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3 Launch Lessons from Idealab's Bill Gross

Few people know more about helping startups boom than the founder of business incubator Idealab.

The best word for Bill Gross, founder and CEO of business incubator Idealab, might be one that doesn't exist: launchmaster. As an undergrad at Caltech, he founded a stereo-equipment maker GNP Inc. After GNP, he started and sold two software companies: one to Lotus founder Mitchell Kapor for $10 million, and another to CUC International for approximately $100 million.

Then came Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based incubator whose companies include eight IPOs. 

When it comes to launching companies, Gross knows his stuff. When he shares his top lessons learned, as he did recently on Q Street Startups, you'll want to listen. Here are three of those lessons: 

1. The more disruptive, the better. A small idea takes almost as much work, if not as much or more, than a big idea. You may as well work on something a little more challenging because it's going to have the same obstacles along the way. I say that from the perspective of looking back on some things that we tried that we thought would be easier, and they really weren't.

2. Listen and iterate. Find a way to listen to your customer in faster cycles and implement what your customers say at a faster rate than your competitor. This is something [in which] a small company actually has an advantage over a big company. You can't know in advance the ultimate way your customers are going to adopt what you've made. Listening and iterating is the most powerful thing about innovation. If there's any lesson I can pass along, I would say this one could make such a big difference in the success of a company. Try to find some way to work in those rapid iteration cycles into your innovation process.

3. Survive until the market is ready. We were really scaling [a forerunner to YouTube] as quickly as we could and if we had survived a little longer [when 50 percent of the market was able to use the company's services], we could have been a much bigger company. At least we wouldn't have run out of business. If your idea has some semblance of traction, make sure you survive until the market is really ready for your idea.

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