Is your great business idea financially viable?
We were excited to host a panel of fintech entrepreneurs from our 2021 ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator for an open discussion of their entrepreneurial stories. They spoke to us about what starting a business is really like, the biggest challenges, and the best advice for entrepreneurs.
Here’s how they answered one of the most important and least-talked-about questions in entrepreneur inspo content: How do you know if your great idea will make a viable business? Will your business financially justify all of the risks you’ll need to take?
Read for our panel’s takes or scroll down to watch the entirety of the Q&A – it’s so worth it!
Wayne Miller, The Venture Center Executive Director: How do you get from “this is a great idea” to knowing you have a viable business?
And how do you say, I’m going to give up my day job, mortgage my house, put my family at risk, sell my car and ride a bike, use my credit card to make payroll, and go ahead and take the myriad other risks entrepreneurs face?
Did you think about making money or making change first?
Zach Duke: There’s a lot behind that. From a monetization standpoint, we’re pretty unique in that we started our discovery process by starting a consulting business to get revenue in the door. And then built a platform based on those processes. I think a lot of the time, as an entrepreneur, you have to be focused on: how do we get revenue, what is that process? That’s the first step. You have to be able to go get money in the door. Otherwise, you’re not a startup. You are, and then you’re out looking for a job.
The secondary piece that I had to go out and figure out – we talked earlier about success, significance, giving back – how do you do that as a startup? Everybody’s said this – I didn’t take a salary for 2 years. And, as part of that dynamic, we’re not giving back, right? Well, we found a different way. We actually took a percentage ownership of the company, put it in a charitable trust, we’re gonna give it back by default.
It’s a roller coaster that we go on, and I think you have to be ok with that. I will tell you, the one, and the most important thing, if you’re trying to figure out “do I want to take this leap” that you have to do: you need to go do discovery. You need to go have 10 times the conversations you think you need to have with people, to validate your market fit. That’s the one piece that I see consistently missed. We think of technology and think, hey – this is a really great solution! But it doesn’t matter if nobody’s going to pay you money for it.
You need to go have 10 times the conversations you think you need to have with people, to validate your market fit. That’s the one piece that I see consistently missed. We think of technology and think, hey – this is a really great solution! But it doesn’t matter if nobody’s going to pay you money for it.
David Shipley: Before we left our day jobs, we had five early-adopter customers. So we already had some people in advance. We were in a privileged position where we could build our little business and work the nine-to-five. So we knew we had people willing to pay, we knew what the market was.
I would say the mistake I made was that I underestimated the competition. We thought we were so much smarter and so much faster and everything else. This is what you do when you’re in your late 20s, you’re still pretty cocky. [laughs] And probably still pretty cocky today as an entrepreneur. But I think we had a really good sense of the market. We knew people would pay us, we knew there was value, we knew cybersecurity was a giant dumpster fire across all sectors and only going to get worse. Literally, the year that we came out the door as a company, we had the WannaCry outbreak. Like, okay, wow, if ever there’s been a wake-up call. And so much worse since then. So, it’s easy when there’s a market trend, even if initially you make the wrong assessments of who your competitors are, and who you need to worry about.
The one thing I would say I’ve learned from the business side is, put your own oxygen mask on first. And I mean that for entrepreneurs about mental health. Because the points have been really well made about the rollercoaster that is our lives. And there are high rates of anxiety and depression that happen to business leaders and entrepreneurs in particular. So, you’ve gotta take care of yourself. You’ve gotta eat well, you’ve gotta rest, you’ve gotta be kind and human to yourself as part of that.
I know I’m deviating a little bit from our question, but getting in is one thing. [laughs] Cause you get in and you’re like, “I’m gonna have a billion-dollar business! It’s gonna be amazing! I’m gonna do this in five years!” Twice as much money, three times as much time as you thought it was gonna take you, and you’ll be close to where you thought you were gonna be.
Along the way, what will keep you going is resiliency. Because, in the last month we’ve had some of the biggest wins I can think of, in terms of accounts and expanding. And then, I’ve had hard days as a CEO, where you’re called to the floor and you’ve gotta explain stuff. And you have to realize, you gotta be resilient, and you have to be able to listen and learn.
That’s the most important thing I can say, over the last four years of being an entrepreneur, that shaped me. I stopped trying to be a know-it-all, and now in my 40s, I’m a grow-it-all.
That’s the most important thing I can say, over the last four years of being an entrepreneur, that shaped me. I stopped trying to be a know-it-all, and now in my 40s, I’m a grow-it-all. I don’t know it all. I never will. I have to listen, I have to improve. But if you love that, there’s no better career than an entrepreneur.
This is part two of our Making of an Entrepreneur Q&A – check out part one here.
Huge thanks again to our 2021 ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator for opening up about the nitty-gritty of becoming an entrepreneur. Be sure to watch the whole conversation here for more on the biggest challenges, best advice, and most important influences these entrepreneurs have encountered.