Timothy Freriks

Books By

Sculpting an Entrepreneurial Elephant

In a college art class (a long time ago) we were told to sculpt a “successful elephant” with a lump of clay.  The puzzled guy next to me asked how to start making a successful elephant.  Consistent with my smart-ass nature, I said, “remove everything that doesn’t look like an elephant”.

I meet a young entrepreneur last week and he asked ”how do I make a successful business”.  After a quick flashback, I answered: “remove whatever will make it fail.”

But, after thinking through why I was getting a blank expression, I realized the problem was he didn’t yet know what will cause failure.  Of course, he didn’t know how to succeed, either.  I quickly revised my answer to “try everything that sounds smart, be willing to fail, remove that and then leave everything that works; whatever is left over will look like success.” Failure is a part of the entrepreneurial process – just don’t make it a permanent part.

I don’t know if that’s wise or not, but I thought it is pretty cool.

The Customer as a Development Partner

Develop Your Product/Service Around What The Customer Wants To Pay For
I have been mentoring and coaching aspiring entrepreneurs for a few years and there are often two big problems with their perspective:

  1. They assume their idea is really valid and don’t bother to verify the existence of the problem or the need for a solution with other people.
  2. They develop the features of the product or service based only on their opinion of the problem and solution required.

Both problems are related, of course. The fact is many starter-uppers get an idea and build their product full-blown because they are so excited. One of my pet peeves is when developers spend 90% of the time developing the product when they should spend it developing the customer.

You are NOT your customer; only the customer is the customer. It does’t matter how passionately you believe in your product or service, only how other people feel about it. If you are the only person who:

  1. Has the problem
  2. Urgently needs a solution
  3. Sees your product/service as a compelling solution

…you have a problem.

Unless a LOT of people agree with the three critical statements above, you really don’t have a product… Continue reading

Three Critical Questions for Entrepreneurs

Whether you’re a consultant, an app creator, or creating a product for sale, you are providing a solution to a problem.  On one hand, if there is no problem, then nobody needs a solution and you don’t have a product. On the other, if everyone has the problem, you have a great position to start from.

Entrepreneurs have to ask themselves these three simple questions:

1. Is there real problem shared by a lot of people?

2. Is there an urgent need to find a solution?

3. Does your product offer a compelling solution to the problem?

On question one: you are not your customer; only your customer is your customer.  If no one else but you has the problem you’re trying to solve, you don’t have a product.

On question two: If there’s no urgency (degree of both frequency and intensity together), then a customer’s motivation to buy is low and sales will be tough, even if they know they have a problem. Making something that’s hard to sell isn’t smart.

On question three: You may find a known problem and discovered there’s a sense of urgency to find a solution, but your product might suck.  … Continue reading

Have an idea and no clue what to do next?

Most books I’ve read on becoming an entrepreneur seem to be either academic or written by wildly successful businessmen whose vision of “startup” was very different than mine. I’m not that guy. All six of my startups started with just me and an idea…and blind courage.

The Startup Assembly Manual is a logical and sequential set of steps for the average guy with a great idea and no clue how to proceed. Using the ACE Methodology, it’s about first Assessing yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, passions, values, and experience to determine your fitness for the challenges of starting a business. Then it assesses your customer and your product to see if your product can offer a compelling solution to people with a real problem and an urgent need to find a solution. This is Confirmed through research then sales. Then it talks about Executing the business plan that is generated by all that effort. Learn more at http://www.timothyfreriks.com

Embarrassing Entrepreneur Mistake

After selling my businesses, I was all full of myself and decided to get involved in some angel investing. This is where I started to learn about entrepreneurial miscalculations, which started to form the realistic and experience-torn foundation of the Startup Assembly Manual.  Without names, this is the story and lessons I hope to pass along.

The idea was credible. An engineering firm had developed a process to dramatically improve the brightness and clarity of LCD screens for devices like mobile phones and electronic panels such as ATMs where glare and sunny environments make it hard to see.  Not only did it improve the visual performance, but the process was about 60% cheaper for manufacturers of such display devices, which was a limitless market.

