By Andrew J Thompson

Startups are notoriously difficult. Not difficult to fund. Not difficult to finance. Not difficult to find. Not difficult to manage, staff or grow – just difficult, period. They are difficult in every way. The only things that are not difficult about a startup surround the passion, energy and ideas that bring them to life.

Passion, energy and great ideas – these are the essentials of any startup with potential to succeed. Without passion, the business will die quickly for a lack of commitment. Passionate and commitment go hand in hand. Without energy, the startup fail for its inability to keep up in the competitive environment that surrounds it. And without the core of a great idea needed for success, the startup ceases to exist altogether.

Many believe startups begin with an idea. Except for the idea that one wants to change the world and/or make lots of money, I disagree. A desire for intrinsic (sense of improving the world) and extrinsic (financial gain) reward is all I believe is needed to get rolling on a startup project. Passion is the name we give to the need for intrinsic and extrinsic reward. WIth it, ideas will follow. For some, many, many ideas. WIthout it, ideas are just something to amuse as we casually say, “somebody should invent…” – you have to want to be an agent of change FIRST to be a successful entrepreneur or startup.

Energy is the second catalyst to entrepreneurial success. Energy, in context, means you can’t seem to stay in bed early in the morning, you can’t find time to break for lunch, there isn’t a game, a book or any other recreational activity that is more important to you than your new, startup project. It also means the quantity of things you will get done to push this passion forward. Not necessarily how efficient you are, but how much you will actually do. In other words, energy dictates there is no such thing as writer’s block, or lulls in work activity. You’re on it, no matter what! That is how you know you have the energy to succeed.

The great idea IS ultimately what the particular startup is all about. But again, without pre-existing passion and energy, it doesn’t matter how great the idea, it will struggle to get off the ground. The great idea can be really any idea, if you can conceive it, it can be packaged and sold. But it has to be packaged and it has to be sold. That is where the startup advisor comes in to help.

After the three essentials of entrepreneurship, execution is of course the key to the success of your vision. The person in charge of, or even acting as a co-founder, does not necessarily have to possess the same passion, and certainly doesn’t need to own the idea himself, but he very likely does need at least the same level of energy as the entrepreneur. He can be a good accountant, great at financial analysis ideally, an engineer, an HR expert – something different than the entrepreneur himself.

But what exactly can he, or any third party advisor bring to the table to help make your startup succeed? Below is a short list of counseling tools my clients have consistently found helpful over the years I’ve been advising startup companies and entrepreneurs.

  1. Help them minimize distraction. A simple enough concept, but putting it into practice, for any of us, can be incredibly difficult. Distraction seems to make the world go round today. It doesn’t, but it does seem that way. Help them with time blocking, eliminating negative inputs, screening, delegating – all of the things that go along with creating the efficiencies that will be necessary to win the battles in the marketplace as you strive to get above the din of the crowd.
  2. Shaping Messaging. In my estimation, the hardest thing any entrepreneur has to do is to try and “hear” themselves as the rest of the world is hearing them. What is it like reading your own writing? Or business plan” Or reviewing a slide deck? We often to shout our own story so loud, so often and in so much detail – that we miss the chance for anyone to actually hear what we’re saying. Ouch! I believe the biggest challenge for any startup founder is learning to economize the words they use in telling their story. If you want to write lengthy exposes – start here (on a blog)! If you want to write even longer, write a book, or join the faculty at a university. But in terms of seeking funding and getting product to market, you need to keep it simple!
  3. Focus on Financials. Entrepreneurs need to get a really good sense of what’s real and what’s not in the financial projections and pro formas of a startup company. The bottom line is, it’s ALL real, but it’s real in a speculative sense. If this sounds contradictory, it isn’t. The key is being able to tell the story that viably supports the financials when you’re asked the questions. And if “tell the story” seems contradictory to what I said about messaging, remember, now you’ve been asked a question. Once that happens you hae the green light, and you should tell a story – a compelling story. Which leads us to #4.
  4. Storytelling. Important point – raising money largely consists of storytelling. Worth repeating, raising money largely consists of story telling. Say it to yourself again…if you have to tell stories, you might as well be great at it. In my experience, almost everyone is. How important is it? The people who started reading this article, but left to browse elsewhere likely did so because I wasn’t telling a story. I try to make it a practice to open with a story when I write, unless I believe the specific points I have to share are compelling themselves.

If you’re assisting entrepreneurs then, tell them stories of your own successes and failures. Ask for, no demand, stories from them as well. They need to be able to tell real to life experiences that the listener hasn’t experienced him/herself to be effective.
When you are telling a story, remember that people listen in a manner similar to how the screen information on the internet. It needs to be interesting and relevant – and ultimately, content is king. That means the stories you tell need to track real life events. They need to be credible, interesting and relevant to the listener. Sell by telling. It’s a huge asset that works to your benefit at any stage of development.
There are many other ways to help an entrepreneur or storyteller as an advisor. But you will be a BFF advisor, a trusted ally, and a valued resource by being the reminder of these four basic tools for success.
If you are an entrepreneur and/or startup member and you need assistance with a business plan, valuation, slide deck, executive summary, or placement memoranda, please contact me for assistance today. You can reach me by email at or by phone at 317-564-4976.