Getting the chance to meet a successful entrepreneur before they make it big is an opportunity that a lot of us would kill for. The chance to have a conversation with a young Bill Gates or Warren Buffet before they made all their money – when everyone thought their ideas were crazy or that they were full of themselves – would lend a lot of credibility to the challenges and situations faced by most budding entrepreneurs today.
“Founders Discuss Success factors” is a recording of a panel hosted in 2007 which boasts of participants such as Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, Chad Hurley, cofounder and former CEO of YouTube, Elaine Wherry, cofounder of Meebo and Jeff Jordan, who has been involved in senior positions at major companies such as Ebay, Paypal, and Walt Disney among others. They talk about what helped them succeed where countless others before them had failed, giving us the chance to pick the brains of these brilliant young entrepreneurs before they had truly established the credibility they’ve now found in their billion dollar empires.
What’s most interesting about this particular panel is the fact that some of these speakers were interviewed relatively early in the founding of their now wildly successful businesses. In 2007, Facebook only had 16.25 million registered users, about half of who visited the site every day, making it the 7th most visited site in the US at the time, compared to the 1.06 Billion (yes, billion with a ‘B’) active users today. Mark Zuckerberg was then a 23 year old CEO who had started the social network website in his campus hall and led its growth and expansion to the behemoth it is today. Chad Hurley was, at the time and until 2010, the CEO of YouTube, which was sold off to Google for $1.65 Billion before it had ever made a profit. To top it off, he has a degree in Fine Arts, and was not a tech major as most would presume one of the founders of the world’s top video sharing site to be. Here is their advice:
1. Participate in existing industries but bring a unique approach to it.
The entrepreneurs acknowledge that all they’ve really done is find a way to simplify doing things that people were already doing. People were already sharing information with their friends, Facebook just made it easier and faster to do so. People already sent video links to each other; YouTube just brought all of that together in one place. They identified a need and filled it. So do the same, and simplify your business – make it easy for everyone to use and adapt into their daily lives. Show people efficiency and better ways of doing things that they have always been able to do, and people will naturally gravitate towards your service.
2. DO NOT reinvent the wheel.
It is said that you have to be arrogant to succeed as an entrepreneur. It’s this same arrogance that makes one want to start from scratch, to redo every single step even when you know you’ll only achieve an existing result. Don’t try to “invent” what already exists unless you’re sure you can do it better. It’s not only a complete waste of time, but also dramatically stunts your growth rate. Stand on the shoulders of the giants that went before you, and learn from their mistakes so you can grow through their experiences instead of your own. Build on what already exists, because it allows you to start ahead of those who came before you so you can go much further than they did.
3. A solid business structure must be built early on.
Do not take it for granted, because your business structure is your business’ proverbial roots. A strong foundation must be set, and the direction that you want to take your business determined beforehand, usually in the form of a business plan. No, these aren’t just for showing to investors. They help you create a big picture for your idea, and help keep you on track whenever you’re in need of direction. Starting early, staying focused and being resilient is more often than not the line that defines successful ventures from ideas that don’t take off.
4. Making money off of your idea:
Balancing the need to keep the service affordable with the need to keep food on your table as a founder is a hard act to pull off. Companies like YouTube, Tumblr and even Google initially had a hard time figuring out how to make any money without compromising the quality of the product they offered by flooding their UIs (User Interfaces) with ads. All the entrepreneurs chose quality over instant gratification, and chose to take smaller paychecks or none at all initially choosing rather to focus on developing and perfecting their product. Google co-founders, for instance, were resolute on keeping the search page clean devoid of ads in spite of the numerous offers they got.
5. Surround yourself with good people.
Know what’s important to you and the future of your business, and figure out ways to identify those with the same beliefs from those without the same motivations. This will save you a lot of heartache down the road; be it with employees, partners or investors because it means that you’re all working towards the same vision, not trying to split the company’s resources in half to pursue different directions.