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Launch Lab EIR Jacques Pilon: Produce the Product, Sell it, or Manage the Money

I have to thank Mary Doyle, Enterprise Facilitator for Hastings County, who recently introduced me to work of Ernesto Sirolli, PhD. You should watch his very entertaining Ted Talk, but finish reading this first.

Dr. Sirolli got me thinking back to when we had the most rapid success with our first Internet/Telecom business. Think Grunge rock, recent deregulation in Telecom, and just my wife and I working the business. We had a few hundred residential customers and a couple dozen business phone line customers. We were proud that we were achieving some facility efficiency and making a little money too. Trouble was billing, selling and paying bills were getting in the way of building a better network to deliver more products. Then opportunity knocked and we acquired an Internet Service Provider from one of our business line customers. Suddenly we had Joe the salesman taking orders over the phone, Rhonda, office administrator keeping up with the increasing customer base and Phil the network guy keeping weird hours and the servers running. (alias’ used here)

What does this have to do with Sirolli’s ideas? He believes that an entrepreneur can only succeed if he/she realizes they can only be effective at one or two of the following three roles: producing the product, selling it or managing the money. I think he is right. The details are at the above link.

Our new employees jumped in, taking over billing and payables. Rhonda loved to have everything organized and on time even though she knew little about how the services we were selling worked. We teamed up with Phil to build automated and scalable billing systems. Soon my wife and I only had to look at the monthly reports. Day to day money management was off our plate! Joe, a true and passionate salesman, soon grew tired of taking orders over the phone wanted to sell business Telecom services/products in the field. We could sell but not like Joe.

We had more time to do what we liked and were good at…develop new services, better customer care systems, easier sales processes and drive down the cost of everything we sold by optimizing our network. The company took off and a few years later we sold it.

As an EIR for Launch Lab I see small businesses that are being held back by their founders who can’t relinquish roles in their company that they may not be particularly good at and probably don’t like. If you’re running a start-up, are you best at creating/maintaining the product(s), introducing customers to the product(s), or managing the money? You might wonder how a tiny new business can afford to have one or two of these key roles handled by someone else. There are a few ways including bringing in partners but often overlooked are commissioned sales people and part-time book keepers. You could ask other business people who manages their day to day books and you might get a referral.

I remember sitting in a beat up Ford with one of our “straight commission” salesmen (the only way Ron worked). Ron was broke and his cell phone was out of minutes but he had a big sale that he knew could close if only he could call to “finesse” the next meeting. We advanced him some cash (not the last time) and he later closed the deal. He loved to sell but couldn’t fill out an order form to save his life.

Finally, if you’re running a successful start-up just “managing the money” then congratulations…lunch is on Launch Lab because we want to know how you did it.

Jacques Pilon, Entrepreneur in Residence, Launch Lab