I recently coached three young media talents that were in three very different places along their journey to success. It has really come down to realization of what our individual strengths are and not spending an entrepreneur’s most valuable resource (time) focused on developing skills they do not have. In essence following Arthur Ashes’ “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” My take in Arthur’s “Use what you have” is that we all have a personal center of strength and to recognize it and leverage it enables us to succeed, and exceed, in our expectations.
I have watched many entrepreneurs struggle the past couple years as they have tried to build out parts of their business where they have little subject matter expertise and although they all have reached some level functionality, the time spent outside of their core strengths have significantly slowed them down. In most cases this is when my phone rings or my email inbox starts to get full. Ignoring or under utilizing strength to focus on developing a weakness is time consuming and ultimately leads to lower trajectory and longer start up cycle times.
The first of these media entrepreneurs is a on-camera personality first, entrepreneur second. Her greatest asset isn’t her incredible ability to engage a very diverse media audience. Nope. Her greatest asset is to recognize her strengths, evaluate where it plugs into a value chain, and then to outsource the rest. Now it didn’t happen overnight but as she got more and more comfortable leveraging her personality, her project and passion came to life. I’ve never see a Klout score increase 20 points in a matter of a week. Once she aligned her strength with her go to market strategy, magic happened.
Her time to market went from months to weeks as she began to work in parallel on work stream projects. Her pricing structure and value proposition pitch is perfectly aligned with the incredible value she brings to her offering. The pieces that can be easily duplicated are less of the focus of the service and she is therefore completely differentiated. The remaining challenge is audience adoption and she is building out a segmentation and target plan (with some SME help of course) that will be spot on. It’s not a ‘can’t miss’ but her business certainly has all the elements to attract talent and investors primarily because the entrepreneur understood how to leverage her strengths and not focus on developing weakness.
Her Achilles Heel is her need to control and a ‘not invented here’ perspective as a result of her lack of business experience. Scale and speed to market will ultimately determine success. This entrepreneur struggles with what every millennial entrepreneur faces as they start up and try to scale and raise funds. Having the business maturity to talk to and work with a GenX or Boomer business world that controls resources and IP. Her ability to understand that staying out partying until 6am and sleeping off 2pm conference call with a hangover might be acceptable and cool with your friends, but the business of business is business. There is no room for amateurs in business. Time will tell on this one but this entrepreneur is clearly going to need to demonstrate a different level of emotional and intellectual maturity.
The second entrepreneur has had a bit more of a winding path but finds herself with tremendous opportunity so close she can taste it. This mid-career media talent has incredible vision to find an unmet niche and began to explore how to deliver content via a multi-channel strategy. A ferocious reader, she researched what she needed to get a web business up and running and knows the value of adoption. Within months, she has built and retains a strong membership. The time to market and adoption rates are astounding. Excellent work. Next step however is painful. How to scale the vision into a sustainable business model with cash flow? Again, after a couple of stops and starts, this smart entrepreneur knew that they didn’t have the right functional expertise to get to the next step. She had flown the length of her runway and did what she could, with what she had, where she was. The next chapter in this story is to bring the right functional resources to build out the value chain and she gets it. She spends most of her time interviewing potential angel investors but more importantly, advisers that have been there and done that.
Finally, the story of the third entrepreneur is one that still needs to be written. This man has achieved amazing success in a fifteen year career. An international media talent that is comfortable in front of a camera, in an editor’s suite, behind a podium, or working his charitable causes. There are 5-6 balls in the air at all time but there isn’t significant progress across any of them. Although he would make Arthur Ashe smile with all he’s accomplished to date, it’s not clear what his strengths are and consequently the next steps in his career are a bit fuzzy. From the investor and coaches’ perspective, his value isn’t being leveraged, time to market is slow because its spread across multiple competing projects, and therefore there is little audience adoption. When there should be intra-project workstreams running in parallel, there are inter-project competing workstream running with the entrepreneur sitting at the helm of them all. It’s only when the “what you have” comes out and becomes the focus that the next chapter in this career be written. Recognition of their strength and alignment to the most value added work will get this pro back on track.
In summary, I think Arthur Ashe was spot on. I would however maybe write an appendix to his insightful prose. When you’ve done what you can and can’t go further, become humble and reach out. Your weakness will be someone else’s strength and when connected creating a network like effect, your trajectory will be higher, quicker, and farther. Think about “Yin and Yang” from wiki :
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (also, yin-yang or yin yang) describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. That said, in the end the business of business is business.
So, if you are a millennial entrepreneur in the digital or multimedia space and want to strike it big, here’s what I look for………
As a potential investor I like to see progress on a number of important metrics that can be directly impacted by identification of competencies and strengths. In these business models I like to look at three things in particular:
- Value propositions and dependencies.
- Time to market and monetization.
- Adoption, retention, bounce rates.
- Ability to sustain and scale.
Your biggest takeaway needs to be that it’s not just a great idea that gets you out of your parent’s basement. It’s not hard work alone. It’s the ability to understand the above dependencies and assemble the right resources. Finally, it’s practicing the right leadership skills to draw talent and investors and call them to action.
About Mike McNamara:
Mike has held C-Suite, Executive and Senior Sales, Marketing, Business Development, and General Management roles with Equifax, Cox Enterprises, WW Grainger, and Federal-Mogul Corporation. Mike has led sales, service and operations organizations of over 1,500 associates and accountable for P&L responsibility in excess of $250M.
Dedicated to giving back, Mike formed The MBAR Group in 2009 with the sole intent of providing pro bono career and business consulting services. Today he coaches a number of high profile media personalities as well as holding advisory board positions guiding a number of multimedia and small business startups.
Mike earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and holds a Bachelors of Science degree from Michigan State University. He is a past chapter President of the American Marketing Association. Mike and family split time between their adopted state of Missouri and family home in NW Michigan where their philanthropic causes include The Kingdom House – St Louis, BACN in Benzonia, MI., and Samaritan’s Purse, Boone NC.