Building a startup is tricky business. I have started several, and have had some winners and some failures. From initial conception to launching your beta, there are a thousand things that can go wrong and put a hitch in your well-laid plans. Once your product or service meets real live customers, things get even more complicated, and fast. If you’re in the middle of your entrepreneurial journey, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many others have gone before you, and through many trials -- and many more errors -- they’ve honed their skills and found secrets to success that will benefit you. With a little bit of listening and a healthy dose of humility, you don’t have to make the same mistakes they did.
I’ve compiled six of these priceless lessons from some of the leaders of the top tech companies in the world; lessons I wish I had known earlier in my career. Listen to them and you’ll end up more wise than before. Utilize them and you’ll end up a few rungs ahead of your competition.
1. Know your tech.
CEOs and leaders who don’t have technical skills are at a significant disadvantage. “Startups are not just about the idea, they're about testing and implementing the idea,” says serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank.
If a chief executive doesn’t have the comprehensive knowledge of how the product works through strong technical skills, the company can suffer. Testing and iteration of your minimum viable product (MVP) slows, and critical strategic decision-making slows, which can mean death in a fast-paced startup market. In addition, attracting and hiring top technical talent in early stages can depend on a CEOs technical ability.
You don’t have to be a genius coder, but if you really want to succeed, at the very least get a few months of developer training under your belt.
2. Be adaptable under any circumstances.
The age in which we are living is incomparable to any other evolutionary period in terms of how fast we can ingest knowledge. In a 2014 Fortune interview, IBM’s Ginni Rometty said, "What keeps me up at night is speed. Speed of transformation, [and] continuing to move to that future." The awe that Rometty feels should keep you up at night too. The transformation of the human race through digital knowledge transfer is, frankly, incredible.
If you want to create meaningful business, iteration must happen at lightening speed. Your ability to adapt to change is paramount, so keep an open mind about what exists. A million possibilities that you haven’t seen or heard of yet are on the horizon.
3. Build your endurance.
We can all appreciate that Elon Musk is one of the most driven men alive. As the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, he’s said to work 100-hour weeks, and still be unsatisfied with the end result.
The ongoing saga of the SpaceX program is a huge lesson in the endurance it takes to achieve greatness. After various Falcon rockets failed to land vertically upon re-entry, Musk addressed his company with a motivating speech, quickly changing despair and defeat into massive determination. Over two years later, after many failures and many hundreds of millions of dollars, Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket finally achieved vertical landing.
You may not be building rockets, but you will encounter failures and setbacks. Keep on and stick the landing.
4. Stay a little bit crazy.
"When no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition," Google’s Larry Page said in a 2005 commencement speech. "Have confidence, fail often, [and] have a healthy disregard for the impossible."
Making big dreams come true requires taking big risks, which may seem outlandish to others. But most tech CEOs know that while starting any business takes guts and a willingness to suspend realism for as long as it takes, launching a startup can seem insane. That insanity is what makes for incredible innovations, so don’t give up your crazy.
5. You’ll never be “ready.”
Just like parenting, you’re never really ready to create and nurture something entirely new. CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Meyer, says, “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of, ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”
Being prepared is key, but don’t let your fear of not being ready keep you from moving forward with confidence. No one is ever really “ready,” so go for it, before it’s too late.
6. All you need is a plan.
Michael Dell has said of his success, “You don’t need to be a genius or a visionary, or even a college graduate for that matter, to be successful. You just need framework and a dream.” If that college freshman from Houston, Texas can turn a dorm-room computer upgrade enterprise into Dell Computers, a $20 billion company, there’s hope for everyone who wants to make a go of it.
Don’t let your self-confidence wane while comparing yourself to others. Many majorly successful tech companies have mediocre talent at the helm, and vice-versa. The difference in success rate is having a concrete plan and the guts to act on it.
Helming a startup can, at times, be crazy, rewarding, challenging, frustrating and even devastating. But you’ve chosen to take that on and do your best to share your company with humanity, and maybe even change the world for the better. The best and brightest CEOs in the tech world were willing to be open about what they could’ve done better, are you willing to listen?