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Start You Up

Music Suggestion: Start Me Up, Rolling Stones Drink Suggestion: Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka

INSEAD is a fun, rewarding place to work. After many exhilarating years hustling alongside hard-charging super achievers in venture capital and investment banking, it is a joy to again work with incredibly smart, accomplished and driven people, minus the god complex (sorry, that is harsh). At the Maag Centre for Entrepreneurship we give courses and workshops, guide and mentor, make introductions and advise on careers; in essence do everything possible to instill the fundamentals of entrepreneurship in our gifted students, then unleash them onto the world.

I have been teaching an 8-week workshop on technology commercialization this Fall, and in the course of developing its modules I had a pair of realizations (considered truly staggering insights in my former professional personas). One, I myself am a startup. As I pass through this mid-life phase of re-invention I weigh certain considerations that any emerging company must resolve: defining purpose and worth and how to make it happen. Two, outlining my personal plan through the lens of a business plan – the likes of which my students are expected to create – is incredibly beneficial. There is a process to developing great ideas that matter, then making the leap from concept to market. Working through that process and setting the emergent strategy is equally beneficial for applied personal development, or what I labeled Spiritual Entrepreneurship in a previous blog (Of Anchovies and Olives and Spiritual Entrepreneurship).

I also realize that the word “entrepreneurship” in the context of Spiritual Entrepreneurship is improper.  Despite our former US president’s jab that the French have no word for entrepreneurship, it is of course a French word, the first syllable “entre” meaning “between,” as in the development of value between a creator and her market. In the realm of applied personal development, conversely, value creation is firstly internal; hence, a more appropriate French syllable would be “intér”. Personally, I like sticking with French syllables because they involve accents, which look so sexy and urbane (and I am so not a sexy urbanite). So henceforth we go with Spiritual Intérpreneurship.

If you also feel the start-up within, or in your author’s case the restart within, then a framework is needed for constructing your applied personal plan. A tour of the self-help aisle at your local bookstore will reveal dozens of options. But, why not exploit a system that is logical, proven, and applied daily by aspiring entrepreneurs in the course of building the next Google or Apple? A robust intérpreneurial effort needs answers to these fundamental entrepreneurial start-up questions:

  1. What is my intellectual property (IP)? Start-ups are built on invention and imagination, on a base of core intelligence that defines their promise and bounds the possibilities until additional intelligence is developed or acquired. What is your personal IP? It is your base of core strengths and assimilated talents and knowledge.  On this foundation you imagine what is possible. And, just as shrewd start-ups continue to build on their IP to sustain competitive position, you too should build on your base of intellect and skills to expand the possibilities. What are you good at; what do you want to be good at?

  2. What is my product definition? A start-up’s IP foundation enables many possible directions in product form and features, but the finished offering must align tightly with unmet market needs to be successful. Not so for you. Your personal product, that life passion you are committed to realizing, need only satisfy your unmet needs for the principal litmus test of suitability. And this realization is liberating. Write a book on multi-generational farm families of central Pennsylvania; renovate and run a historic B&B in Savannah; study the art of luthierie and open a guitar design and repair shop? What if the market is small? Who cares? When explaining your mission to a friend do you feel an electric surge of purpose? Okay, now you know you’re on to something. The success of intérpreneurial endeavors is measured firstly by the satisfaction they induce inside. How will you define success: personal gratification and respect, absolutely; profit and fame, maybe. The collage of success is unique to each of us. The time to question and explore your personal passions, ambitions, and objectives is now, during this product definition stage. These taken together will help define your mission and formulate an execution plan. Onward.

  3. What is my go-to-market strategy? A start-up is wind-down quickly if its product cannot be realized and grab the customer’s attention. The most exciting idea in the world has zero value when it is just that, an idea. How do you become relevant? The same way a start-up becomes relevant; by executing effectively on the dream and exploiting its greatest value for the customer. In the case of intérpreneurship, the passion product may target many, may target a few, or may target one. Regardless, an execution plan is essential. I like the Murphy process, taught by Joe Murphy of San Francisco State University’s Core Strengths Coaching program.  Sketch an arc starting at time zero (today) and ending with your achievement point; 2, 5, perhaps 10 years out. Break the arc into key milestones and those milestones into smaller markers of progress. Getting the arc right takes time, but provides an excellent system for thinking through and setting structure to your strategy. You know your IP and product at this point, the arc will provide the passion plan; your go-to-market strategy.

  4. How do I last? Macy’s has been operating for over 150 years and Faber-Castell (which makes exquisite pens, see Back to the Plume) was a start-up 250 years ago.  How do they remain so relevant for so long? Corporate longevity is not by accident, but accomplished through a deliberate sustainability strategy. Intérpreneurship is not about dabbling with hobbies through a tranquil retirement. Intérpreneurs want to achieve something of real passion. This takes real time and real energy. We’re not as robust post-50 as we were pre-30 and attention to diet and fitness is critical. I am neither a dietician nor fitness coach, but can make this testimonial: since crossing the 50 barrier I have pursued the holy health trinity of mind, body, and soul and it helps considerably. Meditation (see Nap King v Meditation Master) and a work-out emphasizing balance and flexibility through yoga (I remain an awkward novice at both) work for me in the mind and body department, and the simple avoidance of processed foods and indulgence in home cheffing is doing wonders for my soul. Flow-inducing rituals (see The Value of our Rituals for a few examples) also help with my mental balance and positive attitude. You can find many YouTube videos and on-line blogs about fitness routines. I cherry pick amongst them to find the optimal regime for my interests and schedule. When one isn’t working, swapping for another has zero marginal cost. The beauty of the internet.

  5. How do I give back? Corporate philanthropy / community involvement is not universal and clearly not a requisite for a company’s success and long-term prosperity. Still, the most admired companies develop programs around corporate responsibility, and most of us want to be admired for being a net positive force on the world around us. Whether you choose to include this type of activity in your mission is solely a personal decision, but one worth considering as you piece together the passion plan discussed above.

If you apply the start-up system to your own personal ambitions please let me know. All comments and suggestion are appreciated, as always with my Postcards.

Tip for the day: If called late by good friend seeking bar buddy and enticed to join (let’s imagine that you’re just getting back to Aix from Paris, it’s been a long week, and a couple of drinks sound awfully inviting, …all hypothetical of course), and after bouncing around a couple of pubs find a comfortable spot with good music and great Guinness (still with me?), and the annoying drunk guys next to you who look like frat house rejects (which is unlikely, because France doesn’t do frats) turn out to be newly minted nuclear physicists telling fascinating tales of work and dreams of entrepreneurship, and your remarkable new friends are sharing generous shots of caramel vodka, (now here’s the tip part) channel your inner adult, should it be possible to unearth at this point, and refrain.

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

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