Pitching your business idea with zero assets of your own sounds like an all-or-nothing risk, but there are many forks along the IT startup road that can lead you to the perfect career.
It’s a scene you’ll see all over Toronto these days: a mingling of young entrepreneurs with big ideas and venture capitalists looking for just the right one. I went to a startup event last night and, along with the usual networking, I got a chance to see a few two-minute pitches, where the would-be startups try to sell themselves in just a few breaths.
Few of them will realize their ultimate dream: getting the financial backing they need to grow their own company. But others will attract the attention of companies that simply want to buy them out, or even hire them outright.
I spoke to Andrew Lo, the CIO of Kanetix, a company that offers a Web-based platform to compare insurance rates. He attends these events as a spectator, prospector and also as coach, helping young entrepreneurs perfect their pitches. It’s pretty much a truism, he said, that the people in the startup world tend to be the youngest—right out of school, without the responsibilities that will weigh them down later in life.
To be sure, once you’ve inked a contract with an investor, you are taking on a big risk, but it costs you nothing to get up on stage and present your ideas to the world. Sure, startups may be a young people’s game, but at the same time, how many of us were certain where our career would lead us at the age of 22?
Startups are about innovation, not rebellion
There’s a stereotype of the startup “personality” as an independent, almost rebellious type who doesn’t want to answer to a higher authority. But that’s not true across the board. If there is a common thread linking these people together, it’s their desire to innovate. That’s a personal quality that is as useful to a fledgling company as it is to a salaried employee working for a large enterprise.
Everyone has to make compromises in life, and if you realize your dream of being your own boss isn’t feasible, it can be a tough one. But years later, you may look back and realize that you wouldn’t have wanted the stress, the risks and the responsibility. And remember, you aren’t facing a choice between freedom or bondage: many companies can provide you with the space you crave, especially the kinds that attend startup events, of course.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Many people have an innate ability to innovate, but not necessarily the business acumen to turn their idea into a realistic proposal. One thing that Lo stresses when he coaches startup candidates is that they should focus on making a coherent business case as much as on their idea itself. Many younger people simply don’t have the experience to understand the what, where and how of financing a business, he said.
There’s a reason why failures vastly outnumber successes in the startup world, and often it’s because not everyone can translate their knowledge into concrete business requirements. But even these “failures” learned valuable lessons along the way, and no doubt, met people who could help them take another route in their professional life later on.
Remember the fake Bill Gates quote, circa 2000, about how unlike in school, the real world cares only about your achievements, not your effort? Well, whoever did write it was wrong. The real world does value effort. So, go ahead and prepare a two-minute pitch. You never know where it might take you.