Charting your start-up course

By Joel Snyder, InfoWorld |  Business

IN THE FAST-MOVING world of technology innovation, entrepreneurial opportunities
emerge continually. But simply having a good idea does not guarantee that you'll
successfully launch your start-up, and moving from the concept to execution stages
requires travel over some pretty rough territory.

Fortunately, lessons learned by IT colleagues who have become experienced
entrepreneurs can help you make sense of the journey, whether you're a technology
savant developing cutting-edge software or a savvy businessperson building an e-
business services operation from the ground up.

Lesson one: Know what you're doing

Starting a new company and developing fledgling technology requires the clearest of
visions. Often, technologists get so preoccupied by what and how they are creating that
they lose sight of who is going to use it and what real-world problems it will solve.
On the flip side, visionaries can get so entranced by how a technology will change the
face of business that they oversell the product before it's been developed or has even
passed a proof-of-concept test. Knowing what product or service you're developing, the
market it serves, how to build it, and how to charge for it are key to moving forward
with a promising concept.

"The first thing an entrepreneur needs to do is clearly think about what the
venture's basic purpose is ... the pain you're trying [to] eliminate," says Dr. Marco
Iansiti, who teaches a course called Starting New Ventures at Harvard Business School
(HBS), in Boston. "I think one of the mistakes that people make is that they don't
spend a lot of time thinking about that."

Fuzzy thinking is endemic in the technology industry, where the boundaries of
what's possible are constantly shifting. The difference is that established companies
can squander resources chasing ill-defined goals; a start-up gets only one shot at
making a viable product to serve its target market.

Rob Rosen, CEO at EventZero, an IT services provider for start-up companies, in
Boston, learned about practical applicability the hard way. Before he co-founded
EventZero in 1998, Rosen started a business called Vertigo to develop a tool to build
personalized multimedia applications for finance, planning, and management. Although
Vertigo did generate revenue during its 7-year life span, Rosen and his partners
chalked the endeavor up as unsuccessful: Vertigo had developed a product without first
determining whether a need for the tool existed.

"In the end, ultimately, people didn't see it as having a lot of value," Rosen
says. "We really thought it was a neat technology and we could imagine a lot of things
it could do to help people. We never spent a lot of time asking people if it helped
them solve problems."

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