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6 Must-Read Tips From Sara Blakely, Steve Case & Others

David S. Kidder, serial entrepreneur and Clickable founder, divulges the most important advice that came out of interviews he did with the world's most successful entrepreneurs.
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Next month, serial entrepreneur and Clickable founder David S. Kidder will publish "The Start-up Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest Growing Start-ups from Their Founding Entreprenuers."

In an interview with Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan, Kidder divulged his favorite excerpts from his top-entrepreneur interviews. They are published below. Click here to read Kidder's full interview with Buchanan.

Embrace Failure

 "When I was growing up, my dad would encourage my brother and me to fail. We would be sitting at the dinner table and he would ask, 'So what did you guys fail at this week?' If we didn't have something to contribute, he would be disappointed. When I did fail at something, he'd high-five me. What I didn't realize at the time was that he was completely reframing my definition of failure at a young age. To me, failure means not trying; failure isn't the outcome. If I have to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'I didn't try that because I was scared,' that is failure."  

--Sara Blakely, Founder, Spanx 

Abandon Wishful Thinking

"I find it remarkable that I can explain the reality of a situation to people and still not change their point of view. The facts are very plain and the reasoning is very clear, but they still won't agree with the conclusion. It's crazy. Rather than learn from their experiences, they choose instead to engage in wishful thinking. Perhaps it's more comforting than reality. But I think that wishful thinking is one of the most profound human failings, the major reason that people adhere so strongly to wrong ideas. This doesn't mean that you can't be optimistic. You simply have to be realistic as well."

--Elon Musk, Founder, Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla

Convince Yourself, Convince Your Team, Convince an Evangelist

"What's really important to you can be measured by what you spend your time thinking about in the shower versus what you do not get to until you're driving home from work. When you're taking notes about your idea at three in the morning, when you wake up every day and think, 'Now I can work on my startup!' That's when you know you're really committed. The next step is to recruit your team. That process is the earliest test of your idea's power. You want somebody selling your idea as enthusiastically as you are. Once that early evangelist is in place, your initial team is complete."

--Steve Blank, Founder, E.piphany, Author, "The Four Steps to the Epiphany"

Know the Facts

"A fatal mistake that some people make is either to ignore data or actually deny what the facts are presenting. It's easy to fall into that trap at a start-up because you're constantly getting barraged with imperfect information. You shouldn't let that paralyze you, but you can't turn your analytical filter off. Always take in information and make adjustments along the way. That's not the same thing as needing to know everything. You have to be comfortable making decisions with very few data points. But you should always strive to be very data-driven and know the truth. Now, you may still decide to do something with a low-probability outcome because the risks are low and the end result is so incredibly nirvana-like. But at least do the math and think it through before you leap into that situation."

--Jeff Bussgang, Founder, Open Market, Upromise, Flybridge Capital Partners

Be an Attacker, Not a Defender

"Entrepreneurship is inherently risky because you're taking paths that haven't been tested before. What people underestimate is how risky it is to operate in a 'stable' business as a defender rather than an attacker. The reason America has had such success over the past two centuries is that we have been the attacker. We need to make sure that we continue to have that urgency and passion, and that we don't become complacent and rest on our laurels."

--Steve Case, Founder AOL, Revolution

Don't Optimize a Melting Ice Cube

"Entrepreneurs often fail because they aren't willing to risk everything on a radical transformation. They aren't willing to make the harsh changes that moving in a new direction usually requires. Instead, they insist that they're just 'one big deal away' from saving their company. They are refusing to address the problem. They're not being bold. Making this kind of transformation is hard. But if you're not willing to make it, you're going to get stuck optimizing a melting ice cube. It's funny because the dynamic is what often strangles big companies, so it's tragic to see start-ups suffer the same fate."

--Kevin Efrusy, Founder IronPlanet, Corio

IMAGE: Courtesy SpanxINC and casefoundation/FLickr
Last updated: Dec 17, 2012

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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