Bend’s James Gentes has intimate knowledge of starting and growing a business. His resume includes a stint as chairman of the nonprofit Tech Alliance of Central Oregon, organizer of the co-working facility BendTech, and former mentor and alumni of the FoundersPad business accelerator program.
Gentes is currently co-founder and chief product officer of Tend.ai, a software company that allows people to control manufacturing robots with their mobile devices. Here, he offers up some tips on taking an idea to market.
1. Don’t quit your day job.
Burdened by too high of expectations of success, most people don’t realize what it takes to get a new business off the ground. They believe it will immediately generate cash flow, while in reality, it usually takes three times longer and costs three times as much. It is far better to build it on the side until there’s proof the business will take off.
2. Use lean startup approaches.
You can get the same accomplished with a pad and paper as spending money developing something that misses the mark. Start by understanding what the customer’s problems are. It’s all about customer development.
3. Build it or find a co-founder who can.
People have great ideas. But, they believe they are the idea people—aka marketing geniuses—and all they need is a team to build it. By partnering with someone who can build it, you can reduce some of the risk.
4. Find customers elsewhere.
Bend is a small market. Unless you have an outdoor product or are selling beer, it’s best to search for larger markets. Try Portland, Seattle, or the Bay Area (CA) to broaden your market base.
5. Don’t underestimate Portland’s resources.
We have some great resources here—such as Cascade Angels, and Seven Peaks Ventures—and Portland has even more tech companies and funding opportunities. Try Technology Association of Oregon to bridge the gap between here and Portland.
6. Leverage your contacts.
Your personal and professional network can help you. Many of your Bend friends came from larger areas and have more contacts there.
7. Build a distributed team.
Find good people in other areas. By not being 100% dependent on Bend people, you’re able to find expert employees your company needs and expand the company’s employee portfolio.
8. Perseverance wins.
You have to be willing to fail. The 90% failure rate is not just a saying, but a statistical fact.
9. Be conservative with estimates.
It always takes longer and costs more than you think.