Enterprise startups: Richard Branson's expansive and practical advice

Five pieces of wise advice for you to consider when defining a startup business model. Compare your venture against this checklist.

I talk with many enterprise startups who want advice or a write-up here in ZDNet. Virtually all these entrepreneurs radiate passion and enthusiasm for their product, company, and prospects for success. Unfortunately, too many of these companies do not possess a vision that is simultaneously expansive and intensely practical.

Expansive vision but not practical
Colored, beaded neck ties: Expansive vision but impractical product (photo by Michael Krigsman)

With this in mind, I read with great interest the criteria that Richard Branson uses when investing in technology startups. Branson's points are sufficiently broad to apply in many investment situations, but serve as a superb checklist for enterprise startups when defining their business model. 

Beyond a mere checklist, Branson's five points describe an approach that wise entrepreneurs can use for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. As you read the list, consider the extent to which your own company measures up. 

Here is Richard Branson's list of technology investment criteria, as published in Entrepreneur magazine. Carefully examine this list and compare your own startup in a thorough and objective manner. To the extent possible, try to ensure that your venture meets every single point described below, without exception:

  1. Does your company offer a smart, simple solution that improves customers' lives? If I understand a startup's product or service on first glance, then customers will too -- and if it solves a problem that needs fixing, there's a good chance that some will buy it.
  2. Is your company's use of technology disruptive? There are many companies that dress up their products by putting lights and screens on them, but don't exactly make a difference to anyone's everyday life. Such products may attract attention, but unless the technology adds easy functionality, the customers won't be back a second time.
  3. Does your company offer customers greater choice and better access? However small a company, its founders should try to expand people's opportunities and choices.
  4. Does your company's product or service encourage customers to share their work or experiences? The development of Web-based applications has enabled collaboration on a scale that was unimaginable 30 years ago. In almost every industry, more sharing is helpful and useful: between friends and family members; between colleagues, and sometimes between customers.
  5. Does your company care enough about people and the planet to use business as a force for good? Every company can make a difference. New businesses can tackle local problems, growing businesses can tackle national problems, big businesses can tackle global problems. 

These questions are simple and practical, yet deceptively sophisticated and difficult to achieve. Therefore, cultivate a corporate culture that examines questions such as these on an ongoing basis. The right time to ask such questions is now.