Building off the pragmatic advice offered in Part I of this series, entrepreneur-turned-VC Brad Feld gets philosophical with five principles founders should take to heart.
Through his role as both a startup investor and mentor through the Foundry Group and startup accelerator TechStars, Feld has unique insight into what it takes to turn vision into reality. In this video series (previously recorded with OpenView Labs), he discusses some of the intangible entrepreneurial skills that can mean the difference between failure and success.
Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
As an entrepreneur, you should never try to do something. That implies indecision, and a lack of full commitment. And when you’re launching a business, that can spell disaster.
“In the context of entrepreneurship and creating a company, I believe strongly that the phrase “try” is not a completely helpful one in the construct of what you’re trying to do,” says Feld. When it comes to making a decision, founder must choose one of two paths: action or inaction — there is no middle ground. If you’re not fully invested in something it will show in the results, and anything you’re not giving a full effort — whether it be a new marketing initiative, rolling out a new feature, or recruiting — likely isn’t worth doing. Don’t try. Do.
Escaping Co-Founder Conflict
When co-founders disagree, the company clearly suffers. Harmony and alignment between founders is vital to nearly every facet of the company — business growth strategies, employee retention, and investor relations — and if there are serious issues and disagreements it’s usually an indication of greater problems lurking beneath the surface.
As Feld explains in this video, avoiding such conflicts is vital. To do so, you’ll need to promote open communication between all parties, not just the founders. This sort of transparency will reverberate throughout the company, and should allow everyone to breathe easier. After all, if your founders can’t even be in the same room together it will be impossible for them to plot a strong course towards growth and success.
If You Can Quit, You Should
Entrepreneurs should never be short on motivation when it comes to their venture. If you’re ambivalent about your startup, you need to reassess your situation. Why is motivation such an important factor in fueling business development strategies? Because it’s going to influence every facet of your company – if you’re not passionate, you won’t be dedicated. And if you’re not dedicated, you’re unlikely to develop a viable company.
These basic assumptions aside, if you’re on the fence, there are ways to gauge your interest level. Along the path to launching a startup, you’re certain to recognize some of the negative aspects of launching your idea. You may think that your company strategy overlaps too much with the competition. You might be unsure on whether or not you have the potential of turning over a profit. The list goes on and on.
“When you’re starting to think about what your business is going to be, try to quit it,” explains Feld. “And if you can, you should, and you should go try something else. But if you find that you can’t quit your business, you’re probably onto something that’s going to capture your attention and turn into something great.”
So what’s the endgame? If you believe that there is enough incentive for you to quit, don’t hesitate to do it. Otherwise, stay on the grueling road.
The Value of Great Mentors
The right mentorship can have tremendous benefits to your company. A mentor with valuable knowledge of a particular market segment can help you improve your alignment and execution, saving you time, manpower, and money. But while the right experience can open up opportunities, Feld stresses the importance of making sure the mentors you do engage with are invested in your vision and dedicated to putting in meaningful work.
The relationship shouldn’t be a distraction to your regular business operations, it should be integrated into them. You shouldn’t bother with mentors who only intend to deliver a speech and move on.
Feld explains that another area great mentors can help with is employee development, as you need to bring in the sort of guidance that will propel and inspire your staff. Many mentors have been in your shoes before, and their insights can go a long way toward informing your own path.
The Importance of Karma
Few things in this world are free, especially when it comes to business. Valuable advice may be one of the few exceptions, but it’s also often hard to come by. One of the reasons is that the people with the best hard-earned advice to give are also frequently the busiest. Some do take the time to help, however, and as Feld encourages, sometimes even minor input can be a great help to those who are in need, and you never know how good karma will be repaid.
That means it’s not only important to ask for advice from those in a position to help, it’s also equally important to give back when you can. When you’re scaling a business, you will always need help, and if you’ve got your fair share of good karma built up you might be surprised where it can come from.
Click here for Part I, featuring more of Brad Feld’s entrepreneurial skills, insights, and advice for founders, including the thinking behind “do more faster,” key benefits to prototyping, the importance of avoiding tunnel vision, and more.
Brad Feld is one of the managing directors at Foundry Group, a venture capital firm that invests in early stage software/Internet companies throughout the United States. He is also the co-founder of TechStars, a mentor-driven accelerator, author of several books and blogs, and a marathon runner.