Entrepreneurship, while always a cornerstone of the U.S. economy, is emerging as the dominant force for growth amid global economic and technological trends which are changing the very nature of work.
This manifesto describes some of the empirical observations and resulting ideas, developed by Robbie and Andrew over years of watching, advising, and building many companies. These tenents guide how Startomatic is built.
Entrepreneurship is not a risky leap of faith, but a viable career path
Entrepreneurship suffers from a number of widely held misconceptions, chief among them that it is an extremely risky pursuit, suitable only for either those with nothing to lose or those with the means to survive a complete failure. Our experiences suggest this is wrong.
Robbie left a 13-year career at Cisco in order to start his first company. In hindsight, it became clear that his corporate position engendered a false sense of security, and that starting a company was actually less risky than continuing at a "secure" position with a Fortune 100 company.Today’s workforce is changing, and those changes will tend to drive workers towards the freedom and flexibility entrepreneurship offers. Consider the following:
- Employee loyalty continues to dwindle. Gen-Xers like Robbie and Andrew are the last generation raised to believe that the ideal career arc began with graduation from a four-year college, rose gracefully through 30 years of increasing responsibility, pay, and gray hairs earned under a single employer, and came to rest gently in an early retirement and a guaranteed pension. That is simply not the reality in today’s workforce.
- The gig economy continues to expand. Increasing numbers of workers are finding extra income or even stable, long-term work via “gig” jobs. The trends point toward the gig market growing significantly over time. Gig jobs should no longer be considered temporary stopgaps between “real” jobs, but instead should be viewed as small (or micro) business opportunities.
- Higher education is no longer the automatic decision it once was. Going to college straight out of high school will not be the only viable option for future generations. We expect many more students will find that starting a company without a four-year degree, based on vocational or real-world training, is preferable to the debt and uncertain job prospects greeting college graduates today.
- Automation is here to stay. The tech-related businesses Robbie and Andrew have started include a machine learning company, a natural language processing company, and a crypto-currency business, so we’re very familiar with what advanced technologies can and can’t do. While we don’t buy in to the common notion that the ongoing digital and automation revolution will decimate whole industries, we do believe that technological gains will drive automation in the workplace and create downward pressure on certain types of repetitive jobs. But never fear, entrepreneurs are safe!
ANYONE can be an entrepreneur
Popular media focuses its entrepreneurship coverage on uber-successful founders like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. By constantly profiling these outliers at the extremes of business (to the exclusion of the vastly more numerous main street/mom-and-pop-type enterprises), by emphasizing raising money over profitability, and by proliferating a false narrative around the failure rate of new businesses, the public perception becomes that there is a wall around entrepreneurship that is difficult and scary to scale, and nearly impossible to break through without elite connections, millions of dollars on hand, or a lottery winner-level of luck.
We also dispute the common myth that being a founder requires a certain personality type, or that entrepreneurship is necessarily harder than any other occupation. Our experience in working with and advising hundreds of business founders has shown us that running a "successful" small business is an obtainable goal for people of many personality types and virtually any walk of life. However, that message is not widely distributed – but we believe Startomatic can help change that. We see a future where anyone, from any background, can successfully launch a company. By ANYONE, we’re talking about you, high school kids, your grandmother, anyone. They just need the right tools and mindset.
Building a company today is needlessly complicated and expensive
Sales, marketing, finance, HR, IT, legal, analytics, customer support, and many more. An aspiring business owner can be forgiven for asking “Where do I even get started?” Because for each one of those functions, there are tens (or even hundreds) of apps that an entrepreneur must research, consider, and select from in order to help manage their business. In fact, the Martech 5000, which catalogs the apps solely in the marketing tech stack, now contains over 8,000 solutions. And let’s not forget that these functions are all ancillary to the true purpose of the business – getting the right product to the right market. But shouldn’t all these software solutions make the entrepreneur’s life easier? Maybe not…
If we call Salesforce’s 1999 launch the starting point for the software-as-a-service era, we’ve now had more than 20 years of SaaS application evolution. This era has seen a proliferation of solutions, with the offerings from giant incumbents like Salesforce, Workday, and Intuit, getting more feature rich (read: bloated) with each passing year. These companies never remove features, they only add, year over year, constantly trying to give their customers more reasons to buy or upgrade. The end result is that they all overshot the market for small and medium businesses (SMBs) long ago. The 10% functionality of Salesforce or QuickBooks that a new business needs is swamped by the complexity (and cost) of the other 90%, which goes unused.
