DDMP, or "D-squared MP"

I had several press interviews yesterday for a forthcoming event in South Africa. The conversation invariably turned to entrepreneurship. I was repeatedly asked what the “secrets” were to starting a successful business—any business, not some Silicon Valley or Cambridge software or biotech hottie.

I’m sure I’d been asked the same thing before, but the repetitiveness of the question got me searching for a repeatable answer. And I homed in on “D-squared MP.”

D-squared, or Dramatic Difference: Too many people risk their life savings on a not very original idea. No, I don’t mean that you have to start a Google, but I do mean that you must be clear, very very clear, about how your new Italian restaurant or real estate agency will be “dramatically different” from the current offerings in your locale-market. Far too many folks “bet the farm” on, in effect, a “me too” proposition—too sad.

M, or Money: And far too many people with a genuinely rippin’ idea forget to get the “money guy,” the “businessperson,” on board from, more or less, day one. I’m less talking about the funds raiser here (for the moment, I assume you’ll use your carefully squirreled away war chest of $175,000, and another $50,000 borrowed from Aunt Matilda), and more focused on the person who “gets off on business” as much as you get off on your genuinely better-startling idea for a financial-planning boutique in Upper Podunk. Decent, if simple, systems for doing business, for instance, must be in place pretty much from the start. Bottom line: “Business sense” is as “cool” as “it” (the prime idea).

P, or People: Obvious? Of course! Not so fast! That inspired dreamer, that finance aficionado … are often wretches when it comes to hiring and inspiring, day in and day out, the waiters and waitresses or receptionists who will “Wow” the clientele—or not.

I contend, or at least I contended to the folks I talked to yesterday, that all three pieces are imperative to solving the entrepreneurial puzzle—and that almost no one combines them in one head. In fact, the three disciplines are so intellectually and emotionally different that they can’t spring from the same soul.

So that’s my nickel, the product of years of observation, as well as too much time and money spent as an inattentive student at the University of Hard Knocks.