Given that yesterday was Mother’s Day, I reflected on the advice, guidance, and modeling that I have learned from my mom. We all have learned great things from our mothers. Here are six business principles I have learned from my mom:
1) Money Burns a Hole in Your Pocket
When I saved enough money to buy my first car at age 17, I fell in love with a used MG Midget (it was an early roadster). I took my mother to see it and was ready to make the purchase. But she told me that when you have money, sometimes that money “burns a hole in your pocket.” In other words, you get eager to spend it. She told me to be careful about that.
This principle is part of the reason that I tell founders to be careful with how much money they take from investors. If you have the money, you will burn through the money, but will it ultimately help you dominate your markets?
2) Something Better Always Comes Along
My mother also pointed out that the MG Midget was the first car that I had looked at. She told me not to be too eager to purchase it, and that “something better always comes along. If you have the time and the patience, you will always find something better.”
I took that advice on faith, and I didn’t buy that car that day. Ultimately, I ended up purchasing a 1967 Ford Mustang (a hot muscle car) that ultimately was better for me given that I barely fit into the MG Midget, anyway.
I use this principle to keep a level head when I look at investment opportunities that I fall in love with. I only have the time to work with a few companies at any given point, so it’s a good thing to remember and I spend a lot of time thinking about my fit with each company. I tell companies that getting a VC investor is like getting married — you spend a lot of time together for a long time. Let’s make absolutely sure that there is a good fit!
I also pass this principle along to hiring managers when they have candidates they really like: “Yes, this person looks really good, but someone with a better fit will always come along if you wait. The key question is whether this person is so good that you don’t want to wait for that better person.”
3) Follow Your Core Competencies and Passion
I was always good at math and enjoyed it, so my mother started pointing out careers that used those skills, including accounting, being an actuary, or being an engineer. I chose engineering and made my mother proud. I also learned that it is not necessarily work when you are both good at and are passionate about what you do.
That is advice I pass along to every young person I meet, usually by asking them what class they enjoyed most and least in high school and what they enjoy doing most. It usually leads to a lively conversation and gets them to think. (I also point out engineering as an option to just about any high school student I meet who is good at math, which drives my artist wife crazy.)
The idea works more broadly for your career and your business, as well. What are you good at and what do you enjoy doing? Perhaps you should do more of that!
4) Keep Moving Forward
When I was young, my younger sister died. It caused a lot of stress with my parents and my guess is that it was the root cause of their divorce. My mother raised my older sister and me for several years as a working single mom. I can’t imagine how difficult that was on a teacher’s salary. My mom just kept moving forward. Like most people, she has had other setbacks in her life, but she has always handled them with grace and keeps moving forward.
Startups have many down periods when founders wonder whether or not it will work. All you can do is keep moving forward and see what happens next!
5) Assets and Low Costs are the Way to Go
My mother knows more about financial management than anyone I know. She managed to turn a career in teaching in California public schools into a great retirement with two houses and more money than she needs via keeping her costs low and investing wisely for many many years.
Given my background as an investor, she often calls me for investment advice, but when I give it to her she goes into great detail about all the implications associated with every choice and I usually end the conversation with “it sounds like you are thinking about all the right things.” I am never quite sure that I add any value to her thinking.
The most important thing that she taught me at a young age was to turn income into assets and to keep your costs low. This advice is obvious for most start-ups: “turn your capital into revenue, company value, and competitive advantage, and keep your costs low.”
6) You Need to Find a Smart, Capable Partner Who Challenges You
Before I got married, I had several long-term relationships. My mother always told me that she was indifferent to a woman’s race, color, and religion, but that she wanted me to marry a smart, capable woman who challenged me. And I did.
At some point, I also realized that there are many smart capable women who are great to work with. Ultimately, I figured out that all other things being equal, women are better in every position in a company (my hypothesis is that this comes from cultural factors that generally require women to be that much better to get to where they are, but who knows?).
Want to get something done in your business? Hire a smart, capable woman who challenges you!
One More Thought
I didn’t include this in the list as it is not really business advice, but my mother also says “you need to call more often.” I don’t talk to my mother enough, and she lets me know it most of the time that I talk to her (she is right and I will try harder, Mom :).
From a professional perspective, we all have mentors who have nurtured parts of us and we probably don’t keep in touch enough. Don’t forget to take the time to call them and let them know how you are doing! They will appreciate it and you will enjoy it.
I have learned a lot more from my mom than the lessons in the list above, but this is what came to me as I reflected on my mom’s influence on me and how it relates to business.