I am starting a new public accessible prototyping lab in Huntsville, Alabama, called MindGear Labs based on the fab lab model. I’ve dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and have done a fair amount of research on the topic. But this is my first attempt at starting a business. Here is where I document weekly my mistakes and successes in creating a business from the ground up.
Sometimes I get to Sunday and although I’ve thought about it all week, I don’t know what I’m going to write. This week was hectic at the day job, and I spent the weekend traveling to Raleigh to see the mini-Maker Faire. (It was awesome, and my kudos to the organizers, who gave me numerous tips for starting a Faire in Huntsville next year.) Now I’m getting ready to leave and pick up my son for a Father’s Day dinner.
I’m at a bit of a crossroads here. I started this idea for MindGear with the belief that I had a good idea and that I would give it a year and see if it caught on. I didn’t expect to decide to open a store and then throw open the doors a few weeks later, but I’ve been writing here about my experiences for four months, and I was working on the concept before that. Most of that time I’ve been waiting; waiting to have my loan application approved, waiting to be able to start my business, waiting to see if my real estate agent will get called back on the properties I want to see, waiting to hear back from others on various things I am consulting with them on.
In the meantime I’ve done a lot of networking and a lot of research. The latter comes naturally to me, the former not so much. However the two are interlinked. As I read I come up with better questions to ask those in my network. As I network I learn about new topics I need to research. At this point my research has been heavily into the business side of things. I feel like I’m getting a good education in small business management. However I won’t get my grade until I open shop and see what sort of response I get.
In much of my research and in my networking I’ve heard the following; ‘It matters more about how well you implement your idea than how good the idea was in the first place.’ In other words, a cool idea with an average plan and mediocre implementation is not as good as an average idea with a great implementation. In today’s economy I wonder if anything less than a great idea with a great implementation will do. Other popular words of wisdom include: ‘There are only three things that matter in business … Location, Location and Location.’ ‘The quality of your employees will make you or break you.’ ‘If you don’t implement good accounting practices you won’t know enough about your business to manage it effectively.’ I can imagine business majors everywhere being pelted with these phrases by various marketing, management and accounting professors.
Isn’t finance the fourth major discipline in business schools? Shouldn’t they have a ‘do or die’ phrase as well, probably something like ‘Always invest your operating cash in a money market account with a return of 6% or higher’? Yeah, these are finance guys; it’s probably not that catchy. (You know you’re dry when an engineer calls you that). They probably don’t need a catchphrase; after all I don’t need some pithy saying to remind me of the consequences of mortgaging my soul to the local bank. And frankly it’s not like I had a lot of decisions to make in the matter either, like picking out the right location or the best employee. I was just glad to get the loan.
So there is a decision to be made in each business discipline, and that decision is couched as the most important decision in determining the success of a new business. Some of the books I’ve read have extorted each of the above decisions as the most important one to be made. It’s enough to paralyze one into not making any decisions. How can I make the thousands of daily decisions necessary to get a business off the ground when so many of them will define whether I’m successful? Now I’m wondering ‘what if I pick a bad location and no one can find me or I’m too far away from everyone?’ ‘What if I hire the wrong person and he’s rude to everyone or steals me blind?’ ‘What if I can only get 5.5% from the bank?’ These are scary questions.
And yet I think grappling with these questions, and spending the extra time and money, is the difference between a great implementation and a good implementation. My original plan was to get a reasonably accessible space that was cheap, staff it with myself and a few others and I didn’t even worry about mutual funds. Now I’m hiring a consultant to help pick out the right location, looking at multiple options for eventual employees, and have every nickel I don’t need in the next month in a money market account.
So the slow progress may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m getting a crash course in business, which has been much more fun than it would have if I wasn’t motivated by starting a business. I’m slowly learning how to implement my idea much better than if I had just bought the equipment and hung out a sign, which was my original plan. And I got to make a running joke about money market accounts, which has to be a first in the annuals of human history. As I develop a more thought out and serious implementation of my MindGear idea my next challenge will be to do all this and stay within budget.