How to Be a Founder
Be really, really, really good at one skill.
Originally I titled this as “How To Be An Entrepreneur” but that didn’t sound right. Given the current climate of wantrepreneurs and dime a dozen startups, I want to focus on the skills it takes to create something out of nothing.
1. Be really good at something.
Whether it’s design, Rails, mobile, product, etc, focus on a tangible skill that you love to do. This skill should be something you can measure growth in and something you would do even if you didn’t get paid. Do this skill over and over until you can do it in your sleep. Do this skill so well that other people are begging you to do it for them. I’m a strong believer in the 10,000 hour theory.
Sometimes this means you put in the hours at other businesses before you are ready to do this on your own. Letting someone else foot the bill while you learn your way to mastery is founder smart. Take 2-3 years and work at places where you are showing you can provide value.
2. No, I mean it, be really really good at something.
I’m not kidding, you should be the best. I design and code something every day. And I love every minute of it. Other people pay me stupid amounts of money to do this. I didn’t get here by networking, or raising money or going to start up events. I did it by staying home on nights my friends went out. I did it by practicing until my eyes hurt. I did it by learning from the greats with a hunger to learn that borders on insanity.
3. Have amazingly thick skin.
It’s no secret people love to hate. Fuck em. The naysayers, the doubters, the worry warts, the leeches that spend time destroying instead of creating. IGNORE ALL OF THEM. Celebrities deal with this all the time, yet you hardly hear George Clooney complaining. Actually wear the badge proudly. You know you are doing something right when you are pissing people off. But do with it class. Hold yourself high and never bring anyone else down.
4. Learn to listen.
Funny enough, while you are fighting off the haters, a great founder knows who and what to listen to. Listen to people who have been through this before (like other accomplished founders), listen to users who use your product feverishly. Listen to your cofounders who are in the trenches with you. The trick is figuring out what’s actually relevant to you and not just anecdotal. Also listening means your mouth is shut. A good test is if you can repeat what the other person just said before you respond.
5. Be inspired by others.
In order to be a hero, you have to respect one. All founders have stories about the first time they met their hero with reverence. There are so manyamazing people on this earth and it’s actually very easy to meet them. When I was 18 and in a band I would hunt down people like Joe Lally from Fugazi to get him to come to our show. When I was 23 I hunted down the founder of Juxt Interactive to have him review my first web site. I actively engaged people miles better than me and got their feedback.
6. Learn how to inspire others.
With my first startup, I thought being in control was the shit. I wanted and loved being CEO. I hired and I fired and pulled all the strings. I also got grey hair at 33 and was stressed as hell. Sure we made money but it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. In order to build something great, you have to have a team of leaders. Each of your co-founders should be able to start their own company as CEO. Each employee should know your business and how to grow it as well as you do. David Marquet puts it best.
Working with really smart and motivated people is fun, and you only get to do that if you can encourage, teach and listen to them. It’s not your way or the highway, it’s the road you are on together.
7. Build something amazing that people want.
Uh I’m still learning this lesson. Check back in a few months.
8. Make that cash.
Too often I’ve sweated over a single pixel or made sure this bit of code was clean. But are you making sure your customer acquisition costs (CAC) are less than your long term value(LTV)? Are you making sure your value proposition is clear? Andrew Chen has a great presentation about Product Market Fit. Core business economics are often forgotten in this climate of me-too photo sharing startups. I’ve made products that have hundreds of thousands of users but I rather have hundreds of thousands of dollars while providing a valuable service.
Third Time is The Charm
With this I’d like to announce that I’m now working on my next startup. I have the founder bug in a bad way and hopefully the third time is the charm. While it’s too early to say much more, I can’t help but want to build something amazing with my really smart and awesome cofounders.