Don Hutson is a world class public speaker and past President of the National Speakers Association. His decades of experience made him the perfect person to sit down and discuss the art of public speaking.
Over the course of their careers, veteran venture capitalist Randy Komisar and finance executive Jantoon Reigersman continue to see startups crash and burn because they forget the timeless lessons of entrepreneurship. But, as Komisar and Reigersman show in their new book, Straight Talk for Startups: 100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds, you can beat the odds if you quickly learn what insiders know about what it takes to build a healthy foundation for a thriving venture.
“Apprentices work furiously to learn the rules; journeymen proudly perfect the rules; but masters forget the rules.” -Randy Komisar
How did this book come about? Have you been compiling these rules for years?
We wrote this book because we were distressed by the growing frequency of missteps by entrepreneurs, many of whom are notoriously splashed across business pages and websites. Jantoon Reigersman brought fresh eyes to the situation as the CFO of a Silicon Valley rocket ship gone awry. We had been having a dialogue for years about what was really going on in the Kabuki Theaters of startup boardrooms and venture capital firms. And we felt that entrepreneurs and investors, professors and students, and frankly anyone curious about the startup game could all benefit from our conversations regarding the time-proven best practices for building successful companies. I have been part of the scene since the mid-1980s, and Tom Perkins, founder of Kleiner Perkins, was one of the original Silicon Valley venture cowboys. I had been compiling and sharing these insights with entrepreneurs since I co-founded my first company. These are the insider rules that the random hero stories heralded by the press conveniently leave out. In Straight Talk for Startups we address the nuts and bolts of choosing investors, raising money, building boards, achieving liquidity, and mastering the fundamentals by distilling decades of frequently forgotten wisdom about how to beat the odds.
“Venture Capitalists have one of the greatest jobs in the world. They get to sit across the table from passionate strangers who hallucinate the future for them.” -Randy Komisar
Rule 1: Starting a venture has never been easier; succeeding has never been harder. You’ve had an extraordinary vantage point in your career, and I’d like your perspective on the why behind Rule 1.
It’s all about capital. Privileged places like Silicon Valley are awash is excess capital. The recovery from the Great Recession has left interest rates at record lows. Investors have been looking for ways to juice their returns, and venture capital’s black swans are a siren song. Forget the low odds of winning; the size of the pot is mesmerizing. So investors have been ignoring risk and plowing money into long-shot bets.
This may seem great for entrepreneurs. And on its face it is. But there is a downside. Too much capital means that too many companies are being funded in any single market. With easy capital comes reckless spending on scaling—often times resulting in highly uneconomic growth, that is the acquisition of customers who pay less than the cost of providing the product or service and who have little loyalty to the business. This “all or nothing” mentality leads to wasted dollars, talent and effort. And when one competitor makes the leap to noneconomic growth, the rest are left with little choice but to follow.
The cornucopia of money and startups also affects the job market. Salaries are inflated. People are quick to move from perceived losers to winners. In the Bay Area, for instance, the price of housing, the suffering infrastructure and the breakdown of communities makes building businesses much harder, even if starting them is easier than ever.
Startup Rule: Starting a venture has never been easier; succeeding has never been harder.
The Reum brothers, Courtney and Carter, are known for their roles on the television show Hatched. They are also behind many household brand names including big names such as Lyft, Pinterest, Warby Parker, and Shake Snack. Their new book, Shortcut Your Startup: Speed Up Success with Unconventional Advice from the Trenches is full of advice and shortcuts for those who want to take a start-up organization and scale it quickly.
In the Introduction of your book, you talk about both how it’s cheaper and easier than ever to start a business but also that the competition is more fierce than ever, too. What are the implications of these market forces?
The effects are twofold. On one hand, an abundance of resources has recently come into existence that—in a vacuum—would make life infinitely easier for any entrepreneur. Obvious examples are Kickstarter, social media marketing, Amazon’s e-commerce platform, data analytics—the list goes on. Obviously, these facilitate the arduous and historically expensive process of starting a business. Just look at the following graph showing the decrease in time needed to scale a brand.
Copyright Reum Brothers, Used by Permission.
The problem with these resources, however, is that everybody has access to them. Since these goods and services simplify business building, more and more people enter the landscape and competition increases. While the increased number of competitors certainly is an implication, a more important one is that it becomes significantly more difficult for the best business to separate itself from the crowd.
Use a Microscope and a Telescope
Another juxtaposition of ideas is from the old saying that you need to have a microscope on one eye and a telescope on another. You also use the speedboat versus sailboat analogy. Talk about this and how aspiring entrepreneurs need to understand the differences and their role.
It’s at the top of nearly every organization’s strategic priority list. Whether due to tepid growth, robust competition, globalization, budget constraints, or a myriad of other reasons, almost every organization is seeking innovation. Looking for the next big thing to transform the business and to improve a customer’s experience is always top of mind for a leadership team.
“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” –Drew Houston
Steven Hoffman is Captain and CEO of Founders Space, a Top 10 Incubator in Inc. and the #1 Accelerator for startups coming to Silicon Valley from overseas in Forbes. He is constantly innovating, and he is a serial entrepreneur and investor. From his vantage point, he’s seen what works and what doesn’t. His book, Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation, is a practical guide to help startups achieve breakthrough growth and help more established organizations find a path to successful innovation.
It is a compelling read, filled with great examples to help you achieve faster growth. I recently spoke with Steve about his book.
“Copying is a brilliant business strategy.” –Steven Hoffman
One of your chapters is focused on copying vs. creating. You say, “Copying is a brilliant business strategy.” What role should copying play in radical innovation?
All great innovations are built on top of previous discoveries. Copying is an essential starting point. Steve Jobs copied Palm Pilot when developing the iPhone. Mark Zuckerberg copied Friendster and Myspace when developing Facebook. Brian Chesky copied Craigslist when developing Airbnb. But all these brilliant entrepreneurs innovated radically, and that’s why they were able to breakthrough and become so much bigger than their predecessors.
To innovate, you must start with something, and it helps to pick a business model that works. That’s where copying comes in. Once you’ve identified the customer need, then you must figure out how to radically improve it. There are only two ways to break through:
1) You create a product that is exponentially better. This is what Google did with its search engine. It was ten times better than the preceding search engines.
2) You create something new, something that offers a different value than the competition. This is what Twitter did with its micro-blogging platform. It wasn’t like a typical blog because it limited posts to 140 characters, which created an entirely new experience for readers and bloggers.
Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?
Yes, of course. Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.
The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability. Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission. He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed. He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).
That statement struck me as extremely important. Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that. The power of it is immeasurable. That is what visionary leadership can do. It can unleash the power of the workforce.
Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.
A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state. It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be. That feels very risky for leaders. It is stepping out of the norm. There are certain things they will need to do. In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs. They must:
Build connectedness, and
Shape the culture.
What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision?