Why They Call It Serial Entrepreneurship

They call it serial entrepreneurship for a reason.

In a parallel connection, the data flows through multiple connections simultaneously. This is the same as the turnstiles of an arena where many people pass through multiple turnstiles simultaneously.

But, even though there are many turnstiles, each turnstile can only have one person passing through it a time.

Startup entrepreneurs who attempt to simultaneously execute multiple business models or operate against multiple market segments are attempting to single-handedly go through multiple turnstiles at the same time.

It just can’t be done.

When you are building a business, that business needs at least 100% of you. There is no way you can be fair to that business, and that business’ customers, employees, co-founders, investors and stakeholders if you are trying to split yourself across that business and additional business models.

The same goes for market segments when you are a startup. You cannot fully and effectively serve multiple market segments with startup scale resources.

Conversely, in a serial connection, the data flows through one connection, one block of data at a time, one block of data after another. It’s just like you moving through a turnstile. You go through one turnstile at a time.

Starting a business is the same as passing through a turnstile. You may do many of them in your lifetime, but you can only fully do one at a time.

If you are trying to do more than one at a time, you are doing it wrong.

It’s not called parallel entrepreneurship.

It’s called serial entrepreneurship.

It’s called serial entrepreneurship for a reason.

How do I start a business?

Because I’m a serial entrepreneur and because some of those companies did well and because I’m a management consultant and startup mentor and coach and because I’m a business plan/pitch competition judge, I get asked this question in various forms—a lot.

Here is one recent example:

How would I go about researching an on-line business idea?  I have an idea and have done some Google searches but don’t know how to tell if there is room in the market for someone else.  I have some ideas to be more unique and have a plan to slowly enter the market, but not sure how to go about everything.  The last time I tried a business it failed miserably, so I want to avoid that and keep things simple.

My answer:

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Does my startup idea suck?

Here’s how you answer that question in 10 steps:

  1. The top five things that differentiate your company from your competition (these must be things that make you different, not better)
  2. The specific pain that you solve for your customers
  3. No more than eight words that describe how you solve that specific pain
  4. The six defining characteristics of your ideal customer
  5. Your market size in annual spending on your products/services expressed as ARTS:
    1. Addressable (all customers on the planet who could conceivably buy your products/services)
    2. Relevant (the portion of the addressable market who currently buys your products/services)
    3. Target (your ideal customers)
    4. Serviceable (the customers you could service with your available resources; here assume that you obtained sufficient startup capital to create the minimum business model reflected in your financial projection scenarios)
  6. The four reasons your products/services are need to have purchases for your customers (as opposed to nice to have or want to have)
  7. The most important customer benefits of your products/services (these must be customer benefits, not product/service features)
  8. Your top three barriers to entry (the things that your company has that prevent competitive entry, e.g. intellectual property / patents, technology, sales channels, trade secrets, etc.)
  9. The three things that make this new business a low-risk proposition for potential investors
  10. One sentence that states the reasons why your founding team are people worth investing in

The answers to those 10 questions will tell you if your startup idea sucks.


The Business Model

There are seven stages in the life-cycle of a business:

  1. Assessment (ideas, resources, market)
  2. Seed (nurturing the idea)
  3. Discovery (discovering a sustainably profitable business model)
  4. Proof (proving the business model)
  5. Scale
  6. Execution
  7. Exit


Most people starting this journey for the first time think they will go directly from brilliant business idea to execution of a highly lucrative business model. What they miss is all the hard work in between that it takes to nurture their idea, discover a viable, sustainably profitable business model, prove that model and then scale that model into the highly lucrative machine of their initial dreams.

In addition, most of the business startup press, especially the maximum-buzz high technology startup media, concentrates on the Lean Startup methodology as applied to the business model discovery phase. http://theleanstartup.com/ This leads some first time entrepreneurs to believe that as long as they optimize the business model discovery stage of the journey, nothing else really matters. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

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Requirements for business in my state

Knowing the requirements to run a business

Starting your own business is a very daunting challenge, but there are many resources available to help you learn the basics of business.

