Bob Parsons of GoDaddy blogged his “16 Rules for Success in Business (and Life in General)” in July of 2006. A question he received at a 2004 speaking event–“What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a business?”–kicked off an effort by the serial entrepreneur to codify the principles he was living by. I have selected what I think are the best half dozen (the full list is absolutely worth reading), preserved Parson’s numbering and lightly edited his text.
2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.
3. When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think. There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.“
These two echo famous advice from Winston Churchill and Eric Hoffer. First from Winston Churchill’s speech at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. […]
You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. […]
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
And Eric Hoffer in “Reflections on the Human Condition” (aphorism 157) on the temptation to quit:
“Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.”
Parson’s suggests another way to prevent being defeated by your own fears of “undefined consequences.”
4. Quantify what the worst thing could be, with regard to whatever worries you. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.”
This is also the antidote to mindlessly continuing the same course of action, I suggested a similar approach in my review of Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” Save Your Money
The key point is to decide what failure looks like before you start (and unexpected success, which for an entrepreneur signals that a product deserves more investment, potentially even third party investment in addition to re-directed internal resources) so that you know when to quit.
The following are a matched pair as well.
7. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.
9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.
One of the challenges is to measure the things you have under your control. So while it’s tempting to measure just revenue it’s more useful to include the precursors that you have more control over: sales calls, demos, benchmarks, ads run, forum postings, conference talks, proposals generated. The most important thing for a startup team to measure is how time is spent. Time, much much more than money, is the lifeblood of a startup. Whatever your stated objectives or focus is, make sure that you measure how you spend your time to ensure that you are aligning your efforts with your desired results. If you haven’t blocked out time on the calendar in the next two to three weeks it’s not a priority.
8. Be quick to decide. Remember what General George S. Patton said: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
Quick decisions are much easier in the context of well thought out strategies. This is clearly one advantage that startups should strive to maintain over their larger competitors. If you dither as a team and concede this advantage you have to be very very good. One key is to discern whether a new development represents a real change in your state of information and really requires a response. It’s probably as important to base decisions on what’s not likely to change as to chase new and probably evanescent developments in your market. Also, one your decide you have to act, and to get your team to act in concert.