Advice from the Front Lines: Navigate Chaos with Process

by Ash Kumra

This chapter is a free excerpt from Confessions from an Entrepreneur (Volume 1).

Bill Attinger: Serial Entrepreneur & Angel Investor

I have some advice for a particular kind of frustrated, discouraged entrepreneur. Happy, optimistic entrepreneurs: please feel free to read further, too, but this message is mainly for the many folks who find themselves in a dispirited situation in which they seem stalled out with their venture. A lot of the frustration stems from lack of investor interest in the company and for some reason, bootstrapping doesn't seem to be a choice the entrepreneur wants to pursue. Getting stuck in this limbo creates a chaotic situation where entrepreneurs often lose sight of what to do to fix the stall, and many million or billion dollar ideas die before their time.

My message is for the person who has a really good business idea and has invested a decent amount of time thinking about the concept, but hasn't moved beyond the abstract.

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Bill Attinger: Serial Entrepreneur & Angel Investor

I have some advice for a particular kind of frustrated, discouraged entrepreneur. Happy, optimistic entrepreneurs: please feel free to read further, too, but this message is mainly for the many folks who find themselves in a dispirited situation in which they seem stalled out with their venture. A lot of the frustration stems from lack of investor interest in the company and for some reason, bootstrapping doesn't seem to be a choice the entrepreneur wants to pursue. Getting stuck in this limbo creates a chaotic situation where entrepreneurs often lose sight of what to do to fix the stall, and many million or billion dollar ideas die before their time.

My message is for the person who has a really good business idea and has invested a decent amount of time thinking about the concept, but hasn't moved beyond the abstract.

Might this be you? Have you spent hours doing Google searches to confirm the idea has merit and nobody else seems to be doing it just like you think it should be done? Have you found the perfect tag line and sketched out the company logo? Have you talked about your game-changing idea with friends or family dozens of times?

BUT…

Have you procrastinated on sketching out the business model in writing so can be shared with others? Have you not yet developed a working prototype or at least a conceptual one? Have you not yet tested the concept on your prospective customer base or even an informal focus group? Have you not yet gone through the progression of issues that will validate not only your business idea, but also demonstrate the viability of your plan to bring the idea into the marketplace? Have you invested lots of "sweat equity," but no "hard equity"?

First, the good news: You are not alone.

Lots of entrepreneurial thinkers get stuck in the abstract of their idea. I have a name for them: "Wanderpreneurs." Lots of aspiring entrepreneurs get stuck in a chaotic limbo while on their business-building journey. Few, however, are willing to do what it takes to "put the chain back on the gears" and make all that pedaling mean something.

In the past two decades, a whole generation of entrepreneurs have been conditioned to expect almost everything for free—freemium business services, readily available investor capital with little or no due diligence and of course, viral customer growth with costs of acquisition approaching zero. It may not be your fault that you've been fed this expectation, but it is still your responsibility to escape it. There's a witty definition of insanity: repeating the same behavior over and over, but expecting a different outcome. Too many entrepreneurs get stuck in this cycle.

My advice centers on how to escape the chaos and frustrations of the Wanderpreneur Cycle.

"Act" Must Come From Within the "Abstract"

Building a business is a process. It's not a perfectly linear process, but it is still a process. Like all processes, you must apply a solid blueprint that maps the abstract into action—a written model that shows how you will act to implement your big idea so that all interested parties succeed, including your investors, your employees, your customers, your co-founders, and of course, you. At this stage, it's not about a quick path to success; it is about making sure your plan to survive serves as a foundation for your plan to thrive. If you don't know which issues you must confront to launch a successful company and attract investors, use a service like ActSeed.com that gives you an interactive blueprint—a diagnostic to identify weaknesses and needs, and then find resources to help you fix the issues you uncover.

Don't expect investors to become so emotionally involved in your idea that they invest without knowing any of the details. Yes, it may happen occasionally, but the reason we're having this conversation is because you're frustrated that an emotional investor has not yet materialized.

If your idea stays in your head, the investor's money stays in his or her wallet.

No, you don't need to draft a 50-page business plan that looks like a master's degree thesis, but yes, you need to be able to articulate your idea and your plan for turning the idea into a profitable business, and you must be able to tell this story in words, numbers, and pictures. Business plans are not useful if you treat them as a static commercial to investors.

The Only Constant is Change, and You Don't Get to Dictate the Change

Expect that your business blueprint will need to be modified as you move forward, but do not use this as an excuse to avoid creating the initial plan. A good plan is a living document that evolves as you navigate the chaos of ongoing business activity.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder was general field marshal of the Prussian army for 30 years and a renowned military strategist. He is credited with the phrase, "No battle plan survives first contact" which has been adopted by famed US military strategists like Gen. Eisenhower and has been paraphrased by entrepreneurial evangelists as well. This doesn't give you an excuse to avoid having a plan; it means you must be prepared to evolve your plan.

The commercial passenger airline industry is a good example of process within chaos. Every day, a combination of airports, multiple airline fleets, and a complex reservation system battles the surprises brought on by unpredictable weather, mechanical problems, and personnel issues. If airlines used expected chaos as the excuse to avoid planning every day, the entire system would have no foundation or starting point from which to improvise.

You can't pivot without firm ground on which to plant your pivot foot. The change and chaos thrust upon you is mostly out of your control, but your level of preparation drives your ability to react faster and more creatively than your competition.

You are not alone as a Wanderpreneur, but you are responsible for breaking out of the abstract and taking the necessary actions that will propel your concept out of your head and into the marketplace. Whether you just want to open a local sandwich shop or you have a billion dollar biofuel invention, chaos will be a constant companion on your entrepreneurial journey, but the core business-building process is similar—and necessary.

* * * * *

Bill Attinger is an angel investor and former venture-backed CEO of a few start-ups over the past 20 years. His current focus is serving as the (CEO) of ActSeed—the "chief mechanic" of an economic engine for early stage businesses and Main Street Entrepreneurs across the USA. You can view more about Bill’s professional background on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/billattinger! Contact Bill via LinkedIn or on Twitter @ActSeed.
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