1. Speed reading. These days one needs to be able to read reports, white papers, newspapers, magazines, business literature and even blogs. If you are a reader that still sub-vocalizes each word, you just won’t be able to keep up. I think the will to read and the ability to read is paramount to your start up success.
2. A must-read list: No list can start without Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand–next to the Bible, the book that most business leaders of the last fifty years have said influenced them the most. Reading this book will add to the fire in your belly. Next, Solution Selling. Out the 2,328 books on selling, this book is by far the best. It breaks apart each step of the sales cycle/process so almost anyone can understand how to make more sales, the absolute KEY in any start up. The second best sales book? Conceptual Selling. The third book is Emotional IQ by Daniel Goldman. I think creating a startup environment is as much to do with the culture and getting people to do things than anything else. Goldman helps the reader understand how critical managing your emotions can be in this process.
3. Get comfortable asking for advice and help. Although there are plenty of people who have created successful businesses on their own, most need help. They bring the basic skills and passion, but learning from others is absolutely paramount. If you are someone who knows everything, good luck. Seriously, good luck. There are many, many friendly resources that are willing to help you get up and going. You just need to find them, and ask for their help and advice. These folks LOVE and WANT to help you.
4. Present your startup idea to anyone who will listen. And even to those who won’t. Startups do not reward security and safety. If you are hesititant about exposing your idea to others, you won’t be able to expose it to prospects, customers and investors. Don’t expect constant support, either. Most people will say something like, “yeah, that sounds good. You should do it.” What you are looking for are those few who ask good questions or who challenge your thinking process and research.
5. Get really, really good at concisely stating your business idea. A lot of entreprenuers fail in this area. It is important because you will need to communicate this to prospects, investors and new employees. What I have kept in my mind constantly over the years, is one internal question as I have started expounding on some idea: Later tonight, GL, (what I call myself) what will he say to Hilda about my idea? Or, as a great friend used to say over and over again, “if it is fuzzy in the pulpit, it is really fuzzy in the pews.”
6. Find a metaphor that works for your business idea. It will just help you identify your business to others. Are you the FEDEX of dog products? The Amazon of doll clothes? The Heath brothers have written a very clever little book called Make It Stick, which helps develop this theme more completely.
7. It is about leadership, not management. If you have not led people yet in your career, it is certainly not a prerequisite for success: but you should get this experience. Basically, it is all about getting people to line up behind your ideas, embracing your vision as if it were their own and getting people to do things. That might sound manipulative…getting people to do things for you. It is just the opposite of being manipulative, it is more about giving up things, than controlling them. I believe there is ONE consistent trait of good leaders, which I will discuss later in this list. You can learn from the masters. This is where your ability to read will make all the difference. What is OUT THERE, are books from historical leaders that tell you exactly how to be a better leader. One thing you can do now, is to become a leader…whether at home with your kids, by coaching or by volunteering somewhere. I think some of our best coaches got started by coaching kids’ teams, for example. Getting the kid whose idea of a baseball game is a pile of dirt and a stick know when to tag up on third base is true leadership. Or, to watch the best leadership movie ever, rent the old movie “Twelve O’Clock High.”
8. Love your prospects. This is a different and more specific than the axiom of “Be Passionate.” This was really brought home to me several years ago, when I attended a new company investor presentation. After the very professional presentation, the co-founder was asked in a small, friendly group of people, if he had always believed in this approach. (The company was in the self-help space.) He said, ‘No, I don’t believe in it, but it looks like a wide open market.’ If you are approaching the business from a purely economic standpoint, you might be able to make it work. All I am saying is it makes it all more fun and believable if you love the prospects and customers. Warren Buffet owns Dairy Queen and I ‘d bet you a marshmellow Blizzard that Warren loves DQ ice cream. One thing he would not say is ” Americans should not eat ice cream.”
9. Know what you are good at. Chances are, you are very good at one thing. You will be successful if you can get yourself in position to use your one thing more often. It is not a problem if you are not good in every facet of your business. It is more important that you realize that others can do what you cannot.
10. Build your team. Everyone knows building a team is critical. Here are some little things you might not know. Hiring a big company experienced only person because of their industry skill is very, very risky. It seems to me that every big company person wants to be in a smaller company. Frankly, it is condescending. What they don’t want is exposure to a one-deep work environment. I would make sure they have worked for another company AFTER IBM or General Mills. Next, try to meet the spouse. I am not a big proponent of going out to play bridge or socializing if you don’t want to, but I do think it is critical to assess whether the spouse is going to be tough and supportive enough. Next, if they can describe how doing their job will impact the customer, that is also key. Further , don’t hire any assholes. I want loyalty to the ’cause’ no matter what. These few sentences do not do this topic justice, but you get the idea.