Standing along Pine Street in St. Louis, watching a pop-up bike lane in action, I struck up a conversation with a 64-year-old MetroBus...
When I was in the “corporate” world, I loved hearing individuals, managers, and (my personal favorite) the over-caffeinated coworker quickly climbing the success ladder talk about the most recent leadership, motivational, or, as one of my favorite sales managers used to call them, “how-to guide trying to duplicate someone else’s success” book. That same manager had a very simple strategy to success: Don’t expect anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do, and don’t allow anyone to do less than what you were doing.
Sadly, in today’s world, too many people seem to look for the “how-to guide” or rely heavily on what they were taught in school instead of finding their own road and building on their own originality. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “Cocktail,” when the young apprentice, Brian (Tom Cruise), tells the much older, experienced barkeep, Doug (Bryan Brown), that he wants to leave college:
Brian: “Not a damn thing any one of those professors says makes a
difference on the street.”
Doug: “If you know that, you’re ready to graduate.”
Don’t get me wrong — I see a great value in a college education and do believe that it is important to develop knowledge, especially through reading. However, I am also a very strong believer that if you are looking to start a business or trying to create something new, the path to success will not be in a book about how someone else created something, or from a professor talking about theories and practices.
Over the past year, my team and I have worn many different types of hats, have adjusted to filling numerous positions, and have stepped into many new roles where we had little or no experience. One of the first things that founders, startup employees, and outside vendors have to come to terms with in the startup world is that no day is ever the same: there is no such thing as a dedicated job, and whether you like it or not, you will have to step into new roles that might be outside your comfort zone.
Recently, I had the privilege to add the role of advisor to my resume. Whether it’s the handful of startups that I advise or simply a random founder who feels the need to pitch me their idea, I can almost guarantee you that one of their questions will be, “Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I can read and or do to make sure my idea takes off?” Unfortunately, I have to break it to them that there is no how-to guide on building a startup. No matter what you read or hear, no two startup roads are ever the same.
The one thing that I have learned over the past year and a half is that instead of focusing on finding the success guide or easy road, focus on building the infrastructure of your startup around your team’s originality and creativity. Your team is the foundation of your startup and will more than likely determine your success and failure on a daily basis.
So many founders forget to focus and build their teams. It’s easy to get distracted on the day-to-day expectations and processes, and owners sometimes forget that these are the people who will be standing next to them when the rough days roll in — when they need help with the 20-hour days, when they are working 20 days straight without a day off — and more importantly, these team members are the ones that will be there with you when you succeed.
So, for all the entrepreneurs and startup founders, I encourage you to find the best team, best advisors, and best mentors, and most importantly, surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and share your passion. Vendors will take advantage of you. Customers will come and go. Many people will criticize you, and there will always be a book or someone willing to tell you what you should be doing differently. But, if you focus on what makes you original and you have the right people around you, then you’ll always have a strong foundation to continue building and a team that will sacrifice to constantly move you forward.
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs