Some say that people do not really want advice, even when they ask for it — but when starting a company, good advice early on can be the difference between success and failure. For this reason, it is common practice for startups to have an advisory board — a group of smart people they trust to help steer them through hard times and open doors for them along the way. While I agree with Paul Brown that setting up an advisory board is essential, I think you can get a lot of everyday wisdom from those who have gone before you (and who have been successful) by just reading their interviews, speeches and memoirs. Their advice is often pithy, profound and, if followed, can save you a lot of time, money and headaches along the way.
On Defining Entrepreneurship
When read together these quotes highlight the contrast between being an entrepreneur and actually running a startup. Most entrepreneurs have a very clear vision of what they want to change in the world. They want a physical product, a new web application or a community they were not able to find elsewhere. However, having a good idea is just the first step in a long journey. To be successful, an entrepreneur must be able to answer all of the questions Dave McClure poses and execute a plan to bring the idea to market. Even the cleanest idea can quickly become the messiest startup.
On Being Brave
“Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.” – Arianna Huffington, President and Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group
Everyone knows that it takes guts to take the “entrepreneurial leap of faith,” but what few founders mention is that you have to keep leaping over and over again as long as you are in business. Building a business in not a one-time thing. It is not like a house where you build it and then it is done. You have to keep testing, reinvesting, extending, partnering, and taking risks you hope, but cannot guarantee, will pay off in order to build a successful company. It takes bravery to be an entrepreneur from start to finish.
“Stay self-funded as long as possible.” -Garrett Camp, founder of Expa, Uber and StumbleUpon
“Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.” -Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO
“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.” -Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media founder and CEO
I picked these quotes, but could have selected hundreds of others just like them. While venture funding may seem glamorous from the outside, the one thing that almost every CEO will tell you is that raising money is the worst part of their job. Try to go without if you can and if you are going to raise capital, take as much as you can up front so you can focus on the company and not on constant fundraising. A “tour of gas stations” is the worst path for everyone./>/>
On Product Development
“Wonder what your customer really wants? Ask. Don’t tell.” – Lisa Stone, BlogHer co-founder and CEO
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder
These quotes are in this order because they apply to different parts of the building cycle. Before launch, getting feedback from your smartest and closest (and most honest) friends is essential. Once you have customers, start surveying them and you will be surprised what you will learn. When your product is more mature and people are familiar with your brand, the vocal “unhappy customers” are the best resource you can have because they will tell you things that happy customers (those who take the time to fill out your surveys) never will.
Effort And Focus
“The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%.” -Rob Kalin, Etsy founder
Just remember that everything takes longer and costs more than you will expect. It is hard when you are so close to the finish line of a new launch, for example, not to feel frustrated that small things are holding up the process – but they always do. Because of this universal truth, the key is to keep the number of things you are trying to accomplish to a minimum and focus on doing them very very well.
“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” -Drew Houston, Dropbox founder and CEO
“Fail early, fail fast, fail often,” is practically a mantra now on the West Coast. Failure is part of the learning process and each failure provides valuable information about how to succeed in the future. It is easy to intellectualize, but all of that failure can take a hefty mental toll. I love Drew’s quote because hope is what helps people endure the relentless failure of entrepreneurship.
“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” -Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder
If you are lucky, all of the struggle and hardship of entrepreneurship will finally pay off. However, before you begin, you need to be ready for the long haul. Biz’s point is that almost everything we think of as an overnight success took much longer to build than it appears. If your plan is to make a quick killing, entrepreneurship is not for you. If you have an idea you are passionate about and you (and your family) are up for the challenges, disappointments, joys and triumphs of ownership – jump on in.