ing allowed. "Don't underestimate
the hard work," Linkner says.
Your odds of success rest on your
shoulders. More important than any
idea or product to determining success
is the passion of the person behind the
ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR YOU?
"Many are interested, but just don't know
what it takes:' says Amy Gill-Cronovich,
training leader at Bizdom U, an entre-
preneurship accelerator in Downtown
Detroit founded by Dan Gilbert, founder
and chairman of Quicken Loans.
Gill-Cronovich says the first
step is to sit down and take a long
hard look at your lifestyle, your
family and your financials.
"If you're struggling with your
finances or have a lot of credit
card debt, then you need to get
that under control before you
think of starting a business," she
What about your family? Do
you have young children who de-
pend on you and want you to go
to their ballet recitals and soccer
"It's not that you can't start a
business and be a good parent,"
Gill-Cronovich says. "It's just that
there is only one you, and when
you start a business, everything
is on your shoulders. You have to
be willing to say no to everything
else. People underestimate the
time involved. There's nothing
wrong with saying 'this just isn't
for me — at least not yet."
Launching a business is a tough
ason Teshuba, 36, of Royal Oak,
launched Mango Languages, a
developer of language learning
products offered through online sub-
ages, in 2007.
This year the
it to No. 275 on
the Inc. 5000 list
of the nation's
The Farmington Hills-based com-
pany sells to public libraries and is
making in-roads into public universi-
ties, corporations, schools and the
Teshuba and his brother, Michael,
actually began sowing the seeds of
Mango back in 2004 with an earlier
thing to do. "It requires a diverse
set of skills. You need to be a
visionary, a people person, a num-
bers guy. It takes grit and scrappi-
ness. A willingness to do anything
— and everything," Linkner adds.
It also takes knowledge, experi-
ence and background, says Gill-
Cronovich, who cites the Bizdom
U company Savorfull, which
provides allergen-free, nutri-
tious meals straight to customers'
"That's a great idea for anybody
to have, but it worked only be-
cause founder Stacy Goldberg is a
nutritionist. She had the knowl-
edge necessary to make it work."
THE BIG IDEA
The next step in launching your business:
the big idea. Linkner's advice: "Make sure
you're solving a real customer need and
that it's differentiated from the competi-
tion. We don't need any more Groupon
copycats," he says. "Do something origi-
nal or not at all."
Look at your idea. Can you
make it or sell it? "If not, it's not a
good path," says Gill-Cronovich.
Start by talking to potential
customers that have the problem
you're trying to solve with your
product or service.
"You have to validate that the mar-
ket and the customers actually exist,"
says Tom Anderson, senior director of
Oakland County-based Automation Alley,
which brings together businesses, educa-
tors and government to help entrepre-
neurs accelerate the commercialization
of new technologies and services.
"You need to get out there and talk to
web development company where
they were selling products from other
language learning companies.
Both he and Michael were trained
as software developers. "We thought
we could create something better"
Their biggest challenge was hav-
ing no money."We had to find free,
cheap or alternate routes to get our
product developed," Teshuba says.
The goal was to launch with 10
language courses, and they couldn't
afford to pay language teachers to
develop the product."Instead, we
asked them to do it free and pay
them royalties from the sale of the
product for a number of years," he
says."They've made four times as
much in royalties as they would have
made in fees!'
Mango Languages has never taken
any venture capital. "We've grown the
business by making sales," Teshuba
He has the "3 Ps"of advice for
would-be entrepreneurs: Persistence.
customers. Having even one customer
proves that somebody in the market
Gill-Cronovich says to think it
through carefully to find out what
your minimal viable product is
— the least you have to do to get
up and running and in front of
You can find plenty of templates
on the Internet to help you draw
out your business plan, but don't
expect to do it in a weekend.
According to Michael Graub and
Michael Banks, co-chairs of the Danto
Small Business Program at Hebrew Free
Loan (HFL), it takes about 120 hours of
solid, extensive work to create a busi-
ness plan — and it's not something you
should tackle on your own. Instead, find
a mentor. Find several of them.
Gill-Cronovich suggests that
wantrepreneurs start by attend-
ing group and networking events,
trade shows and conferences.
"Get to know people. Get to
know the real story of what it's
like," she says.
Bizdom U has pitch events
and business model brunches for
aspiring entrepreneurs. "Find the
right people to give you advice,"
she adds. "Also remember that
everybody has an opinion, and
not every opinion matters. Focus
on industry experts."
There is a lot of support in the
region. In addition to Automation
Alley and Bizdom U, there is Tech
Town Detroit, Ann Arbor SPARK,
the Small Business Administra-
"Persistence you'll need because so
many problems and issues will arise,
and you have to keep going till some-
thing favorable happens. Passion.
I LOVE what I do. I love languages,
and I'm proud of what I'm doing. So
should you," he says. "Finally, partners.
Pick the people you want to work
with carefully. Make sure they share
your ideals and values:' RT
mma Zerkel, 39, and her husband,
Michael, were working in a family
retail business when Michigan's
economy started to tank. "We realized
we had to expand and not be limited
by physical space,"she says.
In 2006, they launched Sylvan Lake-
based All USA Clothing, an online
retailer of domestically manufactured
clothing. The challenge was in under-
tion and the OU INCubator, just
to name a few. (See sidebar on
One option is the Great Lakes
Entrepreneur's Quest, a competi-
tion with the mission to educate
entrepreneurs on the creation,
start up and early growth stages
of high-growth Michigan busi-
"Most important," Anderson
says, "is these kinds of programs
get you assigned a coach or men-
tor who will ask you the right
questions as you work on your
"Your business plan is not
how your business will end up,"
Linkner says. "A business plan is
constantly evolving." It includes
everything from mapping out
your business model, identifying
customers, distribution channels,
price points, value propositions,
revenue generation, on and on
"The biggest problem is not
having specificity," Linkner says,
equating it to the difference be-
tween telling someone looking to
get to San Francisco to "go west"
or handing him a Google map
that shows how long to drive and
where to turn.
Gill-Cronovich adds that you
should be prepared for things not
to work out the way you plan. "Be
willing to work out a new path
and be in it for the long haul."
FUNDING YOUR DREAM
If you think you're going to take your
Entrepreneur on page 46
standing the online market. So they
learned by trial and error. "We studied
our competitors'websites for what
we liked and didn't like and got our
site up as soon
as we could,"
who lives in
field and has
_Dan, 11, and
ago, All USA
Clothing re-launched its website
with a more glamorous look and
more user-friendly features that
have increased sales and cut down
on customer phone calls for help. A
Facebook store is on the way next.
"My advice to aspiring entrepre-
neurs is don't try to do everything
at one time. We've had to grow our
business in stages," she says. 'P. T
nrD pail November 2012 45