For CMOs to build brands in this new digital world, it is more important than ever to learn to leverage opportunities as the founder of a start-up would. That’s why it was my recent pleasure, as part of the CMO mentoring work I do with start-ups, to be invited to be a judge at Emory Goizueta Business School’s HackATL (@HackATL), held Nov. 7 to 9 in Atlanta.
Jeff Meng, president of the Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management club, which organized HackATL, told me that “HackATL is the largest start-up hackathon in the Southeast, attracting more than 600 university students and young entrepreneurs to build a business in 48 hours. We have a diverse range of mentors, including serial start-up founders, Fortune 1000 presidents, entrepreneurship professors, an Emmy-award winning Hollywood actress-turned-entrepreneur, and the founders of the $11 million Series A funded Yik Yak app, all providing mentorship to accelerate start-up success.”
While at the event, I took the opportunity to ask three of these seasoned professionals: “What are the three most important pieces of advice you can share with young entrepreneurs to accelerate their success?” These pointers are not only relevant for start-up founders, but most of the concepts can be applied by CMOs who want to grow their brands as well.
Sanjay Parekh (@sanjay), serial entrepreneur and founder of Start-up Riot:
1. “Focus on building a viable and sustainable business. By doing this, all other problems tend to melt away. If your business isn't sustainable and built to generate revenue and profits, you will be plagued by any number of problems that appear to be ‘the’ problem, when, in fact, your problem is that the business wasn't built the right way in the first place.”
2. “Culture is possibly the most important piece of building a viable company. I would rather take a start-up with a vibrant and viable culture, staffed with individuals of average intelligence, over a start-up with a corrosive and misaligned culture staffed with geniuses. The start-up with the right culture fit will win every time.”
3. “Don't do a start-up with the goal of becoming rich. Do a start-up because you want to change the world. The passion for changing the world will keep you running until you succeed. The goal of becoming rich will exhaust you of energy when the goal becomes too elusive.”
Kat Cole (@katcoleatl), president of Cinnabon, who has more than doubled revenue to $1.5 billion in four years by leading with an entrepreneurial mind-set and principles:
1. “Choose your partners and partnerships wisely–first employees, advisers, board. You can have the best idea, but a partnership that is not aligned can keep that idea from becoming a reality. On the flip side, a partnership that is beautifully aligned can help an idea that would otherwise struggle hit the market in a powerful way and be successful and sustainable.”
2. “Remember where you came from, but don’t let it define you in terms of what your product stands for and its differentiation. For example, you may start a tech, service, or product company. As the start-up evolves and grows, you may find that there is actually something more powerful that can unleash growth in the market. Don’t be afraid to pivot and evolve it–stay true to your roots, but be evolutionary or revolutionary if necessary.”
3. “I have two rules at Cinnabon. Ask yourself: “If not me, then who; if not now, then when?” If we don’t, then our competition will. This is about competitiveness and accountability. But we have another rule: “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” This is about responsibility to finite resources, to employees, investors, partners, consumers, and community.”
Benn R. Konsynski, Ph.D., Emory Goizueta Business School, faculty adviser for the Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management club:
1. “Have fun with and passion for what you are doing. You need this combination to get through the tough times.”
2. “Understand the mix of skills that your venture will need, and honestly recognize where you have strengths and capability gaps. Then fill in the gaps quickly. You cannot go it alone for long. Foster the mix of talent, capabilities, alliances, and friendships you will need to succeed.”
3. “Think about all patterns of growth in all relevant dimensions: the scaling of your platform, the growth of your market, the target market side, the feature sets. Don’t neglect any of it.”
Let us know what your most important start-up pointers are.