Seven Lessons Learned for Startups

In the last few weeks, there has been some chatter in the VC blogosphere about the importance of good mentors. Since my own first job, I personally have been very lucky to have a number of mentors, managers, and teachers who have shared their business wisdom and experiences with me. These folks have imparted a number of lessons which I have deeply internalized and have made a significant impact on how I view the business world. Many repeated mantras which became familiar, but all spoke lessons which I’ve integrated along the way. The following is a list of those quotes which were often repeated to me (along with a nod to those from whom I heard them) – they are the ones most significant to me and those which I believe can be generalized and applied to startup situations.

Seven Lessons Learned for Startups

“Input not consensus.” – Scott K. While many have different views on management styles, I favor decision-making processes being inclusive to all parties who deserve to share their opinion, but having the ultimate decision made by a single person who is ultimately responsible for it. The problem with true consensus thinking isn’t that good decisions don’t come out of it, but rather that it’s unclear when final decisions are made. Startup situations aren’t the right place for muddled thinking or unclear directives. Once a decision has been made, owners of responsibility must immediately run off and execute. Although many extremely successful organizations were built on consensus-driven cultures, my opinion is that there isn’t time for it in a startup – but there is absolutely time for everyone’s input.

“Be authentic.” – Mark L. As I’ve written previously, I believe most successful entrepreneurial endeavors are sprung from a genuine idea born from true experience or direct & tangible observation. Companies that emerge out of a team with heritage in a particular market and technology have direct understanding of that realm. Furthermore, when employees act in an open and authentic manner with each other, it helps foster a team environment which is productive for everyone. It is with this authentic foundation that great companies are built.

“Dead cats don’t bounce.” – Joe G. Unfortunately, many many startups do not succeed. It takes a strong entrepreneur to admit when a particular project, product, or company isn’t destined for success. (Often those failures lead to learning experiences from which new successes are born.) But if something isn’t going to take on life, startups must realize when that’s the case and move beyond the fleeting hope for it to take off.

“Solid-gold relationships.” – Bill A. The most important relationship that any company has is with its customers. And the most important of those are the key large or influential customers. It is with those special constituents – whether they are consumers, SMBs, or enterprises – that should be nurtured and cared for. Not only do they provide the (first) notable revenue, but also necessary market feedback for further refining the product offering. With all of the distractions that arise in a startup setting, it’s extremely important to keep focused on cultivating these special relationships.

“Get involved.” – John C. I used to have this quote from a former boss hanging above my desk. A daily reminder that when deciding whether to take action, experiment, or try something new, it is usually better to take this route than to not.

“Take time to think.” – Kelley M. While action is always a priority, deciding the correct action often requires reflection. Dedicating time during a critical juncture in a project or undertaking to leave time for unstructured individual contemplation of the larger current work situation provides an opportunity for everyone to obtain a richer perspective. It’s an underutilized tool to require that people occasionally briefly pause from the task-oriented workday (not just to provide brief respite from the pile of to-do’s, but) to contemplate what efforts truly will have the most impact on the company.

“Reward those who deserve it.” – Kevin M. Credit should go where credit is due, with the right people rewarded for their efforts. And that doesn’t just mean appropriately compensating people financially. Particularly in a startup where there is less cash to share, recognition and acknowledgement of accomplishment goes a long way. A long way.

(The above mantras are obviously not the only, nor are they necessarily the best, words of wisdom which I’ve ever received. However, they are the ones that have sunk in internally for me the most. While this is a professional post, it is also a personal one as well, as I am extremely appreciative of those listed above who have made a direct impact on my own thinking and direction over the years and will continue to do so.)

(This is the fifth installment in my “Sevens” series of posts. See also Seven Founding Sins, Seven Reasons To Become a Founding Entrepreneur, Seven Questions Employees Should Ask Before Joining a Startup, Seven Common Tactical Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make in their Initial VC Pitch which are Simple to Fix.)

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.

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