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Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

1 day ago

There Are Two Types of Entrepreneurs in the World Make sure you are aware of your type!

Know why it's important.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

The entrepreneur I was meeting with said, "I should be doing crypto, or maybe AI? Aren't those the hot spots? I should look there for a startup idea.”

I shook my head. Yes, they're exciting, but that doesn't mean they're best for you and your business.

“There are different types of entrepreneurs?” he asked.

I said "obviously." Two types, actually. Knowing what type of entrepreneur you are helps you build the right startup.

The two types of businesspeople

The best way for me to describe the two types of entrepreneurs is to start by telling you exactly the kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities I never get excited about: future opportunities.

In the early 1990s, my older brother showed me the World Wide Web and urged me to use it. Unimpressed, I returned to my Super Nintendo.

My roommate tried to get me to join Facebook as a senior in college. I remember thinking, This is dumb. Who'll use it?

In 2011, my best friend tried to convince me to buy bitcoin and I laughed.

Heck, a couple of years ago I had to buy a new car, and I never even considered buying something that didn’t require fossilized dinosaur bones.

I'm no visionary. I don't anticipate the future. I focus on the present.

This tendency makes me a problem-solving entrepreneur. I identify entrepreneurial opportunities by spotting flaws and/or inefficiencies in the world and devising solutions.

There are other ways to find business opportunities. Visionary entrepreneurs also exist. I don't mean visionary in the hyperbolic sense that implies world-changing impact. I mean visionary as an entrepreneur who identifies future technological shifts that will change how people work and live and create new markets.

Problem-solving and visionary entrepreneurs are equally good. But the two approaches to building companies are very different. Knowing the type of entrepreneur you are will help you build a startup that fits your worldview.

What is the distinction?

Let's use some simple hypotheticals to compare problem-solving and visionary entrepreneurship.

Imagine a city office building without nearby restaurants. Those office workers love to eat. Sometimes they'd rather eat out than pack a lunch. As an entrepreneur, you can solve the lack of nearby restaurants. You'd open a restaurant near that office, say a pizza parlor, and get customers because you solved the lack of nearby restaurants. Problem-solving entrepreneurship.

Imagine a new office building in a developing area with no residents or workers. In this scenario, a large office building is coming. The workers will need to eat then. As a visionary entrepreneur, you're excited about the new market and decide to open a pizzeria near the construction to meet demand.

Both possibilities involve the same product. You opened a pizzeria. How you launched that pizza restaurant and what will affect its success are different.

Why is the distinction important?

Let's say you opened a pizzeria near an office. You'll probably get customers. Because people are nearby and demand isn't being met, someone from a nearby building will stop in within the first few days of your pizzeria's grand opening. This makes solving the problem relatively risk-free. You'll get customers unless you're a fool.

The market you're targeting existed before you entered it, so you're not guaranteed success. This means people in that market solved the lack of nearby restaurants. Those office workers are used to bringing their own lunches. Why should your restaurant change their habits? Even when they eat out, they're used to traveling far. They've likely developed pizza preferences.

To be successful with your problem-solving startup, you must convince consumers to change their behavior, which is difficult.

Unlike opening a pizza restaurant near a construction site. Once the building opens, workers won't have many preferences or standardized food-getting practices. Your pizza restaurant can become the incumbent quickly. You'll be the first restaurant in the area, so you'll gain a devoted following that makes your food a routine.

Great, right? It's easier than changing people's behavior. The benefit comes with a risk. Opening a pizza restaurant near a construction site increases future risk. What if builders run out of money? No one moves in? What if the building's occupants are the National Association of Pizza Haters? Then you've opened a pizza restaurant next to pizza haters.

Which kind of businessperson are you?

This isn't to say one type of entrepreneur is better than another. Each type of entrepreneurship requires different skills.

As my simple examples show, a problem-solving entrepreneur must operate in markets with established behaviors and habits. To be successful, you must be able to teach a market a new way of doing things.

Conversely, the challenge of being a visionary entrepreneur is that you have to be good at predicting the future and getting in front of that future before other people.

Both are difficult in different ways. So, smart entrepreneurs don't just chase opportunities. Smart entrepreneurs pursue opportunities that match their skill sets.

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

2 months ago

I'll Never Forget the Day a Venture Capitalist Made Me Feel Like a Dunce

Are you an idiot at fundraising?

Image courtesy Inzmam Khan via Pexels

Humans undervalue what they don't grasp. Consider NASCAR. How is that a sport? ask uneducated observers. Circular traffic. Driving near a car's physical limits is different from daily driving. When driving at 200 mph, seemingly simple things like changing gas weight or asphalt temperature might be life-or-death.

Venture investors do something similar in entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs don't realize how complex venture finance is.

In my early startup days, I didn't comprehend venture capital's intricacy. I thought VCs were rich folks looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg. I was meant to be a sleek, enthusiastic young entrepreneur who could razzle-dazzle investors.

Finally, one of the VCs I was trying to woo set me straight. He insulted me.

How I learned that I was approaching the wrong investor

I was constructing a consumer-facing, pre-revenue marketplace firm. I looked for investors in my old university's alumni database. My city had one. After some research, I learned he was a partner at a growth-stage, energy-focused VC company with billions under management.

Billions? I thought. Surely he can write a million-dollar cheque. He'd hardly notice.

I emailed the VC about our shared alumni status, explaining that I was building a startup in the area and wanted advice. When he agreed to meet the next week, I prepared my pitch deck.

First error.

