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What Star Wars can teach small businesses and entrepreneurs

Lessons for your small business learned from Star Wars – let your significant other know you’ll have to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. This is for your business. It’s really important.

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star wars force awakens

Spoilers that benefit your biz

By now I would hope that anyone who cares about spoilers for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has seen the latest film at least once. At the very least, you should have watched enough trailers to understand the basic plot and know who the main characters are in the first of the final STAR WARS trilogy.

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Not much is known of the backstory  of main character Rey who was left on the remote desert planet of Jakku, yet it can be surmised on a planet where a large portion of the residents are scavengers that Rey has learned to be resourceful. Don’t bother engaging in an argument that Rey is unrealistically talented without first reading Charlie Jane Anders io9 post “Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars is a ‘Mary Sue’” or better yet, remind yourself that this is a science fiction fantasy story.

With that said, what struck me on my first viewing of THE FORCE AWAKENS were the lessons that could be taken away from this film for start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Be resourceful

According to the Star Wars mythology, a massive battle between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire left Star Destroyers and New Republic Starfleet on the surface of Jakku. That conflict left a wealth of wreckage from which useful and valuable parts could be scavenged and sold at the Niima Outpost. Rey’s survival is dependent upon her ability to assess and secure material and equipment that she can sell.

When starting up or growing your business, use your networks to vet ideas, seek out talent, and decide on what essential tools you need.

I enjoy and learn from the Anonymous Question of the Week posted on our Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group, where answers are crowd-sourced through our membership of over 15,000 members.

This article by our own AGBeat COO Lani Rosales on which productivity tools are being used helped me immensely in starting my own business. By doing your homework before you purchase a tool or service, you can save yourself both time and money and meet your specific business needs.

Be pragmatic – and idealistic at the same time

Spoiler Alert: Defector Stormtrooper FN-2187 aka Finn realizes that to escape the First Order, he needs a capable pilot to fly a tie fighter. Recognizing Poe’s skills and appealing to his cause allows Finn into to address his need for escape and survival, while developing his own principles. He then gains the ability to choose his own battles and thereby create his own destiny.

As an entrepreneur, taking your ideas and creating a robust and successful business requires a similar balance through risk analysis. Recognizing challenges and being prepared to deal with them is crucial in any business.

If you are seeking investors to help you start or grow your small business to the next level, you’ll need a strong business plan that identifies the most important risks and how you will address and mitigate any problems that arise.

For example, it’s okay to be idealistic and include innovative business practices such as environmental sustainability through recycling but make sure that you’ve identified the feasibility from the financial, managerial, and technical aspects. Does your leased business space have a recycling program, will you have to lease a recycling container in addition to a waste container, or will you have to haul off your own recycling (which costs you time)?

Go with your instinct – and know when to say no

SPOILER ALERT: Rey could have been set for supplies and food for months had she agreed to the barter offered by the insidious Unkar Plutt for astromech droid BB-8, but her instinct told her not to sell the droid. A risky and dangerous decision for Rey, but a decision that could have changed the course of Jedi history.

This is a decision that many business owners can relate to, especially in the consulting world. In developing business for our fledgling data company, we’ve encountered clients who have attempted to negotiate well below our offered rates.

Since sales drives our revenue and income sources, we had to know when to draw the line and say no to ensure our value was being fairly compensated. Being informed that the client had closed up shop recently was affirmation that it was a good judgment call, as the likely outcome could have been non-payment.

This decision also allowed us the time and opportunity to develop relationships with clients who are well-aware of what the going rate is, and recognize the quality and value of our services.

Don’t stay rooted in the past – embrace the future, and adapt

Rey’s desire to stay on Jakku is rooted in her desire to await and be reunited with her family who left her there long ago. She is told by the insightful semi-retired pirate and cantina owner Maz Kanata that “the belonging you look for is not behind you – it is ahead.”

In a small business, it’s easy and relatively safe to stay with the methods that you’ve used in the past. How do you grow and foster and your business in an ever-changing world? Advancements in technology have significantly improved the cost and ease of business to business transactions, as well as created more “virtual” workspaces.

Social media has drastically impacted SMBs by allowing them to connect directly with their customers. In 2010 fifty-four percent of SMBs were using social media to promote their business according to this 2010 article from Forbes. However according to an eMarketer article earlier this year, surveys have indicated that the number of small businesses using social media is on a decline.

This doesn’t mean that social media is ineffective, but is more likely that businesses don’t budget and devote the necessary resources. Use social media to emphasize your business value by regularly providing useful and interesting information, and engage with your audience in a professional, courteous, and timely manner – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another trending social media platform.

If you enjoyed this thought exercise on how STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS can help you as a business owner, you will want to check out Carlos Granados’ article, “What Can Santa Teach Entrepreneurs” on LinkedIn Pulse.

#WhatStarWarsCanTeachSmallBusinesses

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

Business Entrepreneur

This Uber for chefs will bring a home-cooked meal to your home

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal? Now with this amazing startup service, you’ll soon be able to get one without having to cook it yourself.

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A professional chef making a home-cooked meal with a tall cheeseburger.

Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal that you didn’t have to cook?

No one.

And restaurants, UberEats, DoorDash, and their ilk have been banking on this desire for some time… Although whether restaurants can stay in the game remains to be seen.

McDonald's sign with a sign that says "We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore."

Disrespect your essentials at your peril, but I digress.

Cofounders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal of London-based toddler-aged company, Yhangry, are bringing a solution to the problem that’s neither dragging into a restaurant during a gross
and grossly mishandled plague, nor struggling with how to perfectly word directions to your home for delivery drivers.

Essentially, you pay a certain amount per head in your dining party, which includes the chef’s time and expertise, groceries, booze if you want it, AND post-cooking cleanup. Then said chef
comes to your home, does their thing, and skedaddles.

If anything, it’s like a nice little splurge— okay, NO I can’t yet afford to keep a private chef on hand to make sure I’m not having Taco Bell sauce packets for lunch, but I COULD maybe do a
little splurge once every quarter and have some ‘Let’s pretend we’re rich’ time with a gaggle of friends.

It’s like a spa day, but for your tummy.

Now of course the idea of luxury house calls isn’t new, in and of itself, but you have to admit it is extremely cool that you can trust a centralized service to have vetted individuals who need to uphold certain standards on their books. Let’s face it, if your first thought upon inviting someone you don’t know into your house isn’t ‘What effed up ess are they gonna do in here’, you’re too well-adjusted to be reading this anyway.

I kind of love it! And I’m not the only one.

Yhangry’s raised $1.5 million USD (1,079,272.50 pounds sterling in redcoat money) through several angel investors after managing swift, and successful pivots during England’s lockdowns
last year! What started as a custom dinner party organization had to shift to virtual cooking classes! Now, as things open back up with the advent of the vaccines in Great Britain, Zhang and Mittal’s business savvy and quick thinking are being very aptly rewarded. They’ve got a ready team of 130 chefs in their rosters, Covid guidelines for all to follow, and a lot of big names
in their corner.

Nimbleness always pays is the takeaway here.

I fully wish these ladies every success, mostly because I reeeeeeeeeeeally want their home-cooked meal service to hurry up and be in my house already. What’s the English equivalent of fingers crossed… Something to do with tea? My teabags are plopped for them.

It only remains to sip and see what happens!

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Business Entrepreneur

Why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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funding box

The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of success

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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