37 Pithy Insights From Street-Smart Entrepreneurs

By Dharmesh Shah on July 17, 2009

The response to an earlier article “Startups: 10 Things MBA Schools Won’t Teach You” has been overwhelmingly positive.  The article has now received about 150 comments across various websites (on the OnStartups.com site, in the OnStartups LinkedIn group, etc.)  Unsurprisingly, many of the comments are much better than anything I could have ever come up with on my own.OnStartups Gear Head

So, to further the conversation and discussion, I decided to collect, edit and share some of the fantastic insights from reader comments. 

Thanks to all of those that contributed such great insights.  Sorry I could not include them all.


37 Pithy Insights From Street-Smart Entrepreneurs

1. Infect employees with pride of ownership. If the employees feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, then they'll work that way. 

2. Every company has "idiotsyncracies." Some crazy thing they do that works for them but would never work anywhere else. Trying to “correct” that ends up destroying what makes the company special.

3. You pour your heart and soul into a startup.  Someone who hasn't done it won't understand the effort until they go through it.

4. Most start ups should start selling the product before they think they should.

5. Ritualize the work atmosphere -- everytime a contract comes in, ring a bell or gong and let everyone celebrate. There's a reason Survivor has rituals.

6. Competitors & customers can, do, and will do irrational things. Neither care about your title, your education, your pedigree, your investors, or your SAT scores.

7. Customers are defined as people or organizations who pay more for something than it costs you to make it.  The relationship should be arms-length (which is why your dad is not a real customer).

8. A lack of competitors is almost always a bad thing because it means the market you entered doesn't interest anybody else.

9. Your core founding team needs to be smart, energetic and committed. It helps if they can fill multiple roles at the same time (sell, write software, deliver services and invoice). 

10. Leave your ego at the door and hire people without big egos that can understand how to look at a problem and be open to solutions no matter where they come from.  Keep those people.

11. Get exposure to potential customers as cheaply as possible and then make sure that all the information is there for them to make a decision.

12. If prospects won't open their wallets for the beta or prototype, then no amount spent on marketing or sales will matter.

13. No matter how great your service or product, there will always be very smart people who's advice you trust telling you that your service or product is crazy and will never sell.

14. S**t happens, but it's usually not as bad as it first seems. 

15. It's tragic when good products never make it to market because they were never properly sold. If no one in your company knows how to find qualified leads for your product, you are in big trouble.

16. Take care of the people with integrity

17. Startup entrepreneurs need a handful of trusted, objective advisors who will share their perceptions of what's so - no matter what.

18. How are you continuing to invest in your customers and their experience after they have purchased your product? Value relates to the entire customer experience.

19. No one deal or opportunity should be worth damaging a long term relationship (business or otherwise).

20. The most successful businesses are ones where a group of friends help each other succeed.

21. Ultimately, the CEO's position is to simultaneously lead and serve others. 

22. You never know when you will be working with people from your past, so always be respectful, and professional. Paths cross when and where we least expect them.  

23. It is important that you like your customers. If you do not like your customers you will by design not do the best you can for them because they annoy you.

24. As any entrepreneur knows, you are pretty much selling all the time to everyone, whether VCs, prospective clients, employees or significant others.

25. Life will happen.  Your best employee will quit to do something else..that doesn't mean that they don't care, just that it's their time to move on. 

26. Keep doing good without being able to sight an immediate reward. The reward often comes unexpectedly.

27. A startup mentor is really like a therapist, if you think about it…

28. Tough times never last, tough people do.

29. The "iasm" in enthusiasm stands for I Am Sold Myself.

30. A bad decision is often better than no decision at all.

31. There's no better way to research a market than just launching a product.

32. Often you can start selling something simpler, to more customers, sooner than you think.  

33. There are three primary ways to get cash in:  1) Customers 2) Financing 3) Sale/Disposal of Assets.  Great businesses figure out #1 so they don’t have to worry about the others.

34. Just because you’re an Internet company doesn’t mean you are or should be a global company.

35. Distribution and channel partners don’t want to sell your product.  They want to take orders and make money.

36. Startups have many diseconomies of scale: The more people, features, markets, products, business models, investors, etc. — the harder it is.

37. Be objective.  Learn to listen to what the world is telling you (and often beating you over the head with).

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the conversation so far.  It’s great to see such energy, enthusiasm and experience from the entrepreneurial community.

Any of the above insights strike a particular chord with you?  Which one is your favorite? 

By the way, to get more of this kind of stuff, you should follow me on twitter here.

Topics: strategy
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Dharmesh Speaking At Business of Software: Why You Should Go Anyways

By Dharmesh Shah on July 13, 2009

Sorry about the title of this article.  I don’t usually talk about myself in the third-person but in this case I made an exception.  If I had made the title of this article “I Am Speaking…” as the article made the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, nobody would know who the hell I was talking about.  This way, at least 10 people will recognize the name.onstartups business of software

In any case, on with the article.

