What a big-company guy learned from the morning's speakers at Y Combinator Startup School
You can watch live at http://startupschool.org/watch.html
-- more interesting sessions are happening all day. The photo is of Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, speaking at Startup School.
One reason I like listening to Entrepreneurs is because I learn stuff that I can use for my own work at Rackspace Hosting, which is now a fairly big company, 5,000 employees, hundreds of thousands of customers, public, and all that.
Dan Siroker, CEO of Optimizely said that having happy customers is the best sales tool. Far better than anything else you can do. Totally resonates with me. When I talk with my boss,@Rob La Gesse, about what we will do at SXSW, I only want people to see our customers who are doing amazing things.
Phil Libin CEO of Evernote told us how important it is to do something epic that you will be happy working on forever. He recommended building things for yourself. This is extraordinarily difficult to do at big companies. Why is it so difficult? Well, think about asking for a million dollar investment to build something for yourself. But it can be done. I got Rackspace to sponsor our book and I was largely writing that to explore a series of patterns I was seeing.
Ron Conway, famous investor. Invest in great people, he told a story about how Evan Williams felt bad about losing his investors' money. "What a great person," he said. Totally agree. The thing that destroys companies is hiring assholes. Looking for interesting people who are also nice is key at a big company. So many big companies don't do this. I remember talking with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, about why this happens. He said that many people hire pedigrees.
He also said that growth gets him excited about things that he doesn't "get." Lesson, measure and watch the growth of things and pour gas on things that get growth. (He didn't get Twitter at first even though he was the first investor but he got the growth and knew it was important because of that).
He also said that people who iterate until they get growth are unsung heroes. Yes, that's a good lesson for big company folks. If something isn't working, keep trying. It took 1,000 days for AirBNB to start working.
As soon as you have a commitment for a big business event, like funding, sale, immediately follow up with an email confirming that commitment. "Hi Joe, thanks so much for agreeing to buy 1,000 widgets at $20 each, our sales team will contact you to finish the deal." Yup, that's a great way to follow up a meeting, etc where you got a commitment. It's also a great way to follow up with people who you are delegating tasks to as well.
"Are you a team builder, are you a leader?" Ron Conway asked. This one made me gulp. Nope, I'm not a team builder but those who win inside big companies (and small) are exactly those people who work at building teams, making decisions fast which unblocks those people and keeps them making forward progress. It's something I'm working on.
Recognize your deficiencies and hire around them says Ron Conway again. I think this is great advice that our chairman, Graham Weston, would agree with. He uses strengths finder to identify people's strengths and if something is missing on a team he hires for that.
Anyway, great stuff for both startups and big company employees this morning. Can't wait to see what I learn in the afternoon.