Bill Gross has learned a lot from his succesful business ventures. He’s also learned a lot from his failures. As shown in one of his slides above, he thinks that timing is one of the most important considerations for a successful business. At this years Hackaday Superconference on November 2nd, Gross, founder of Idealab and startup extraordinaire, gave an impressive keynote recounting this and other findings throughout his history in business and entrepreneurship.
He started his first venture at 12 and didn’t look back — going from selling candy at his middle school to creating a software company that was eventually acquired by Lotus. He was one of the first to pioneer startup incubators (which is what he’s most famous for) and has created and helped start a host of succesful (and unsuccessful) companies.
His talk was full of classic tidbits like: the right structure unlocks human potential. If people at the company have significant equity at stake, they act and think like an owner. It’s old wisdom, but it’s a good reminder.
Another simple but powerful idea he put forward was “find a way to outsource the mechanics of running your business.” At his software company, he said he spent 20% of his time working on the products, and 80% on business logistics like rent, marketing, I.T. etc. At minimum, your business success is reliant on the success your product, and the more time you spend making it better, the more succesful you’ll be. These other ‘mechanics’ are essential, but there is always an opportunity cost for the product when you’re putting time, effort and energy into them.
The crux of this talk centered around a list he put forward, which were seven things he wish he had known when he started his career.
- Timing is nearly everything. Watch his TED talk for a good summary of this idea.You can be a little early, or a little late, but without good timing, the market may not be able to accommodate your ideas and product. Netflix wouldn’t be viable if broadband internet wasn’t widespread.
- Find the contrarian idea that’s true. Ideas that make a business succesful are often novel or radical — it may be controversial, but if it’s true you’ll have a corner on the market. Open source hardware, anyone?
- Don’t be dilution sensitive. If you need money, take the money, even at the cost of equity. Dilution means you have less to gain from an acquisition, but half of $0 will always be $0. Don’t starve your business of oxygen for the hopes of a big payday.
- It’s all about product market fit. You can’t rely solely on marketing and pushing a product. You need people to want your product. Make sure you’re communicating with your customers, listening and responding to their feedback.
- Persistence. There will be dark times. There almost always is. Power through.
- Build a complimentary team. There are a variety of personality types. Make sure you have a varied group that has different skills and talents.
- The best entrepreneurs are good story tellers. As a leader of a company, you are constantly marketing open jobs, value to investors, and motivating the current team. You need a story that makes your business and your vision feel inevitable. People will gravitate to that.
The whole video is really worth watching — there’s a lot there.