More and more students, both in undergraduate and graduate institutions, are deciding to launch their own ventures upon graduation rather than taking the traditional route of working for another firm. Likewise, more and more individuals are leaving their jobs to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.
While these ventures may ultimately be very successful (e.g., Google and Microsoft were both launched by students), they face certain challenges in their business plans and capital raising processes. The foremost challenge is overcoming the lack of experience of the management team. A classis chicken-and-egg problem presents itself – the management team has no past company successes to point to, and can’t prove itself unless given the opportunity to launch the business. While this problem is nearly always the case for graduating students, it also presents itself to many entrepreneurs, particularly those who are launching their first ventures.
To overcome this challenge, these ventures must represent themselves as having a great team by attracting a stellar management team and/or advisors. By attracting a quality management team, even if the team will not start until after financing, it gives investors that confidence that the plan will be properly executed. It also proves that the entrepreneurs have the ability to “sell” others on their vision. The management team need not be complete before seeking capital, since additional members will most likely be added after capital is raised. For instance, shortly after Google raised capital from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Omid Kordestani left Netscape to accept a position as vice president of business development and sales, and Urs Hölzle was hired away from UC Santa Barbara as vice president of engineering.
Attracting high-quality advisors builds great credibility since if respected individuals are willing to risk their reputations by taking an advisory position, the venture must have some merit. Advisors can also help with the execution of the business and sometimes will also provide the needed capital. In Google’s case, when no major portal was interested in partnering with or funding the company, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were able to convince Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, to become an advisor and investor. Bechtolsheim contributed the initial $100,000 to the company.
Even if the venture is able to attract quality management teams and advisors, it will always be at a disadvantage versus other ventures headed by entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that” successfully in the past. To compensate for this, these ventures must really know their customers, know their market and know their competition. By possessing an in depth knowledge of the external factors that will effect the company’s success, the entrepreneurs can both create a solid business strategy and convince investors that an opportunity really exists. If the opportunity truly exists, then investors know that even if the venture is initially mismanaged, then they can hire additional managers later to put it back on course.
In summary, when students or first time entrepreneurs, begin developing their business strategies and plans, they must compensate for the management deficiencies they possess versus established entrepreneurs. By doing this and showing a comprehensive knowledge of their market, these ventures can level the capital raising playing field. Fortunately, these ventures can point to a long list of other successful companies which were launched by students and/or first time entrepreneurs, most notably Google and Microsoft.