Nuggets of Wisdom from Startup Veterans

Amid the countless books and articles offering entrepreneurial advice, I find that the most valuable nuggets come straight from founders, drawing on their own rich experiences.

That’s why I’m happy to be part of the recently launched video lecture series titled “Oracle Innovate: Lessons from Entrepreneurs.” The series, created by Oracle’s Global Startup Ecosystem program and Oracle Academy, features stories and advice from veteran founders designed to inspire other entrepreneurs—whether they’re budding founders in universities or leading early-stage startups or scale-ups ready for hypergrowth.

Below, in no particular order, are six nuggets of wisdom from me and five of those veteran founders. (Check out the three video clips as well.)

1. Write a personal mission statement: I challenge founders—really, everyone—to think about innovation as it applies to your personal life. Every company should have a strategic mission statement, of course, but do you have a personal one?

As a founder, your business’s ability to innovate and succeed is very closely tied to your personal brand. Countless times my personal mission statement has helped me overcome adversities. At my last startup, Vitrue, our three largest customers fired us within a month and we were coming dangerously close to running out of money. To say it was dire straits would be an understatement.

Relying on my personal mission statement, however, I “put my humility first and ego second” and accepted the truth as it was. So often a founder’s ego stubbornly blinds him or her to the truth. I also leaned on my promise to “follow and pursue my passion and not settle”—and never give up. So we changed the entire business, navigating difficult decisions and turbulent times.

That pivot ultimately led to a meeting with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg that changed everything. It would have been much easier to give up, but my mission statement didn’t let me quit. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to write your own.

2. Develop the skill of failure: Entrepreneurs need many skills to succeed, but the ability to handle failure well is the one that stands out most, according to Efrat Rapoport, founder and CEO of Bonobo.ai and an alumna of the Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem.

Learning to embrace failure is hard; it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s vital for startup life. Rapoport encourages entrepreneurs to put themselves out of their comfort zones, not only at work but also with a new hobby or challenge. For her, that was learning to write songs. It helped her get comfortable with failing and develop the courage to learn and grow from it.

As Rapoport reminds us: “Failure is a temporary state until you achieve.” Get up every time you get knocked down and keep striving to get better.

3. Focus on the problem, not the solution: As founders, our default is to focus on our solution. We’re so excited about the cool product or service we’ve developed.

“But no one is going to care about your solution until they care about the problem first,” observes Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory in Austin, Texas.

Baer is right on. Every potential customer has pain points. Once you’ve identified the problem and connected on it, you now have an engaged audience to hear your solution. Focus first on the problem. Then sell the solution.

4. Choose your investors on the ‘What else?’ principle: The pressures of raising financial capital can make a founder focus only on the dollar amount. But there’s so much more to this equation.

Michael Marchand, chief customer officer at Dell Technologies, advises startup leaders to choose their investors on the “What else?” principle. You are entering into a relationship with a venture capitalist. What are the firm’s principals bringing to the table besides money? Can they offer connections to valuable partners and expert talent? Can they offer exposure? Think hard about their values and behaviors as well as their resources. What else can they do to help your business succeed?

5. Get everyone to sell: Veteran digital entrepreneur Sam Decker requires all of his executives, even the CTO, to go out on sales trips. “The more that executives with high-level titles can access other executives, the more they’ll drive revenue and help their companies be successful,” Decker says.

Revenue often is the only metric that matters to VCs, and the more high-level sales touches you have, the better chances you’ll have to grow it.

6. Seek out similar corporates: Stefan Rehm, founder of Intelipost and an alumnus of the Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem, advises founders to work with larger companies that are most similar to their business. And avoid those that aren’t similar.

For Intelipost, a developer of supply chain management software, working with Oracle fit its business model and objectives naturally. The more similar your larger partner is, the more opportunities and resources it will introduce you to. Time is one of a startup’s most valuable resources. So choose your partners wisely so as not to waste it.

 

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