Jeff Bezos was an investment banker in New York. He quit his job and drove cross-country to Seattle to start an online business selling books on the Internet. There were giants in the industry like Barnes and Noble, which had been around since 1886, and it was not immediately obvious whether anyone would buy books on the Internet. Yet he followed his urge. Many of us wish to start something new. The joy of creating – taking what is but an idea and transforming it into something that you can touch and feel is emotionally rewarding. On the whole one has to start with a good idea and do a sanity check before you embark on your venture.
Talent is Key
Once you have a good idea in place, it is your ability to attract exceptional talent to believe in your idea and “give up” what ever it is they are doing to join you in your endeavor that differentiates success from failure. There are many things that can attract talent – compensation, your idea, your own personal reputation or track record, the sector or industry that you are trying to disrupt. One of the things that oftentimes gets neglected is the kind of culture your company offers. Great companies get this, others don’t.
Culture is the distinct way in which people view, experience and engage with each other in an organization. Every organization has its own micro culture by design or by default. The founding team has a disproportional impact on the kind of culture that is created. Their beliefs, values and experiences act as a filter to the people they attract and quickly gets imbibed by anyone who joins the company. The culture at Apple, Zappos, Google and Amazon, all companies known to have great but distinct cultures has stemmed from the founding team. Once the basic culture is set, the people who join exhibit behavior traits that support this culture. So we are talking about an iterative process of the founding team setting a framework for what they are seeking in people and people joining who exhibit specific character traits that support this culture. If you are an entrepreneur or a talented individual looking to join a young company, it is vital you understand both. Companies characterize these behavior traits in different ways. One of the most inspirational coaches in basketball history was John Wooden who created a pyramid of characteristics or behavior traits that he would look for when hiring a team player. The book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what to look for while building a successful team. By the way, Wooden’s team won 10 NCAA championships in a twelve-year period, seven in a row. His team won, 88 consecutive games and he was named national coach of the year six times. This was someone who knew what he was talking about. Inspired by him, I have created a short list of characteristics to look for in people.
Passion this is something that can’t be emphasized enough. Really there is nothing in life without passion. If you don’t wake up every morning wanting to do what you do, you will never be good at it. The only thing that can drive you to get things done every single day is passion. Look for passionate people and work with people who are passionate about what they do; they will take your idea to reality.
Entrepreneurial when Buddha said life is difficult he was not joking. When you are starting a company, everything is stacked against you and there really is no reason you should succeed and any number of people willing to sit and tell you why you will fail. The ability to hack your way through the dense forest and believe that there is a stream with fresh water somewhere in the distance, with limited or no resources at your disposal is what makes you entrepreneurial. It is important to understand that there is a difference between being business minded and entrepreneurial. A sound business mind can understand or strike a good deal. An entrepreneur believes, when there is no sound reason to believe, and gets others fired up to believe with them.
Accountable because starting a company is a responsibility. You will make people “give up” what they are doing. You will raise resources from friends, family and professionals. You will soon acquire customers who will rely on you to deliver what you promise. There is no one to tell you what to do, and you better get things done or the customer will walk out on you. Remember you are fragile, not your customer. The ability to take responsibility and get things done without excuses makes a team stand out.
Realistic but Resolute is a personal favorite of mine borrowed from the book Good to Great. It is the ability to always believe in a positive outcome and yet at the same time have the ability to confront your current reality with blinding clarity. It is the ability to understand where you are and the obstacles to getting to where you want to go without getting disheartened that you won’t get there at all. Most of us can do one or the other – we can either be optimistic or realistic. Realistic but Resolute requires the ability to balance both.
Live your Life is the ability to have fun, let your hair down and laugh at life no matter what happens. It is the ability to remain calm and focused no matter what. Being able to remain positive inspires people around you and lifts the mood of the team when things get rough, which they inevitably will. At the end of the day, great things get created because someone was having fun doing it.
By the way, we are always looking for good talent so if you believe you exhibit these traits, don’t hesitate to reach out.