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Getting to “YES”: Lessons from an Intrapreneur to an Entrepreneur

The quest for funding can be a daunting challenge. Whether you're an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, one “NO” might be all it takes to kill the project. 1871 mentor Alan Mindlin of The Morey Corporation walks through common pitfalls and how to avoid them with the goal of getting to "Yes."


Guest Author: Alan J. Mindlin, Technical Manager, The Morey Corporation

I have been lucky so far as I have had two very distinct careers. I started my “serious” life at Bell Laboratories designing telephone switching systems: large electronic masterpieces with millions of lines of code, working in teams and constantly looking for the next incremental addition that would translate into a million dollar sale. This taught me intrapreneurship before I fully understood entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship, oversimplified, is the creation of a business to fill a customer need while taking a financial risk in hopes of generating profits, ideally to sustain growth and live a comfortable life. Intrapreneurship is similar, but also different at the same time. Intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship inside a company structure. A company offers stability and support and failure does not necessarily mean going hungry. Your funding comes from where you work. But there is downside. Unlike a typical entrepreneur who can bootstrap or go hunting through family, angels, and VCs by making presentations, hoping for funding, or failing and then fixing the plan and moving on to the next possible source of cash, the intrapreneur makes a single presentation to his or her management. Maybe they repeat the same presentation up the executive chain. But one “NO” is all it takes to kill the project.

With intrapreneurship, you have only one chance at funding. If you fail, you have to do something else. And you may not get away with a pivot. 

One thing I learned is that your ideas and your presentation of your ideas needs to be perfect. You need to anticipate every possible question. You will never have another chance to answer something you don’t know. A solid business case, a plausible marketing plan, a clear value proposition and a unique product or service you know how to bring to market is critical to getting the first and only “YES”.

Another thing I learned as I pushed for my new product ideas and looked for the “YES” is that I could not do everything myself. I understand business, electrical engineering and software. I can build prototypes and business cases and marketing plans. But I am not good at everything. Or, should I say, not good enough.

Now I work for a small company, The Morey Corporation, a family-owned business located in the Western Suburbs. Morey started by repairing radios for Montgomery-Ward (remember them?) and has pivoted a few times along the way. Now, we make rugged and reliable electronics and electro-mechanical products. We have a 240,000 square foot factory in Woodridge, Illinois. Our business has three prongs: we do contract manufacturing for people who can do their own designs, we make some of our own devices that we design in the telematics and asset-tracking space, and we design and make products, assemblies, and gadgets for folks like you that start with a napkin sketch.

As an entrepreneur, you need to figure out what you are great at doing. The things you are only good at need to be improved by building a team of people who are better than you. This seems pretty obvious when you think about having a lawyer to structure the business, having an accountant to manage the revenue and expenses, or having an insurance agent to work out your liability and other insurances.

When it comes to engineering tasks, entrepreneurs have a harder time recognizing that they should seek help. Sure you can write code, but should you spend your time writing code or working on the bigger picture of your business? Maybe you write the requirements and farm out the code writing to someone with more time and energy to write great code.

And if you are building a physical product, you have to have the right mechanical, electrical, chemical, software or civil engineer, metallurgist, chemist, physicist, or some other expert to help you build the solution you need. There is a lot more to the design than just the design. How will you manufacture? Where will you manufacture? How will you test? Do you need safety certifications? Do you need to get the FCC, UL, the FDA, or some other agency to bless your product before you sell it? Are you dependent on someone else like Verizon, AT&T, Apple, Amazon, Google, or Microsoft to make your business run? How will you get it to market? How will you handle logistics? How about warranty returns? What if you can’t get the parts you want to use in your design because people like Apple or Samsung have first dibs? What color box are you shipping it in?

You need to find the right partner, a trusted partner who can get you from your idea to your customer delivery. For the products that Morey is great at making, we provide end-to-end support to our customers. As you design your products or services, you need to find the right people as well.

I enjoy mentoring at 1871 because I get to meet a lot of people doing a lot of different things. Most will never be my customer, but I enjoy building my network and helping the 1871 members figure out how to get their products out the door. You still need the solid business case, a plausible marketing plan, a clear value proposition, and a unique product or service you know how to bring to market. And you need a team, formal or informal, to help you get to “YES”. Take advantage of what is right here, the 1871 mentors and your fellow 1871 members. Create the best product or service possible. Get to “YES”.


About the Author

Alan Mindlin is  an engineer, manager, and leader with rich, intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial experience creating high technology solutions for service providers, manufacturers, end-users, and, most recently, start-ups.. Cross-cultural focus built on both business development and product creation in partnership with global Sales, Product Management, Marketing, and R&D teams. A specialist in new product development and introduction. Both a strategic thinker and a tactical problem solver, able to work across the internal or customer organizations, whether end-customer, engineer, or executive. Drives the deal to closure.

The opinions expressed here by 1871 guest writers are their own, not those of 1871.

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