DON'T start a company...yet

By Dharmesh Shah on November 21, 2011

The following is a guest post by Andrew Payne.  Andy is a Boston-based entrepreneur and angel investor, and a HubSpot director.  You can read his blog at or follow him on Twtter at @payne92.

I was visiting Harvard a few weeks ago and the professor said, "yea, every undergraduate here is working on a startup!"  Nearby, MIT is practically putting "startup" in the school water supply, and incubator programs for new graduates abound (e.g. TechStars, Y Combinator, etc.)time to learn
For those new graduates itching to start a company, I'm giving some very contrarian (and possibly unpopular) advice:

Don't do it.   At least not yet.

Instead, go join someone else's early stage company as employee #3-50 (or so).   The experience you'll get over the next few years will be invaluable, and you'll be in a far better position for success when you decide to leave and start your own company.  You'll see many processes (e.g. fundraising, product management, leadership, etc.), you'll learn from mistakes (yours AND other's), and you'll build a great network of contacts.

There's just nothing like learning on the job, in context, from those with more experience than you.  There's a reason why the apprenticeship system has been the dominant method, for over a half-millennium, to pass the experience of a trade or craft to the next generation.

I sometimes encounter startup teams that are thrashing on basic things, and it's almost always because they're lacking experience.  Skill is a combination of (a) knowing what to do, and (b) knowing when/where/how to do it.  The Internet is a seductive source of "what", but isn't a substitute for judgement.   Reading someone's blog post on their Agile development principles is helpful, to a point.  But remember:  these anecdotes are necessarily simplified and abstracted, and are missing important bits of context.  Someone else's experience may not translate to your situation.

I am not an astronomer, but I long ago remember reading the fastest way to grind a good 12-inch telescope mirror was to first grind a 6-inch mirror.  Few builders are successful grinding the larger mirror as their first project, and that's sound advice for startup entrepreneurs as well.

What do you think?  Is better for would-be entrepreneurs to just "jump in" or is there value to spending some time learning the ropes at another startup first?

Topics: guest strategy
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The CEO Should Be The Chief Experience Officer

By Dharmesh Shah on November 15, 2011

Earlier this week, I was chatting with my friend, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan. We were doing one of our ad-hoc strategy sessions about the business, and working through some things.

After that conversation, as I was driving to a dinner meeting, an idea occurred to me. The phrase “Chief Executive Officer” doesn't convey much, if anything. There's a better way to describe the wrench

I will posit that in a technology company, the CEO should be the Chief Experience Officer.

If the CEO can make the following set of experiences amazing, by definition, she will make an amazing company.

1. Product Experience: What is the experience like using the product and getting value from it? Does it solve the problem simply? Does it make users happy, productive and hopeful when they're using it, or does it make them frustrated, angry, agitated and depressed?

2. Purchasing Experience: What is it like to go through the sales process and buy the product? Was it easy to figure out whether the product was the right fit? Was the pricing straight-forward? Was the buying process smooth without unnecessary steps and complexity?

3. Brand Experience: What is it like to interact with the company's brand? Does talking about the company with others ignite passion? What kind of emotions does it evoke? When people see the logo online or offline, what's the visceral reaction?

4. Support Experience: What is it like to receive support from the company? Do people dread having to call in and get help? When they do make contact, do they feel like the company cares not just about appeasing and pleasing — but that the actual problem is addressed?

5. Exit Experience: What is it like to leave the company, return the product, or cancel the subscription and no longer be a customer? Sometimes you can tell more about a company by how it treats customers on their way out, than on their way in.

6. Employee Experience: What's it like being recruited by the company? Working for the company? Being let go from the company? If you have a terrible employee experience, you will not attract the kinds of people that will make the customer experience amazing. It just doesn't work.

Notice that most of the above experiences are all about the customer. How does the customer experience the company? I think that's the primary set of experiences the CEO should worry about. The reason is simple, by improving the overall customer experience, everyone wins. Including the investors/shareholders (and yes, the CEO also needs to manage the shareholder experience too).

So, Don't just improve the product, improve the experience. This is one of the points I made in my Business of Software (2010) presentation (I think it was one of my better ones, full video and transcript available).

What do you think? Am I over-thinking the importance of the overall experience? Any lessons learned or tips on how to measure and improve the end-to-end experience?

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