Eight Startup Tips From Mark Zuckerberg

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and Michael Dell.

Mark Zuckerberg in the Weekender   1) Get A Mentor

"I started the site when I was 19. I didn't know much about business back then." [Tweet this quote]

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Ignorance is not bliss in business, but it does allow entrepreneurs to face the unknown with a measure of confidence. No 19-year old understands business at the level of a seasoned, serial entrepreneur. However, it is important for young entrepreneurs to be adequately self-aware to know what they do not know.

Given Facebook's numerous corporate governance mistakes during its early days, Mark would have been well served to have cultivated a mentorship with one or more savvy Advisors. These individuals would have undoubtedly helped the company avoid some of its intellectual property and employee compensation lawsuits.

   2) Modern Day Water Cooler, Neighborhood Pub And Hair Salon

"When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power." [Tweet this quote]

   3) Beginner's Luck

"A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built, … we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now…" [Tweet this quote]

By always thinking like a newcomer, you can avoid the Innovator's Dilemma, in which the market leader eventually loses a new, disruptive solution. When enhancing your value proposition, ask the same question a newcomer would ask, "What is the best way for users to interact with the new features, irrespective of the existing customer experience?"  When asked about the competition he feared most, Bill Gates is alleged to have said, "the two guys inventing away in a garage somewhere." Even if this quote is apocryphal, it remains instructive. You can beat the guys in the garage, as long as you continue to see your evolving value proposition through their eyes.

   4) Rational Exuberance

"The demands and the amount of work that it takes to put something like [Facebook] into place, it's just so much that if you weren't completely into what you were doing and you didn't think it was an important thing, then it would be irrational to spend that much time on it."

Creating and sustaining a successful startups is beyond difficult. Be smart. Develop a solution for a problem, market and/or user group about which you are passionate. If you are indifferent about your solution and its impact on your users, it will be difficult to maintain the stamina necessary to guide your startup to a well-orchestrated exit. According to Michael Dell, "Whether you've found your calling, or if you're still searching, passion should be the fire that drives your life's work."

   5) Progress Matters

"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."

I recently performed a 360-Review on two Co-Founders who were the company's CEO and CTO. We discovered that they were routinely performing a number of urgent tasks that had a relatively small impact on the overall organization. We delegated these tasks to subordinates, which allowed the Co-Founders to remove roadblocks that were otherwise hampering the company's progress.

Startup leaders should identify tasks that are impactful and can be performed relatively easily (and thus quickly). For instance, adding Facebook's status feature was not particularly urgent, nor was it relatively difficult. However, it proved to be very impactful.   

   6) Frat Brother CFOs

Bro Friends "The dynamic of managing people and being CEO in a company is a lot different than being college roommates with someone." [Tweet this quote]

After screwing over a co-worker in the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, the over-the-top Entertainment Agent Bob Sugar rationalized his unethical behavior by saying, "It's not ‘show friends.' It's show business.'" An ethically-centered version of this sentiment is applicable to startups.

Although it may be comfortable to start a company with your friends, it is a mistake, unless your friend(s) happens to be ideally suited to their role in the venture. Hang out with your friends when you are relaxing and work with the most talented people you can recruit.


   7) Keep It Stupidly Simple, Smarty

Too Many Features"The trick isn't adding stuff, it's taking away." [Tweet this quote]

The typical startup cannot afford a massive ad campaign to educate users as to its value proposition. The value of a startup's products must be obvious and easily accessed. If a young company does not balance ease-of-use and utility, it risks being usurped by a more elegant, but similarly compelling solution. In MVP², I note that when we initially released GoToMyPC, we struggled to balance the product's convenience with its overall effectiveness. We debated the merits of releasing two products, one at a lower price with fewer features, but we ultimately decided to release a single version of GoToMyPC, with a highly limited feature set.   

By opening its platform to third-party development, Facebook allowed the market to determine the winning applications, rather than trying to define them internally. Understand what you do well and focus on doing it best.

   8 ) Mark's Do Over

"If I were starting now, I would do it very differently. But I knew nothing back then... But honestly, if I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston, I think." [Tweet this quote]

Mark's move to Silicon Valley was no doubt predicated on his belief that Facebook would obtain capital and recruit top-talent more efficiently. However, he eventually realized that along with the many positive elements associated with a highly-concentrated entrepreneurial ecosystem, there are a number of less advantageous factors, some of which I describe in Three Factors Which Intoxicate Venture Capitalists.

Young entrepreneurs worldwide are realizing they can launch and scale companies in their local communities. These geographically dispersed startup ecosystems, full of "two guys inventing stuff in a garage" (or in their dorm rooms), will eventually create the next wave of high tech successful startups, just like young Mr. Zuckerberg.

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and Michael Dell.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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