Innovation is the backbone of entrepreneurship. To stand out in a crowd of eager start-ups clamoring for public attention, you have to be willing to break a few rules. The tech industry has changed dramatically since I broke into it 20 years ago: Why do we still hear the same recycled phrases that are as obsolete as the pager and dial-up Internet? No matter where you are in your professional journey, always challenge these pearls of conventional "wisdom." Your business will be better for it.
1. "Fake it 'til you make it." You need true confidence in your product or service to be successful. It also has to work. Faking it isn't helping anyone and is a stressful approach to running a business. For any business to come out on top, the people powering it need to be authentic. It's easy to identify people whose claims lack substance. If you can't 100% stand behind your work, nobody else should either. Be honest with yourself about the quality of your business, and if something is missing that you need to go forward, prioritize it. Two steps ahead won't matter much if you have nothing to stand on.
2. "Trust your gut." If this isn't your first go-around or you bring decades of experience to the table, you've likely got the business acumen to let your instincts drive you. But I always caution greener go-getters to prioritize experience and take their mentors' advice to heart even if they disagree. In the end, you may not follow it to the letter, but it's unwise to dismiss the insights of respected, seasoned entrepreneurs when it's offered. Arrogance and stubbornness have no place in the business world; humility and graciousness are the true virtues.
3. "Wait until the timing's right." When I started LivePerson in 1995, the timing was definitively not right. The internet was still in its infancy. Thus, connections (via dial-up) were slow, and people were wary of security and even wondered whether or not "the Net" was just a fad. This was a time before Google, and most businesses didn't even have websites yet. Betting on the World Wide Web for customer service was a bold move, but I knew we could evolve over time. If I hadn't pushed forward, LivePerson wouldn't be where we are today: with an excellent product that's evolved and gotten better over time to stay ahead of the curve.
4. "You have to spend money to make money." While money is certainly an asset, it will never beat out creative thinking, innovative strategies, and a little elbow grease. Learn the critical difference between spending money and making an investment, and don't assume throwing money at a problem will solve it. Sit down and identify the root causes and come up with the most straightforward course to resolution.
5. "A good product will sell itself." When I hear younger entrepreneurs and businesspeople say this, I immediately label them "lazy." Creating loyal customers requires careful marketing, listening and responding to feedback, and developing your product or service to fulfil the consumer's ever-evolving needs. While a high-quality product that exceeds consumer expectation is certainly easier to sell, you still need to do the work.
6. "Be the cheapest in the market." It's often thought that people will naturally flock to the least expensive offer, but much research has gone into dispelling that maxim. People will pay for quality -- and may even distrust something for its lower price tag. Plus, someone can always go cheaper. Take a page from the Uber-Lyft price war: Lyft feels compelled to match Uber's price cuts as Uber tries to drive its competitor into the ground. The difference between them? About $6 billion in funding. What might work better for Lyft is to add a value proposition customers would be willing to pay for -- like a rewards program or enhancing the customer experience -- not play this game of chicken with the market juggernaut.
7. "The customer is always right." My company has championed amazing professional relationships with some incredible customers. But we've also been in the game for 20 years and, naturally, have encountered troubled waters from time to time. This was especially true when we introduced a new (and improved) product and needed to migrate our customer base over. Not all of them were aligned with our vision and willing to join us on the next level; they were only comfortable with what they knew. So we had to part ways. Though watching them go was difficult at the time, we made the right decision in the long term. Don't be afraid to break up with a customer who doesn't share your vision. You can reinvest that energy in the customers who will drive your business forward.
8. "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." It's true that a "jack of all trades" is a master of none. If you want something done right, you have to hire the best people for the job. I've made it a policy to only bring A-players onto the LivePerson team, and I trust them to be an owner (one of our core values) regarding their areas of expertise. We have some of the best engineers, developers, designers, salespeople, and more working in -- and outside of -- our 12 offices around the world, and they make the product and company first rate. It's my job, as CEO, to lead us to success.
It's important for both budding entrepreneurs and longtime business owners to revisit and reevaluate these principles lest they get stuck in a rut. The greatest leaders and innovators constantly question the status quo and challenge conventional wisdom. It's not just out-of-the-box thinking. It's directly defying the norm.