Today’s business climate may seem faster, riskier, and more full of promise than ever before. It’s certainly more global, digital, and innovative. But some things haven’t changed. 

No matter how innovative your product or service may be, your business needs to be firmly rooted in established fundamentals, according to Wolfgang Koester ’91, Thunderbird alumnus and CEO of FiREapps.

“There is no way to fast track the business side. The fundamentals are important,” says Koester whose 32-year career includes launching two high-tech businesses. “Success comes from thinking about finance and debt equity ratios, thinking about your accounts receivables, accounts payables, the predictability of your cash flows.”

A key to success, Koester says, “is keeping your product or service easy to understand. Keep the message easily consumable, keep to one price, to something that people can pick up and never get confused about.”

As part of the Thunderbird/Phoenix Business Journal Global Speaker Series, Koester drew a crowd to hear his lecture, Five Stages of Entrepreneurial Success. He offered tips and lessons, kind of a playbook drawing on his years of success. He wove together tips that resonate with people in any business and stories specific to foreign currency risk exposure.

5-step roadmap to success

Outlined five stages that entrepreneurs must negotiate when transitioning a business from an idea to liquidity. The five stages, which he describes anecdotally and in detail in his keynote, are:
1.    Getting started
2.    Products – development and release
3.    Distribution/channels
4.    Maturity
5.    Planning for liquidity

“To find success, an entrepreneur needs to recognize the five stages and be able to get the most out of each one,” says Koester. Each stage can be seen as a landmark along the journey that a business goes through. “Each stage is unique and has its own challenges, requires the right people to be on board, and leaves the team with lessons that help keep moving to the next stage.”

It's not about just having a business, it's about solving a problem

A 1991 graduate of Thunderbird School of Global Management, Koester says being a T-bird helped him approach business as a way to solve a problem.

People who want to start a business to run a business are doing it wrong, according to Koester. “You should ask yourself, ‘Am I solving a problem?’ Be clear and honest about what problem you are solving and then ask ‘Is it repeatable?’ Can you keep getting paid to solve that problem? That may seem pretty simple, but it is very important.”

Creating new technology is not the same as solving a problem. “People get excited about technology firms,” Koester says. “They take technology and make it a priority over the problem they are solving. They end up planning to build something, to create some technology that is so great everyone will come. Good luck with that.”

“Successful businesses, on the other hand, leverage technology to help solve a problem. Solving the problem is the priority, not vice versa,” Koester says. “Once you figure out how to solve the problem, then it’s time to leverage technology to do that faster and better. Technology at the end of the day is all about being faster and better. That’s it.”

XEDGlobal Program choices for New ventures

Harvard Business School- Launching New Ventures

Berkeley executive Education- Start-up Boot camp

Chicago Booth – New Product Development and Implementation