Last evening I enjoyed an entrepreneurial event in San Francisco sponsored by Cornell University. Three founders of growing startups shared stories of their adventures, slogging through the jungle of new enterprises.
Cornell Silicon Valley (CSV) in partnership with the Faculty of Computing and Information Science (CIS) present:
Startup Stories: The Good, Bad & Ugly
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - San Francisco
ASIDE: If you are interested in learning entrepreneurship and/or one of the world's finest universities, I highly recommend Cornell. Its depth and breadth of startup courses will blow you away. The 18 month Masters of Engineering program is top of the world (check out Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Amazing professors, all new buildings). And I teach Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers at Cornell whose Johson Graduate School of Management has delivered corporate leaders around the world. Its Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute is another example. Cornell graduates are among the ranks of world-class venture capital firms and startups that have gone public. End of commercial, time to get back to the point of this blog.
TIPS FROM THE EVENING'S FOUNDERS
Here is what I heard from the four respected, experienced startup founders:
- It's hard to go solo. Alone is very alone. Best to take more time to find great people to co-found with you, form a Core Team.
- Avoid getting stuck in the startup rat race ("I coded last night until 3:oo a.m., got some sleep, woke at 7, checked emails, was back in the office by 10:00 a.m. Started doing marketing things, expect the day to repeat itself.")
- When looking for co-founders, only select people you trust and know well.
- Determination and "scrap-iness"get you attention from investors.
- You will often be confronted with "This is not going to work out." That's when the hardest decisions are made for a startup.
- Do not be dependent on "key employees". They can hold you hostage to "more cash" and "more stock". (Blackmail).
- Strong personalities in employees leads to confrontations about you, the founder, which can be helpful ("They tell me the truth, especially about me.") yet frightening.
- Founder CEOs get pulled in all directions, all the time. The job is ever changing, shifts radically every six months.
- Big Decision Time -- Black Days -- Depression: "Who do you go to then?" You have to have people to talk to. Mentors and coaches help a lot. Best are peer level people (other founders of startups).
- After launch of first product, expect to shift to half time improving the product and use the other half to build your management team. Managing people becomes number one in rank of importance.
- Pay attention to details. "Where are the legal docs showing you own the company logo?" and other due dilligence questions (from investors) require answers, and thus demand care for details from Day One.
- The Early Days are totally consumed trying to figure out "What is our market? What do customers want, are they the wrong ones to focus on, what in the product has to be changed?" The list goes on and on. Chaos. Expect it.
- Creative actions in the Chaos stage lead to priceless answers. "They came to get their free flashlight and told us a a ton of things we needed to understand." "We listened to five end users and changed our user interface back to the first format (we had "improved the UI and they hated it."). "By accident we discovered we got free PR only after the customers paid for the product -- they did not want it for free!"
Those are some of the highlights. Note the human factors emphasis on responses to questions from the audience. That in itself is a Tip: As one founder CEO put it, "You don't get much training on how to manage people when you are coding 18 hours a day."
Note also the urging of budding entrepreneurs to start connecting with other active entrepreneurs. Such networking takes time but is worth it, some would say it is vital to success.
BOTTOM LINE: Listening to othe founder CEOs talk about their adventure in the jungle of new enterprises is where you begin your journey. Gathering tips, connecting with real people and thinking creatively lead to momentum. Career focus on how to manage people along the way will make you stand out to potential employees and investors by the time you are ready to do your first startup.
All of that can be done anywhere around the globe. You can be in Dubai, Mumbai, Shanghai, or Mami and do all of it. You don't have to be in Silicon Valley (but if you can, it's a great place to learn entrepreneurship from real people).
So think about the tips above and digest them. Work on your personal plan to move on from where you are, using the Tips to speed your time to market and reduce your risk of failure. That's what serial entrepreneurs do. It's how they build their unfair advantage. You can do the same.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!