All the founders of Lokus Digital originate in the academia. Needless to say, it’s a big leap to the world of entrepreneurship. And the landing may be rough. I have only spent few short months as an entrepreneur but let me tell you some of the differences and similarities I have learned so far.
Let’s start with the differences. Clearly, the aim is different. In the academia the aim is to advance the collective information of mankind. It does not need to be really useful – just to increase our knowledge. There are additional advantages like training teachers, doctors and innovative applications of science. But they are just that, a side product. We should never forget this, even though the government or corporations might claim something different. A startup, on the other hand, is a business and therefore is about money. A business can’t work if it never makes any money. This sounds really cold, but it is true. On the brightside, to customers, is that this generally won’t work without value to customers. Luckily, there are few companies that really fail the value side time after time and are still successful.
Because value to customers is so important to business we have an important difference with academia. A scientist has no customer. Some economist may claim that the university, mankind or the corporate world are customers in need of knowledge. This is not true. It is just a way to use familiar terms to describe something unknown. On the other hand I might use physics terms to rationalize business. Sometimes it’s hopeless as I am applying it to something irrational – actually it happens quite often. A customer is someone whose opinion shape the product. A product is useless if it doesn’t fill the needs (or at least a need) of a customer. Scientists produce information which should be as objective as possible – regardless who is going to see it. Of course, people are subjective and totally objective science is difficult with the exception of pure mathematics.
Of course, there are many smaller differences and quite a few things that at first seemed important but don’t really turn out to be differences. But let’s move on to the similarities.
Even though science is not about money, it is still important. Be it salary or stipendium – you need some money. So much time is wasted in applying for money. On the startup side you usually start with very little actual money. And again, you need it. So you waste a lot of time trying to convince investors – or applying for grants. Both in academia and startups you really need the passion for what you are doing because at some point you need to burn the candle from both ends – and the middle – to get it working. On the upside you can largely decide the working times yourself. Just the results matter. As an employee in a corporation it is different as you tend to have fixed hours and they don’t really ask for enthusiasm.
The first image Joe Average might think conjure up when thinking about scientists would be a man in white lab coat and test tubes. Or a messy mathematician alone in a small messy room. Okay, sometimes this works. However, most findings are the work of groups. Alone you can get only so far. It tends to be more effective to work in teams. Also, even if you think of something great but no-one finds about it, the finding is next to worthless. This, of course, is similar important in business, too. You have to be social and meet with the customers and investors. In both, you should talk to the experts and learn from the best.