37 Pithy Insights From Street-Smart Entrepreneurs

Written By: Dharmesh Shah 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.

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