Let’s say an entrepreneur does all the work to research the possible solutions, selects three or four to implement, and spends the time necessary to set up their business on each distinct platform and learn how to use them all. They end up spending critical time away from customers and with monthly expenses in the hundreds – or more – just for software solutions. There must be a better way.
Entrepreneurs will be more successful if they focus on their core business
In the early days of a company, most administrative functions are simply not worth the time that most founders spend on them. Founders spin their wheels evaluating and implementing solutions that aren’t critical to success. If only entrepreneurs spent as much time talking to customers as they do agonizing over the "perfect" company name or logo design.
What is important is focusing on the core business, the company’s specialty, and doing customer development. Car makers don’t try to paint the car before determining if they can build a working motor. All too often, we see entrepreneurs overpaying to get a slick looking website or buying marketing automation software they rarely use, or paying for a Glassdoor subscription. Those things may be important eventually, but in the early days of a company, they will not determine success or failure. What is important is figuring out whether the business can make money.
Software can make the process of starting and running a company much easier
We believe there should be many more entrepreneurs in the world. So the question is: why aren’t more people starting businesses? The numerous, intimidating myths surrounding entrepreneurship we’ve discussed certainly play a role. There are real world issues too: How are you going to pay the rent (and preschool tuition and the Netflix subscription) until the business gets off the ground? What about health insurance? If you don’t know anything about sales or capital-F Finance or HR, how do you even begin to know what you need to learn first?
According to the Chamber of Commerce, lack of funds, poor planning, and bad management are the main reasons new companies fail. A comprehensive software solution can help with all three of those problems. But not just any software. As we covered above, there is PLENTY of software out there - too much in fact. What's needed in a single platform (so you don't have to worry about integrating several disparate solutions) that provides just the features that a small business needs at an affordable price. You can think of this as a company-in-a-box or company-as-a-service.
Entrepreneurs need fewer choicesThe paradox of choice stops many people in their tracks before they take even the first steps to start a company. The secret these “pre-trepreneurs” are missing is that the vast majority of companies just don’t need all of those choices. Generally speaking, there are just a couple distinct ways to do most back office and administrative tasks, and that’s it. To really get an entrepreneur up on their feet, we need to first reduce the complexity of the systems they use by limiting choice and customization, and second, providing clear, concise guidance on the meaningful choices that remain. If we can also convince the entrepreneur of the truth that most early decisions will be changed or revisited later anyway, we can be sure they don’t stress about details that don’t matter. As you develop a viable business, there will be plenty of time to optimize every aspect of your business.
Democratizing advanced technology for small businessSince most software vendors do not focus on the SMB market, many advances in technology reach small and micro businesses long after they’ve been adopted by the large enterprise market (you'd be surprised how many small businesses still use DOS-terminals). There is an opportunitity to apply the latest advances in machine learning and other technologies to give small businesses access to the same capabilities available to much bigger companies. Looking ahead, we are already developing processes to utilize various AI techniques to automate common, non-critical SMB functions, enabling entrepreneurs to hold off hiring non-important roles.
Building Startomatic for StartomaticStartomatic is a small business, and we understand what small businesses need. At each step of building our company, we ask ourselves “what software would help us here?”, and then we build it. Yes, it’s a little meta, a little like leaning out from the front of a train to lay the railroad tracks. But the result is Startomatic will always be Startomatic’s own #1 customer. While other companies have used their own software internally for one or two tasks, we run our whole company off the Startomatic platform.