Anatomy of a Start-Up in the Post Start-Up Era

By Jody Robbins

As the Information Age becomes increasingly more engrained in our collective conscious, the Automation Age looms large and disruptive on the horizon.

Machines are replacing more and more work roles filled by humans and a vague specter of dread fills many as they worry whether they—and their professions—will survive.

The good news across the board: from manufacturing to healthcare and accounting, there are some things automation just can’t do. This is especially true when it comes to concepting, launching and operating an innovative new business.

In that environment, what are the implications – if any – for new startups?

Opportunity Knocking

At least for now, the outlook for startups seems positive: “95 percent of startups believe that business conditions in 2018 will be the same as or better than 2017,” according to Silicon Valley Bank’s “Startup Outlook Report.” Access to capital was also not a problem in 2017, with “69 percent of startups surveyed successfully raised capital, and nearly one-quarter of them say the current fundraising environment is not challenging.” That number is actually up from 2017, from 12 percent to 15 percent.

“The golden age of startups isn’t over,” JinJa Birkenbeuel, CEO of Birk Creative, a dedicated entrepreneur who also helped design Google’s new Digital Coaching Program, told The Fuse. “But, you still need a great idea. That hasn’t changed.”

Potential entrepreneurs may venture out on their own for any number of reasons, perhaps as simple as feeling that they don’t fit the traditional office mold.

“The primary reason I left corporate America is I didn’t find a great place that I could share my ideas, where people would hear me and listen. It wasn’t a collaborative environment,” Birkenbeuel says. “I can win in a collaborative environment among people that share, people that want to succeed together, and have no fear of elevating others.”

The Tools and Will to Succeed

Startups these days have a lot going for them: global communication channels, access to venture capital, sometimes instantaneous crowdfunding, and a wealth of online knowledge just waiting to be tapped.

That great idea, that seed of future success is everything. Then, the hard work of raising that seed into an ongoing concern begins. “I started with no money, no capital,” Birkenbeuel recalls. “I walked out of corporate America, opened shop on my kitchen table, and never looked back. I was fearless about it.”

It sounds great, but if you aspire to be an entrepreneur, boldness and flexibility are necessary ingredients. “I’m relentlessly curious. I ask for questions and look for patterns,” she says, noting what she considers an essential entrepreneurial trait. “I thrive in chaos. I don’t have to have regularity to my day to feel confident. That’s important to think about when you’re considering becoming an entrepreneur and converting that into a business.”

Decision made to strike out on her own, Birkenbeuel’s first customer out of the gate was a former client from her time spent in the corporate world. “She loved the work I’d done and wanted to hire my company,” Birkenbeuel says. “Every relationship in front of you is there for a reason and could be valuable in the future.”

Chance of Success? It Depends

What we’re talking about here is a Despite all of the changes in what it takes to be an entrepreneur over the last 20 years or so, the fundamentals are still the same, says Keller Graduate School of Management professor Mike Reitzel. “I’m fortunate to look at business from many different angles. That said, the key elements to being successful in any business remain the same.

“Twenty years ago, I hired a consulting firm to look at a new product we were developing,” says Reitzel, a veteran corporate executive and high-tech startup founder. “Their concept to predicting the success of high-tech startups included three sets of factors: How important is the technology? How good is the marketing? How good is the leadership?”

Technology was 15 percent important, marketing 35 percent, and leadership 50 percent. So, even if it’s wonderful technology, most of success is leadership and marketing.”

Another important ingredient: education. DeVry University offers a bachelor’s degree program in Business Administration with specializations ranging from accounting/finance to global supply chain management and human resources management. DeVry also offers a Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship specialization geared toward gaining leadership skills and solving complex business problems. It’s hands-on, experiential learning that prepares students for a range of business settings and roles, centering on technology applications, effective communication, marketing influences, management principles, and more.

Student may opt to continue that education at the Keller Graduate School of Management, where prospective entrepreneurs and others can earn an MBA in Entrepreneurship, a graduate degree program focused on preparing students for everything from the conceptualization of a business idea to planning, funding and execution, including successful marketing and exit strategies.

More Helpful Tips From Birkenbeuel:

Study the competition: “Not too long ago, it wasn’t easy to know what your competition was doing. Now, with a single Google search you can find out how many other people are doing the same thing. This will help you pick out the unique aspects of your business – what’s good and what’s going to help you grow.”

Stay on point: “The Internet offers a lot of opportunity, but you can also drown in too much information. There’s so much information available, so much opportunity and excitement, which can make it very hard to focus.”

Speak up!: “You have to boldly and confidently speak up every chance you get. Tell everyone that will listen what you are working on. Master the art of small talk.”

Develop relationships: “Build a network before you become a business owner, and make sure to develop quality relationships. Never take any shortcuts in terms of quality. My best relationships that helped me launch my first business were the ones I cultivated in corporate.”

Be honest: “I didn’t take any financial shortcuts, didn’t try to get something for nothing. I pay people what they’re worth, don’t use free interns, and never ask for anything without giving something back. Some people want you to blindly believe in their thing as passionately as they do for almost nothing, for promises they won’t keep.

“That’s not sustainable and won’t build the authentic community you need to grow your business.”