What are the most important things you learned when starting your own business? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
- One prime directive at a time
- Sell, then design
- Slope over y-intercept
One prime directive at a time - Businesses are complex systems because any decently large number of people working together is a complex system, and businesses are just people working together towards a shared goal. I've found that such complex systems can rarely achieve more than a single shared goal at a time. This single goal has to be so clearly defined and communicated across the entire business, that if you went to any single team member and asked them for the prime directive, you'd hear the same thing from every part of the company.
During my time working with founders as an investor at Kleiner Perkins, I observed that the best startups always had a clear prime directive at any given moment in time. Unlike the prime directive from Star Trek however, which never changes, a business' prime directives can change, and in fact, need to change to reflect the single most important goal across the company as the business grows. But at any time, having only a singular prime directive creates a level of alignment and focus that a complex system like a startup needs, existentially, to succeed.
2. Sell, then design - Bing Gordon has a quote I love - "Once you've tried to sell your product, you'll never design it the same again." In technology startups, and especially in consumer tech, there's this popular wisdom that designing a valuable product is the single most important thing, and everything else comes second - "Once we arrive at the right product, it'll sell like crazy!" I think in reality, it can be more useful to ask "Assuming we have the most amazing product in this this space, how are we going to get it in front of the first 1M, 5M and 10M users (or whatever number is important to build a large standalone business)?" Just answering that question forces you to design the right product, and think through distribution at the design stage.
3. Slope over y-intercept - This one actually came to me from Prof. John Ousterhout at Stanford, and I think applies to both academia and business - the basic takeaway is that someone less experienced who's learning much faster than an industry veteran can often quickly catch up and surpass the latter. When we're looking for team members at Ubiquity6, I constantly use this lesson to double check a decision where a candidate is being passed on for not being experienced enough, if there's clear evidence that they've got a steeper slope than a candidate with a higher Y-intercept.
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