Three years ago I became a JSF mentor, and last year I took my own startup, Evermind, through the JSF program. I’ve seen JSF from both sides.
The program is tough, intentionally so, and by the time Gatto, Burcham, Whitney, and Rouse get through with you you’ll feel like you’ve been coached by Bobby Knight who used to train his players so hard that they looked forward to the game as a break from practicing.
This is a good thing and I’ll tell you a story to explain why. The story belongs to a trusted advisor of mine, who has been very successful. As I don’t have his permission to retell it, we’ll call him “Grant.”
When he was a young man pitching one of his first businesses, Grant landed a meeting with George Soros in NYC. On the day of his meeting he found the right office building and entered the elevator. As the elevator doors were about to close, another man stepped in, looked over at Grant and asked “where ya going?” Grant explained he was going to the 17th floor to pitch his business idea to George Soros. The man said “I’m George Soros — we’ve got 17 floors to go why don’t you pitch me right here?” So Grant launched into it. By the time the elevator car had reached the 17th floor, Grant was only a third of the way through his pitch. Grant rushed to finish, but the doors opened and Soros stepped off, then leaned back in to say “That’s lovely best of luck to you” and punched the “Lobby” button.
Think of Jumpstart Foundry as the tactical training site that will prepare you for your elevator pitch, or as Grant puts it, “It’s better to learn with people who shoot rubber bullets.”
16 Must Read Maxims for Entrepreneurs
Now to the advice. I offer you the following 16 maxims. Don’t fault me for lack of originality, I’m mostly passing on what I have learned from others that has worked for me.
1. Don’t burn your bridges. Former employers, coworkers, and business associates are among your best potential allies when starting a new business. Keep things in perspective and always be gracious.
2. Be patient. It may take you a couple of tries to find the right idea and pull together the right team.
3. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. And certainly don’t argue over unlaid eggs.
4. Be charitable in how you attribute motives to others. Very few people try to subvert others maliciously. Most act out of a sense of what they think is just and fair. Look at it from their perspective before you decide how to react.
5. Never send a business email that you’d be ashamed for your mother to read. Unless your mother is Ma Barker in which case you’re probably in a different line of business and none of my advice applies to you.
6. Embrace complexity. Every time you think there are only two courses of action, you’re probably ignoring five alternatives in between. Beware dichotomies and either/or logic.
7. There is as much art in soliciting and receiving advice as in giving it. Learn how to take advice.
8. Practice telling stories. Our brains are wired to understand stories. That means characters, a plot, conflict, and resolution. Develop a handful of stories, each of which has a different user of your product/service as the main character. Answer arguments with stories.
9. When you’re talking to investors who know your field, you should very quickly explain to them why your product/service is different from others. You don’t want them thinking “But what about….”
10. If you’re young, everyone knows you don’t know what you’re doing, so don’t try to convince them otherwise. Convince them instead that you will stick with it no matter what.
11. If you’re middle-age, everyone knows that you might retreat back into a cushy corporate job. Convince them that you will stick with it no matter what.
12. It’s important to argue fairly. No personal attacks. And don’t play the game my friend calls “Louder-Faster,” which is a game where in order to win an argument you try to talk louder and/or faster than the other guy.
13. Protect yourself against bad stress and anxiety. Just like a professional athlete has to avoid physical injury, as an entrepreneur you need to avoid mental distress. Eat healthy food, drink moderately, learn to live with disappointments, and don’t hold grudges.
14. Some things are worth arguing about, and some aren’t — learn the difference. If you are always ready for an argument then people will think that everything is of equal importance to you, which is to say that nothing is important to you.
15. I learned from my mother that if you’re having trouble getting someone to do something you should bug them in a very innocuous but persistent way. This is a Southern form of Chinese Water Torture and it works.
16. Make designers and engineers — naturally suspicious of each other — sit in detention hall together on a Saturday until they make out and one wears the other’s earring. (Just like in my favorite John Hughes’ film.)
Get ready to apply for 2013 – the Mayans have given permission for you to make a fresh start. JSF 2013 will be great!
Don’t miss our interview with Dave from last summer to learn more about his experiences with Jumpstart Foundry.
Photo from Flickr by: David King