Entrepalooza Panelists Share Tips on Starting and Growing a Successful Business

Laying a solid foundation for a start-up business is the first step toward long-term success. However, entrepreneurs should be prepared to handle some growing pains along the way, said 2013 Entrepalooza panelists, who shared best practices and lessons-learned from their first-hand experiences in the start-up world. Launching a new venture, the four entrepreneurs explained, involves:

  • Identifying a real problem that needs solving
  • Developing a business plan
  • Fine-tuning your product/service to fit the market
  • Evaluating your strengths and weakness as a company founder
  • Hiring talented people who share your passion and commitment
  • Attracting investors who are willing to contribute time and advice as well as money

Not everything is cut and dried, however. Kalyan Handique, the CEO of DeNovo Sciences, a cancer diagnostics start-up, and co-founder of HandyLab, urged emerging companies seeking venture capital investment to “spend time on developing a solid business plan and key milestones. The first 18 months of a start-up are most important.” Ann Marie Sastry, the CEO and co-founder of advanced-battery manufacturer Sakti3, said she started her company with an outline, rather than a full-blown business plan. Serial entrepreneur Todd Sullivan, MBA ’05, the CEO of Betterfly.com, remarked: “I believe in selling [the product concept] first before building anything. I talk with customers and let them lead me down the right path. If the core of the product isn’t right, you need to look at something else.”

To keep a start-up on track as it begins to grow requires constant transparency and a clear, continual focus on company values and culture. “People have joined your company to change the world in some way,” Sastry explained. Keeping spirits high and motivation at its peak, she added, entails talking regularly about progress, sharing data and examining what is and isn’t working.

Mistakes, the panelists agreed, are inevitable in an entrepreneurial venture. Some common pitfalls to avoid include:

  • Failing to align the expectations of customers, employees and investors with those of the company and its founder
  • Trying to sell a product or service that is not in sync with the market
  • Hiring individuals who are unable to do the job or work compatibly with team members
  • Being unwilling to solve big problems and move outside your comfort zone

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” said Shally Madan, MBA ’09, the CEO and co-founder of Luminate Health, an early-stage venture-backed start-up. “We’ve done it many times. It’s a wonderful learning experience.”

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