To: Past Self
From: Future Self
Subject: If I knew then what I know now
Hey, it’s your older and wiser self. Somehow or other, despite all your screw ups, you made it! You’re done. You’ve achieved your dream of starting, building, and leading a company from scratch.
I’ll tell you this. It would have been so much easier if you had the mindset you have now. You could have saved yourself a lot of pain and angst.
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So here are the top 11 lessons I wish I learned from my future self about having the proper mindset for starting a company. You’ll want to learn them too.
Mindset Lesson #1: You need to be able to take a punch.
“You’re going to have to learn to take a punch,” my Dad said to me. I was just starting my journey as a startup CEO, and my Dad was giving me his advice based on his own experience as a startup CEO.
My Dad’s advice about the mindset you need to have as a startup CEO proved to be quite sage. I got knocked to the ground many times during my journey. But I got up each and every time. That’s the first lesson you need to learn to have the proper mindset of a startup CEO. And part of taking a punch is learning…
Mindset Lesson #2: You should control the story and admit your mistakes.
“He’s a first time CEO, he’s going to make tons of mistakes,” Gary said. Gary was talking about the CEO of a company that the VC firm I worked at was considering investing in.
Who knows how many mistakes you will make, but you will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s your mindset when you make mistakes that’s important.
Your mindset should be to just admit your mistakes. When you tell your investors, your employees, and your customers that you’ve made a mistake (and by you I mean you and your company. I’ll get back to this in Lesson #9), you build trust.
You will appear open, not defensive by admitting your mistakes. Now you can control the story instead of the story controlling you. Limiting your mistakes means learning…
Mindset Lesson #3: You shouldn’t be in such a hurry.
You might be saying something like, “I only have a nine month window to get my product to market.” Here’s what I say to you:
Slow down. Slow down.
The reality is you’re cooked if you really do only have a nine month window to get your product to market. That’s just too tight.
I’m not saying, you shouldn’t have a sense of urgency. You should have a sense of urgency.
I am just saying that your mindset should be slow down when it comes to making big decisions like adding cofounders. Slow down when you’re in such a rush to raise money.
You’ll still be going at warp speed, but taking a little bit of time to reflect and make sure you’re making the right decision, especially about cofounders and money, will serve you well. Another way to limit mistakes is learning…
Mindset Lesson #4: You want to have a beginners mindset.
One of my favorite books of all time is “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” by Shunryu Suzuki, The book is about the proper mindset for meditation, but that beginners’s mindset of being open and non judgmental proves to be pretty useful as a startup CEO too. Here’s why.
You have a choice of thinking you know everything, or being open to the possibility that someone else might have a better idea than you do. You multiply your odds of success with openness, and you reduce your odds of success when you’re myopic. This leads directly to…
Mindset Lesson #5: You never should be afraid to hire someone smarter than you…but you also have to listen to what they have to say.
“Bring us up to your level,” A CEO once said to me when he was recruiting me to join his company. This was a good sign that the CEO was truly interested in improving his company.
However “Bob”, the CEO, wasn’t interested in what I had to say. Bob believed that he was smarter and knew better than everyone else. Eventually this cost Bob his company.
Your success is going to rest on your ability to recruit, build, and motivate a great team of like minded teammates to your company. You’ll severely limit your chances of success if you can’t recruit a great team. On the other hand…
Mindset Lesson #6: You should never be afraid to say no.
Just because you’ve built a great team doesn’t mean that they will always do the right thing. Your great team still wants guidance, and your great team will make mistakes too.
For example, two of my cofounders pushed me to buy a very expensive system we clearly didn’t need. “Randy” even threatened to quit if I didn’t buy the system.
I did what you will have to do when you’re tested. I said no. Did Randy quit? Of course not. This leads to…
Mindset Lesson #7: You should take the time to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
I learned this lesson from the late Jack Gifford, the founding CEO of Maxim Integrated Products. Jack was trying to teach me how to improve my effectivity as a young executive, so he told me to take time explaining what I was doing and why I was doing it.
I didn’t take Gifford’s advice immediately, and I ended up getting in more fights than I needed to. But as I matured and later started my own company, I saw the wisdom in his advice.
You may not convince everyone that you are right (you never will), but you will earn your team’s respect, and that’s just as important. The companion to this mindset less is…
Mindset Lesson #8: You should be transparent; especially with your team.
This mindset lesson runs counter to your paranoia that someone is going to steal your idea and ruin you. That’s not likely to happen.
Yes, there certainly is the risk that some information will slip out, but the rewards of transparency with your team far outweigh the risks of transparency with your team.
You build trust when you’re open with your team, especially when you share your mistakes as I pointed out in lesson #2. Don’t worry about your team quitting because you’ve shared bad news. If you’ve got the right team around you, they will rally and support the company instead. Your transparency helps with…
Mindset Lesson #9: You should hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone in your company.
You’re setting the standard for everyone else in the company. If you are open and transparent about your mistakes, then your team will likely be more open and transparent too. This leads directly to…
Mindset Lesson #10: You should be prepared to give your team all the credit, and you will take all the blame.
Humility is a wonderful thing.
Your team will run through walls for you when they see you have their backs. That’s why you should take all blame for everything that goes wrong.
After all, you are the CEO, so everything that goes wrong IS your fault. So own your company’s mistakes. Embrace your company’s mistakes. Just keep learning from your mistakes.
Oh, and don’t worry about giving the credit to your team for everything that goes right. They’ll be motivated beyond belief, and you’ll get the credit too because you’re the CEO. Then finally, most importantly…
Mindset Lesson #11: You should have fun.
Yes you have a serious job ahead of you, but you should be having the time of your life. After all, you are the founder and CEO of a startup!
Never forget that!
I hope this helps,
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