I accept a limited number of speaking engagements a year.  The reason is very simple — it takes a lot out of me (I’m not a professional speaker and no matter how much I do it, I find that the days and weeks leading up to a  speaking gig, I get monumentally stressed out).  Last year, I got invited to speak at the “Business of Software” conference (which just happened to be in Boston).  I had a great time.  It’s on the list of top 10 conferences I’ve ever been too.  Well organized, great speakers, great content and most importantly — great attendees.

That’s why I’m thrilled I’m going to get to speak again at the Business of Software Conference this year.  The conference is in San Francisco (right in the heart of the city, at the Westin on Market street).  And, although Neil Davison (organizer of the conference and an exceptional software entrepreneur) was likely caught in a weak moment when he added me to the list.  Despite Neil’s lack of judgment inviting me (again!), I think you should attend the Business of Software conference anyways.

Here’s why:

1.  Even though I’m speaking, I represent a small fraction of the total agenda.  And, even though I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs last year, I managed to string together some words into sentences and say some semi-useful things.  If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch the video of my session from last year.  I promise that this year, I’ll do my best to make my presentation better.

2.  Geoffrey Moore will be keynoting the conference.  Many of us in the software business learned much of what we know about technology marketing and strategy from Geoffrey’s landmark book “Crossing The Chasm”.  If you haven’t read it yet, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and go get it.

3. Paul Graham, hackepreneur extraordinaire will be at the conference.  Paul’s officially on my list of most brilliant people I’ve met.  He really groks the whole startup thing (which he should, given his experience with Y Combinator).  He’s insightful and articulate.  If you’re even thinking about starting a software company some day, you need to learn from him.  Good stuff.

3. I can’t remember how long I’ve been reading Rands in Repose.  What I can remember is when my wife Kirsten (who is an artist and does not geek-out for a living) approached me one day and said “Have you ever heard of this Rands In Repose guy?  He wrote this Nerd Handbook thing.  He’s soooo right.”  And, she was right.  It’s scary accurate.  But, I digress.  One thing I didn’t know is that the ingenious mind behind the blog is Michael Lopp.  I’m really looking forward to meeting Michael and seeing what he’s like in real life.

4. I’ve never actually met Ryan Carson in person, but I’ve followed him online for a while.  He’s the real deal when it comes to being an internet entrepreneur.  He hosts some fabulous events too.  If I had to risk my emotional well being by speaking at one additional conference next year, the “Future Of Web Apps” would be high on my list. 

5. One of the skills I do not have is design.  I can use things.  I can tell (for the most part) good design from bad design, but I can’t actually produce it.  This is despite exposing myself to a bunch of reading (and listening) on the topic.  There are some things that are perhaps just not meant to be (for me, there are lots of things not meant to be, but such is life).  However, you should not give up too easily.  If you’re looking to create more usable products that make people happy, Don Norman is your guy.  He wrote “Design Of Everyday Things”.  I rest my case.

6. I have at least three of Kathy Sierra’s books sitting in my house right now.  This does not include those that I gave away to friends and family along the way.  She’s the master-mind behind the “Head First” series of books.  She’s exceptionally good at injection passion into a product.  We all need more of that.

7. Paul Kenny is not going to like reading this, but when I saw him on the agenda last year I found myself asking two questions: “Who is this guy?” and “Why the heck would I want to suffer through a presentation about sales?”  I hate selling stuff.  But, Paul’s presentation was absolutely phenomenal.  He’s a real pro.  He gets the whole “resistance to sales” thing and makes cogent points.  He’s definitely worth listening to.  Even if you don’t like sales.  In fact, especially if you don’t like sales.  And, if you’ve got the whole sales thing figure out, he’s worth watching simply because he’s a great presenter. 

8. Joel Spolsky needs no introduction.  His presentation last year was off-beat and funny.  Look forward to seeing what he has up his sleeve this year.

This is just a partial list of some of the speakers that will be there.  Check out the full list of speakers

Ok, so you might be thinking, that’s all great and all, but $1,995 (wow!  That’s like $2,000!) is way too much to spend on a conference.  And it’s fair of you to think that.  I got the memo about the whole economic downturn thing too.  I have two things I’d like to counter with: 

1.  Right now, early registration for Business of Software is $1,695 (expires July 31st) .  But, this expires on July 31st

2.  This is unlike most of the conferences we normally go to.  Sure, you could find some conference that’s “cheaper” and spend $1,000.  But, it’s not the same.  At BoS you won’t have to endure semi-veiled sales pitches every other session or panels where a group of semi-random people got thrown together because their suggested topics had some of the same words in them. 

And, to be clear, I don’t get paid anything for convincing you to go.  My only motivation is that I want as many smart software people there as possible, so I can sponge as much information off of them as possible.  I’m selfish that way.

What do you think?  If you were able to attend last year’s conference, please share your (candid) thoughts and help out others that are considering going this year make their decision. 

Hope to see you there!

Topics: Speaking
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