100 Insider Rules for Beating the Startup Odds

startup secrets

Lessons for Entrepreneurs

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

 

Randy Komisar recently shared his perspective:

 

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.

How to Survive Against Fierce Competition

shortcut

Dealing With Competition

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.

3 Qualities of Innovation Leaders

Elephant With Butterfly Wings

When You Need Radical Innovation

Innovation.

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

 

Copying is Brilliant

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.

How Leaders Create A Compelling Vision to Engage & Inspire

company vision

Lead With Vision

Leaders create a vision and engage a community to achieve it.

What does it mean to lead with vision?

It’s a question that authors Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter, and John Maketa researched extensively, surveying over 400 companies in search of the answer.

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book, LEADING WITH VISION: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce.

 

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.

 

The 4 C’s of a Visionary Leader

What’s your definition of a visionary leader?

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:

  1. Embody courage,
  2. Forge clarity,
  3. Build connectedness, and
  4. Shape the culture.

 

What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision? 

How A Leader’s Personality Impacts the Ability to Win

built for growth

Built for Growth

Many business books are written on how to innovate, achieve faster growth, or beat the competition. I’ve not read many that focus on the personality of the leader. But the founder’s personality has a dramatic impact on all aspects of the company culture and its potential.

That’s the core focus of Chris Kuenne and John Danner’s new book, BUILT FOR GROWTH: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win.

If entrepreneurs understand their personalities, it will help them choose the right team to enhance their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

I recently spoke with the authors about their fascinating research into personality in this context. John Danner is a senior fellow at the University of California Berkley’s Institute for Business Innovation. A faculty member, a business adviser, and an entrepreneur, he speaks widely on topics from innovation to strategy. Chris Kuenne is a member of Princeton University’s entrepreneurship faculty, a growth capital investor, an entrepreneur, and a speaker.

 

“To win in the twenty-first century, you must empower others.” -Jack Ma

 

3 Reasons Personality is Misunderstood

Personality is one of the least understood elements of entrepreneurial and business success. Why is that still the case after decades of study and research?

We think there might be three converging reasons. First, the business world often tends to overlook introspection and reflection in its bias for action and results, so the issue of who you are can get lost in the impatient focus on what you’ve done. The “do” trumps the “who.” But as any manager or leader knows, personality does matter . . . a lot; so that action-bias has left a void in our understanding.

Second, we love icons. Movies and the media naturally latch onto a compelling storyline, a fascinating individual, and retell that one person’s experience, character and personality. But icons can quickly become stereotypes, and those stereotypes reinforce the notion that you have to be an extraordinarily exceptional person to find success as an entrepreneur. That shorthand can substitute for a deeper understanding of what’s really at play here. In other words, every entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to be successful; our research discovered there are four distinct personalities of successful entrepreneurs. And there are likely millions of individuals the world over who share those same personality patterns.

Third, although most people are intensely curious about who they are and how they’re wired, most personality assessments are ill-suited to the task of cracking the code of successful business building. Many address very broad issues, e.g., am I an extrovert or introvert, a Type A or Type B, etc. Or they’re designed to answer other questions in personal domains, like who might be a good match for me, what music might I like, etc.

Some broad-gauge tools can help people decide whether they might be cut out for entrepreneurship generally, e.g., are they comfortable with taking risks or working for themselves? But those resources don’t address the fundamental question: what are the key personality characteristics of the women and men who actually succeed in building lasting businesses of impressive scale? What makes those individuals tick, and am I like any of them?

And context is key here; people want to know about personalities in action in particular settings. That’s why we concentrated on examining personalities in the context of successful business ventures and used a patented Personality-ClusteringTM methodology that has proven its effectiveness in decoding specific customer behavior in hundreds of markets around the world.

But our research is just a first step in understanding the central mystery of the who of successful entrepreneurship. We invite others to build upon our findings as we refine our own work. After all, entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth and opportunity globally. We welcome others’ insights into this complicated and essential domain of human endeavor.

 

“Teams need captains, and vice versa-if you want to get things done.” -Mark Coopersmith

 

4 Types of Builder Personalities

Briefly walk through the four types of Builder personalities.

The Driver: Relentless, Commercially Focused, and Highly Confident – Drivers can’t help themselves. They have to become builders of business or social ventures of their own as a means of self-validation. Entrepreneurship is almost hardwired into their very identity. They are supremely confident individuals, fixated on their products, relentless in pursuing commercial success based on their uncanny anticipation of what markets and customers are looking for. Drivers – like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – often don’t last long as employees in other people’s organizations. They eschew rules and bureaucracy, seeing them as tools to focus the average person, yet often confine the truly gifted, independent-thinking actor. These builders are willing to do whatever it takes to realize the commercial success inherent in what they believe is their unbounded potential, in fact their destiny.