Startup Advice from Successful Entrepreneurs

The best advice often comes straight from the horse’s mouth – from those who have been there and done that. Below is a very good article originally published on compiling some of our favorite and most relevant startup advice and quotes from a bevy of successful entrepreneurs across several different industries.

On Getting Started

“Learn as much as you can about your industry immediately. Become an expert in that industry. Obviously, there are plenty of resources out there between your library and the Internet, but also try to find a mentor who directly answers your questions. Any information is always good information.”Daymond John – Founder / Fubu

“A common mistake I see many startup founders making is they aren’t solving a real problem. You should try to solve a real problem that people have or identify a much better way for people to do things than they’ve historically done before. That is often a good place to start…That’s why the motto of Y Combinator is: ‘Make something people want.’ If you can do that, you’re probably onto something.” Alexis Ohanian – Founder / Reddit, Hipmunk, and Breadpig

“Having first mover advantage is over-rated. MySpace was a first mover. It’s more important to have an idea BEST than have it FIRST. There is always room for disruption. Constantly better yourself to stay ahead of the game.” Jack Dorsey – Founder of Twitter and Square / Twitter

“If you really want to earn you need to be in the top 3-4 in the company. Best to be a founder. Very few people can do this. It’s a rare skill. Be realistic about your skills, background and ideas.” Mark Suster – Partner / Upfront Ventures

“Pick a good market. The idea for approaching that market may change, but find a meaty problem to solve. You can try to attack it a bunch of different ways. Don’t be too narrow.” Caterina Fake – Founder / Flickr

”You have a viable business only if your product is either better or cheaper than the alternatives. If it’s not one or the other, you might make some money at first, but it’s not a sustainable business.” Jim Koch – Founder / Samuel Adams

“Solve a real problem that creates real value in the world. Focus on the problem => solution => value => profit chain of events, and try to make a pass through this sequence sooner than later. Also, be strategic. Find a competitive advantage. At Dribbble, we stumbled into ours – we were just building a side project, but it was a site for designers, and Dan is a designer with lots of recognition and credibility. As a result, we attracted a great set of initial users who posted incredible work. Things snowballed from there.” Rich Thornett – Co-Founder / Dribble

On Building

“The joy is in the getting there. The beginning years of starting your business, the camaraderie when you’re in the pit together, are the best years of your life. So rather than being so focused on when you get big and powerful, if you can just get the juice out of that… don’t miss it.” Barbara Corcoran – Investor / Corcoran Group

“Don’t Drink Your Own Kool Aid – There is a hype curve in any company. Press, journalists, analysts, friends and family can reinforce the sense that you’re “killing it.” As Public Enemy says…Don’t Believe the Hype. The only way to build a sustainable customer is to listen to customers, partners, suppliers and employees.” Mark Suster – Founder/Investor / Upfront Ventures

“What is the simplest version of this app that can solve your problem? When you have the simplest version in mind, you build it, and put it out in the world and see what the response is. See what people are using it for, see what they’re not, and start iterating. It’s not easy, but it’s doable and that’s the really exciting thing.” Alexis Ohanian – Founder / Reddit, Hipmunk, and Breadpig

“The key aspect for entrepreneurs today is either to identify extraordinary opportunities or go very fast and build as many possible barriers of entry as they can imagine.” Ben Silbermann – Founder / Pinterest

“Never buy swag. A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts. If your people are at shows and in public, it’s okay to buy for your own employees, but if you really think people are going to wear your branded polo when they’re out and about, you are mistaken and have no idea how to spend your money.” Mark Cuban – Investor / Dallas Mavericks

On Growth

“Dribbble is what I like to call a “boot up,” or “organic startup” – a company that lives and breathes on revenue. […] For us, getting cash flowing in sooner than later was critical to give us resources to respond to the site’s rapid growth. I think we erred in letting our traffic and operational concerns outstrip our business model, where simply maintaining what we had was preventing us from advancing our product.” Rich Thornett – Co-Founder / Dribble

“What I learned from Rockefeller that’s off-the-hook important is: You need to know exactly where you stand in a business at all times. Measure everything, because everything that is measured and watched improves.” Bob Parsons – Founder / Go Daddy

“Don’t measure too many things. People often become overwhelmed with a deluge of data because they’re looking at 1,500 variables. And that can be paralyzing because you end up sitting there looking at your analytics program all day long as opposed to doing the more uncomfortable thing that you should be doing, like calling that big customer. And usually, the most uncomfortable thing to do is the one that people need to act on soonest.” Tim Ferris – Author/Entrepreneur / 4-Hour Workweek

On Hiring

“As tempting as it may be to staff your new business with friends and relatives, this is likely to be a serious mistake. If they don’t work out, asking them to leave will be very tough…One of your goals should be to find a manager who truly shares your vision, and to whom you can someday confidently hand the reins so that you can carry out the next step.” Richard Branson – Founder / Virgin

“Over time I took to telling people the following, “Join BuildOnline because you think you’ll get great experience. Join because you like the mission of what we’re doing. Join because if you do a good job we’ll help you punch above your weighclass and work in a more senior role. And if you ever feel that in the year ahead of you you don’t think that you’ll increase the value of your resume and you’re not having fun then go. Join because we pay well but not amazing. Stock options are the icing on the cake. They’ll never make you rich. Don’t join for the options.” Mark Suster Founder/Investor / Upfront Ventures

On the Entrepreneurial Grind

“Something worth doing might take a while, so really flesh out the potential of the business and be honest about whether it’s worth doing. If it’s not a $100 million company in five years, maybe it’ll take 10 or 15 years. If you’re doing something that has a universal, timeless need, then you need to think of the company in a timeless way.” Scott Heiferman – Founder / Meetup

“It’s hard. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There’ll be times when it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Meanwhile, everyone else around you is getting better and happier and richer. You’ll feel like the only one who hasn’t figured it out yet. You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel, and saying “f* all this!” that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: when things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.” Ben Chestnut – Founder / Mail Chimp

“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.” Mark Zuckerberg – Founder / Facebook

Miscellaneous Startup Advice

“The desire to get press when a site/product goes live is flawed. ‘News’ is relative to when it is announced, not when it happened. Wait for it…” “To focus more on something you must focus less on something.” “Time sorts most things out.” Scott Belsky – Co-Founder / BeHance

“Don’t be afraid to fail. My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying.” Sara Blakely – Founder / Spanx

“You need space to try things and create. It takes a long time to recalibrate if you let people pull at you all the time. A lot of stress comes from reacting to stuff. You have to keep a certain guard [up], if you’re a creative person.” Pete Cashmore – Founder / Mashable

“Be true to yourself. If you follow that principle, a lot of decisions are actually pretty easy.” Tony Hsieh – Founder / Zappos

“Learn public speaking. Of all the skills that an entrepreneur can have, I think the ability to convey an idea or opportunity, with confidence, eloquence and passion is the most universally useful skill. Whether you’re pitching a group of investors, rallying your employees, selling a customer, recruiting talent, addressing customers, or doing a press tour, the ability to deliver a great talk is absolutely invaluable. And it is perhaps THE most under-recognized and under-nurtured skill.”Tim Westergren – Founder / Pandora

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