Notes to myself

After another year of meeting many interesting people, I took the time to list some of my learnings. I usually keep some of my notes in my Google Keep, but I thought it could be useful to share some of them more publicly. These are in no way best practices or even accepted practices for all I know. At best, these are my personal mental notes based on mistakes and learnings.

Let’s kick it off:

  1. Cash is king for a starting company. Any other metric is just vanity. The only stable barometer for success is what’s on your bottom line and on your bank account. I don’t care if you have millions of users while you’re bleeding money like crazy.
  2. Accept that you’ll do many things that don’t scale in the beginning. Learn about your customers and business first, so that often means doing manual stuff. Don’t create a license management backend until you are down to sleeping four hours because you have to manually create licenses for customers. Then automate.
  3. The job of a new CEO is to get rid of the old one. It often gets messy. That’s life. Be proud this person found it worthwhile fighting to absorb your position. It means you achieved something. Anything worth fighting over is worth being proud of.
  4. If you are not having sales and distribution front and center, you will fail. Building a product is the easy part. Shipping it and getting people to pay for it, is where the magic begins, and ends. Done.
  5. Always be closing. If you’re not closing, then you’re just mucking around. Hammer the phones, email, LinkedIn and other prospecting tools. Only stop until people beg you to stop contacting them. Until you’re getting a “no”, you don’t quit. You adapt and try again, until you succeed.
  6. Learn to properly qualify your leads. Sales is part magic, and part data. A good sales person has charisma. Sure. But he also knows the product, and he knows how to qualify the leads he’s working on. If you are not in the room with the person that has the budget, authority and appetite to buy, then you’re in the wrong room.
  7. Develop a sense of urgency. There is no better time than the present time. Every second you are not calling prospects, your competitor is. Every minute you’re not busy selling, or developing, is a minute you can never recover from.
  8. Accept the fact you’ll forget things. If everything is moving so quickly, accept that you will not be able to keep up with things. That’s OK. The more important things tend to float to the top anyway.
  9. Always bet on the jockey. Never on the horse. If you invest. Primarily, invest in people. A mediocre business with a dedicated founder, might yield more success than an idiot in a bull market.
  10. You are always entitled to change your opinion. As your experience gives you more data points on a previously made assumption, you are entitled to change your opinion. Much like a scientific approach. Usually, people on the receiving end of changed opinions call this behavior “dishonest”. Don’t bother them.
  11. If you don’t have enemies, go make some. Be controversial. Be brash. Be bold. Show disdain for the status quo. Don’t temper your passion. If you like to swear, then swear. If you are angry, be furious. Don’t compromise on your opinions. Success is measured by the number of opponents you have, not by your number of friends.
  12. Until you had your first life-or-death experience, you can’t trust your team. If things go well, it’s easy to play nice. It’s only until you’re pitted against imminent failure that you’ll learn the beautiful and ugly parts of your team; and yourself.
  13. Have a minimum of knowledge about business and finance. If you can’t read your balance sheet or interpret your finances, you’re going to end up cheated or broke.
  14. Good vibes and honest talks is what builds epic founding teams. If you don’t dare telling your co-founder(s) that you want the title of CEO because you like to shine, then you’re not having honest discussions. Dare to be vulnerable.
  15. Don’t work with people that want to use consultants for everything. If you’re not willing or able to do the work yourself, you shouldn’t be in this game to begin with.
  16. Don’t work with people that are poor. If you’re joining two poor people, you’ll be the third. Make sure you only work with founders that have more or less the same level of risk appetite and financial buffer to back up that risk.
  17. Don’t work with people that are unfocused. They will take you on a rollercoaster of great ideas, but never execute on them.
  18. Call out lies. Hyperbole speech, hustling and sales precedes the truth now and then. But there is a distinct line between lying and hustling. Just don’t tolerate liars.
  19. Don’t try to be nice, try to be fair. Being nice won’t get you anywhere in business. Being fair will. Trying to do nice to everybody is the surest path of having your integrity compromised and being considered a douche in the long run anyway. If you want to be liked by many, go sell ice cream.
  20. Choose people that are smarter than you. Every time. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
  21. Choose people that want to be in the trenches. Ask for battle scars. And while you don’t always need veterans to win wars, you need willingness to accept all the consequences of hardship that come with being in the trenches.
  22. A founder is the first in and last out. You set the tone. You set the pace. You can’t expect your team to commit if you’re not bleeding yourself.
  23. Choose balance sheets over PR every time. You don’t need PR. You need clients. Journalists are just looking to score clicks. Either on your success, or on your failure. Let your balance sheet speak louder than your lofty promises.
  24. You only win the Olympics by winning a lot of local games. It’s OK to work on that long-term partnership. It’s OK to get into political lobby. It’s OK to work on an major account. As long as your primary goal is to balance this out with fast closers and cash generators.
  25. You only get rich by selling early. Hoping to get a better deal might often end up in having no deal at all. If the bid is right, just sell. Don’t let it get to your head. Selling means you get the opportunity to start something new again.
  26. Return to your hometown every quarter. Spend time at the bars and restaurants you used to spend time at. Talk to the people you haven’t seen for a long while. Escape your startup-life. Escape your ego. Look around you and realize how normal you are. Enjoy the normality of life. It’s a great balance to the mind.
  27. Be kind. This is not the same as being nice. Being kind means being understanding to someone’s situation and remaining neutral to it.
  28. Don’t work with people that believe their previous successes are repeatable. Compared to failure, there is no root-cause analysis possible for success. Some people adopt the success-fallacy, as success is not a conditional probability. Don’t believe because you were successful before, you’re new venture is going to be successful either. You only learn through mistakes. Not successes.
  29. Building a product is not the same as building technology. Building technology happens in your coding environment. Building a product happens in the real world.
  30. Hire fast, fire faster. Quickly working together is the best remedy for getting to know someone. Really. If things don’t pan out in the first three months, they will probably never pan out. Then just have a frank talk, and fire. It’s going to be better for the both of you. If you let things simmer for too long, the dish gets overcooked.
  31. There is no substitute for humbleness. There is never a reason why to feel deeply superior to others. Ever. There is no reason why you can’t forgive.
  32. Raise the bar for your business partners. If you add value to the company at 200%, then your expectation should be 200% of your business partners as well. The problem is, your partner might believe he is at 200% while in reality he’s at 50%. Don’t accept mediocrity.
  33. Be kind to people that are surviving. But don’t work with them. People that are surviving are in a different mindset, are clouded, troubled and are unable to execute as you might. Be helpful, kind and forgiving. Their faith will turn and you might end up with a mighty friend or colleague.