Success Begins With Opportunities

Three years after the recession officially ended, the economy remains stagnant. At this rate, we’ll probably experience this tough economy for quite a while. In order for aspiring entrepreneurs to succeed in such difficult times,  they must actively seek out and respond to business opportunities that this economic downturn is presenting to them.

Entrepreneurs don’t just start any business; they seize the great business opportunities, says co-authors Reid Hoffman, investor and co-founder of LinkedIn, and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha in their best-selling book,The Start-Up of You.”

Hoffman and Casnocha believe that success for a startup is all about seizing those unusually consequential opportunities — those breakthroughs, deals and discoveries that rocket their company forward at an accelerating rate of growth.

When One Idea Leads to Another

During a meeting last year, entrepreneur Ben Mappen acted quickly by seizing a business opportunity that eventually convinced a venture capitalist to write a $250,000 check for him on the spot. The turn of events resulted in the launch of LeanLaunchLab.com, a tool that helps entrepreneurs define and test key business model assumptions.

Mappen began his meeting with Menlo Ventures managing director Shawn Carolan to pitch his startup idea about a site called Techcofounder.com which is a lot like a dating site for entrepreneurs. Carolan invited Steve Blank, an eight-time serial entrepreneur and Stanford professor, to help evaluate Mappen’s concept.

The meeting took an unexpected turn when Blank began sharing his own business idea with Mappen. Here’s how the meeting evolved, according to Mappen:

“So the three of us sit down for coffee in mid-May [2011] and I give the best elevator pitch I can. Steve really liked the idea. He offered up some advice and asked if I needed any intros. Perfect!

But then, for the next 20 minutes Steve started talking about his own ideas, and they were fantastic. He told us about how startup board meetings were broken and how he may have stumbled upon an innovative solution while teaching his class at Stanford.

I casually asked Steve if he was going to pursue this idea and he said ‘well, no, I’m retired.’ I look at Shawn, and then I look back at Steve and say ‘I’ll build it.’ Steve says, ‘That’s great! And…you should demo it with me on stage at the Startup Lessons Learned conference.’

Whoa! Within one hour I had gone from pitching Steve Blank an idea to starting a company based on his idea. A week later Shawn’s  investment hit the bank and a week after that I got on stage with Steve and launched a product with nothing more than a Powerpoint deck.”

In February 2012, after several months in beta, LeanLaunchLab opened for business.

Make-or-Break Career Opportunities

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha point out that careers, like startups, are also punctuated by breakout opportunities. Our professional lives are not a sequence of equally important jobs. There are always breakout projects, connections, specific experiences and, yes, strokes of luck that lead to unusually rapid career growth.

Here are their tips for finding and generating those kinds of breakout opportunities. These work equally well for a startup as they do for an individual’s career.

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