Monday, August 18, 2008
Five most important lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur.
This is my last posting for my friends at Sun Microsystems, and I’d like to leave you with something to remember me by: a list of the five most important lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur.
1. Focus on cash flow. I understand the difference between cash flow and profitability, and I’m not recommending that you strive for a lack of profitability. But cash is what keeps the doors open and pays the bills. Paper profits on an accrual accounting basis is of no more than secondary or tertiary importance for a startup. As my mother used to say, “Sales fixes everything.”
2. Make a little progress every day. I used to believe in the big-bang theory of marketing: a fantastic launch that created such inertia that you flew to “infinity and beyond.” No more. Now my theory is that you make a little bit of progress every day–whether that’s making your product slightly better, increasing your skill in one small way, or closing one more customer. The reason the press writes about “overnight successes” is that they seldom happen–not because that’s how all businesses work.
3. Try stuff. I also used to believe that it’s better to be smart than lucky because if you’re smart you can out-think the competition. I don’t believe that anymore–this is not to say that you should strive for a high level of stupidity. My point is that luck is a big part of many successes, so (a) don’t get too bummed out when you see a bozo succeed; and (b) luck favors the people who try stuff, not simply think and analyze. As the Chinese say, “One must wait for a long time before a Peking duck flies into your mouth.”
4. Ignore schmexperts. Schmexperts are the totally bad combination of schmucks who are experts–or experts who are schmucks. When you first launch a product or service, they’ll tell you it isn’t necessary, can’t really work, or faces too much competition. If you succeed, then they’ll say they knew you would succeed. In other words, they don’t know jack shiitake. If you believe, try it. If you don’t believe, listen to the schmexperts and stay on the porch.
5. Never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do. This goes for customers (“fill out these twenty-five fields of personal information to get an account for our website”) to employees (“fly coach to Mumbai, meet all day the day you arrive, and fly back that night”). If you follow this principle, you’ll almost always have a good customer service reputation and happy employees.
I hold these truths to be self-evident and hope that you can use them to kick butt and change the world.