards and Body Boss one-pagers. Like the little robot kids at Disney say, “it’s a small world”.  At any moment, you can run into a prospective customer or a valuable partner. I remember once in Denver at a Starbucks (of course), I saw two big guys in athletic apparel walk up and sit down. I casually laid out some Body Boss collateral on the table nearby acting like I was looking at them. It eventually led them to ask about Body Boss. They were entrepreneurs who were former college football players, and one was a coach at a nearby high school. We talked about sales opportunities and other licensing deals.
  • Be prepared for the fight. Being an entrepreneur is tough. I think I’ve mentioned the toll it takes on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Going full-time on one also demands a level of financial preparedness, too. Be ready so when it comes down to do or die time, you’re ready to go full steam ahead and you’ve got the conditioning to push through the ebbs. Entrepreneurship isn’t a sprint… it’s a marathon… made up of sprints. Really.

You can’t prepare for everything. However, if you prepare right, you’re likely able to mitigate the impact should something go wrong. Or, you’ve prepared yourself to seize the moment. One of my favorite quotes to live by is from Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”.

What are your thoughts about “being prepared”? How has “being prepared” helped your cause either in a startup or otherwise?

My buddy just sent me this article from The Next Web about the potential costs to build some of today’s big players in “startups” including Twitter, Instragram, Facebook, Uber, etc (see “How much does it cost to build the world’s hottest startups?“).  They’re not really startups anymore, though, I’d argue.  But of course, they used to be.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Twitter:  May not take long to build the core — 10 hours and a good $160 Ruby on Rails course.  But to really get to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) you have to pour in about $50K-$250K for processes, infrastructure, and the like.
  • Facebook: One expert quoted $500K (min) and 9 months of development and design team.  The real costs, however, is the support.  The expert estimates a monthly burn-rate of $30MM just for its infrastructure so we can Like, Share, and watch videos of kittens!
  • Uber: Uber “scrapped by” with $50MM to build what the service is now, and then Google and Benchmark rammed another $258MM since August.  Artem Fishman (VP of Huge) estimates an MVP would have cost about $1.0-1.5MM to develop.  However, beyond the app itself, there is lots of costs to navigate local legislations and permits to think about.
  • There are several other hot “startups” on the list including Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.  Check out the article to read more.  
What made this interesting for me also coincided with the notion of building a startup and a recent post on David Cumming’s blog post “Can’t the Software Just be Knocked Off“.  It’s also a notion people have asked me in regards to Body Boss.  The question makes many people think about keeping their ideas quiet, or even gives people a notion that they can just copy another program and have the same success or even better.  Some personal thoughts:
  • A company is an iceberg.  What you see in a front-end either in an app or even marketing material is just the tip of the iceberg.  Beneath the water is a whole lot of you-don’t-know-what that really makes a business a business.  Costs to build an app is oftentimes (especially in the long-run) the tiniest line item compared to everything else it costs to maintain a successful app.
  • It’s about the experience.  I’m not an Apple fan, but they have customer service down in ways Microsoft has really never been able to copy.  Just watch Microsoft Stores vs. an Apple store.  The culture ingrained in Apple just oozes a satisfying customer experience.  With apps, making a simple, easy-to-use experience is not simple.  It’s also what makes things like Tinder blow up (with users).
  • You don’t know what you don’t know.  Companies and their products/ services get refined iteration after iteration.  Through customer usage, interviews, and just being in the space, they learn what makes products and customers tick and tock.  Similar to the iceberg analogy above, a startup who has learned and iterated knows things that knockoffs may struggle with because they haven’t experienced it.
  • Value of an App?  $500K.  Value of Your Network?  Priceless. I’m trying to be clever here with a reference to Mastercard commercials (here’s a good one), but the point is that many times, what can make or break a product/ service is the company’s network (connections).  I know there’s a suggestion somewhere about suggested network size for B2B startups, but I can’t figure it out or find it.  If someone knows it, let me know.  Essentially, have a large, quality network in the market you’re approaching.
  • Cost of Entry is Low.  With so many frameworks and Software Development Kits (SDK) available, it’s pretty easy to have a copycat program ready to go and live in a short amount of time.  And because of that, almost anyone can do it.  (My friends and I’s first foray into entrepreneurship, we used a framework based off of fmylife.com and created abigeffu.com where users could dish “A Big Eff U” to… anything or anyone.  It’s since shutdown and is being squatted on.)  What’s difficult is getting repeat users/ customers because they’re being inundated with like-products.  Instead, standing out is the hardest part.  If you’re going to build a similar product/ offering, you need to add elements that will “wow” users of existing products to woo them onto yours.
  • Don’t be Shy to Share.  Lastly, the notion of someone copying your idea or product is valid, but not all that probable from the get-go.  Everyone is pretty busy as it stands.  I mean, when was the last time you heard a great idea like Uber or some social app, and you started building one?  Sharing your idea with others allows you to iterate and discover who your customers are and what they want before potentially ever writing a single line of code.  There is so much more to building a startup from an idea creating a big hurdle from just anyone copying you — expertise, grit, and those things outlined above.
So what are your take-aways or thoughts about building copy cat products/ services?  How would you go about building a similar product, but tackling the market with a new twist?

Thought this was a good article from my LinkedIn feed: 10 Tips to be an Effective Innovator by Gijs van Wulfen.  Innovation is one of those buzzwords that people think is for entrepreneur or companies with disruptive technology.  However, it’s really applicable everywhere.

From a supply chain transformation perspective, outsourcing logistics (for example) can be innovative.  The tasks to accomplish this feat are tough, and you will find yourself on one side of the table challenged by internal team members.  You may be in the position where you need to be the one to connect all the dots (key stakeholders) and really drive change.

In startups, innovation is the name of the game really.  Point 4 about Discovering Needs is so critical.  Being innovative means nothing if you don’t know the pain points of your target market.  Further, you can quickly realize potentially an innovative way to approach a problem by brainstorming with prospective customers.  It’s likely that founders of startups have been in a particular industry for a while so much of their experience can be parlayed into building a startup.  That should also mean that founders have good connections to potential buyers and have heard the pain points and the needs of target customers.

Yes, this article can even be useful thinking about yourself and what you (or others do) in a social setting.  Just think about how some of these tips by van Wulfen could be leveraged in your group of friends.  I know personally when I try to get friends to get together, it’s much like herding cats.  Taking some of these tips such as Tip 3 Facilitating or even Do Things Fast (Tip 9) can be critical so that decisions are made and the group moves forward.

Anyways, you should give van Wulfen’s article a read.  What are your thoughts about the being effective in innovation?  Or how have you been an effective INNOVATOR?