Ray Bradbury once said:
“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
This has become bastardized into the often used quote… “To be an Entrepreneur you have to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
However, I have a problem with the “We’d never go into business” part when it comes to jumping off cliffs without a good pair of wings, and especially the way the bastardized quote has weaved it’s way into common entrepreneurial advice. I implore people, especially those selling around this idea, to stop sharing this shit and convincing people it’s what an entrepreneur is… because too many buy into it and then fail because of this ridiculous encouragement.
What it should say is: An UNSUCCESSFUL entrepreneur (or a foolish entrepreneur) is someone who jumps off a cliff without a clue as to how to fly. Entrepreneurism has nothing to do with blind faith. Sure, there’s an element of risk as with anything new and untried, but it’s a calculated risk based on at least a passing knowledge of things like projected market demand, the competition, startup costs, financing, all the factors that are going to have a major impact on the idea’s viability.
You need enough data (empirical and/or conjectural) to be able to put some figures together from which you can make reasonable projections about the likelihood of success. Then if things look promising, for goodness sakes plan. That’s your wings – a business plan. Build them before you jump. Doesn’t sound as sexy, but neither does losing your shirt on something that could have easily been avoided with a little planning.
I’ve talked before about how I don’t usually do my planning on paper. But when it comes to starting a new venture, you’re going to have to write it down. For one thing, if you need to get investors or financing, they’re going to want to see it in wiriting.
Expanding on your research, create a plan that will launch the business and yield your expected rate of return within your required period of time. The saying “Time is money” really is true. Rent, payroll, interest, taxes, utilities all eat away at capital while you’re trying to build an income stream. This is the point where you really need to do your homework. When you plan, you visualize how things will come together, the order in which things must be done and where you need to be at certain waypoints. That helps you focus on crucial accomplishments and the time tables for reaching those goals. Depending on your degree of expertise and the nature of your venture, you might bring in legal, accounting, marketing or other professional consultants as needed to help in your plan’s development and to verify that you can actually do what you need to do and get it done when you need it to be done.
Now, you’re not going to be able to plan for every detail or contingency. I suppose you could say the wings are incomplete. A good business plan is never complete. Life and the business environment is too complicated. It’s always changing so the business plan has to flex and change with it. It’s always evolving. But starting with a plan provides a set of targets that will help you plot your way forward. As you implement your plan, you can measure actual results for comparison to make new projections giving you a window into the future.
Ultimately the business environment is out of your control. Unexpected changes in the economy, regulations, new competitors, new technologies are always just over the horizon. Twitter started as a podcast platform called Odeo. Shortly after they got up and running, iTunes moved into the podcast niche, and they had to transform. The plan had to change. Starbucks started as an espresso machine and coffee vendor. Flickr started as a role-playing game. Wrigley of Wrigley’s Gum started by selling baking powder and soap and was giving away the gum as a freebie.
Plans change; that’s a fact of life, and it will never stop. But that’s not a reason not to plan. The data and the insights provided by the plan help you make the crucial decisions necessary to make the change and land on your feet. A smart entrepreneur is someone with a plan, but when things go wrong or don’t work, he quickly redirects and forms a new plan. None of this jump-off-and-then-build-wings crap. Just sayin… hate this nonsense. Those are the entrepreneurs who fail.
This first appeared on Ted Rubin
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