April 4, 2014

What I Wish I Knew...

Business Insider just did a neat bit on "25 Entrepreneurs Reveal What They Wished They Knew Before Their First Startup". This is well worth the read. Check it out now, and then come back to finish the rest of this post...

OK, now let's consider some of the things I wish I knew before I did my first startup, and the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc. It seems there's always more to learn!

If I look back to my last big startup, Landmark National Bank, a collaborative effort with 14 other really excellent business people, the big thing I wish I knew was to stay the hell out of banking! What a miserable business, so many government regulations that bankers are afraid of their shadows and more concerned about their jobs than doing anything truly excellent. Due to some luck and some foresight, I got out without a loss before the big collapse of the financial system, and before the bank was forced to merge into another bank, who was then merged into another. Depositors were fully insured, but today there is no trace of the bank's existence, nor of the investors' money.

But most readers of this post are not going to be entering the banking business, so how about my previous big and successful software startup, TeleMagic, the first CRM product for the PC. I am frequently accused of being the "Father of CRM" or some such title, because I dreamed up, and programmed what would soon have hundreds of competitors in the "contact management" category, then "Customer Relationship Management". At first I had zero competitors, but that didn't last long as it was one of those products that seems so obvious when you look back on it, kind of like the wheel.

Here's what I wish I knew before the TeleMagic adventure:

1. Yoga! The life of a founder/CEO is just about the most stressful thing a person can do, so you need a method to turn off the madness and find peace and quiet, and perspective. Yoga is extraordinarily effective at this. It is great exercise, although it doesn't look like it when you watch it. Yoga is breathing and stretching and Focus. Focus is a key element in any startup. The stress can be a killer, and it was the final straw that lead me to sell the company. Although it was a very rewarding exit, if I could have handled the stress better, I could have stayed around longer and built an ever bigger, more rewarding business on the back of the Internet, which came around only a couple of years later!

2. Board of Advisors. Trying to be the only person with the answers is stupid. There will always be people who have more experience (even though this was about my 6th startup), and a clearer perspective, and who can ask smart questions, provide contacts, etc. One of the best things about enlisting the help of a Board of Advisors is that you get to meet on a regular basis (monthly) and address the key issues of the business and formulate plans for dealing with them. Without a Board of Advisors, the founder/CEO finds it all too easy to be distracted by the "Tyranny of the Idea du Jour" and he/she also has the power to Procrastinate for way too long on important issues. The regular meetings with your Board will serve as a management metronome and add great power beyond what you would expect. This power is often referred to as the "Mastermind Principle" as first discussed in the book "Law of Success" by Napoleon Hill. I finally put together a Board of Advisors only in my final (7th) year of the TeleMagic adventure, and the Board was assembled only for the purpose of positioning the company for sale. It worked perfectly and I feel certain that the sale would not have happened, or happened as well, without their help and perspective.

3. A mentor. Completely different than a Board of Advisors, a mentor is the ultimate resource for a founder/CEO. I never had one during my many startups, and always wish I did. It was a lonely, and highly stressful adventure, and when I finally got on the other side of startups, I resolved to be that mentor to help others going down that path.

There were many other lessons, of course, but these are the ones that come first to mind. Stay tuned for more. That's what this blog is all about...

Again, read the story that started this post: