The Weakest Link, Good Bye!

I was quoted in this article, about the new Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise course being offered by Victoria University:

Vic teaches mastery of a dragons den

For completeness, some other stuff I told the reporter, which didn’t make the article…

You don’t qualify your start-up by winning a business plan competition, or getting a sucker to invest or being accepted into an incubator program. You qualify by building something customers want and win by selling it repeatedly to them at a price that is greater than your costs.

The best and arguably only way to learn about a start-up is to be part of a start-up. The good news is that’s very easy to do. There are no pre-requisites.

Actually, I’ve changed my mind on this since I was first asked. One of the things investors look for in founders is evidence of good judgement. On reflection this is an excellent negative tell.

I wonder if this reality TV approach frustrates people working in other areas? What do people who work in the music industry, or home renovators or chefs think of their reality TV equivalents? Maybe the distinction has been blurred in all of these industries too?

To understand the folly, take the text of the press release and replace all instances of “technology entrepreneur” with “poet”:

“Towards completion of the course, each team will present their poems to an expert panel, with attracting funding being an integral part of the qualification.”

Sounds excellent. I’d attend.

But, anyway, I’m done with this debate.

I hereby announce my resignation from the position of the guy who speaks out about this sort of stuff – incubators, business plan competitions, endless awards, and the whole reality TV approach to start-ups. Somebody else can comment on our emperors impressive new wardrobe from here on in.

When we work with founders we advise them to try and not get sucked into the noise and distractions that swirl around the start-up eco-system, and to just focus on building a great product and business. For whatever reason I haven’t followed that advice myself recently.

Maybe a MAdvTechEnt is the missing piece to your start-up jigsaw. Perhaps the safe environment of an incubator will help you get going. The Dragons Den could even be the ideal place for you to find an investor for your venture.

My mileage differs quite a lot. But, I’m not going to waste any more time or energy trying to convince you otherwise…

Good luck!

6 thoughts on “The Weakest Link, Good Bye!”

  1. Rowan, I absolutely agree with your (unreported) comments – in fact I made very similar remarks about the DomPo report, and the new Masters to my wife this morning, except mine was couched in rather more profane terms…..

  2. Rowan, I absolutely agree with your (unreported) comments – in fact I made very similar remarks about the DomPo report and the new Masters programme to my wife this morning, except mine were couched in rather more profane terms…..

  3. Hey Rowan – I was contacted by idealog about the initiative and said pretty much the same thing. Funny, I was sitting down with a kiwi entrepreneur in SF yesterday talking about this stuff. He’s someone who is doing a staggeringly good job of executing on his opportunity, while still living (some of the time) back in New Zealand.

    The #1 piece of advice he had for kiwi entrepreneurs wasn’t to find a local incubator to go curl up in for six months, it was to rent a desk on the very best incubator of all, the NZ8 flight directly to San Francisco. Things like the Icehouse are valuable for companies with a very domestic perspective and opportunity – but if the market for your product is global, it’s hard to see how putting off the big flight for a period of time will in any way help achieving the aims.

    I’m an investor in a handful of tech startups outside of the US, in Aus, NZ and the UK – all of them are executing well precisely because they got their bums on a cramped seat in coach and made the trek to where it matters (at least in this frothy climate) early in their lives.

    IMO & YMMV

  4. But (sorry to harp on) I think there is a difference when it comes to things like TechStars and YCombinator in the US. Partly because those programmes get startups awesome access to funding AND attention which can lead to both fuel for growth and actual sales.

    In many ways I’d regard TechStars and YCombinator not as an incubator, but as a giant marketing and business development programme (as well as an opportunity to get accelerated product feedback from potential customers you possibly wouldn’t have access to).

    It kind of feels like (the argument here isn’t “incubators are good/incubators are bad” – it’s more about initiatives back home in NZ cosseting entrepreneurs in a comfort zone that is actually counter to them jumping off the cliff and getting started.

    For full disclosure (not that it makes any difference) I’m a mentor for TechStars Cloud in San Antonio which maybe skews my opinions a little…

  5. If a tree falls in the forest nobody hears it.

    If people with no media presence say incubators are a dumb idea, nobody listens.

    You know you are right, you know some of us listen, don’t give up!

    Or even better coach some of us how to pitch, win and say no thanks. Bad form I know but the pitching experience would be useful to hone ones value proposition and actually result in the incubators adding value :-)

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