An Entrepreneur’s Letter to Santa

santaWell, here we are again. It’s almost Christmas.
Time to start convincing Santa you have been good all year so he will bring you something nice.And if you are an entrepreneur, what would that something nice be?
You could argue for better economic conditions.

Or you could pine for a more benign regulatory environment.

But for people like myself in the early stages of setting up a new business, Santa could bring me just one thing: A customer. More importantly, he could bring a paying customer.

For an existing business, new custom is always welcome but it is a marginal gain. For start-ups, however, new customers represent a huge leap. They mean validation. They prove your idea is viable, and that all the effort sunk in to establishing the company has not been wasted. This new customer represents the future.

So what do you sell this person? A product, of course! And what do you need to develop this product? Money. And where do you get this money?

Sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem. Maybe Santa should just bring a bag of cash to kick start product development. But despite the criticism sometimes directed at Irish government agencies tasked with assisting new businesses, giving out free money is not the way to go.

Government agencies could do more to help, in my opinion. A look at the grants available (small) for pre-revenue start-ups and the work required to apply for them (large), hardly makes the effort worth while. It looks doubly miserly when compared with what is available in the North of Ireland via the UK’s system.

This leaves the aspiring entrepreneur holding on to the day job while working nights and weekends on his or her venture. In this case, Santa Claus could bring time while the entrepreneur works on building a prototype or alpha release to get in front of customers.

Unfortunately, there are unlikely to be enough of them to pay the bills, so now we have an extra responsibility in terms of looking after customers while holding down a day job.

In my case, the plan is to apply for a spot on a start-up accelerator program. We are lucky in Dublin because we have three of the top eight accelerators in Europe, according to the US-based Kauffman Foundation.

The accelerators are usually three months long and are intensive programs that focus on customer validation and business development. By the time entrepreneurs are finished, they have a very clear idea of where their product stands in the market and how they plan to tackle competitors.

In addition to being mentored by seasoned entrepreneurs, participants are introduced to potential investors. These are professionals who look very closely at the teams and their products. If they came around Christmas time, they would be like Santa Claus with his bag of cash — plus a whole lot of paperwork.

So now, in addition to time and money, I need Santa to help me fill out forms. They are not onerous, but the deadlines are looming. Which means I’ll need that present before Christmas.

Image made available by Wandering Wallflower under Creative Commons license on Flickr.