The meeting seemed like a funding request. Imagine the awkwardness.

His assistant walked me to the firm's conference room and told me her boss was running late. While waiting, I prepared my pitch. I connected my computer to the projector, queued up my PowerPoint slides, and waited for the VC.

He didn't say hello or apologize when he entered a few minutes later. What are you doing?

Hi! I said, Confused but confident. Dinin Aaron. My startup's pitch.

Who? Suspicious, he replied. Your email says otherwise. You wanted help.

I said, "Isn't that a euphemism for contacting investors?" Fundraising I figured I should pitch you.

As he sat down, he smiled and said, "Put away your computer." You need to study venture capital.

Recognizing the business aspects of venture capital

The VC taught me venture capital in an hour. Young entrepreneur me needed this lesson. I assume you need it, so I'm sharing it.

Most people view venture money from an entrepreneur's perspective, he said. They envision a world where venture capital serves entrepreneurs and startups.

As my VC indicated, VCs perceive their work differently. Venture investors don't serve entrepreneurs. Instead, they run businesses. Their product doesn't look like most products. Instead, the VCs you're proposing have recognized an undervalued market segment. By investing in undervalued companies, they hope to profit. It's their investment thesis.

Your company doesn't fit my investment thesis, the venture capitalist told me. Your pitch won't beat my investing theory. I invest in multimillion-dollar clean energy companies. Asking me to invest in you is like ordering a breakfast burrito at a fancy steakhouse. They could, but why? They don't do that.

Yeah, I’m not a fine steak yet, I laughed, feeling like a fool for pitching a growth-stage VC used to looking at energy businesses with millions in revenues on my pre-revenue, consumer startup.

He stressed that it's not necessary. There are investors targeting your company. Not me. Find investors and pitch them.

Remember this when fundraising. Your investors aren't philanthropists who want to help entrepreneurs realize their company goals. Venture capital is a sophisticated investment strategy, and VC firm managers are industry experts. They're looking for companies that meet their investment criteria. As a young entrepreneur, I didn't grasp this, which is why I struggled to raise money. In retrospect, I probably seemed like an idiot. Hopefully, you won't after reading this.

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

2 months ago

I put my faith in a billionaire, and he destroyed my business.

How did his money blind me?

Image courtesy Pexels.com

Like most fledgling entrepreneurs, I wanted a mentor. I met as many nearby folks with "entrepreneur" in their LinkedIn biographies for coffee.

These meetings taught me a lot, and I'd suggest them to any new creator. Attention! Meeting with many experienced entrepreneurs means getting contradictory advice. One entrepreneur will tell you to do X, then the next one you talk to may tell you to do Y, which are sometimes opposites. You'll have to chose which suggestion to take after the chats.

I experienced this. Same afternoon, I had two coffee meetings with experienced entrepreneurs. The first meeting was with a billionaire entrepreneur who took his company public.

I met him in a swanky hotel lobby and ordered a drink I didn't pay for. As a fledgling entrepreneur, money was scarce.

During the meeting, I demoed the software I'd built, he liked it, and we spent the hour discussing what features would make it a success. By the end of the meeting, he requested I include a killer feature we both agreed would attract buyers. The feature was complex and would require some time. The billionaire I was sipping coffee with in a beautiful hotel lobby insisted people would love it, and that got me enthusiastic.

The second meeting was with a young entrepreneur who had recently raised a small amount of investment and looked as eager to pitch me as I was to pitch him. I forgot his name. I mostly recall meeting him in a filthy coffee shop in a bad section of town and buying his pricey cappuccino. Water for me.

After his pitch, I demoed my app. When I was done, he barely noticed. He questioned my customer acquisition plan. Who was my client? What did they offer? What was my plan? Etc. No decent answers.

After our meeting, he insisted I spend more time learning my market and selling. He ignored my questions about features. Don't worry about features, he said. Customers will request features. First, find them.

Putting your faith in results over relevance

Problems plagued my afternoon. I met with two entrepreneurs who gave me differing advice about how to proceed, and I had to decide which to pursue. I couldn't decide.

Ultimately, I followed the advice of the billionaire.

Obviously.

Who wouldn’t? That was the guy who clearly knew more.

A few months later, I constructed the feature the billionaire said people would line up for.

The new feature was unpopular. I couldn't even get the billionaire to answer an email showing him what I'd done. He disappeared.

Within a few months, I shut down the company, wasting all the time and effort I'd invested into constructing the killer feature the billionaire said I required.

Would follow the struggling entrepreneur's advice have saved my company? It would have saved me time in retrospect. Potential consumers would have told me they didn't want what I was producing, and I could have shut down the company sooner or built something they did want. Both outcomes would have been better.

Now I know, but not then. I favored achievement above relevance.

Success vs. relevance

The millionaire gave me advice on building a large, successful public firm. A successful public firm is different from a startup. Priorities change in the last phase of business building, which few entrepreneurs reach. He gave wonderful advice to founders trying to double their stock values in two years, but it wasn't beneficial for me.

The other failing entrepreneur had relevant, recent experience. He'd recently been in my shoes. We still had lots of problems. He may not have achieved huge success, but he had valuable advice on how to pass the closest hurdle.

The money blinded me at the moment. Not alone So much of company success is defined by money valuations, fundraising, exits, etc., so entrepreneurs easily fall into this trap. Money chatter obscures the value of knowledge.

Don't base startup advice on a person's income. Focus on what and when the person has learned. Relevance to you and your goals is more important than a person's accomplishments when considering advice.