Tag Archives: Martin Zwilling

5 Signs of Startup Success, 5 Signs of Startup Failure.

Excellent: Cheryl Conner starts her 5 Sure Signs A Startup Firm Will Succeed list on Forbes.com with this one: 

1. Has Validated Customers. This is one of the core rules … Do you know in advance that you have customers who are willing to pay the price you are asking for the product or service you have? … A successful startup scales its growth on the basis of proven, steady and paying customers (especially where residual/subscription income is involved). Steady acquisition is also a very good sign, as opposed to high and low fits and starts.

This reminds me of the “you had me at hello” scene in the Jerry MacGuire movie. That’s all I need to read on. This person is working from the real world. 

But the list holds up as it continues … Cheryl cites 2.) strategic perspective, 5.) good communications, 4.) transparency, and — another favorite of mine — 3.) what she calls “cash conservative:” 

There’s never been a better time to start a business in many respects, but there’s perhaps never been a more challenging time to obtain early stage credit or funding. Lean operations are the name of the game, and the ability to stretch and conserve early stage funds, even if greater funds are available, is a significant sign that points to future success. 

While I like this, and she’s quote right, I do wish she hadn’t framed it around the funding. Funded startups are the rare exception. For the vast majority of startups, reality is starker than this. It’s about not spending money you don’t have. Period. 

I also liked her tip of the hat to Martin Zwillig‘s other side of the coin, 5 sure signs that a startup is going bad. The two make great companion pieces. 

True Story: Begin With a Job at a Startup, Then Start Your Own

The title of this post is taken from Martin Zwilling’s Begin With a Job at a Startup, Then Start Your Own on the Gust blog. In that post, Martin starts with this:

For those of you who want to get in on the ground floor of a new venture, but haven’t yet worked up the nerve to start your own, begin with a job at a startup.


I say that it’s not just the nerve to start your own; it’s also the resume, experience, and resources. And that you shouldn’t feel that every entrepreneur proves him or herself by jumping straight from childhood to business owner. Breathing first, and learning something, is a good idea.

When I was in business school 30-some years ago, Professor Steve Brandt paused on one point, in front of the class, and reflected. He was teaching developing a business plan and getting funded. He said:

Most of you are too young and not ready to jump from school into your own business. Don’t worry about it if that’s the case. If you’re serious about entrepreneurship, just choose the right stream to swim in. Get out of school and do something that relates to what you’d like to do eventually.

I repeated that advice often during my 11 years teaching entrepreneurship one quarter per year at the University of Oregon. Some of my students took it to heart. They didn’t jump straight from college to starting a business. Instead, they worked with startups in their field of interest and eventually started their own.

I’ve noticed since then that the world changes very fast, and the startup leap is happening much more often at a much younger age. But the fundamental value of that advice still applies.

Martin Zwilling goes on to list some concrete specific tips that might help. If you’re interested, that’s a good post to read.

For another taste of that post, let’s finish this post with this quote. I agree with this …

But a word to the wise, be picky about what startup you join. Ask around about the founders. Make sure you meet more than the boss and check the culture before you take the job. Reporting structures are fluid in startups, and unfortunately many startups are like dysfunctional families.

… except that I’d add: well, but not too picky.

(Image: istockphoto.com)