Author Q&A with Cynthia Kocialski

September 22, 2011

Cynthia Kocialski wrote the book “Startup From the Ground Up” (book review) which I thought was very informative. I actually wished I had this book earlier in my life, during or right after high sch0ol. I had several questions for Ms. Kocialski and was lucky enough that she answered them.

Q. I’m a big proponent of education, but I noticed they teach us how to work in factories, not how to start a business. Is there any way we can change that?
A. I recognize the same problem with my children in school. The public school system was started to provide better workers so as a country, our industry was better than that of other countries and hence we had a wealthier nation. But now, we and every other country provides public education to all people, and it is no longer differentiates us. Today, unskilled labor often refers to high school graduates, but one hundred years ago, a high school diploma was really something special.

If every person receives the same set of skills and training through their education, why do some thrive and some not? A skill alone will not make someone successful – no more than a product alone will make a start-up company succeed. For every skill there is a point at which it is good enough to succeed, you don’t need A+ grades or perfection. The difference is the secondary or soft skills. The school system teaches our kids the technical skills – to read, do math, to write. They don’t develop the secondary skills.

A perfect example is the ability to plan. Every year in school, teachers ask the kids what they want to be when they grow up. They are asking about their goal. They never ask why that goal and how do they plan on reaching that goal. Do they ask them to come up with a plan for achieving those dreams? In the school system, how you learn all the technical skills is planned for the kids – what they learn when, what homework they do, what tests to study for. The goals, interim milestones, check points, and plan are provided to them. But when they finally graduate, no one hands them a plan for life with their diploma – and no one ever teaches them how to plan.

It’s funny you should mention this topic, my second book is about this very topic – all those things that I learned about being successful that I wasn’t taught in school, but I wish someone had told me earlier.

Q. What would be your best advice to a budding entrepreneur?
A. I live in Silicon Valley which is the strong hold of the venture capital community. One of the first missteps is doing nothing because entrepreneurs are waiting for an investor to launch a company. These first time entrepreneurs don’t understand investors. Don’t wait, just go out and do it. Investors get interested once the entrepreneur has proven the business works; they are not interested when all you have is an idea.

Whatever an entrepreneur thinks their first product or service will be, isn’t likely to work out. Most of the time it’s a variation and they won’t find that out waiting or over analyzing the business and product.

Q. What is the most common mistakes people do when starting up a business?
A. First, is having a do it yourself approach. Entrepreneurs can’t build a company alone. They need other people. When entrepreneurs get into a DIY work habit, they get so overly involved in doing the detailed work, they don’t see the big picture. They never set the tone and direction for the company.

A start-up is not about developing a new product as much as it is about creating a business. Many entrepreneurs agonize over ever feature, or bell and whistle of a product. Then they thoughtless throw a business around the product. Entrepreneurs need to create the business with as much intention and purpose as they do the product.

It’s very rare for a start-up to fail because the product or service couldn’t be developed. The first stumbling point is marketing. One misstep is to focus almost exclusively on the development process and neglect the marketing. Marketing needs to start as soon as possible, even before the product is ready – and marketing is at least or more costly as the product development.

Q. Do you think the “system” rigged against us?
A. Now, I don’t think the system is against us. I believe that it is difficult to get anything started and going. Once you’re known, then everyone wants to know you. If there is a system” against us, it’s the media. They tend to report success after it has been achieved and don’t report all the long effort it took for someone to be successful.

My daughter is a perfect example. She watches the Hannah Montana and iCarly TV shows. She really believes that you can be highly success by living a normal childhood, and then maybe a few hours a week afterschool you work on being successful and you get millions of fans with little effort.

Q. Any positive/negative experiences in book promotions? What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. For a negative experience, I’d say it’s the large number of service providers that are offering marketing and promotion services to authors. Some are really great services, but because of the large number of self-published books, there are a lot of providers wanting to sell authors on things that they don’t need. It seems as though every week I have a dozen providers offering to help with some aspect of marketing, each with fees in the thousands.

On the positive side, I’ve worked with several online virtual book promoters. They have been the best. They are independents and each has had a great interest in promoting my book. They’ve given me more personal service than the large PR firm, where I feel as though I am a number and I don’t get much attention because of the large number of clients they support.

I started with social media before writing my book. Social media is far more time consuming than I thought at first. Before social media, access to an audience was controlled by a few media organizations. Now, there are many bloggers and small magazines that an author has to contact a lot of people to get noticed.

Shameless plug disguised as a question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wise gal answer: Of course, it’s the giveaways and contests. It’s a business lesson learned from the dot-com era – unlimited demand for free!

Thanks for the informative and complete answers.

Zohar – Man of la Book

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