After working in eight different start-up companies over a number of years, I reflected on the key factors that determined the successes and failures of each venture. I narrowed these into three broad but insightful categories, by order of importance:
Life is all about timing – when you were born, the timing of your life experiences, the current events of your time. For example, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would not have been able to achieve their same feats had they been born 20 or even 10 years prior.
In company building, I witnessed how the advent of personal computing profoundly impacted the success of ARIS Corporation, a company founded by my brother, Paul Song. ARIS rode the rising tide of organizations migrating from mainframe computing to desktop computing (client server/ RDBS) into an eventual IPO on NASDAQ in 1997. That was fortunate timing.
Today the disruptions within the business environment are monumental. In particular, the mass collections of data offer tremendous opportunities for those entities capable of creating business-relevant, actionable insights and foresights. TenPoint7, my newest startup, was created to take advantage of this long-term opportunity in the marketplace.
I’d rather bet on a team of very capable and compatible people with a mediocre business plan than an inexperienced group with an outstanding business plan. Smart people working together, solving problems, leveraging each other’s strengths, can do amazing things to overcome obstacles.
Team dynamics are critical to success. When forming TenPoint7, I was very purposeful in recruiting my partners. Pat Roche and I had worked together on three prior startups. We already knew that our strengths and weaknesses, as well as our approach to company-building and team-building, would be complementary. Shane Rai then came into the team with a different set of skills but one that fit our long-term vision.
Working with intelligent, motivated people is so gratifying. Having the right people is certainly a key ingredient to a startup’s eventual success.
No matter how great the value proposition, you must be able to tell your story in a compelling manner. Eventually, you will need to tell a simple, yet convincing story to potential employees, clients, partners and investors.
Some people believe that either you are born a great story teller or not. However, I’ve seen some socially awkward, shy entrepreneurs tell great stories with passion, intelligence and practice. It’s about understanding the relevancy of your story to the audience, and then practicing over and over. It’s about hard work of anticipating objections and being prepared. It’s about listening to feedback but being true to your core vision.
I sold my last two companies largely due to effective story telling. This is not to say that these companies didn’t have value, they did. However, we were able to differentiate from other competitors with better story telling. We studied hard to understand what these acquiring companies needed and highlighted those most relevant parts of our business for them. Sound simple? Well, you might be surprised at how many startups (or even mature companies) will not work hard enough on being better at telling their stories.