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

Shan W. Steinmark: Business Coach, Transformational Consultant & Angel Investor

“Help, I need somebody. Help, not just anybody. Help, you know I need someone. Help.” -The Beatles, 1965.

“Help!” should be The Entrepreneur’s Theme Song. The great myth is that we as entrepreneurs are independent. While that certainly applies to our thinking, we inevitably need the help of many other people—family, friends, teammates, mentors, suppliers, customers, investors—to start our ventures, grow our businesses, and achieve our successes. Conversely, entrepreneurs may be unsung heroes, providing help to bazillions of people—through innovative products, services, and companies. Moreover, most real economic growth is driven by innovation, and we need entrepreneurs to help engineer a stronger, better economic growth engine. So Lesson #1 = no help, no entrepreneurs, no innovation, no economic growth.

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Shan W. Steinmark: Business Coach, Transformational Consultant & Angel Investor

“Help, I need somebody. Help, not just anybody. Help, you know I need someone. Help.” -The Beatles, 1965.

“Help!” should be The Entrepreneur’s Theme Song. The great myth is that we as entrepreneurs are independent. While that certainly applies to our thinking, we inevitably need the help of many other people—family, friends, teammates, mentors, suppliers, customers, investors—to start our ventures, grow our businesses, and achieve our successes. Conversely, entrepreneurs may be unsung heroes, providing help to bazillions of people—through innovative products, services, and companies. Moreover, most real economic growth is driven by innovation, and we need entrepreneurs to help engineer a stronger, better economic growth engine. So Lesson #1 = no help, no entrepreneurs, no innovation, no economic growth.

What Is “Help” in the Business World?

Classic business help is “meeting unmet societal needs” with a unique invention. As both entrepreneurs and investors know well, the ultimate business model consists largely of providing innovative solutions to the most critical needs, whether the innovation represents a cure for cancer, renewable energy, or “meeting emerging societal wants,” e.g. e-tablets, e-books, and e-commerce. At the most fundamental level, the motivation to help can be a tremendously powerful business driver—especially when entrepreneurs ask (a) what is your problem or pain, (b) how can my product provide a novel or better solution, and (c) what are the most critical and valued attributes of that solution?

How Can We Maximize the Impact of Our Help?

Most of us embrace the proverb: “Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.” To this we might add “Help me and my team build a fishing business and we ALL eat for a lifetime.” The point is that entrepreneurs have options for how and how much we help meet society’s unmet needs. A sole proprietor can provide direct help to customers one-at-a-time. At the next level, a team or organization can provide more help to more customers in more places. However, perhaps the Holy Grail is to create a high-volume product or leveraged service for millions of people around the world. For example, a doctor can treat a patient or a hospital can serve many patients, but an effective vaccine can help prevent entire populations from ever becoming patients.

While there are countless examples of providing maximum help, the advent of computers, software, the Internet, mobile apps, and social media has created a whole new level of potential help. Effective products built on this technological foundation can help more people, more quickly, and more remotely; e.g., (a) fiber-optic and wireless distribution channels can now reach almost every corner of the world; (b) software solutions can literally travel at the speed of light; and (c) entrepreneurs may never see the vast majority of their end-users. Perhaps most impressive, once certain mobile apps are in the hands of multiple users, social media empower us to help one another almost anywhere, any time.

What Are the Caveats of Maximum Helping?

Contemporary business help can be far-reaching, extremely fast, and able to transcend the limits of traditional face-to-face commercial transactions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the loss of direct human contact between entrepreneur and customer can result in unwanted side-effects. (1) Staring at computer screens for countless hours may cause code-writers—or book-writers—to lose touch with the most critical, specific needs of the people whom they are trying to help. (2) Also, when something goes wrong with the basic product, getting help from an automated helpline can be one of modern life’s most daunting, agonizing challenges. (3) Finally, some argue that too many of our best and brightest entrepreneurs focus on “overly well-met societal nice-to-haves,” e.g. mobile apps to help find the nearest restaurant, versus developing more effective means of feeding the world’s most needy populations.

How Do We Optimize Our Helping Effectiveness?

1. We as entrepreneurs are at our innovative and helpful best when we maintain direct contact with our end-users. Twitter, telephones, and televised meetings can only take us so far. At some point, it is vital that we travel to meet at least a representative sample of our customers, to enable us to more accurately and comprehensively discover our customers’ priority needs and create insightful, innovative solutions.

2. Similarly, we should honor the old saying “tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember; involve me and I learn.” Although it is not always easy to do so, the more that we as entrepreneurs can actually collaborate with our customers to solve complex problems, the higher the probability that we will be able to co-design and co-implement the most appealing, effective solutions.

3. We need to periodically reassess why we help, i.e. (a) intrinsic motivation because it feels good or right to help, (b) extrinsic motivation because we are fairly compensated for our help, and (c) ecosystem motivation because it is enlightened self-interest to improve the world in which we work, play, and live. While all these motivations are legitimate, it helps to clarify why we select key product features, target markets, and business models.

Why Help One Another?

As entrepreneurs, we are most successful when we help people anticipate their top priority needs. However, to optimize our helping, we all need our family, friends, teammates, mentors, suppliers, customers, and investors to help us build on our strengths to work faster, go further, and achieve better results. Therefore, it is vital that we as entrepreneurs (a) get the help that we need and then (b) give as much as we get. The world’s future health, well-being, and economic growth depend heavily on the help of intrepid entrepreneurs. So please help!

* * * * *

Shan W. Steinmark and his partner Melinda A. Rockwell have been enabling national and international leaders to enhance their individual, team, and organization effectiveness for nearly 40 years. As the founder of Strategic Transitions Research, Shan has collaborated with the diverse pioneers of R&D projects, strategic development initiatives, and emerging growth businesses to help translate visions and strategies into successful ventures. Dr. Steinmark has worked with start-ups, turnarounds and revitalizations in a wide range of industries, including energy, financial services, consumer products, telecommunications, and biotechnology. He facilitates innovation improvement, strategic planning, business integration, and leadership development processes for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. After basing in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York while consulting with Fortune 500 companies for most of his career, Shan now invests in a variety of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in Hawaii, including Hawaii Angels (Board of Directors), Hawaii Science & Technology Council (Board of Directors), Pacific Asia Center of Entrepreneurship—Shidler College of Business—University of Hawaii (Board of Advisors), Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii (Board of Advisors), Tech Hui (Member), Hawaii Venture Capital Association (Member), Governor’s Hawaii Innovation Council—Committee on Capital Formation (Former Member), Governor’s Maui Council of Advisors (Former Member), Rotary Club of Honolulu (New Member). Shan is also the Seed Financing Chairman for Tech Coast Angels, one of the nation's largest angel investing groups.
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