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Start-up consultant Bora Erbil explains what makes a successful founder. In an interview with PARK INNOVAARE, he talks about the biggest challenges for start-ups, analyses their mistakes and gives valuable tips.
PARK INNOVAARE: Switzerland offers a rather friendly environment for founders. Nevertheless, successfully founding a company is not an automatic process. What is important if you want to be successful as a young founder?
Bora Erbil: First of all, you absolutely have to love your work and have excellent know-how about your own product or service. What is also very valuable is a good team – in other words, employees who fully support your product. For sales, you need a good network. Your family or partner should also stand behind your entrepreneurial activities: an entrepreneur usually works harder and longer than an employee. In this respect, it is important for your family to be understanding if there turns out to be less time for activities together. Finally, it is important to have well-established business partners such as suppliers, marketing people and trustees.
From your experience, what are the three most common mistakes of young founders?
Most founders want to start quickly and cheaply, so they start by gathering information on the Internet. The problem is that the Internet only offers general information that is not tailored to your individual needs. This is where most mistakes are made. It is also not unusual that a company founded with too little capital will pose problems for new entrepreneurs. And ultimately, some founders underestimate the challenges of the market. In a way, they overestimate their own product’s chances of success.
How can this be prevented effectively? What advice would you give?
It is very advisable to take professional, competent advice right from the beginning. A plausible business plan covers the next three to five years. The figures should be realistic and not simply reflect one’s own wishful thinking. The monthly, quarterly and annual figures must of course be constantly compared with the planned budget. The analysis follows: have I achieved my budget targets? Where can I make adjustments and achieve improvements? Naturally, as a founder, you are convinced your own product is fantastic. But this is usually a very subjective perception. This is why it helps to give your subjective perspective a reality check in your environment, with friends, partners or acquaintances in the network. You have to be open to others’ views and, of course, validate the market. Only a few weeks ago, for example, I was pursuing a promising business idea together with some partners. We had begun to identify so closely with the idea that we lost sight of the market requirements. Fortunately, we started a survey and found that there was actually hardly any demand. We finally dropped the business idea.
PARK INNOVAARE is mainly used by companies operating in the field of cutting-edge technology, often spin-offs from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). What distinguishes such a high-tech start-up from a more service-oriented young company wanting to launch a service on the market?
Our experience shows that start-up entrepreneurs from the high-tech field are fully committed to their product. They enjoy working with a strong consulting partner so they can have more freedom to develop. The location of the company is also a key element. PARK INNOVAARE offers enormous advantages for high-tech entrepreneurs, for example the possibility to jointly use the large-scale research facilities with other companies. This plays a major role.
Beyond these differences, are there any special needs that are common to all start-ups?
Every new entrepreneur should have a good team and competent advisors. There should be a clear focus on the goal and on achieving it. Risk management also requires a great deal of attention. If there are several partners, a shareholders’ agreement makes sense; this, for example, helps regulate the shareholders’ obligations in exercising their rights. But again: the location is of course one of the most important points.
You are committed to helping start-ups and have tailored parts of your offering specifically to companies. What is it that fascinates you personally about start-ups?
I find their pioneering spirit very fascinating. We have a great deal of experience in setting up companies, and we know the opportunities and risks. It is a great pleasure for us to be able to support the new founders in this important start-up phase.
About the Author: Bora Erbil, VRP, Mandate Leader, has been a partner and managing director of artel treuhand ag since 1998. With his company, the Zurich-based consultant has already advised a number of start-up entrepreneurs and supported them in the difficult initial phase.