Guy Kawasaki calls it the “Art of the Start” and founding a company is clearly an art. It is an art because you are playing a very significant game, with tightly defined rules, and the penalty for breaking the rules is death (of the company that is). The problem is, no one gives you the rules. You are expected to understand a game that is neither intuitive nor obvious. In fact the game is quite complex and often based on a set of traditions that were never written down. Founders must make extremely critical business decisions every day that could literally be worth 10s of millions of dollars in 2-3 years. Although it is unfair, it is the game and if you win the game you win a lot.
So why don’t your company advisors help you navigate this game. To a certain extent they do. Your Angel investors, attorney’s, accountants, and venture capital partners all help you navigate, but they do the navigation from a certain context and biased that is not always in alignment with you as the Founder. Your attorney probably provides the most advice in these situations, but it can often be very slanted. If you go to any of the top startup law firms, these guys very much understand both the game and the ramifications of the game. But there is also a biased at play here. If you are negotiating with a top VC, you are doing one deal with this law firm, but the firm is probably doing 50-100 deals a year with the VC on the other side of the table. I think that most of these attorneys do their best to be fair, but the dynamics are clearly rocky at best.
So who is in the best position to help you? They don’t teach this stuff at Harvard, you can’t learn it by being on a Board, and people that have not founded a company can simply not understand it. The only mentors that can help you play the game and understand it from your perspective is a serial entrepreneur. The serial entrepreneur knows where the tricks and traps are, not because they super smart, but because they probably have stepped on them and seen their critical ramifications. They may not be smart enough to not experience the pain once, but they quickly put in place a strategy to not experience it again. By looking back in time against a game that has already played out, they can see how the game can be played better.
Over a series of 10 blog articles, I hope to give you some insight and perspective on how you can play this game and not get burned. Although it does not layout all of the rules, all of the tricks, and all of the pain, it puts “bumpers on the bowling alley” and tries to keep the ball in the center.
I hope this information in interesting to you and that you find valuable. I would love to hear feedback and your experiences in the comments.