I recently spent some time talking with a co-founder of one of the Accelerator’s graduate* companies. This company, a great success story for the Accelerator, for the region and for the founders, has been acquired by a large company and their future looks very bright.
As I reflect on their journey, as well as the journeys of the many other clients that have come and gone through the Accelerator program, including my own, I have learned that the leadership teams of successful companies have several important things in common.
- They know the market they’re entering and their potential customers’ needs. In the case above, the founders had worked in the industry and had intimate knowledge of the market, customer contracts and needs and product specs, prior to starting their business. This knowledge helped them solve their customers’ problems somewhat easier. This is important – if your great idea solves someone’s problem, you have a much higher likelihood of success. If you have a great idea, but are unsure of whether it solves someone’s problem, take heart. There are plenty of resources and people out there who can help you, such as the Accelerator’s Technology Company Acceleration program and our incorporation of the lean canvas model.
- They are willing to take risks. Hands down, this is a trait that I see in every founder. Starting your own company is scary and almost every step of the way, you will face risk. Leaving a stable job can be daunting; however, necessary. Entrepreneurs and leaders must be comfortable with discomfort, willing to sacrifice time and energy and invest money to make an idea come to life. It can get difficult and stressful. But like all risk, it can also be worth the potential pay-off in the end.
- They make hard decisions based on facts, not emotions. The most successful CEOs know that when it comes to making a difficult decision, they must take the emotion out of it. Good leaders know how to bring out the best in their employees, while creating a sustainable business. CEOs should use the facts in front of them because facts tell the real story. For instance, when it comes to building the right team, there may come a time when you need to make an extremely hard decision to let someone go or not promote them, but you’ll be getting the right personnel on board which gives you a better chance of success.
- They differentiate. It sounds cliché. Make a product that no one else has and it will sell. They key here is to find that one thing that no one else does AND provide it in a way that customers want it. In the case of the graduate company I referred to earlier, they discovered it was software (not hardware) that made the product unique, leading to new innovations and my last point….
- They innovate. Four years into the life of the company, the founders discovered a new application for their technology and product. This opened up a whole new market sector, adding to their business growth potential and leading to acquisition.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. I am continually amazed at the companies that come through here and marvel at their ability to weather the storms. Luckily, though, they didn’t have to do it alone and you don’t have to either.
* (“Graduation” – for those not familiar to our lingo – means different things to different companies. For some, it means acquisition by another company. For others, it means they are operating solely on their own cash flow or have achieved a variety of important metrics to make them a viable company.)