Forty Business Tips

These are all really two tips: focus on service and execution; if it’s not working, get out.

I found four great “N things I learned launching X startups” articles recently and  I read them and pulled out my favorites for you. These aren’t just tips for startup CEOs or budding entrepreneurs, they’re broadly applicable things I’ve also observed while counseling clients at Undercurrent and building UC as a business. They’re hard to stick to, but all pretty darn instructive, and a few are worth keeping in mind during your day-to-day. Macro tip: focus on service and execution, and if it’s not working, get out.

Sam Altman

  1. Startups are very hard no matter what you do; you may as well go after a big opportunity.26
  2. Remember that you are more likely to die because you execute badly than get crushed by a competitor.36
  3. Have great customer service.49
  4. You can create value with breakthrough innovation, incremental refinement, or complex coordination. Great companies often do two of these. The very best companies do all three.50
  5. Have a good operational cadence where projects are short and you’re releasing something new on a regular basis.58
  6. Being the CEO is miserable more often than it’s good. But when it’s good, it’s really good.70
  7. A lot of the best ideas seem silly or bad initially—you want an idea at the intersection of “seems like bad idea” and “is good idea”. (It’s important to note you need to be contrarian and right, not simply contrarian.)80
  8. All startups are fucked in at least one major way. Keep going.83

Slava Akhmechet

  1. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Pick a small set of non-negotiable rules that matter to you most and enforce them ruthlessly.8
  2. Most investor advice is very good for optimizing and scaling a working business. Listen to it.14
  3. Most investor advice isn’t very good for building a magical product. Nobody can help you build a magical product — that’s your job.15
  4. Pick new ideas because they’ve been made possible by other social or technological change. Get on the train as early as possible, but make sure the technology is there to make the product be enough better that it matters.21
  5. If there is an old idea that didn’t work before and there is no social or technological change that can plausibly make it work now, assume it will fail. (That’s the efficient market hypothesis again. If an idea could have been brought to fruition, it would have been. It’s only worth trying again if something changed.)22
  6. Educating a market that doesn’t want your product is a losing battle. Stick to your ideals and vision, but respect trends. If you believe the world needs iambic pentameter poetry, sell hip hop, not sonnets.23
  7. Product sense is everything. Learn it as quickly as you can. Being good at engineering has nothing to do with being good at product management.24
  8. Build a product people want to buy in spite of rough edges, not because there are no rough edges. The former is pleasant and highly paid, the latter is unpleasant and takes forever.28
  9. Product comes first. If people love your product, the tiniest announcements will get attention. If people don’t love your product, no amount of marketing effort will help.31
  10. Market to your users. Getting attention from people who won’t buy your product is a waste of time and money.36
  11. Don’t say things if your competitors can’t say the opposite.For example, your competitors can’t say their product is slow, so saying yours is fast is sloppy marketing. On the other hand, your competitors can say their software is for Python programmers, so saying yours is for Ruby programmers is good marketing. Apple can get away with breaking this rule, you can’t.37
  12. Sales fix everything. You can screw up everything else and get through it if your product sells well.40
  13. Product comes first. Selling a product everyone wants is easy and rewarding. Selling a product no one wants is an unpleasant game of numbers.41
  14. Qualify ruthlessly. Spending time with a user who’s unlikely to buy is equivalent to doing no work at all.43
  15. Development speed is everything.45
  16. Pick implementations that give 80% of the benefit with 20% of the work.47
  17. Working on the wrong thing for a month is equivalent to not showing up to work for a month at all.53

James Altucher

  1. Should you build a product? Maybe. But first see if, manually, your product works. Then think about providing it as a service. Then productize the commonly used services. Too many people do this in reverse and then fail.11
  2. How do you get new clients? The best new clients are old clients. Always offer new services. Think every day of new services to offer old clients.18
  3. What’s the best thing to do for a new client? Over-deliver for the first 100 days. Then you will never lose them.19
  4. What is the sign of a professional? Going from bullshit product to services to product to SaaS product. (Corollary: the reverse is amateur hour).26
  5. Should I do market research? Yes, find one customer who DEFINITELY, without a doubt, will buy a service from you. Note that I don’t say buy your product, because your initial product is always not what the customer wanted.30
  6. How do I keep clients from yelling at me? Document every meeting line-by-line, and send your document to the client right after the meeting.84

Jason Goldberg

  1. Build all of your own technology. This is a must if you want to build sustainable competitive advantage. If you think you can build the next great company on someone else’s stuff, you’re kidding yourself. (I’m not saying don’t leverage open-source or established platforms. I am saying don’t outsource your code).38
  2. Stack rank your features; and it’s all features. Every request for use of scarce resources needs to be prioritized vs. alternative use of the resources. No two features are ever created equal. You can’t do everything all at once. Force prioritization.49
  3. Most people really only heavily use about 5 to 7 services. If you want to be an important product and a big business, you will need to figure out how to fit into one of those 5 to 7 services, which means capturing your user’s fascination, enthusiasm, and trust. You need to give your users a real reason to add you into their time. Or, if you’re selling stuff, you need to give your users a real reason to add you into their wallet. Not easy.54
  4. Service matters more than sales. Sales go up and down, service lasts forever.69
  5. Insist on perfection. Never, ever settle. If you start to settle a little here, a little there, soon enough you’ll turn around and say, “how did we get here?” It’s on me and Bradford and Nishith and the rest of our executives to make sure that Fab is Fab is Fab in everything we do.72
  6. But make mistakes. Insisting on perfection doesn’t mean your team members have to live in fear of making mistakes. Encourage them to try things and innovate. Celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities.73
  7. Just don’t fuck it up. There’s a difference between a mistake that turns into a learning event vs. fucking something up by doing stupid things. It’s not a fine line, it’s a big canyon of difference.74
  8. Celebrate your challenges. We have all-company meetings weekly at Fab and they’re about 30% about why we’re awesome and 70% about the challenges ahead. If you want to grow and do amazing things, that’s how it should be. Our management meetings are skewed even more towards improvement, more like 10% success focused and 90% improvement focused. Again, as it should be IMO.75

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