Predict the future or control the present?

How do expert entrepreneurs succeed? Is it by predicting and anticipating the future, a future that no one else sees? Apparently not. Instead of wasting time and resources on crystal ball gazing they focus their efforts on what they can control: the present.

That was the gist from last week's lecture. It's a concept so  simple and so powerful, I think it just might change my life.

Apparently your average newbie entrepreneur (ie me and the other startup Sprinters) feels compelled to do things the right way, the way we think a Harvard MBA would do it. Start with a business plan, and a marketing plan, and figure out how much capital you need, get investment, then embark on an all-or-nothing campaign into the unknown. Unsurprisingly, that approach doesn’t work for startups. Surprisingly, it does work for established businesses.

Which leads to the next surprising point – novice entrepreneurs behave the same as expert managers for established businesses, and this is exactly the opposite of the behaviour they need!

Expert entrepreneurs clearly see what they can control, and make the most of that. A great example was given by Dropbox. In going from zero to two million users there was never an all-or-nothing commitment from any stakeholder, just progressively larger inputs based on the success to date.

Looking back over the last couple of years I can clearly see a pattern in my own successes and failures which mirrors this. Where I've acted to control a situation in the present I've always succeeded, but wherever I've acted based on a prediction of the future the result has been less than satisfactory.

Our business currently has three components:

1. Open source: The Ettrema platform, with Milton as its flagship product, is used globally by thousands of online storage products and the website gets over 100 unique visitors per day – all developers of server products.

2. Commercial: With about a dozen commercial contracts completed on the Ettrema platform, we've seen this as a real competitive advantage. The most successful to date is an e-learning system built for Reckit Benckeiser to educate pharmacists about Neurofen. We've just landed the contract to build the next one, and there are more in the pipeline.

3. Startup: has been about three years in the making. It's been successful in the sense that it has driven innovation and development which has enabled our open source and commercial arms, but its been an uphill battle in getting people excited about it.

If we were to abandon efforts based on predicting the future, then transforming Shmego into a cloud product would have to go on the back burner. The fact is there are very few people right now who need a ubiquitous access product. And while there are plenty of people who need the previous generation of Dropbox-like functionality, there are also plenty of established businesses providing that product.

But looking at where our greatest success actually is, it's in the corporate/marketing e-learning space. The question is can we transform this into a scaleable business?

Brad McEvoy is participating in the ecentreSprint programme, a 12-week course held by Massey University's business incubator that helps entrepreneurs develop their business idea and model.

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