If you are new to business, I recommend beginning with your local Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) chapter: http://www.score.org/

SCORE’s services are entirely free.

SCORE can provide the basic information around the nuts-and-bolts of starting a business.

Beyond SCORE, your local public library has book, magazines, videos and audio recordings that address business topics.

There are a wide variety of online resources related to business, including:

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Work Life Balance


Achieving balance while building a business is very challenging. The rule of thumb when starting and growing a business is that you will work much, much too hard in the initial stages. It’s better to come to terms with that reality going in, make your peace with it, and just buckle down and put in the effort required to get the business up and running.

If you are constantly beating yourself up because you are not living the perfect balanced life featured on the magazine covers, you are not helping the cause. Those ideal versions of life are mostly fantasies or one-in-a-million stories.

Starting and building a business, especially in the initial stages, requires huge amounts of time, energy and focus. It is important to understand that going in. It is very important that those important to you, those in your support network, understand that going in. If you and those around you are not fully in tune with the resource, time and energy requirements of starting and building a business, the psychic and emotional tolls that ensue can destroy your business, your relationships and your life.

I will say this again: Starting a building a business, especially in the initial stages, requires huge amounts of time, energy and focus. Don’t diminish any of those three by fighting a running battle with yourself or those around you regarding this issue.

Having said all of that, it is important to carve out some moments for yourself and for your life on a regular basis, even in the early days of starting your business. Make a point of taking a few minutes to do something just for you and something just for those around you. Have a plan, and stick to it, of gradually increasing those moments as the business gets up on its feet.

Once your business is operational, things change. No business model is valid if it is based on heroic effort by those involved. If the only way your business works is if you neglect yourself, those around you and your life, then the business model is flawed and it is doomed to failure in the mid- to long-term. Once your business is operational, you must be in balance or the business will fail; it’s only a matter of time. You simply can’t sustain an unbalanced energy and time investment in a business at the cost of all other aspects of your life. It will eventually kill the business, kill your life or kill you. For a business to be sustainable, you, and everyone else associated with the business, must be in a reasonable state of life/work balance.

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Getting Money to Start My Business

Your biggest business challenge this week: money to start my business idea

Capitalizing a new business is one of the largest challenges to overcome.

However, most entrepreneurs focus too much on this factor. They think that their business idea is so foolproof, all they need is some money to bring their idea to market and the business is guaranteed success.

In fact, that is very rarely the case.

Only one in 10 new businesses survives a decade. The failure rate is the highest in the early months and years.

Although a primary cause of business failure is often attributed to “lack of capital,” the real reason is that the failed businesses ran out of time. They ran out of time because most of the new businesses burned through their available money trying to figure out a viable, sustainable business model.

The moral of the story is, before you go seek capital for a new business, be sure you have a proven business model. Take your idea and make a prototype. Do some tests with real customers. Make some sales or get signed letters of commitment to purchase your product or service once you have it ready to sell.

The key to success in business is selling something people want to buy. That is true whether you are tying to start an enterprise B2B company or a local retail business. The only way to ensure that the money you are seeking is going to build a business that sells something people want to buy is to prove that idea before you invest the big amounts of money.

To accomplish that goal, one task I recommend, developed by Dr. Rob Adams, is the 100 Customers Test. Talk to 100 prospective customers first, before you do anything else. You will learn more talking to those customers that you will by obtaining and spending just about any amount of money in the early stages of your business.

Prove your idea and your business model first, then seek and inject capital to scale the business model.

If you need money to prove your business model, start by talking to 100 Customers first. That will cost little to nothing and will almost certainly guarantee that when you do build a business, it will be selling something people want to buy.

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Your accounting resource will be one of the most important vendor relationships in your business. An accountant often provides day-to-day tactical support via bookkeeping resources (or referrals to same). In addition, your accountant is a critical strategic resource for tax planning, networking and referrals into their network of professional services providers such as legal, consulting, business brokers, banking, etc.

