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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scientist & Technical People Can Be Entrepreneurs TOO

Becoming an Entrepreneur is more of following a dream than a learning exercise.  You either develop a passion for developing a business or you do not.  Scientists and technical personnel often create some new technology and decide they want to see it become a product.  Sometimes, they want to take the lead role in development of the business and even desire to run it.   This is not the case for all technical oriented people, but the select few that have been bitten by the “Business Bug.”
The biggest problem the face is lack of experience.  Science and technical training in school does not require taking business courses and typically these individuals do not get experience at work.  This is unfortunate.  The lack of training is often perceived as a disadvantage when investors look at the individual and the company.  Investors want to have confidence the company will be run properly.  They insist on having someone run the business that has the proper business skills as to ensure good management of funds and business.
Investors and Boards often give consideration to the stage of the business and the background of the person running the business.  Even if someone has been running a startup for a long time, it is not too surprising to see changes in management once a product is launched.  This is understandable, but the outgoing CEO really never got the chance to demonstrate an ability to take on a new level of responsibility.
It is true that not all scientists and technical personnel are destined to be good business people.  But, that aspect can be learned.  Many scientists have been elevated through the ranks to be CEO of major corporations.  This is following their career in the company on the product development side of the business.  These technical people learned the business aspects and developed a skill set to run the company.  They also had key mentors and advisors along the way to help coach, train, and/or provide advice.

As an entrepreneur, the first question you need to ask is: “Would I rather run the company or develop the products?”  You will be a founder of the company in either mode, but you need to make a decision as to who will be management and of what.  It will come down to which will you enjoy the most and work the hardest at to make the company successful. Just to be clear, no one will think the less of you if you decide someone else should be the CEO.  Also, this is no reflection on skills.  Some of the best and smartest scientists and technical personnel remain in development while others decide to switch to business. But if you want to be the CEO, GO FOR IT!
The transition from Scientist to Business requires a strong desire to switch. The scientist must want to manage the business and believes he/she can do great job. This will be tested over the months to follow and your Board of Directors will let you know if it is not working out. But if you do not try on a company you start, you may never get another chance.  Remember that management can be learned just as anything else.  There are things that can be done to facilitate the learning and fill in gaps that will improve your chances.   Here are a few for your consideration:
1)     Develop the Business Plan and Investor Presentation:  Compile the plan and presentation yourself getting whatever advice you need.  You will be forced to learn your business, it’s background, and define where it will go.  Use advisors, staff, and consultants, legal and financial assistance and ask questions along the way.  It may take longer to get to a quality document, but you will be planning the company future and learning the business at the same time. 

2)     Hire the Team:  You will immediately be involved in recruitment and negotiating and leaning the issues.  You will explore alternatives to compensation and ways to keep burn reduced to a minimum and maintain the budget.  When making offers, you learn a wide range of personnel and compensation issues as you discuss them with your counsel.  When the people join, they will see you as the boss and leader of the company.  You will further develop your management once they are onboard.

3)     Set the Timelines and Milestones:  Establish the company objectives and communicate clearly to the team; this is crucial.  The company will not achieve objectives if you do not clearly define and communicate them. You cannot expect them to guess what you want or when it needs to be completed. Part of the management process is monitoring and guiding to ensure the team meets to objectives.

4)     Assign Work Load:  You cannot do everything!  Select the sub-leaders in the company and delegate responsibility for certain objectives.  Monitor their progress and try not to micromanage; they hate that.  You must make sure they are on board with your timelines and objectives.  You may not have identified all the issues required to meet the timelines.  Also, the cost analysis may need adjustment once the team gets more serious about the tasks and learn what it will take to accomplish them.  Do not be surprised if your first guesses on timing and cost are WRONG.

5)     Advisors and Mentors:  No one is an expert at everything.  Thinking you are one is BAD.  Try to identify where you have needs for learning and find mentors to assist.  You will develop skills you need along the way and help your company not to suffer by your weakness. 

6)     Continually Reassess and Question: Vigilance is critical.  Not just for the company meeting objectives but your personal performance.  You should always explore better ways to improve how you manage and lead your company.  This is another reason to have great mentors around.  They can tell you when you are missing things and help you improve.
Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon