Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

7 Small Businesses Lessons From Tech Startups 0

Small Business Lessons from High Tech

What can every small business learn from tech startups? David Rose, founder of Gust.com and long-time leader of the New York Tech Angels, says normal businesses are different from tech startups, and offers small business lessons he’s taken from decades dealing with what high-end tech startups do as they start. He says:

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve seen proven true over and over again, is that many of the biggest obstacles that businesses face along the way can be avoided IF you take care to start things up correctly from the beginning. When launching a company, investing a little bit of time and money at the very start can pay large dividends later…but only if you have a solid foundation, a thoughtful structure, and a strong focus.

That’s from 7 Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn From Tech Startups, published in Forbes yesterday.

What’s a startup to you?

For the record, David’s view on startups is somewhat different from mine. I think of every business that starts up as a startup. He defines startup more narrowly:

While all businesses “start up” and start out “small”, not all “small businesses” are “startups”. Whereas a small business is founded to be profitable and create a good living for the entrepreneur and his or her family, a “startup” is founded with the intention of rapidly achieving exponential growth through scale, and either being acquired in a few years by a larger company, or becoming a “unicorn” and going public in an IPO…in both cases bringing in massive returns to its founders and investors.

The 7 Small business lessons

We come back together, however, on what David Rose recommends all businesses do. He’s recommending all businesses should take the same care that his version of startups do. That includes:

  1. Get smart. Read up on it. There’s so much wisdom available for a few dollars. Take the time to browse the essentials. David doesn’t mention it in this context, but his book Startup Checklist is a good one.
  2. Resolve your business model. Know how you make money. How will people pay you, and why.
  3. Get initial feedback. Talk to people about it. Find people you know who have experience. And listen.
  4. Analyze the market. “You must understand the landscape you are about to enter, inside and out.”
  5. The business plan. All businesses deserve business planning. I’m quoting him in detail in the next section, below.
  6. More feedback. Now you have market knowledge and an initial business plan. “At this stage you are looking for substantive comments about the business and market, along with specific critiques (don’t take offense; listen to them carefully!) and actionable insights.”
  7. Put it to the test. Launch. Do it. “The biggest test will be to see if customers really want or need what you are providing, and to understand if they are willing to pay for it at a price at which you can afford to supply it.”

The business plan we all need

And my favorite of David’s recommendations is the business plan.

“Many entrepreneurs draw up a complicated business plan as step one, but end up wasting a lot of time rewriting it as they work through their business concept. If you’ve done all the previous legwork and feel confident that your concept is marketable, viable and profitable, the next step is to begin to write it down. You’ll want to use a simple, structured format to note the various things that you are going to need to do to implement your business idea. For now, don’t worry about a long document for investors…just start by writing down bullet points outlining what is supposed to happen, a timeline, assignment of responsibilities, cost analysis, and revenue projections.

I strongly agree with him on this. We may not all need a that “long document for investors,” but we can all use the kind of business plan he suggests, “bullet points outlining what is supposed to happen,” and so forth, in that last sentence.

And then there’s this, my favorite part of David’s article, his recommendation.

There are some great resources available for this, and the best I’ve seen is the web site leanplan.com, by Tim Berry, the legendary author of Business Plan Pro. The site offers an online course you can purchase, as well as commercial online tools such as LivePlan, but it also includes the entire text of Tim’s book ‘Lean Business Planning’ for free. As you’ll learn from Tim, the most important thing about a business plan is not that it be long, but that it be live. An effective business plan is a living document, reviewed and updated every month, that adapts to the market, the field, and your actual results.”

Did I bury the lead?