You're in the army now... The first thing you do is go to boot camp to learn the basics of being a soldier. But learning how to be a CEO of a startup and succeed in business is not so simple.
For the last... coming up on 6 months, we have been running boot camps for companies trying to grow quickly. We're not the first folks to do this, and we will not be the last. Indeed I have been doing this on my own for many years in various forms and formats. We run an incubator, an accelerator, and boot camps, and so do others we are affiliated with. Some of us participate as mentors for each others' programs as well.
We get a lot of questions about boot camps, but in the end, they boil down to a few key issues:
How long will it take?
What will it cost?
What will I have then that I don't have now?
How long will it take?
We have seen these run for 5 days, 8 hours a day, at a facility provided for the boot camp (you have to fly there, get a hotel, etc.) and we have seen a wide range of variations on this. From months at an incubator to one-day short courses. I'm certain these can benefit companies. But at what cost?
We believe in live online remote and as much automation as possible. It saves time and money and allows the startup CEO to stay focused on their business without the distractions or expenses of a road trip.
We decided to run boot camps for 8 weeks. That's because we believe that it takes time to address the issues. Adapting your business takes time. Not minutes, hours, or even days. It's usually weeks to months, just to start making the turn, and far longer to make real progress. There are many questions to answer, and getting things properly coordinated and thought through is not a one-time affair.
We decided to provide videos instead of delivering live "talking at you" content. Something we learned from our work with education worldwide is that redoing the basic material every time you provide it is not a benefit for the deliverer or the recipient. It's better to let people watch informational material, read articles, and so forth, at their own pace and when it works for them. Time we spend interacting should be about things that require this sort of interaction. Most importantly, real-time discussions of topics with explanations specific to the specific situation.
Making progress and learning is best facilitated in multiple modes (written, sound, visual, tactile, and otherwise experiential) and in ways that the participant can review and think about. We decided to provide online systems to support forming systematic approaches. They are adapted over time by the CEO in discussion with mentors. The CEO has to think about things, try them out, test them on paper and in the field, and understand the implications. And that takes time you cannot spend on a fixed schedule at an off-site.
Being immersed in an experience off-site has its benefits, and it has a tendency to get loyalty and build friends as one of the cadre that went through the same experience. But that much time away from the actual business for a rapid growth startup is almost certainly infeasible.
What will it cost?
It seems that a lot of startup CEOs come for help after they have spent the money they set aside for their business and are running out of funds. They then want/need/expect to get help for free. Indeed in many societies we have set them up for failure by providing such free services supported by government. Of course these services are very helpful to main street businesses or small businesses wishing to survive and thrive on a local level. And I applaud those many retired business people and working professionals that give their time generously to help people trying to make their way in the world. I do so myself and recommend it to others.
If this is your situation, you have likely waited too long. It will take time and resources to implement and execute on any substantial business plan. The best time to get help is before you are desperate for it.
We charge for our programs, as do most other programs. We pay the professionals who provide these services, we pay for the use of the technologies that we use to help companies succeed, and with rare exceptions, the companies we deal with pay us for the services we provide.
It will cost you different amounts for different services. Generally, we charge more for companies that are further along, because (1) they have more and (2) they need more - of everything.
What will I have then that I don't have now?
This is the toughest question. We list a bunch of things you will do and gain access to, but the real answer, is "a better business".
That's about as lame a statement as can be made. And yet its true. We don't know in advance what you need. We have a general idea that if you are going to the "Startup" boot camp, you are looking for a basic overview of what it will take to succeed and help in moving toward that goal. We know that if you are going to the "First Sales" boot camp, you are trying to generate your first sales and get systematic about growing more of them. But until we start to talk to you, we won't know what changes you may or should be able and/or willing to make to achieve your next level goals.
This does not get easier with more advanced companies. If you have been running with sales for some time and have working products and/or services, you are less likely to be able or willing to make radical changes. And that means finding ways to help you pivot without losing what you have, or at least without replacing it with something better within your cash flow constraints. If you are in a growth mode with plenty of sales but want to expand your markets and volume or quality of customers, that's going to be different for each entity.
Our approach is to be systematic and work in small cadres - typically 2-4 companies in a group. They share the live online remote time and learn from each other, but mostly, they work on their own business using our tools and expertise to help them find better paths forward and get some new ideas from people who have been there before.
The most universal factors - the questions we don't get
All of these things are the reality of what you get in a boot camp experience. Don't ignore the advertisements - they will usually tell you real features and/or benefits presented in a most favorable light. But that's not really the thing...
There are two things that CEOs get from boot camp experiences that are not generally advertised, they don't ask about, but that are most important:
Someone to talk to: It's lonely at the top. Pure and simple, people who run businesses have to make decisions that they often don't want to have to make. They are sometimes gut wrenching, especially for caring people trying their best to do well by doing good. They are often running out of the critical resources they need to succeed and are forced to lay people off, stop things important to them, spend less time with family, borrow more from their own retirement funds, and so forth in order to succeed. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to who has been there before.
Making fewer mistakes: I wish you could not make mistakes by being told something. But in my experience, we make our own mistakes even when we know about the possibility of them being mistakes. The best I think we can normally do is depend on the people who have made similar mistakes before, or watched others make them, to inform us of what could go wrong and why. Then as we execute, we can watch for the tell-tale signs, identify metrics to help detect the potential problems as or before they become critical, and address them.
It's hard to sell "you need someone to lean on when it hurts" and "don't make as many mistakes". Among other things, they aren't really as appealing as "accelerate your business and get more money". But they are nonetheless the reality of what advising companies involves.
It's the gray hairs (or lack of hair) you are buying. Long experienced folks who have seen and done it before. People you can talk to when you need to, people you can get ideas from, and people who have spent years becoming systematic about things you can be systematic about.
You also get the things they (and we) sell you. But as it turns out, it's the things folks don't ask about and aren't "selling" that end up being among the most valuable things you get in the long run.
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