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After you get the entrepreneur with the right personal operating system, you need to get the right product or service. This is where we agree with traditional MBA programs but differ significantly from popular myths on entrepreneurship. Most students start the course with a firm belief that a successful startup is all about a great "idea" or an extraordinary "opportunity". This is the first myth. The second myth is that you could work on any idea or any opportunity.

Distinctive, compelling proposition
A successful startup is not simply based on a bright idea or even a great opportunity. To capture the opportunity, you need to turn an idea into a distinctive, compelling proposition. You need to be crystal clear about the three elements of a proposition:

? What is the product or service ?
? Who are the customers ?
? What are the distinctive, compelling benefits to the customers ?

Such a clear proposition is the basis of any good business strategy. But it becomes really critical for a startup. A startup does not have the track record or the resource to attract potential customers. And it could be competing with more resourceful and established businesses. It therefore needs to offer something that the customer really need, something way beyond the existing offers. That "something" is the distinctive, compelling proposition. For most existing corporations, a distinctive compelling proposition is the difference between excellence and mediocrity. For startups, it is the difference between life and death.

Let us start with the most basic question: what is the product or service ? Although this sounds preposterous, many would-be entrepreneurs could not clearly articulate the answer to this question. Clarity in what you are really selling is an important first step.

What makes a proposition distinctive and compelling to customers ? A proposition is distinctive when it clearly stands out from its competition. A proposition is compelling to a customer when it either removes a major pain in their system or adds significant tangible benefits.

Knowledgeable about the product
Another popular myth is that you could work on any idea or any opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs know the product or service inside out before they start. At least one of the founders is very knowledgeable about the product. There are always exceptions to a rule. You could run into a very forgiving business environment. Maybe your service is a de facto monopoly for many years. Maybe you enter into a hyper-growth industry. Then you could afford to learn the business through trial and error. But these are exceptions.

Startups are always at a disadvantage. Even with experienced operators, startups still run into many unexpected problems. We say that Murphy's Law will always apply. Whatever can go wrong, it will. A bunch of completely inexperienced founders trying to learn the business will simply add substantially to the list of things that "can" go wrong. You expect problems, but you do not want additional ones caused by stupidity or inexperience.
 
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