Good Business - Lessons from Startup Founders, Coaches, and Pimps
In the Boardroom
I've been reading Founders at Work, which is a collection of interviews with startup founders about their early days. So far it's been an interesting read, and there's something particularly unexpected about the interview with Lotus founder, Mitch Kapor.
Mitch was very inexperienced in business when he got started at Personal Software (his first company) and Lotus. Not only that, be he was risk-averse and avoided conflict - two things I don't typically associate with an entrepreneur. He made a lot of mistakes as a result of his inexperience and lack of mentors. But he also just stuck to his values regardless of "the way the world works" and how dirty business can be. He tells the story of Lotus's second round of VC funding when the investors tried to take advantage of them because of their inexperience:
The investor didn't want to take any risk. It was absurd. They only do this because they can get away with it, because they have the money and you need it and "fuck you." ... I was just pissed off about this for a long time. They were supposed to be our investors, they were supposed to be on the same side, but they were highly adversarial and totally willing to take advantage of us.
Mitch almost walked out of that closing meeting but the investors backed down. He stuck to his values no matter the consequences it would have on the business, but it did work out for him and the company.
On the Court
Again and again, in the interviews with these successful startup founders (particularly the engineers among them), they were adamantly committed to sticking to their values. In My Personal Best by John Wooden, which I also just started as part of my HubSpot Fellows "Learning Leadership from the Legends" class, John Wooden also talks about sticking to your values of being the best you can be and doing right by others. He tells a story of being benched for an entire basketball game that his team was losing and the coach refusing to put him, one of the best players, into the game. There were greater team lessons to be learned and it wasn't all about winning the game.
On the Streets
As a funny coincidence, this same advice of doing good business also came up on the HBO show Hung in the season 2 premier when Ray's neurotic first-time pimp, Tanya, gets advice from a fellow pimp on how to make Ray loyal to her. What's the advice she gets? Take care of Ray when he needs it the most. Do right by Ray no matter what. And then he will be loyal, always coming to her for all his... pimping needs.
There are, of course, successful people who do not stick to altruistic values in business. But, as Mitch puts it,
The most important thing for me is, I don't want to work with someone who says, "Just help me make the business more successful." I want to work with entrepreneurs who are personally passionate, committed, and believe in what they're doing. Not all entrepreneurs are like that.
And it's the passion to make something great, not just make money, that gives entrepreneurs the drive to succeed. Succeed at making something great.