Ten Lessons Learned from Starting Companies

Eliot Burdett Companies
Peak Sales Recruiting is my third start-up, with Ventrada and GlobalX being the other two. One was successful for 5 years before my partners and I decided to accept an acquisition offer (GlobalX), another was a total flame out (Ventrada) and my third is going strong (Peak).

Along my 20+ year entrepreneurial journey, I have also been a participant or close advisor to half a dozen other start-up companies. All my wins and losses have been extremely useful and I often rely on these past experiences to help me be more successful in my current business. To me, life is like one big education. Here is a list of my top lessons learned:

1. Do Something You Love – If you are in it for the money you are in for a rough ride, because you will subconsciously sabotage or hamstring your business. You will become distracted by other things and watch while your competitors eat your lunch. Loving what you do will make it difficult for anyone to keep up with you or outperform you. This is the most important rule since it makes so much of the rest fall into place.

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2. Guard Your Cash – Beyond your time, the most critical asset you have to invest is your money. Always question spending. Put off purchases to see if they are really necessary and look for the best deals when spending is necessary.

3. Get the Business Model Right – The way you structure your costs, price your offering and make profit has an enormous impact on your value to your customers and your ability to scale the business when demand grows. Get this right and it is a competitive advantage. Get it wrong and your company may never leave the launchpad.

4. Sell Aspirins not Vitamins – This is a metaphor to do with demand (not that there is anything wrong with selling vitamins). People want quick fixes. Someone with a headache will gladly part with money to buy aspirins, but if you told them vitamins may prevent them from getting headaches in the future, you may have to do a lot of convincing to make a sale. selling Avoid anything that requires a leap of faith. Always try to sell something that gives customers an immediate, obvious solution.

5. Smother the Customer – Love the customer statements always sound like motherhood, but they are true. You need to be in touch with your customer and have a sincere interest in them and their well being. There is an old adage which I have found to be true. Make your customers happy and successful and they will make you happy and successful.

6. Avoid Hiring Unless You Must – Funny advice coming from someone who owns a recruiting company. I am a big fan of sensible hiring. Adding staff means adding costs, training, management and meetings. I have found most entrepreneurs think they need help before they actually do (myself included). Like the rule on spending money, avoid it if you can by asking if all the work you are doing is really necessary and then if it is, first try automating, or outsourcing the work before hiring.

7. Hire Right – When you decide that hiring is unavoidable, make sure to hire people that care about your business, your customers and will contribute to your business. Forget credentials and degrees. Willingness to pitch in and do the work is more important.

8. Stand Out – Customers won’t magically find you on their own. You need to make them notice you. If you sell the same way everyone else does or say the same things, it will be difficult for potential customers to see you or select you. Be outrageous and be unique. Find ways to differentiate yourself.

9. Don’t Worry Be Crappy – This is a chapter in a Guy Kawasaki book and it is about rejecting perfectionism. It is better to get going engaging customers and learning than trying to concoct the perfect plan or perfect product. If you are are continuously improving, then being crappy is never an issue.

10. Bootstrap Forever – When your business grows, you will have more money and more opportunity to waste it on needless things. Boot strapping even when you don’t have to keeps your company lean and agile. It keeps you focused on the right things and perhaps most importantly, it preserves your cash.

There are so many other rules I have learned that don’t quite make it to my top ten but are close. If this was a top 20 list, I would include rules such as Hire Slow Fire Fast, Make Decisions Quickly then Make Them Right, Results Trump Work Hours, Don’t Bother with Business Plans, Be Guerrilla, It Takes Many Years to Be an Overnight Success, Avoid Investment, and Don’t be Greedy. I will do that list sometime.

  • Chad

    Don't bother with Business Plan's……..I'd like to hear this one.

  • http://www.eliotburdett.com/ Eliot Burdett

    Hey Chad. Business plans take a ton of time and effort to produce. They typically project 5 years into the future and no one can predict that far out, especially in this economy. They are usually out of date by The time hey are finished so they are often useless. The planning process, however can be very important – analyzing trends and opportunities, asking questions, setting priorities and allocating resources. I prefer shorter term plans and action lists that attack what is here and now. A 90 day horizon is enough for both tactical and strategic objectives.

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