Fit 4 Start

Q&A with startup coach Michel Blumenthal

Part of an entrepreneur’s success, says Michel Blumenthal, is empathy and humility. Photo: Vincent Duterne

Part of an entrepreneur’s success, says Michel Blumenthal, is empathy and humility. Photo: Vincent Duterne

Michel Blumenthal has over 20 years’ experience in entrepreneurship, including as a coach in Luxinnovation’s Fit 4 Start programme. With the 12th edition of Fit 4 Start starting in January, we asked the coach about what it takes to succeed.

Delano: What’s the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs tend to make?

Michel Blumenthal: Most entrepreneur candidates are too in love with their idea and believe that everyone else will be as well, and therefore think that the startup can only be a success and that finding investors will be a piece of cake. Programmes such as Fit 4 Start help would-be or even experienced entrepreneurs avoid such pitfalls by providing tools and processes as well as sounding boards.

Understanding and discovering the customers you want to serve is the most important step as it will enable you to match your offer to those customers’ needs (product/market fit) and then test it with pricing. All businesses need sales, which is always quantity sold times sale price. Making sure that sales will, within a reasonable timeframe, cover expenses is essential in order to build confidence both for the entrepreneur but also for whoever else will be involved (customers, employees, investors). Finding and executing the business model will be much easier then. Scaling-up as well.

Can you get a sense of whether an entrepreneur is going to “make it”? If so, what do you notice or look for?

Potential winners aren’t obvious to identify, but, in my opinion and experience, empathy and humility are essential to “make it”. Empathy for all the stakeholders that will constitute the startup environment, with customers at the forefront. Humility as one needs to be ready to adapt an initial idea to the market reality.

Since the beginning of your career, how has entrepreneurship changed?

Twenty years ago, the tools and processes described above were still very sketchy compared to what exists today. Entrepreneurial domains have also expanded to very diversified models based on digitalisation. Accessing markets is maybe simpler, but often too many players rush for the same piece of the pie, making competitive advantages harder to achieve and communicate. The efforts required to succeed remain a constant. It is an illusion to believe that new technologies imply ease.

Any comment on the latest crop of pre-selected Fit 4 Start participants?

The Fit 4 Start pre-selection process has evolved over time as earlier mistakes have been corrected. Nevertheless, selecting participants will always remain like buying a melon: you don’t know what’s really in it until you open it.

The worldwide draw of this programme, helped by the importance of Luxembourg as a startup platform with its opening to the rest of Europe, has been attracting more and more sophisticated participants, which always makes for an enticing challenge for F4S organisers, juries and coaches.