On Monday, Oprah Winfrey appeared on CBS This Morning and was candid that her experience launching her OWN network was not as she had expected (you can view the video clip at the end of this piece), which mirrors the experience of almost every entrepreneur. She said that if she wrote a book about her startup experience, it would be called 101 Mistakes.
Well, I did write the book on this subject, in general. It's a New York Times bestseller that I called The Entrepreneur Equation. It helps entrepreneurs starting new businesses (and even those stuck with a current ineffective business model) understand what it takes to be successful and help stack those odds in their favor. It could have also saved Oprah some serious headaches.
As someone who has been busting myths around entrepreneurship for a while now, I am, however, thrilled to have Oprah Winfrey as an ambassador to talk about the challenges of a new endeavor in our current competitive market environment.
Here are some of the many lessons that you can learn from Oprah's endeavors, adapted from The Entrepreneur Equation:
It Takes Time: Businesses don't gain a foundation overnight. It takes time to build up a new business and establish or transfer your customer base, even if you are Oprah Winfrey. It can take two years or even longer for a new business to get traction, which is why it is so critical for businesses to be properly capitalized (aka have enough money to last during this period). With everything that Oprah Winfrey brings to the table -- in terms of experience, capital, network, fan base and more -- if it is going to take her at least that long to gain a foundation, it's safe to assume the same for your new endeavor.
Test it Out First: You may think that there is a market for something, but sometimes the market isn't as robust as you had believed (or at least will take more resources than expected to cultivate). While Oprah had some market testing with her Oprah Winfrey Show and O magazine, she could have done more testing, as well. She could have spent a few years developing additional programming elsewhere to see if that kind of programming would work outside of her show platform and then migrated those and similar concepts to her OWN network once there was some more proof of concept. Any time you can test out the market viability of what you are doing on a small scale with a limited budget before you make the full scale leap, do it. Then, once you are committed to it, follow the next suggestion.
Give It Your Full Attention: Once you make the leap, your business should be your business. If you aren't minding your own business, who do you think will? Far too many entrepreneurs try to do too many things at once. Oprah did this when she was still running her eponymous television show when the OWN network launched and not having her upfront full attention was to its detriment. You can't make two things your #1 priority, so focus on doing one thing well instead of a number of things with a fraction of your focus.
It's All About Execution: Business ideas are a dime a dozen these days. The key to success lies with execution. Regardless of the brand name, it's about the execution of the business day-in and day-out, every day after launch. If OWN is going to be successful, it will need continued outstanding programming, engagement of Oprah's target audience and good old-fashioned rolling up the sleeves and daily work. While Oprah had immediate brand recognition, that wasn't (and won't be) enough to make the business successful. Don't expect that a slick product, a celebrity endorsement, tons of PR or a fabulous name are enough to make you successful.
The Risk Has to Be Worth the Rewards: While a new business idea can be exciting and even intoxicating to pursue, too many entrepreneurs make trades that don't make sense. They pursue an endeavor where the financial and/or qualitative benefits don't far outweigh the current benefits of their existing job or even other opportunities that they can pursue. Oprah had one of the top television programs in the country. Was giving that up worth the rewards that could possibly be reaped from a niche startup network? Only Oprah can answer that based on her definition of success, but make sure you are using the same litmus test to evaluate opportunities.
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