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7 Business Lessons From Top Startup Successes

Author Frank Gruber shares key lessons learned from top entrepreneurs.
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Building a startup is hard--really hard. I'm in my second startup now at Likeable Local, and I can tell you, from experience, there are a lot of unique challenges to building a startup from scratch: making the most of few resources, raising money, inspiring the team when times are tough, and making something out of nothing.

But when it all comes together for a startup, it's also an amazing, magical feeling--and you suddenly feel like all that hard work was for a reason. Luckily, we don't have to go it alone when building a startup--we can leverage the experiences and learning of others before us.

I spoke with Frank Gruber, CEO of Tech Cocktail and author of the new book Startup Mixology: Tech Cocktail's Guide to Building, Growing and Celebrating Startup Success, about key business lessons he's learned from success startups he's encountered, and these are the entrepreneurs and lessons Frank shared:

1. Tim O'Shaughnessy: There's always something left to try.

The LivingSocial cofounder knows that it's not over until you run out of money. "One of the best characteristics of a CEO is [knowing] there's always a play--people may not see it, but you have the ability to," he says. In the early days, the four-person LivingSocial team made money by working half-time on consulting gigs, and they tried out tons of little apps before landing on a moneymaker.

2. Tony Conrad: Launch your own way.

Conrad is a master of the launch, orchestrating the debut of products like Oddpost, Sphere, and About.me. No two launches were the same--sometimes he bought tickets to big launch conferences, sometimes he used his connections in the blogosphere, and other times he used social media. Instead of jumping on the latest bandwagon or assuming you have to launch with a bang, do what makes sense for your startup.

3. Reid Hoffman: Investors will reject you.

Hoffman, now a partner at the VC firm Greylock, shares some secrets of the trade with entrepreneurs. "In a single year, the classic general partner in a venture firm is exposed to around 5,000 pitches; decides to look more closely at 600 to 800 of them; and ends up doing between 0 and 2 deals." His pitch to VCs as the cofounder of LinkedIn wasn't perfect, and yours probably isn't, either.

4. Matt Galligan: You're going to fail.

At Galligan's early company SimpleGeo, the failure was trying to be too mainstream, which the startup wasted a year on. Once it found its niche--powering the location features for app developers--things turned around. "Accept failure. I think that we try so hard to sideline failure and just skip past it and be better than that, but the reality is you fail and you fail a lot and you have to just learn from those failures," he says.

5. Cindy Gallop: Don't hire jerks.

Cindy Gallop, the founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, says this about the people she employs: "They have to be extraordinarily brilliant at what they do, but they also have to be very, very nice people. Great and nice is my hiring philosophy--you cannot have one without the other. You can't be brilliant and not a team player and able to work with, motivate, and inspire everybody else around you."

6. Sheila Marcelo: Your team is your culture.

You can't dictate from the top down, and you have to be humble. "[Believe] in your people. It's not just lip service," says the Care.com founder and CEO. "Because if you think you're the smartest in the room, you're better than everybody else, you're the more highly educated…you're drinking your own Kool-Aid. How are you going to get anything done in the company? Building things requires a whole group of people."

7. Micah Baldwin: Don't network--just be friendly.

Baldwin of Graphicly is a self-professed introvert, and the only way he survived networking events was seeking out genuine interactions. "I don't really consider myself having a network--I just have a bunch of friends. I think that's the key--I've never tried to network in my life," he says. "I've only tried to meet interesting people, and to be friendly. I don't ever think about what I can get. I think about only what I can give."

Now it's your turn. Which of these lessons resonate with you? What key lessons have you learned along your entrepreneurship journey? Please let me know in the Comments section below, and share these lessons with your network. 

IMAGE: evoo73 / Flickr.com
Last updated: Jul 15, 2014

DAVE KERPEN | Columnist | CEO, Likeable Media

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Local. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Likeable Media and the New York Times best-selling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business. Want to learn about how to grow your business using social media in two minutes? Click here.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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