“There are many good things about a mountain trek. A few days close to nature brings life back to proportions, challenges your limits and you encounter like minded people. While staying in a refuge on the mountains, with the rumble of the glacier in the background, we were seated next to a French couple. After the usual introductions, it turned out Alexis was 35, 1 kid, happily married, apartment in Paris, but bored at his job as a process engineer. Yes, he got to travel from time to time, recently was promoted to lead a team of 4, but still the job was a routine and the prospect of 30 more years climbing the corporate ladder did not attract him. After introducing my daily routines, he gasped: “I’d like to become an entrepreneur, but in what?”.

We discussed until the guardia de refugio put out the lights. In the morning, while tightening our backpacks, Alexis suggested me to put my advice down – plenty of his friends are in the same situation.

Walking up the next col, I boiled the conversation down to 5 steps:

1. Get inspired

Go where entrepreneurs go: read the blogs, go to events, join communities (in Belgium you can start here: startups.be, bloovi, whiteboard, betagroup and the many facebook groups)

2. Find the idea

Look around. Opportunities are just outside your tunnel view: look right to reduce costs (eliminate one of the daily time wasters, eliminate a middlemen), look left for new revenue (do the same but different, make a new product or service)

3. Test the idea

Contact experts. If your boss should buy your product, ask if he would. You’d be surprised how accessible the ‘high office’ people are (politicians, CEOs,..). Nobody wants to miss out on the next big thing. Approach them with respect but self-assured. Bring an appealing story, from their perspective. You’ll write your marketing collateral along the way. Look at your idea from the eyes of the person who should be partner, customer. Tell them the full story, only then you’ll get most feedback. Give to receive. And… never think you’re idea is so good you can’t share it. Ideas to fragile to share will not stand the first market test. Of course don’t throw your idea on the street, carefully select the people you ask for feedback. Smart people will help you and propose partnerships. Think about the ideal outcome and frame your story but don’t beg.  You’re in the driving seat. Remember you learn more from negative feedback as from meaningless compliments.

4. Find a partner

Also setting up a business is so much easier with two. Shoulder to shoulder in good times and bad times. Your venture partner should not be a friend but look for someone who shares the same values, motivation and ambition with you. Talk about these things also, not just about the product and the business plan.

5. Build a prototype

Ideally you build the prototype for and with a first partner and potential customer. Test the prototype with friendly customers but ask for thorough feedback. Again, you’ll learn most from people not using your most fantastic product ever to be released on humanity.

Once you’re here, can rightfully call yourself an enterpreneur. And if the project doesn’t fly the first time, you’ve learnt to make it work the second time. And keep in mind the words of Steve Jobs “the journey is the reward.”

Hey, you didn’t mention financing. Isn’t this the most important thing when starting a venture?

Well, it’s important, but financing comes somewhere after step 5. The money will find you and your partner, your idea. VCs don’t invest in ideas so don’t waste your time. If you really need financing, put your energy in subsidies or incubation grants.”

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