Entrepreneurs are a notoriously stubborn (some say confident) group of people, so I see many of them making the same mistakes that predecessors have made. Thus I’m convinced that it’s useful for all of you to step back from time to time, and listen to some sage advice from people who have been there and enjoyed success.
Recently, as I was perusing a new book by Robert Jordan, titled “How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights” I saw some wisdom and inspiration that made sense. All the quotes come from entrepreneurs who have built and sold at least one $100 million company. Of course, you can always argue that each was just in the right place at the right time, or was lucky, or had a rich uncle to get them started, but it would be smarter to listen to the messages:
- You need enough capital and a little more. “Everything isn’t going to go well in the first couple of years, and you need to get to cash flow positive. You don’t want to be going back for a second round when everything isn’t going well” (J William DeVille, Health Personnel Options).
- You need to see the glass half full, rather than half empty. “You have to have the perspective and the personality that, when these bumps, mountains or doglegs happen, you don’t focus on everything that’s wrong. You continue to be optimistic and to move forward to solve the problems” (Bonnie Baskin, ViroMed Laboratories, AppTec).
- Surround yourself with great folks, and it gets a lot easier. “You’re very hesitant to fire your first employees, but a lot of times the company outgrows their abilities or takes on a different direction. I tell everyone that the only constant around here is change” (David Becker, Virtual Financial Services).
- You can be a leader without being the best at everything. “Like in basketball – you don’t need to be the best outside shooter or the big guy. You can play a role. Working with others, giving people credit. Give and take. Knowing how to make hard decisions” (Jeff Aronin, Ovation Pharmaceuticals).
- Execution is everything. “Even if you start a business with the wrong idea or too many competitors, you can out-execute all the other ideas in the right market. What I mean by execution is the ability to do what you’re setting out to do and then being able to zig when the market zags” (Dick Costolo, FeedBurner).
- You learn more from bad times than from good. “You learn more from complaints than from compliments. I always discount compliments I get from customers because I think a lot of times they’re just being nice. The complaints – those are real” (Jim Dolan, The Dolan Company).
- At some point, you need to let go of control. “Many founders think they need to be in control even when the company has evolved beyond them. You need to know your limitations and, if necessary, find people who are more adept at running the company and taking it to the next level” (Tony Faras, MGI Pharma).
- You are who you hire. “If the person who hired you is smart and nice, the people that person hires will be smart and nice. If the person who does the hiring is smart and a jerk, you’re going to end up with a log of smart jerks” (Ron Galowich, First Health).
- A business needs momentum. “You try to think ahead and be sure that whatever surprises come up, you are prepared to move ahead aggressively and positively. The last thing an entrepreneur wants when starting a business is to lose momentum” (Bill Bantz, Pathogenesis).
- Ship early and iterate. “Get some kind of product out early so that you start getting feedback from customers. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because you’re doomed if that launch fails. With feedback you can hone your products” (Roland Green, NimbleGen)
Robert interviewed a total of 45 successful entrepreneurs responsible for $41 billion in value, so this is just a sample of the insights he found. I certainly don’t advocate that you take all the advice you hear from these leaders, but it always pays to listen for a nugget that fits your case. Underneath every nugget, there’s likely more buried treasure hiding. Go for the gold in your company!