Do Things That Don’t Scale
Focus on the few
When you’re building your company, it’s more important to have one hundred people love your product than a million people kind of like it.
Shoot for the moon (while you still can)
Use the early days to come up with amazing ideas to improve your customer experience.
Get in the trenches
Before you scale is the time for direct contact with your customers and doing whatever’s necessary to build that relationship.
Handcraft your way into their hearts
By customizing and adding personal touches to everything you do, you can use the early days to forge a strong connection with your users or customers.
Sleep with the frenemy
Take the time to embrace and build trust with gatekeepers and other unlikely bedfellows.
Set the standards
Now is the time to establish guardrails and model behaviors that will shape the new world you are creating.
What’s the Big Idea?
Chase the bad idea
When everyone is telling you, “That’s a good idea,” it can mean lots of other people are likely already pursuing it. Instead, look for the beautiful idea disguised as a bad one—the idea whose potential value is unseen or misunderstood.
If not you, who?
When you take a penetrating look at your history and passions, your destiny idea may be staring right back at you.
Pay attention to the flashing neon sign
If you believe that something should exist—and you can imagine many other people nodding in agreement—it may just be an idea worth pursuing.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel
When searching for a big idea, don’t discount the “slight twist” that can have a major impact.
The Hail Mary
Never let a crisis go to waste. Desperate times can sharpen focus, strengthen resolve…and yield killer ideas, while also creating the urgency to act on them.
The Never-Ending Project: Culture
Build a culture that’s smart enough to evolve
In technology businesses—and all large businesses are increasingly becoming technology businesses—people your culture with “first-principle” thinkers. Instead of blindly following directions, or sticking to a tried-and-true process, a first-principle thinker will constantly wonder, “What’s best for the company?” Or, “Couldn’t we do this another way instead?”
Put your customer second
If you can create the right kind of employees-first culture, one where employees model for each other what it’s like to be great at what you do, that will in turn lead to customers getting increasingly better products and services.
Find ways to manifest your culture
Your vision, your values, and even your unique company heritage matter more than you think in defining your culture. Don’t assume everyone knows what’s in your head and heart—say it loudly and proudly from day one.
Think of early hires as your co-founders
Your early hires will set the tone for your company. Early on, define the human qualities that are central to your culture (as well as the qualities you don’t want) and then use those as guides when interviewing people for cultural fit.
Solve the Rubik’s Cube of cognitive diversity
Without cognitive diversity, you will miss opportunities. You will perpetuate fallacies. And you will be lost in a monotonous haze.
Growing Fast, Growing Slow
Lean in while sitting back
When you embark on the entrepreneurial journey, you have to recognize that the conditions around you are always changing. If you want to go the distance, you sometimes have to be strategically patient. But that doesn’t mean just sitting back and waiting. It means leaning in and watching for the moment to break out and move fast. Sometimes it even means building the capabilities in advance to take advantage of a future opportunity.
Start fast but don’t burn yourself out
Explosive starts only work if you can sustain the momentum you generate. It’s all about figuring out how explosive you can make those opening steps—without getting fried in the process. Startups are a marathon of sprints.
Decide, decide, decide
Rapid decision-making is a key to explosive growth. When you’re moving fast, you may make mistakes. But the biggest mistake is not making decisions fast enough, because the only thing that matters is time.
Let fires burn
When you have a fast-scaling company, the focus must be on moving forward. And it’s hard to do that if you’re spending much of your time putting out fires. Some fires may be too serious to ignore. But others are better left burning.
You can never raise enough money
Opportunities may arise when you least expect them, and you need to have the capital to carry you in new directions. Make sure to have enough funding left to adequately support a Plan B. Make sure you have enough funding to experiment.
Pick your VC partners carefully
Look at an investor essentially as a later-stage co-founder—a partner who understands you and your vision for the company.
Learn to Unlearn
Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all
When you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, you often find yourself in a state of supreme ignorance. What enables entrepreneurs to thrive in those conditions is the speed at which they zip up a learning curve.
Keep moving away from what you know
Success imprints even more strongly than failure. So when you’ve figured out something that works or you’ve found success in a particular area, there’s a natural tendency to stay put. But infinite learners know that if you stand still or keep doing the same things that worked in the past, the world will leave you behind.
Collect wisdom along the way
Business leaders and entrepreneurs often take a zigzag route to get to their destination. At each stop they should absorb useful bits of learning and add them to their greater understanding of the world.
Teach yourself to lead
Entrepreneurs who know how to launch a new company often have no idea how to actually run a new company. But there are many ways to learn—by reading, consulting with mentors, and partnering with investors who have worked with other CEOs who’ve gone through the startup process.
Experiment to learn, and learn to experiment
Your assumptions about what your users or customers want will never be exactly right. Testing a real product with real people as soon as possible is the fastest way to build something that can scale.
Watch What They Do, Not What They Say
Watch what they do, not what they say
Watching what your customers are doing—or trying to do—with your product can light the way forward. But you have to be careful to pay attention to what they do and not just what they say.