They had signed up the leader in the industry to be their sales outlet as the exclusive provider of this treatment process to all the makers of LCD displays.  What could go wrong?  I jumped at the opportunity.

The problem with the business wasn’t the product—which was terrific—but with the contractual deal with the sales channel and the word “exclusive”.  Two issues: they wanted to control the product so that they… Continue reading

Define Success: Lifestyle or Pot of Gold?

Somebody asked me how many millions I got when I sold one of my businesses.  He seemed a little stunned when I told him I didn’t.  I told him that it was never about the money; it was mostly about doing something I was good at and enjoyed and found rewarding and interesting, and secondarily about making a lot of money.

lifestylePotofGoldHis idea of “success” was different than mine.  He expected that entrepreneurs would start a business just to end up with a fat bank account.  But, there are really two definitions for success: lifestyle or pot of gold.

I’ve known people who are so focused on making money that they work all the time at something that they don’t really enjoy.  Their goal is to make it to 60 years old and have an awful lot of money. And, I know people who just want to be happy and fulfilled in the moment, not too concerned about the future. For me, I think success is all about balance between the two.  I have always been engaged in an enterprise that made me get up in the morning, one that generated sufficient… Continue reading

After an entrepreneur STARTS a business

The dream of every entrepreneur is to start and run a business that will provide a rewarding, challenging, and fruitful life. Or maybe it’s reaching that pot of gold in three to five years—or someday. Most founders I know see overcoming the challenges as the fun part, where the journey is as—or more—important as creating the exit. For me, that’s true. It was never about the money, it was about the puzzle-piecing, the arranging the parts of the business in a well-oiled symphony of ever-expanding efficiency and production. The money just comes along with doing that well.

ACEmachineOK. Maybe that sounds a little dramatic. It is really true, though. If you don’t love the challenge of arranging and massaging each detail of growing the business, from engineering to manufacturing to eCommerce to the mail room, you may miss some critical component. A business is like a big machine, with gears and levers and belts and motors, all whirring in fine precision—at least it SHOULD be. However, trust me, if you don’t pay enough attention to that little gear over there, you could break the machine. Or, more likely, make it run inefficiently. It runs, but it might be losing power.… Continue reading

ACE Methodology – Personal Assessment 1

ACE Methodology

ACE Methodology

The concept behind the ACE Methodology for Startups applies itself well to most endeavors intended to create success. The Startup Assembly Manual uses it to lay out a road map for entrepreneurs and people with an idea but no clue what to do with it.

ACE is Assessment, Confirmation, and Execution. The Assessment stage leads you through the process of assessing yourself, your customer, your product, and your business idea. From that comes a set of assumptions which are refined, defined, then tested in the Confirmation stage – first with research and customer investigation then with sales. When you have a proven set of assumptions, you build a business plan and Execute it.

In this article, we’ll discuss one of the most important assessments you will make, personal assessment.  In future articles, we’ll discuss more personal qualities that make up a foundation of success.  But, let’s start with this:

After forty years of being an entrepreneur and knowing a lot of them, certain personal characteristics seem to determine success or failure. Someone asked me what is the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur.  I answered: objectivity. This is the ability to see things… Continue reading

Where is the Starting Line?

522817363_croppedI think the average Joe (or Jane) like us goes farther trying to hit singles and doubles than always swinging for home runs. I have been the guy with the “next great idea” and not had a clue what to do with it. Don’t read me wrong. I have been mostly successful during my years of being an entrepreneur, but it sure wasn’t easy or clear. There was no road map or trip planner. Nobody was there to help me, explain what I write in this book, and open my eyes to very basic things. I just plodded ahead, one step after another. Eyes open. What has to be done and how to do it can become very muddy. I have suffered and overcome my share of “founder flounder,” where there is a goal but no clear path. This book is about adding clarity to the process. It is about helping entrepreneurs find the starting line, then giving them a road map to follow.

As I evolved as a businessperson, I realized that there was more structure to starting and running a business than I realized. When I just winged it, it didn’t always end well, but when I sat… Continue reading