Blog: Mike Teshuba

Has the prospect of launching your own business got you tongue-tied? Mike Teshuba, CTO of language learning software provider Mango Languages, gives talking points on building start-ups – and warns us about the non-starters.

Post 2: Five Things to Consider When Scratching Your Entrepreneurial Itch

1.  To build something great, you must first have a great purpose.
Great companies are built from a great sense of purpose.  Having run many businesses, I know that there is a significant difference in starting with an idea to build something as opposed to just starting a business to make money.  

A great company has a purpose, a mission, and a clear set of beliefs that it lives by.  It stands for something that people can believe in and rally behind.  With my early business ventures, there was a lack of vision. This led to businesses that weren't incredibly inspirational.   After many years of experience as well as reading, listening to others, and hashing things out with my partners, we created Mango Languages.  

Our purpose: To deeply enrich lives by leading the world to language and cultural understanding.  We built this company on the core values of Quality, Innovation, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Fundipline (a word we made up to define a good balance between having fun and discipline), Positive Attitude, and Integrity. From our purpose and our core values we have inspired ourselves and others to work together to achieve many great things.  

So when thinking about starting a business, look inside, find your passions and how you could contribute to your community and the world and ask yourself, "How can I build something great?"   

2.  Be a laser beam.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years is that if you try to be everything to everyone, you will not be able to become great at anything for anybody.  Especially when you are first starting out.  Usually you will have limited resources and you must focus.  I realize that sometimes you have to explore some options and many people have probably told you not to put all your eggs in one basket, but if you try to do too much you will not succeed at greatness.

Laser beams make holes because they focus their energy in one small area.  Be a laser beam.  Find your niche and focus on it.  Doors of opportunity will open up to you when you do that and you will be so happy that you did.

Here's a small experiential example.  When I started my second business, our plan was to launch a bunch of websites selling different products.  We started out with a few products we really believed in.  The first was selling language learning products and the second was selling juicers.  We spent a lot of time on these two sites and they were doing well.

 Then we started adding on new sites to our portfolio.  At one point we had about 10 sites.  Most of them did not produce any profit for us.  One of the biggest reasons for this was, we were spread too thin and didn't have the resources to make them work.  This led to a tremendous amount of wasted time.  Once we came to this realization, my partners and I sold off all of our web properties and started Mango Languages.  Now we only create and sell language-learning products and we are doing much better than we were with all 10 of our sites back then.

3.  Surround yourself with great people.
Without my business partners I wouldn't have been able to get our business going.  And without all of the wonderful people we have here at Mango today we wouldn't be able to create the language learning programs our customers enjoy.  No one is perfect, nor can everyone be good at everything.  Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and then align yourself with others who are strong in the areas where you are not.  With each quality person you add to your team you will find that your collective abilities will be much greater than the sum of everyone individually.  You are great, but with a great team you will become a force to be reckoned with.  

For as many mistakes as I have made early on, ironically enough, this is one of the very few things I did right from the very beginning.  Currently I have three active business partners.  Plus we now have the pleasure of being surrounded by a team of stellar people and together we are inspiring each other every day to meet the mission of our company.

I know many business people and the ones that do not form good teams never work as well as the ones that do.

4.  Innovate.
Companies that are not innovative will almost always struggle to make money.  If everyone else can do it this will inevitably drive down profit margins.  For example, let's say you're going to open up a gas station. There are probably at least four other gas stations in a square-mile radius around you making sure that your margins stay as low as possible on gas.  

In this case, you can innovate in other ways.  Many gas stations that are more profitable create innovation in their mini marts by having great selections.  Others have innovated by selling advertising at the pump.  Chances are though, if you just have a simple gas station with no innovative ideas, at best you're going to be struggling to make a profit.

Look at the most successful "new age" businesses today.  They are all driven by innovation.  For example, think about Google and Apple.  Think about how they have changed the world through innovation and all of the profit and rewards that they've received from this.

Now maybe you are asking yourself, "How can I compete with these giants?"  Well the answer is, innovation doesn't have to be something so grand.  There are many small innovations that businesses can be created around.  Here's an exercise: for the next three months, whenever you are doing something think about a simple invention that could make your task easier.  I bet within the first month you will find more than one idea that you can implement very cheaply and start a business from.

5.  Find something you love to do.
Life can be tough sometimes.  We all have pressures to pay bills.  During the midst of all this it can be tough to take a step back and think a bit.  Think about all of the information we have talked about here today.  It seems there's a sense of urgency for action that takes over.  Try to find the space to think.  

Expand your mind to think about the world you live in and if you could do anything, what would it be.  Since you only live once and you're already thinking, why not think about having a career that you love, a job that you love, a business that you love and are proud of.

When you mix this element into everything it makes it all worthwhile.  So be selfish a bit and take some time in this whole process to think about what you would love to do and work that into your plan.  Look at it this way; even if things don't go as planned, at least you had fun doing it.