Consequently, it is very important to have a solid, mutually beneficial relationship with your accountant.

Start by asking other business owners for referrals. Ask people who run businesses that you aspire to emulate for a referral. That immediately puts you into a network of professional and business suppliers that will match your business as you grow. If you start by asking business owners at the size and scale you are now, you can end up with an accounting resource that cannot scale with you as you grow and whose network is not well matched for your aspirations.

Next, talk with at least five potential accountants by phone and meet personally with at least three. Do not settle for anything less than a good to perfect fit with your accountant. In particular, it is critically important that you share common values related to integrity, honesty and trust.

Your accounting and bookkeeping resources can literally make or break your business, so choose them wisely and with due time, effort and consideration.

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“Nothing happens until somebody sells something” – Zig Ziglar

It’s a fundamental rule of business that sales drive everything. If you don’t have any sales, then you don’t have a business—pure and simple. You might have a charity or a hobby, but if you don’t have sales that drive sustainable profitability, you don’t have a business.

“Sales” is what happens when a customer’s perceived needs match your value proposition.

Your value proposition is more than just the specific product and/or service and its price that most people consider when they think about sales.

Your value proposition includes:

  • Brand
  • Time
  • Benefits
  • Features
  • Capabilities
  • Price

Of all of these factors, your brand carries the heaviest load. It stands for your reliability, trustworthiness, and, very importantly, aspirational value. For instance, what’s the difference between a Timex and a Rolex? Both tell time. Only one tells an aspirational story.

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Owning My Own Restaurant

Owning my own restaurant.


As you’ve probably heard a million times by now: “80% of new restaurants fail.”

The people in the restaurant industry dispute that number, but it is a solidly entrenched urban legend at this point, so it will be challenging for them to turn it around.

Numbers vary widely about new business rates of success in general, and restaurants are no exception. Even so, most sources of data about new business rates of success/failure do show restaurants to be less successful as new business ventures than other types of startups.

Why is that?

When you dig into the numbers you find out that most people who start failed restaurants had no previous restaurant business experience and many had no prior entrepreneurial experience.

I can relate to those numbers because Stephanie and I have often had the, “If we had a restaurant, we’d…” discussion ourselves. Note that we have zero, nada, nil, none, zero restaurant experience, yet we’ve seriously entertained the idea–and we know better than to do so.

One of our kids is a gourmet chef. Even he is wary of starting his own restaurant because he knows very little about the “front of house” operations aspects of the business model. He’s an industry veteran and even he’s leery of launching a restaurant. There’s a lesson there.

So, the first prerequisite to owing your own restaurant is to go work in the restaurant industry. Work in the back of the house and the front of the house. Get some management experience. Get some experience hiring and firing. Get lots of experience on the financial side of things. Learn where the costs are and where the profits are. Learn about different markets at different price points at different day parts. Learn about location, location, location. Learn about permits and licenses and inspections and regulations. Learn about marketing and sales and promotion. Learn about procurement and suppliers and deliveries. Learn about buildings and codes and real estate and leases and zoning. Learn about loans and investors and financing. Learn about LLCs, corporations and partnerships. Learn about your strengths, weaknesses and passions.

Learn all of those things and then you’ll be in a position to have a much better chance at success in the restaurant business.

It may sound daunting, but you can get there. If you’ve already been working in the restaurant business, you’re already down the path. If you haven’t, you could learn all of that in three to five years if you really want it.

Get that industry knowledge first, and while you’re doing that part, spend some evenings taking some business management or entrepreneurial classes to be ready to do it on your own.

The track record of people who say “I want to own my own restaurant” is dismal. You can either end up like most who try to start one with little to no knowledge of the industry or you can invest some time and energy to get to know the business, as well as build a network, before you start. The former choice offers immediate gratification. The latter offers lots of hard work and dedication with a much greater chance of sustainable success.

It’s your choice.

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