On Thursday, Google for Entrepreneurs hosted a Google Hangout where Elon Musk and Richard Branson offered their top advice for aspiring business owners. Here are the highlights.
For Budding Entrepreneurs:
Richard Branson: "If you've got a great idea, if you can improve people's lives, just go on and do it. I have a phrase -- 'Screw it. Just do it.'"
Elon Musk: "Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have. ... Seek critical feedback. Ask them what's wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what's wrong."
RB: "It's so important to be a good listener. And so many people, they think they know it all and they like hearing their own voice, but being a good listener, you can get so many other ideas from other people to work out whether your idea is a good one or not."
On Starting Out:
EM: "I would definitely not recommend trying to create two companies at once as sort of happened with SpaceX and Tesla. ... It's too much. I'd really strongly recommend someone to just focus on one company and throw as many hours at it as you possibly can. Really work morning to night. Think about it in your sleep. Seven days a week. No breaks. That's what you should do when you are starting a company."
RB: "I think what you've got to do quite early on in your company's history is find somebody to run that company on a day-to-day basis, who is hopefully better than you. Most people just don't find the time to go out there and find that really good person. They stay complete immersed in it. Taking the time to find someone to run it on a day-to-day basis then frees you up to think about the bigger picture, frees you up to maybe move into another venture, frees you up to have a family life, frees you up to look after your body and make sure you are healthy and fit.
"And if you try to do everything yourself for too long, you will run yourself down. And you are not necessarily the best person to run the company on a day-to-day basis. You can always find somebody as good as yourself or better than yourself."
EM: "The very difficult time is usually shortly after the beginning, actually. When you first start the company, things seem optimistic and rosy and exciting. I think for the first six months to one year, things seem pretty good and then things start to go wrong. At least that's been my experience. And you make mistakes, you encounter issues you didn't expect, you step on land mines ... it's just bad. Years two through five are usually quite difficult.
"You are in constant danger of the company dying and if you are the co-founder or CEO, you've got to do all sorts of jobs and tasks that you might not wish to do, that are not intristically interesting to you. ... And if you don't do your chores, essentially, then the company won't succeed. You've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes, work whatever hours. No task is too menial. I think, that's the right attitude for CEO of a start-up."
RB: "There's a thin dividing line between success and failure. And all that matters when you are building a company is survival. ... If you don't survive, you're like eight out of ten companies that do not survive. So you shouldn't feel completely downhearted from it ... you should learn from that and just try again."
On Working As a Team:
EM: "I think it's important that everyone understands exactly what the mission is, what the goal is and that when they join the company, they be brought into that overall goal. As long as that goal is clearly defined and understood and people are saying 'yes,' they agree with that goal when they join the company--so, they are not just joining for a salary but they believe in what the company is doing--then you can go back to them and if their activity is not aligned with the company, you can say: 'Hey, you need to change your behavior in this particular way.' And then they usually do. On rare occasions when somebody does not, then you have to be prepared to let them go from the team."
RB: "The most important thing is the individual--whether or not you feel the individual is capable of doing the idea. There are many, many people who have similar ideas and great ideas ... it's just whether they can actually deliver that idea. So try to work out whether that person will all the hours needed, whether they can motivate people. Company is simply a group of people and you want to be actually sure that the person who is coming to you with the idea is somebody that you feel can deliver and everything else flows from that."
On Silicon Valley:
RB: "Silicon Valley has the advantage of being the first mover. They got in there, they've built a reputation for having great companies and they attracted people from all around the world who want to go and work there."
EM: "If you want to start a technology business, there's just no place like Silicon Valley. There's just no place that has the infrastructure--whether it's accounting, legal, real estate--and it's just gotten really good at creating companies."
On Everything Else:
EM: "Do whatever you can to foster the growth of young small companies because entrepreneurial companies, it's like a little tadpole. It's very fragile, the rates of success is very low so anything that can be done to allow it to grow a little bit and to sustain itself in the face of much larger companies is extremely important."
RB: [On large companies trying to stamp out new companies] "It's up to you to shout foul and use whatever means you can to defend yourself."
[On the advice he received when dealing with British Airways] "Sue the bastards."
[On other important lessons] "You've got to be the best in your field."