Expect to have your theories of human behavior tested
Your theory about how individuals and groups behave should underlie your strategy, your product design, your incentive program—every decision you make. But be open and alert to when your customers show you a different theory or direction. That could become your product’s point of differentiation.
Follow the leaders: Your customers
To grow your business, you may have to give up control. Look for instances when your customers hack or hijack your product, and then go along for the ride.
The Art of the Pivot
Even the most focused entrepreneurs who are pursuing a particular vision must constantly shift and adjust to changes in technology, the market, or the world in general. Pivoting in this way doesn’t mean giving up on the vision; in fact, they’re often more successful at pivoting because they’re guided by a vision.
Pivots often occur within an existing business: for example, when the company switches from one strategy to a different one. It’s important to get early feedback on changes like this—or at least communicate those changes to as many of your stakeholders as you can before you flip the switch.
Some pivots are reactions to an unexpected development: a new problem or opportunity that suddenly manifests itself. It might be blocking the path forward, requiring a deft sideways maneuver to avoid a crash, or it could be something compelling that has cropped up on the side of the road. You may find it’s worth swerving to investigate and perhaps pursue this new possibility.
A pivot can sometimes—not often, but sometimes—be a complete departure from the original mission of the company. A total reboot like that can work, but it rarely goes off without some bumps.
The rebound: Pivoting in a crisis
Crises can cause some unwelcome pivots. But they also can offer opportunities to learn, experiment, and make improvements to your current business. So, even while navigating a crisis, look toward the future and ask questions like “Within these constraints, what are the newer creative possibilities? How can we make our business more flexible, and stronger, over the long run?”
Lead, Lead Again
The drum major
A great leader’s drumbeat doesn’t force people to follow them; it inspires them to move in the same direction of their own volition. Your drumbeat depends on your temperament, your experiences, and your company. Your drumbeat might be focused on efficiency, or innovation, or work-life balance. Or perhaps a mix of all these.
The compassionate leader
A core tenet of compassionate leadership is being willing to see everything through the lens and perspective of the people around you. It also requires some self-examination and reflection—and an effort to resist emotional, gut reactions. By paying attention to the people you lead and being willing to learn from them, you’re helping your people find their own rhythm.
The truth-teller (and seeker)
As a truth-teller, be prepared to document the criteria or principles driving your decisions. Doing so creates a clarity in your own mind and helps you communicate your thinking to other people. And while free-flowing feedback is nonnegotiable for radically transparent companies, it’s important to develop protocols and guidelines to keep disagreements and criticism moving in a constructive, positive direction.
Whether your staff is seventy thousand people or a team of seven, a leader needs two things to create a strong unified team: an elevated mission and everyday human contact. Inspire people with a guiding mission, then connect them with each other. And then watch them take ownership of that mission and become leaders themselves.
The ship captain
Many startups have piratical qualities in their early days—scrappiness, inventiveness, a willingness to venture into unknown areas. Rather than trying to tame those qualities by imposing a new culture from the top down, encourage the pirates to help shape and guide the necessary transformation to a culture that looks more like the navy—with rules of engagement, lines of communication, and long-term strategy.
Hiring stars is expensive and sometimes impossible because the right talent may not be available. The best leaders are those who are able to nurture and develop talent from within. Your role then becomes to identify bottlenecks and clear away obstacles so your new stars can shine.
The Trojan Horse
Think of your company as a Trojan horse
Social transformation shouldn’t just be side effects of your business—if you’re strategic about it, social good can, and should, become the beating heart of your business. It’s not about saying, “I’m a good person, so my company will do good things.” It’s about asking, “What kind of positive impact can I have that will also support my core business?”
Bake in goodness from day one
If a company has a mission that is rooted in goodness—and if you can effectively communicate that mission to the world and then live up to it—it can become one of the driving forces that helps you scale.
You can always pivot to good
You don’t necessarily have to start out “good”—but you can still get there. There may be bumps as you have to shift to get your business model right, but if you are going to try to scale good intentions, one of your most powerful tools is the ability to tell a compelling, inspirational story that describes your target future.
When good is an add-on feature
Even for companies offering a product that’s not associated with improving the world, it can be worthwhile to take a close look at that offering—because there may be some hidden purpose waiting within to be discovered and unlocked. One good place to look is always your employees and engagement with your local communities.
Paying it forward
One of the most important ways any successful company can contribute to the larger world is by paying it forward. This can take the form of mentoring programs, investing in other startups, or focusing on specific areas—geographic areas or underrepresented groups of people—with the goal of helping to encourage, strengthen, and diversify the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. Marc Benioff’s 1-1-1 program at Salesforce is a model of commitment.
First, do no harm
Entrepreneurs bear a responsibility to society. Without the infrastructure of society, we wouldn’t be able to create our businesses and reap the rewards of success. We should follow the principle of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. As entrepreneurs, we should strive to leave society better off than we found it.