Why David beats Goliath
Christchurch entrepreneur Scott Barrington’s been drinking from a firehose.
For a week in late January he was among 10 from New Zealand and more than 100 other business owners from around the world who gathered in the freezing climes of Boston to cram a semester’s worth of learning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme into just one week.
Barrington’s company, BIMstop, has come up with technology that helps architects put the specifications of manufacturers’ exact products into the 3D designs that they use (think getting the measurements of that big bathtub you want just right so it fits in your new bathroom).
The US is a big focus for the young firm (about 75% of the company’s work now comes from that market) and Barrington says the programme gave him some key insights into winning in business Stateside. Here he outlines six of his key takeouts from the programme:
1. Discipline is in: What they teach at MIT is ‘disciplined entrepreneurship’. It’s about being very focused on the problem you’re solving, your exact target personas, your total adressable market, your beachhead market, and then executing on that. After learning the process you do see how extremely disciplined an approach it is, although it may not look like it from the outside.
2. Go niche: One thing that MIT focuses on is why David beats Goliath, because it happens again and again and again. They preach picking an exact, focused niche, or beachhead market, taking it over then expanding from there. A lot of US companies are so big it doesn’t make sense for them to look at a small beachhead market, so find one that’s underserved. A niche in New Zealand might be 10 clients, but in the US it might be 5000.
3. Solve a problem: At MIT they’re very focused on solving market problems. It has this air of ‘we’re in a lab inventing a whole lot of technology’, but at its entrepreneurial centre they’re more focused on solving problems and building companies around that.
4. Show me the money: Companies that take this disciplined approach raise a lot of money earlier. They have all the metrics, they test all the assumptions and have a very clear agenda. Obviously there’s a lot more money floating around in the US, but these companies can pitch for bigger amounts because in some ways they have clearer business cases.
5. It’s an ecosystem: Entrepreneurship is a culture that seeds itself. At MIT they have a whole lot of entrepreneurs that go out and start companies then they come back to MIT and tell everyone about it and how they did it. Then the students at MIT say ‘well, I’m at MIT, I’m that smart. Maybe I’ll start a company from that idea rather than getting a job’. Everyone who walks through the door is given permission to start a company.
6. Team up: Starting a company is a team sport. It’s very rare for companies started at MIT to have a company with one founder. A lot of them have two or three co-founders, which obviously increases their chances of success because they all bring different things to the table and share the risk.