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Entrepreneurial business plan competitions – Be Boring.

So this Saturday Dr. Zahir and Azhar Rizvi at MIT CEF and TAN were generous enough to hand out an invitation to speak in front of a group of 150 odd engineering students at NUST. The occasion was the kickoff round for the NUST Discover business plan competition with prizes starting at fairly generous half a million crispy fresh ones to 50K cash consolations for all the finalists.

I was a little surprised to see hardly anyone from FAST other than myself and Akbar Mughal who was also on the panel of speakers for the day.

While I would like to believe that the 150 odd souls at 9 am had shown up at the PNEC Auditorium to hear me speak all credit goes to Dr. Zahir and Azhar’s yearlong effort on getting the entrepreneurial conversations going with engineering school students. And the multiyear MIT EF Business Acceleration Plan competition they have been running since 2007.

The theme that I chose for this session was to “Be boring”.

Yup, you got that right. Be Boring. The opposite of Exciting. Dull. Dreary. Sort of like un-Apple. Possibly more like Samsung (ouch). Which sort of clashed with what Azhar was going to say later on but that is what happens when you invite yours truly for a fireside chat.

Perhaps a bit of context may help. We started off by taking a look at what entrepreneurs really do. They connect markets and customers via products and sales and make it possible for businesses they build around customer needs to launch, grow and prosper.

In addition to this really boring activity, they also do the whole product development/launch phase cheaper, faster, better and leaner than anyone else around in their space.

Otherwise there is not sense in being an entrepreneur. However sometime we confuse the excitement linked with the launch of a new product with being an Entrepreneur. Which is where this whole being boring bit comes along.

The example that I quoted to make my case plotted the returns for one exciting technology company that I am in love with against one boring company that I used to be in love with against two really really really boring companies that I should have been in love with.

And if like me in your old age you can’t read the top-line above, here is the magnified version.

My pitch was simple.

If doing boring things like selling food grade plastic storage boxes for your freezer and manufacturing and selling fertilizer generates a 500% return over 5 years compared to a -16% return over the same period producing flashy, techsavy, nerdy, geeky hard-drives then bring on the fertilizer. I would rather be boring and rich than poor and exciting. Boring companies make more money because they get the core fundamentals behind a business right. Things like customers, their pain, basic products, pricing, distribution and selling. Unlike exciting technology companies that are so focused on getting the technology right or using the right technology that they tend to get everything else wrong.

Since the students had trouble buying my manure rich ways, I thought a real life example would help. Which created the perfect opportunity for me to introduce (shame less self promotion) the timeline from Avicena to Learning Corporate Finance – A twelve year journey filled with multiple false starts, at least two heart breaks, a handful of stupid mistakes but also two reasonable successes. The idea behind the timeline was to introduce the following lessons.

  1. A really powerful idea never dies. You can always come back to it and try a difference variation of your recipe to see if it would work this time.
  2. Technology is irrelevant. But an un-serviced customer niche is not.
  3. Nothing every really goes to waste. You build up on each success as well as failure till you get to the point where products have no other option but to work.
  4. As a technology entrepreneur you have to reinvent yourself and your business every 4 – 6 years. If you are not in sync with this cycle, the cycle will get you.
  5. Please note that boring businesses like fertilizers and kitchen utensils do not suffer from this disease. Hence the recommendation to be boring.
  6. The 12 year timeline shows that there is no such thing as a quick win. It is a long painful slog, which will quickly kill the weakest amongst us.
  7. And yes the generational words of wisdom, easy come, easy go are possibly much more profound than we ever gave them credit for.

By the time I was done with my presentation my audience had only one question. Why in the world did I do what I did to myself, to myself?

That was where things got really exciting, contrary to my recommended prescription of being boring. You had to be there to hear the Q&A session when I started asking young 18 year olds if they were married and had children (not necessarily in that order). Another day, another post J.

For now, here is the list of resources that I promised to share.

  1. The Catalyst Business Plan Training session I ran last Saturday for Microsoft. The catalyst program post has a number of other posts that you would find of interest.
  2. The link to your free downloadable copy of Reboot – Reboot – 2nd Edition

Thank you very much for having me over. It was a ball. Please feel free to invite me over again.

3 thoughts on “Entrepreneurial business plan competitions – Be Boring.”

  1. Azhar Rizvi says:

    Dear Jawad , thank you for being their and doing an excellent session for the benefit of young and future entrepreneurs of Pakistan. We will in

  2. Pingback: The Pitching for Startup Course – A guide to presenting winning pitches for your business plans | Learning Corporate Finance
  3. Trackback: The Pitching for Startup Course – A guide to presenting winning pitches for your business plans | Learning Corporate Finance
  4. Ricardo says:

    This looks really good!It would be instneteirg to allow industry professionals to *like* (show interest in an idea that falls in their domain). I would be allowed to submit my profile and contact information, and the team could schedule a meeting with me if they choose to for feedback and market information.A common challenge for early stage ventures in PK is the lack of market information and customer feedback. Since it’s usually not available in an organized form, it would be useful to create an organized network of industry pros to share experiences with the team / project of their choice.Just a thought!

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