Entrepreneurs Need Help….Not Maps

Most entrepreneurs care about building successful businesses that solve large problems. They work tirelessly into the wee hours of the night, forgoing large salaries and quality time with their families, for the possibility of success. Nothing is guaranteed and I don’t know an entrepreneur who would want anything given to them. This is the modern day school of hard knocks. One day you are on top of the world and 24 hours later you don’t know if your company will last the rest of the month.

In an environment where there is so much volatility, it never hurts to have support organizations to help calm the seas. Here in the Triangle, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development is one of the largest and most well-respected support organizations. They have been around for over 30 years and are responsible for multiple conferences, an educational lunch series, networking events, and a robust mentorship program, among other things. To be completely transparent, I am a member of CED and regularly attend many of their events.

Yesterday, CED unveiled the Triangle Network Map at their annual members-only conference. This map has been under construction for months and is the product of many individual’s input. Here is my issue with this “Network Map”:

How does this help my business grow? How does it help me gain more customers? How does it help me attract the best talent? How does it help me avoid making a fatal mistake?

The answer is obvious – it doesn’t. Now I am not completely against having some sort of resource that gives outside investors or entrepreneurs a quick snapshot of the region’s density. But does this tool do the trick? Does it really help the individual companies that are already here? I predict it won’t. While the CED has the best intentions with the Triangle Network Map, it has fallen short of the potential it could have. In an effort to provide a solution, I want to issue a challenge to the CED.

Let’s measure the effectiveness of the Triangle Network Map and publish the results. Let’s measure the amount of traffic, where the traffic is coming from, which companies benefit from it, which individuals benefit from it, and how (if at all) does it help propel a local startup closer to “success.” Most of this can be done through Google Analytics, but the key is to publish the results. If the Map is a wild success, I will be the first to praise it. If it fails, let’s bring together the community to figure out how to tweak the “digital front door” so that it can be more valuable.

In closing, the CED is a great organization that tackled a difficult problem. I commend them on their propensity for action. In my opinion (what I think really doesn’t matter at the end of the day) the solution can be tweaked to become much more valuable. Instead of guessing, let’s measure the impact and then create an open discussion around what can be improved. By nature, entrepreneurs are collaborative and open, I hope the largest entrepreneurial organization in the region is ready to do the same!
UPDATE: According to WRAL, this map will cost $100,000 a year to maintain as well. I am not privy to the itemized costs but that seems excessive all by itself.

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7 thoughts on “Entrepreneurs Need Help….Not Maps

  1. I took a look at the available screenshots and what kind of information the interactive map offers and I have to ask…How am I going to apply this to my life? In other words–how will this help my business? One thing that I’ve always been an advocate of is encouraging entrepreneurs to buy goods and services from other small businesses. This map may be helpful in locating a small business that I may want to partner with on a project or contract, or buy goods and services from. Beyond that I don’t see any other applications for this map.

    With that said we could use the map toward finding and supporting local businesses. In my opinion small businesses should offer each other discounted rates on products and services. I practice this in my own business. We entrepreneurs should dedicate some amount of time each month toward giving free advice to other entrepreneurs, helping them solve problems, or even vent about hardships and frustrations. If you’ve been there and done that, and have a template or guidance that you can give your fellow entrepreneur you should do that so that they don’t have to re-create the wheel. I make the effort to do this too. We can learn from and support each other to grow our businesses. Don’t worry about giving up a competitive advantage or seeing the next business owner as a threat. Be smart and don’t give away your secret sauce so to speak, but support one another. There is enough business out there for all of us. It may be harder to find but we can achieve more if we pull together. I recently had to be frank with the owner of a startup and say… your problem is you have a failure to launch! Your business is stalled because you spend too much time coming up with what are great ideas, but you spend very little time on executing any of them. I told another that they have a great idea but it’s packaged in a User Interface that looks like it was built by someone who took one web design class about 5-years ago. It is too unprofessional to show to potential investors and it takes away from an amazing business concept. We need to hold each other accountable in this way, and support each other with our dollars as well. I’ll step down from my soap box now and leave you with this post to think about.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Toni. Over time, as a community we can help CED make this more valuable to entrepreneurs. It sounds like this is the starting point. I just want to make sure that the direction they head next is driven by entrepreneurs like you!

  2. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/02/entrepreneurs_beware_of_vanity_metrics.html

    Why measure yourself against valuable (read: difficult) metrics like # of exits, tax revenue produced, or jobs created? It’s not like any of those metrics actually matter.

    Also… is there a specific reason _why_ this took “months” to build and, for it’s grand release, was displayed via a series of screenshots (rather than, you know, the actual product)? Doesn’t strike me as particularly… entrepreneurial.

    • Alex – Thanks for the comments. I would love for the metrics to be more “valuable” but I figured we could try to start with the easy ones. (I figure those will be hard enough to convince CED to release). As for the screen shots, I was ready to play around on it today so I’m just as disappointed.

    • Hey Alex – thanks for the feedback. Wanted to note that this was not the “grand release”. Was actually the “first look” at the project, designed to give CED members an update and an opportunity to provide feedback at the CED Annual Meeting.

      We plan to make the project publicly accessible in March.

      To address the specific reasons why it took 90 days to build: we consolidated and verified data from more than 22 sources, engaged a development group (Relevance) to design and build the technical backbone for the project in a way that enables us to add future functionality without a complete rebuild, and engaged more than 40 partners and hundreds of individuals.

      Strikes me as exactly, you know, entrepreneurial. Test early, test often, gain traction in the market, get feedback from your strongest supporters and advocates, and take it to a group of testers (like Anthony) who will provide valuable feedback for future product functionality and roll-outs.

  3. Pingback: Made In The Triangle (MINTT) | Startups, Technology and Life

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