Dharmesh Shah

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Startups: 10 Things MBA Schools Won't Teach You

By Dharmesh Shah on July 8, 2009

Now that 3 years have passed since I got my graduate degree (and the founding of my current startup), I think I can make fun of it a bit.  [Note: Only a moderate amount of harm was inflicted on MBAs — and investment bankers, in the making of this article].iron man stupid phone onstartups

10 Things Most MBA Schools Won’t Teach You About Startups

1.  No amount of strategic planning will ever substitute for managing your cash flow.  Financial statements are great.  The most important one is your bank account statement.

2.  There are always more things to do than there is time to do them.  Startups are a continuous exercise in deciding what not to do.  You can sometimes win by just not doing things faster than your competition.

3.  Sleep is that time you’re working on startup problems with your eyes closed.

4.  It helps not to call people “human resources”.  They’re people.  And, as it turns out, people like to be treated like people. Go figure. 

5.  No amount of academic theories on efficient pricing will prepare you completely for what people will actually do.  Finding the “optimal” price is really hard.  In the meantime, remember that a sub-optimal price is a lot better than no price at all.

6.  Price discrimination (in an economic sense) is a wonderful thing.  Except that it often ignores the real costs in terms of organizational complexity.  Every time you add a new product or product option a small part of your company dies.

7.  There are an infinite number of ways to spend money on marketing.  You have no idea what’s actually going to work.  The idea is to experiment broadly and learn lessons cheaply.  On a related note, no amount of MBA marketing classes will prepare you for the day that you have to produce leads in order to close sales.  As it turns out, marketing is about more than product feature matrices and the right shade of blue for your logo.

8.  To recruit the best people, fair compensation and equity are adorable kitten onstartupsonly a start.  Company culture and a demonstrated passion for your vision is hugely important.  (Oh, and your vision should be on the larger path to truth, justice and overall goodness).  Your vision should not involve harming kittens.  They’re adorable. [insert gratuitious kitten photo here]

9.  There’s a lot of value to being likable.  Good things happen when people like you.  When people like you, bad things have less of a chance of being fatal.  I advise being likable.  That’s why I advise against being an investment banker after getting an MBA.  (I also advise against being an investment banker before getting an MBA).

10.  Advanced game theory is exceptionally useful.  Basic game theory is dangerous — because it assumes that you’re dealing with a  bunch of rational “players”.  It’s like trying to design a real car that’s going to be driven on a theoretically frictionless surface, with no air resistance and no idiots on the road.

 What are your top startup lessons learned that even the top MBA schools don't teach?

Topics: strategy school
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6 Quick Tips For Landing That Startup Dream Job

By Dharmesh Shah on June 29, 2009

My startup, HubSpot, has done a fair amount of recruiting/hiring over the past year (the team has grown by over 100%, despite the down-turn in the economy).  Along the way, I’ve found some “patterns” to the recruiting that we do and the kind of people that end up joining us.onstartups careers

I’m going to stay away from the overly obvious stuff (mostly because I have no idea what the obvious stuff actually is).  I’m also going to assume that you’re already smart and passionate and all the other trimmings of a star candidate. 

Tips For Landing That Startup Dream Job

1. Match the culture:  Remember that advice about dressing one level above the job you’re hiring into?  Or the “it’s better to be over-dressed” advice?  Forget that.  Dress so that you’ll fit in.  Dress as if you’re already on the team.  Any startup you’d want to work for is not going to hold it against you for not dressing up.  They wouldn’t expect you to wear something to an interview that they wouldn’t wear themselves into work.

2. Convey A Passion For Startups:  If you’ve worked for startups before — talk about them.  Talk about what it was like.  Especially talk about the painful parts.  They want to know that you know what it’s like to be on a startup team.  We want to know that you’ve got that weird genetic flaw that causes you to want to take on that special kind of pain that only entrepreneurial people understand.  If you haven’t worked for a startup before, come up with some really convincing reasons as to why you want to start now.  And it can’t just be because you got laid off from some Fortune 500 company last week.  Remember that startups are not in the business of creating jobs, they’re in the business of creating value.  Help them understand how you’re going to be able to help them create value that nobody else can.

3. Read, Read, Read:  Many startups today have a pretty wide footprint on the web.  Does the CEO tweet?  Does the CTO write a blog?  Read them.  You don’t have to be able to write a graduate thesis on their work, but you should be a wee bit familiar with their thoughts and leanings.  Oh, and most startups will have you meet the founder/CEO/CTO before you are made an offer and they’re all human.  They write for a reason — one of which is to be read; and maybe even understood

4. Join The Conversation:  Find out where the startup team is hanging out and chatting on the web.  For HubSpot, for example, we have a relatively active group of people on Twitter.  (Just do a Twitter search on “HubSpot” and you’ll see what I mean).  Get to know some of the faces/names and find out the tone of the conversations happening around the startup you’re looking to join.

5.  Connect Online:  Chances are, whoever you talk to on the startup team is going to do a quick scan for you online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogosphere, etc.).  Why not be more proactive, learn about them and connect with them online first?  Another advantage to this approach?  You could ask (without being too pushy or aggressive) some of the “insiders” you connect to what it’s like to work there.  The idea is to convey that you care, you’re doing your homework and are savvy enough to make sure you want to work there first.  Startup recruiting is a two-way street (the company should bring a lot to you, just like you’re going to be bringing a lot to them).

6. Emphasize That You “Get Stuff Done”:  The single most important attribute that many startups look for in recruits is that they get stuff done.  You can be the most brilliant engineer/marketer/whatever on the planet, but if you don’t have a tendency to get a lot of stuff done, you’re not an attractive recruit.  The reason is obvious and simple — but I’ll tell you anyways.  Startups are a grand exercise in resource-deprivation.  There’s always too much work and not enough people.  If the startup team hires you, they want to know that you’re going to put a dent in their workload — not just come up with great ideas for other people to work on.

What do you think?  If you’ve got your own startup, what would sway you?  If you’ve interviewed at startups, what’s worked and what hasn’t?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

By the way, if you’re a fan of this blog, please join us on Facebook.  The LinkedIn group has 75,000+ members, but the Facebook community is falling behind.  Hope to see you there.

Topics: careers
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