The Minimum Viable Entrepreneur
A friend who teaches entrepreneurship at Northeastern University recently asked for feedback on a proposed list of “Entrepreneurship Competencies” that he and some colleagues were working on and it got me thinking about the “Minimum Viable Entrepreneur” (MVE).
In other words, what are the bare bones minimum characteristics and competencies of a person who could identify an innovative new business opportunity and grow it to revenues in excess of $10MM / Yr.?
At the risk of future embarrassment, here’s my answer as of 10:30am on this Saturday, February 15, 2020.
Entrepreneur 1.0 (The Minimum Viable Entrepreneur)
I hypothesize that, setting aside blind luck, a person who hopes to identify and develop an innovative and high-impact business must possess the following characteristics and competencies:
- Proactivity – The MVE constantly scans her environment for threats and opportunities and creatively and energetically engages once she identifies something significant.
- Creating Vision – Whatever "scale" the MVE is working at (e.g. an industry, a company, a product line, a feature of a specific product, etc.), she creates a compelling, tangible, motivating, and actionable vision for a better tomorrow.
- Finding & Comprehending Information – Whatever information or understanding the MVE needs to succeed, she finds a way to get it. This includes the ability to research, read, network, listen, etc.
- Communicating – The MVE can persuasively communicate her vision to others.
- Evaluating & Decision Making -The MVE appreciates both the importance of decisions and the many blindspots of the decision-maker. She acquires or develops decision-making methods that improve her odds of success.
- Collaboration – Along with being a good team player (i.e. courteous, responsive, reliable, trustworthy), the MVE has a high degree of empathy for others needs & wants as well as a sincere appreciation for their insights and talents.
- Resilience – The MVE is able to maintain her vision, focus, and motivation in the face of adversity for a minimum of three years.
The Entrepreneur 1.1
If I were then challenged to “upgrade” an MVE by one increment, here are the concepts and competencies I would want them to acquire next:
- The Business Model Canvas, or "The Anatomy of a Business Idea" – I would like the entrepreneur to understand both the critical questions a business idea needs to answer and the inter-relatedness of the answers to each question. (This is why I like the "anatomy" metaphor – the business idea is a living organism made up of various systems and organs that all have to work together for the organism to survive.) E.g. if your customer segment changes, then perhaps your business model has to change as well.
- What Makes a Good Idea Good? – What are the key criteria and considerations savvy entrepreneurs and investors use when evaluating business ideas?
- How to Identify Areas of Innovative Opportunity – There may be many other approaches, but I would recommend: - Personal Passions – I.e. what do you already spend an inordinate amount of time working on and thinking about. - The Unexpected – What has happened (in the world, your industry, etc.) that no one saw coming. - Sacred Cows – What opportunities are being neglected due to outmoded values / perspectives? - The Forgotten – What problems have been accepted as "just the way things are" that may now be solvable due to changing technology, regulation, etc. - Technical Trends – What new problems and/or opportunities are being created by emerging technology? - Demographic Trends – What new problems and/or opportunities are being created by shifting demographics? - Cultural Trends – What new problems and/or opportunities are being created by changing regulations and/or normative behavior? - Ecological Trends – What new problems and/or opportunities are being created by changes in the environment / ecology?
- How to Identify Specific Ideas within the Zones of Opportunity – I.e. ideation techniques.
- How to Guesstimate the Size of a Market – I can immediately think of two entrepreneurs I know who have spent years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars pursuing ideas that had vanishingly small markets. In both cases, I did a back-of-the-napkin estimate of their ideas' market potential and watched the blood drain from their faces. Every entrepreneur can and should be trained how to use Fermi estimates to guesstimate the TAM, SAM, and SOM of any market.
- How to Develop and Deliver an Effective Pitch – I.e. what are the various types of pitches? What are the fundamentals of an effective pitch deck? How to employ narrative and storytelling to make your point.
- Key Principles of Lean Startup – This would include: - Recognizing the uncertainty of the venture and the overall problem of cognitive blindspots. Searching vs. executing. - The guess-and-test nature of the search process - How to design and conduct effective tests - How to minimize the cost of searching / testing - The key stages of the Lean Startup process (what are they, how do you know which one you're in, what are the priorities within each stage, etc.) - Pivoting
- Partnering – Should you partner? Who with? On what terms?
The above “specification” for an MVE was a quick reaction to an urgent request from a friend and I’m sure I left out many essential ingredients. If you have anything to add, delete, or modify, I welcome your comments!