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Best Advice I Ever Got: John Harthorne

The co-founder and CEO of MassChallenge has heard his best pieces of advice repeated over and over again. John Harthorne shares how great minds--and mentors--think alike.

John Harthorne, the co-founder and CEO of MassChallenge.

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Advice is crucial to entrepreneurial success—it keeps businesses flexible and entrepreneurs humble. Throughout my career, I've made sure to stay open to advice, even (and especially) after tasting success. Earlier this year, I heard an excellent keynote delivered by Dharmesh Shah, the founder and chief technology officer of Hubspot. He rearticulated some great advice for entrepreneurs that reminded me of similar insights I've received from my own mentors along the way. The following is a combination of my own collection of advice and some of what Dharmesh told a crowd back in March.

  1. Don't fall in love with your plan or product. Instead, do fall in love with the problem you're solving and the people you're impacting. As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to elope with your business plan. If you run off in stealth mode and marry your approach because you're simply too worried that someone will steal your idea, you'll end up missing out on vital feedback or a connection that could make or break your startup. Seek out advice and mentorship early, listen, and then adjust your plan and product to better address your customers and the problem your product aims to solve. As Dharmesh said, "It's not about making the best camera. It's about making the next generation of photographers."

  2. Your goal is not to beat the competitors, but to make an impact. It's easy to forget that entrepreneurship is not an Olympic event—if you beat everyone else in your field, your company does not necessarily win. The companies that do win, however, are companies that make the biggest impact. It's possible that you've joined a dying field and no one is turning a profit—not even the kingpin of the industry—because no one is effectively addressing a specific problem anymore. On the other hand, your company might be grouped into an industry where all the top organizations are succeeding because they've found ways to solve slightly different problems under the same umbrella. Therefore, go for the gold by thinking bigger, rather than focusing on conquering and dominating the competition. It turns out that launching a small company with limited reach is as risky as launching a giant with massive impact. Tim O'Reilly wrote, "Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried." Remembering the potential impact of your project will keep you working through the night, which is what it takes to succeed.

  3. Nobody ever regrets taking the leap. It's never too early. It's never too late. Though I do think it's a good idea to create some sort of safety net as a backup plan—I paid off some student loans before diving in completely—you must be fully committed to your own startup. No one will take a risk on you if you don't take that risk on yourself. Quit your day job and start living and breathing your startup. It's scary to take risks, but the leap—in fact, many leaps—is what it takes to inspire people to join your team, invest in your idea, and help you launch your company.

John Harthorne is the co-Founder and CEO of MassChallenge, the largest-ever start-up accelerator, and the first to help high-impact early-stage entrepreneurs succeed without taking any equity. @MassChallenge

Last updated: May 4, 2012




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