Crossing the chasm from startup idea to funding-ready venture.
It can be a tough chasm to cross, and there’s a social equity component.
Geoffrey Moore wrote the seminal book Crossing the Chasm about how tech companies can get from a few early-adopter customers to the many mainstream customers they need for growth and success.
But my experience is that the biggest “chasm” for most entrepreneurs to cross is the one that happens much earlier in the process— it’s the chasm between having a startup idea and getting to a launch-ready, funding-ready venture. The sad fact is that most startups die in this valley of death. Gone, forgotten, and buried in unmarked graves.
There are many reasons why so few entrepreneurs cross this chasm. Sometimes the momentum just runs out. Sometimes the idea looks less promising once some research is done. Sometimes the entrepreneur just doesn’t know how to push things forward to the next step.
But often the key factor, really, is access to funding and mentorship. We all need a Rich Uncle Bob who believes in us and can help us to push our venture forward. If you interview 100 successful entrepreneurs, 99 of them will credit someone who played the role of Rich Uncle Bob (or Aunt Nancy) in their startup journey.
As always, there’s a social equity component to this. Mark Zuckerberg grew up in a wealthy New York family, his parents were both doctors, he went to Phillips Exeter and then Harvard, so his social connections opened a lot of doors for him. I don’t mean to diminish his smarts and all his hard work, but he started on third base.
I’ve spent much of the past ten years working to help entrepreneurs of all stripes cross the chasm between a startup idea and having a launch-ready, funding-ready venture. Because I passionately believe in the democratization of entrepreneurship and the self-actualization it can create.
I teach an entrepreneurship course at Stanford University that is open to everyone in the community. I volunteer at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, where we support social entrepreneurs working in the areas of women’s economic empowerment and climate resilience. I’ve spent time getting to know Innovation Works, a Baltimore organization that connects entrepreneurs and investors working to build sustainable inner-city neighborhood economies. I’ve worked with the founders of Five One Labs, a startup incubator focused on helping refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to become entrepreneurs who can create jobs and improve livelihoods.
The common thread that runs through all of these organizations is the belief that entrepreneurship can be a force for social good. A belief that entrepreneurship is a powerful engine that can improve lives and social equity.
So what does it take to help entrepreneurs “cross the chasm” from a startup idea to a launch-ready, funding-ready venture? Well, I’m working on a book about this, but all of the programs I mentioned above have some aspects of the following:
- Developing an entrepreneurial mindset, which includes personal resilience as well as a focus on rapid iterations and continuous learning (including getting into the habit of always testing your assumptions).
- Connecting with mentors who can accompany you on your startup journey (like Rich Uncle Bob, but better).
- Understanding the factors that tend to drive startup success and failure (every startup is different, of course, but the reasons they fly or die tend to be common).
- Connecting with investors (and learning to be great at telling a crisp, clear, and compelling story about what you are working on, and why it matters).
The startup journey can be long and difficult, and it’s almost entirely on-the-job training — there is no university degree called “startup founder”. But programs like the ones I mentioned above can help entrepreneurs of all backgrounds improve their odds of success.
I believe in the democratization of entrepreneurship, and I believe in the notion that entrepreneurship can be a powerful engine for economic growth and social equity. Getting from a startup idea to a launch-ready funding-ready venture can be a big chasm to get across — but it’s a chasm worth crossing.