Zero to IPO

with George Northup

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How the best entrepreneurs do work

George Northup

CEO, Startup Whisperer, Lacrosse Coach

Lessons Learned

Remember that with each round you will change the dynamics of your company.

It takes a lot of courage to be an entrepreneur. There will be a lot of people second guessing you.

The best entrepreneurs can recognize their weaknesses and build a team to fill the gaps.


Lesson: Zero to IPO with George Northup

Step #9 Wisdoms: How the best entrepreneurs do work

In terms of knowing what the right things to work on are, I always think back to the big theme of the company. What's the market problem that we're solving? Are these activities efficiently solving the problem, building the product? Separately, are we getting to market in the right way, using the money and our resources the right way? But I think all goes back to the theme of, what's the problem we're solving? Does the product do that, or does the platform do that? And then, are we burying onto the marketplace with the right resources and the right strategy?

And it's very easy to get bogged down in any of these areas, and so I think sometimes you'll see a company where the CEO, whether it be founder or professional CEO, let’s say they have a big background in one thing. There are two versions of this. One is a technology CEO, he will more likely go deep and spend a lot of time pouring over the architecture and what's cool that's coming around the corner, and there's a risk that they lose sight of the overall market and what they're doing to get there, and maybe ignore the sales and business dev and things like that.

Conversely, you can see a CEO from a sales background, and they might bring out a big sales force or a big marketing spend or a huge B2B partnership channel or something like that, and they may be less worried about what the product is. They just want to build up the marketing side. I think it is very easy to get distracted on the different parts, and one has to keep going back to the overview and saying, "What's our strategy, and what are we trying to do?" and trying to get balance between all of those things.

There are so many lessons that I've learned about entrepreneurship over the years, and I think that if I were to list out some of the main things that I've learned I think that number one is you must keep an eye and focus on what the problem you're solving is or what the market need is that you're providing. So I think that's a central theme to everything you're doing.

I think the other thing is building the team and acquiring the talent to build towards solving that problem, and that would be in terms of getting the right technology people, the right marketing, sales, business dev, product, and finance people. So building that team that meet your technical requirements, but also the cultural requirements as well.

I think this is something that is very hard to do, but I think every entrepreneur needs to be very capital efficient. It's so hard to raise money, and the other thing is that every time an entrepreneur raises capital and brings in a new tier of investors, it continues to change the dynamic of the company and the governance and things like this. In essence the entrepreneur loses more control every time they raise money, and that may or may not be a bad thing for the overall success of the entity. One of my biggest pieces of advice to entrepreneurs is that you should try to be as self-sufficient as possible with capital until you have to go out and raise it and at some point go out there and do this.

I think the last thing is that there are so many hard decisions for an entrepreneur to make, and so I think my biggest lesson is that it takes a lot of courage to be an entrepreneur, because especially when you're the founder, everyone's second guessing you every minute of the way, and they're poking you in the eye no matter where you go. So I think it takes conviction and courage to make decisions on a daily basis.

I think my last comment is that the best and most successful entrepreneurs that I've seen over the years, now there are some people who have been very, very luck and smart and it's worked out great, but there's a core of entrepreneurs that somehow or another have been very successful and done it in a very sustaining and repeated way. One of the characteristics are that these people recognize their strongest skillsets and they find people to build around them to fill those areas that they're not skilled in. So they're able to build to create the set of skills that's needed to run a company, as opposed to being blind to what their limitations are and saying, "I can do all this other stuff."

I think the other thing about the most successful entrepreneurs is they have the ability to critically process feedback. What I mean about that is that they're able to talk to people, advisors, board members, or their colleagues, and they'll get feedback about issues. They'll be able to process that and say, "I don't agree with it for the following reasons, but maybe I should make this change here," or they might say, "I think you're right, and I'm going to try this differently." And so I do see some inaudible 00:04:56 entrepreneurs who for whatever reason have a blind spot, and are unable to process or listen to information at all.

So I think the best entrepreneurs tend to be good listeners and can process information, and also they recognize what they are good at and what they're not good at and they surround themselves with good people.

I took over Memeo in 2010, and the company had originally been in local backup and for any number of reasons had stalled, and we made the decision to go into online file sharing, which kind of built on the capabilities of the architecture of the company. We did it when Dropbox and had huge mindshare, and they continue to have huge mindshare, so it was difficult because we had limited resources and two giant gorillas in the space already.

What we did was said, "Okay, is doing enterprise and Dropbox is doing consumer," and so we saw that for a limited time period there would be an opening in the middle that we defined as the SMB space. So we were able to evolve where we went from this local backup into online file sharing, and in order to avoid the giants we went into the middle over time and were able to find an exit.

The other thing that I would mention is that, it's kind of funny, but to pay our bills we built this platform for Sony called "PlayMemories Online", which was a platform where one could share photos from Sony devices, cameras, and things like that through the Internet. And that kind of paid the bills while we then transitioned to this new business, but it's analogous on a company level to where if you have friends who are starting a company but are consulting on the side to pay the bills and it was kind of like that. I feel lucky that we exited in the springtime because I do think that this online file-sharing continues to be very, very competitive, and it's being more pronounced because of the proclivity of Amazon and Microsoft and Apple and everybody to just drop the prices, and I think it's going to get tougher and tougher as it goes on.

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