The world of entrepreneurship is full of challenges and cautionary tales. It’s also rife with clichés.
Fake it ’til you make it. Fail Fast. Disrupt.
While there’s a lot early stage startups can learn from established business principles and the personal experience of industry leaders, much of this knowledge has been distilled down into meaningless soundbites. Which makes it all the more challenging to be genuinely helpful when someone asks you for advice on their startup idea.
Over the past two weeks I acted as a “Legal Dragon“, evaluating law students pitching ideas to improve legal services and increase access to justice for all. The student pitches were the culminating event of a new class at TRU Law called Lawyering in the 21st Century (L21C). I was truly impressed by the effort all the students put in and the caliber of their pitches. As I’ve said before, the opportunity to participate was rewarding on a number of levels. I’ve already agreed to do it again next year!
What’s more, it reminded me of the importance of giving back. Over the past two years, Knomos has greatly benefitted from countless individuals and organizations who have dedicated their time, energy, and knowledge to help us grow. Winning the award for “Most Promising Open Data Startup” wasn’t a solo effort, we worked closely with key stakeholders like the BC Dev Exchange and OpenData BC. While it’s important to thank and recognize all those who’ve helped us get this far, it’s not enough. We also need to give back and help others.
So when Professor Sykes asked me to participate as a Legal Dragon, I jumped at the chance. As soon as I did, however, the nagging questions started to creep in:
What makes me an expert? What do I know about evaluating the soundness of their business ideas? What advice could I give that would be genuinely useful rather than just clichéd?
The best way I could think of to help the students was to treat them like I treat everyone I do business with: by being open and candid, not afraid to ask tough questions, but always with a view towards a positive outcome. I also made an open offer to any student interested in making their idea a reality beyond the class to reach out directly. Seriously, don’t be shy.
Reaching out and sharing your startup idea with others can be scary, and we often come up with seemingly rational reasons for not doing so:
It’s not ready yet, I want it to be perfect before I share it. They might steal my idea. If I share it and it fails, people will think less of me.
But no matter how good the idea is, you can’t build a perfect solution in a vacuum, and trying to do so may result in solving the wrong problem.
The only way a startup has any chance of success is by sharing the business idea with as many potential customers, partners, and investors as possible. Share early. Share often. Be strategic in your approach and tailor your message to your audience, but by all means (soundbite alert): Do things. Tell People. And then listen really closely to their feedback as you continue to improve and iterate on the idea until it becomes a viable business.
So to all the L21C students, my last piece of advice is this: You’ve got the idea, now go make it happen!
Onwards and upwards,