[This was our most popular story of 2014 so far. We are reposting it while NJTechWeekly.com is on vacation.]
NJTechWeekly.com asked successful New Jersey entrepreneurs and academics who counsel startups to provide one piece of helpful advice, as a kind of New Year’s gift. Here is what they had to say:
Simon Nynens, chairman, president and CEO of Wayside Technology Group: Listen, really listen to feedback and facts.
If I could stress one thing … I would say the following:
Listen, really listen to feedback and facts. Everyone gets advice; only the smart people listen. You will make mistakes, things will go bad, errors will be made, yet what will define you and the success of your company is how you deal with adversity and setbacks.
Do not fall in love with your idea or product. Develop your top functionality or service and test it. Work hard to define your target audience. Then try to sell it to 20 customers, and be very hands on. Listen to their feedback and ask questions, do not be afraid to ask a million questions. If customers are not interested or if you can’t explain it to your target audience in 5 minutes, change, yes, change and improve. Most importantly, follow your principles and have fun. Be who you aspire to be. Especially when dealing with adversity or setbacks. Believe in yourself, strive to be happy!
Stephen Waldis, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Synchronoss: Hire smart people then let them excel.
It is vital for young technology entrepreneurs to hire smart people who believe in the same dream and vision that they have and to create a culture that allows these individuals to excel and achieve those dreams. However, when hiring employees, entrepreneurs need to make sure that they are bringing in qualified individuals who possess important, yet different skill sets that will help the organization advance and succeed. Having a proper on-boarding process in place is crucial, as it will help entrepreneurs to quickly determine if new hires possess the qualities and intangibles needed for success.
Adnane Charchour, president and CEO of Scivantage: Identify a sales and marketing plan from the beginning.
I would advise young tech entrepreneurs to identify a sales and marketing plan from the outset. Furthermore, you need to have a clear understanding of where your capital is coming from before jumping into a new venture. Make sure to define your elevator pitch and outline key competitive differentiators in the market place. This means defining your story and raising capital is priority number one.
When my cofounders and I started Scivantage, we had a deep understanding of the technology, how to manage budgets and operations. But we all had very technical backgrounds. If I had to do it all over again, I would seek sales and marketing expertise from day one to help tell the story and build the brand. It would have saved us a lot of growing pains.
Donald Sebastian, senior vice president, R&D, NJIT: Use systems thinking to manage complexity.
Most professions have a viewpoint or thought process that distinguishes them from all others. Engineers, regardless of discipline, use systems thinking as a way of managing complexity. Systems thinking offers a way of deconstructing a problem into a family tree of increasingly smaller problems that are isolated from a tangle of unforeseen interactions. It is how we are constructed as humans and it allows one to design skyscrapers, and rocket ships that can go to the moon and back, and computer operating systems that support an infinite variety of independently written apps.
Your business is a system, just as your product may be. Even if you are a one-person operation, you need to satisfy the same independent set of functions as a multinational conglomerate. Compartmentalize the issues and manage them from the perspective of the profession that should handle those issues. You will test the boundaries of your own skill set, and will template the behaviors necessary when you grow to become a fully staffed organization.
Judith Sheft, associate vice president, technology development, NJIT: Expand your circle of connections.
I encourage New Jersey entrepreneurs to expand their circle of connections and be active participants in the state start-up community:
– Attend a meeting of a group you have not been to before
– Talk to prospective customers to gain critical feedback on your business model and product offerings
– Obtain insight from potential supply chain and development partners
And it goes without saying: Use every opportunity to practice your pitch — you never know who you may meet in New Jersey’s vibrant ecosystem that can help you advance your goals.