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31 business lessons from 3 successful entrepreneurs

Curious to know how successful entrepreneurs think, what is their mindset and what insights they are sharing?

Keep reading to get into the mind of Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, Bolt CEO Ryan Breslow and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham.

JASON FRIED is the co-founder & CEO of Basecamp, a successful project management & team communication platform. Basecamp is currently valued at $100 billion with a user base of 16 million people worldwide.
Jason is the author of business bestsellers It doesn’t have to be crazy at work, Rework and Remote.

Here are his latest business insights I have curated from his newsletter on the Hey platform followed by my comments on the matter at hand.

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp

Business lesson #1

“The flip side of efficiency is availability. If you’re 100% efficient, you’re 0% available.”

We are all looking for new ways to improve efficiency, especially at work. Achieving great results with the resources we have available? It’s the Holy Grail every professional or business owner is searching for.

But being efficient is a never-ending circle: more tasks come to fill in the space you cleared in your schedule by being efficient and productive.

When you have tasks set up back to back, you are 100% efficient. But what happens when there’s an emergency? Who will attend to it? When companies are 100% efficient, they are 0% agile.

And in this day and age, being agile and quick to adapt is more important for the future of the business than being fully efficient.

Business lesson #2

“Two people who see many things the same way inherently lack perspective. Bring in divergence.”

Lack of diversity in the workplace affects the business negatively.

When the majority of employees look in the same direction, corporate myopia ensues. The company fails to seize priceless opportunities and is blindsided by future threats.

A diverse workplace means increased creativity, innovation and revenue.

Business lesson #3

“Attention spans aren’t about time, they’re about motivation.”

The short attention span theory which claims we have the attention span of a goldfish is a myth and BBC busted it in 2017.

As it turns out, goldfish have a fantastic memory. Actually, this species of fish is used by neuroscientists as a model for studying memory formation.

In short, the thing about attention is this: if we’re not interested, we’re not going to spend time on it, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter if the video is 3 seconds or 40 minutes; if it’s of interest to your audience, they will watch it until the end.

Business lesson #4

“Being everywhere with a word for everything doesn’t help anyone. I may think I’m helping steer everything that’s going on, but is it helping the organization get along?”

Jason Fried believes in the principle of Stay Out of It which states that the founder doesn’t have to give their opinion on everything.

Believing that his input would somehow make everything better is only the ego talking. That’s the reason for hiring competent employees: so the business can be successful and run efficiently without the founder making every decision.

Business lesson #5

“Why be an entrepreneur? For me, it’s this: You get to do things no one would give you permission to do.”

It’s not about doing something illegal, obviously. What Jason Fried is referring to is being courageous and taking the road less travelled. It’s about taking risks and doing things differently than any other company. It’s basically doing business in a unique manner.

Business lesson #6

“A valuation is an invented number that ebbs and flows on the basis of how much someone else thinks you’re worth. It’s nothing more than a distraction.”

How much profit did your business generate last year? What is the employee turnover rate? What is the satisfaction rate among your customers and employees? How many subscribers does your product have? These are the numbers you should be aware of. Anything else is vanity and distraction.

Business lesson #7

“Exciting is an outlier, an occasional experience. As it should be.

Eat dessert all the time and what’s for dessert? It’s only really delicious when it’s uncommon. So how do you keep people excited about the work all the time? You don’t. How do you get them excited about the moment? A thing? An idea? The possibilities? A direction? The vision? The final package? That’s the part worth investigating.”

Business lesson #8

“The more you pay attention to your competitors, the more you end up just like them. Obsessing over what everyone else is doing doesn’t help you differentiate, it causes you to assimilate.”

Focus on your customers instead of your competitors. That’s where innovation lies, that’s where you will differentiate. And when you differentiate on value and benefits delivered to your customers, your business will never compete on price. Think Louis Vuitton.

Business lesson #9

“Never expect or require someone to get back to you immediately unless it’s a true emergency. The expectation of immediate response is toxic.”

When your flow is interrupted, it takes almost 20 minutes to get back. Just think about it: how many times have you been interrupted by any of your colleagues expecting an immediate response?

Business lesson #10

“The big advantage to figuring it out as we go is that we can constantly adjust. This helps us avoid making big mistakes. Most importantly, however, when you make it up as you go, you get to do what you think, not what you thought.”

Besides avoiding making big mistakes, having flexibility as a business means you will be quick to adapt and adopt. A nimble business is a business with a future.

Ryan Breslow, CEO of Bolt

RYAN BRESLOW is co-founder and CEO at Bolt. Bolt is a tech company streamlining the checkout process for e-retailers. The company saw its valuation recently surge to $11 billion after the latest funding round.

Here are his key business takeaways followed by short explanations also provided by him in his tweets.

Business lesson #1

Work like a lion, not a cow

What does that mean?
Cows graze all day – slow pace, same activity, day in and day out.
This is how most jobs are set up.
But what if we worked like lions?
Short bursts of energy, high intensity and then rest and recover for the next sprint.
High performance isn’t about how much you put in; it’s how much you get out.
Cue: the 4 day work week.

Business lesson #2

Increase balance to increase output

The biggest problem with remote work wasn’t people working less.
It was people working WAY too much.
We flipped the script.
Why? Because when your team is healthy, your organization is healthy.

Business lesson #3

Clear minds lead to better decisions

A company is nothing more than a sum of its parts.
The bigger you get, the more parts you have.
When you have more parts, it becomes even more important to take care of each part. Let’s take a puzzle as an example. Think about a puzzle with 1000 pieces and each piece has a tiny chip.
Doesn’t look like a big deal, until you put the whole thing together – it’s a disaster.
Each teammate has to be taken care of so they can play their part in the bigger mission.

Business lesson #4

Go all-in – increase the intensity

Just like a clear mind leads to better decisions, so does a focused mind.
With a four day work week, we can feel confident going ALL IN on those four days.
We can truly give it our all. It’s so energizing to work when everyone is all-in.

Business lesson #5

Tired kills creativity

Think about what happens when you’re tired. Most people say: “your standards go down.” True, but I think something more dangerous happens: you look for the path of least resistance. Creativity is a linchpin of what has allowed us to grow 18x in 18 months. It’s an internal force multiplier. The 4 day work week allows us to keep that coefficient high.

Business lesson #6

Interesting people make a stronger team

A 5 day work week barely allows enough time to take care of the necessities. An extra day gives our team more time for their interests. These experiences and perspectives will flow through the collective Bolt heartbeat.

Business lesson #7

Build a conscious culture

A conscious culture is all about keeping standards of execution high while still putting the team’s health and wellbeing first.

Business lesson #8

Go super deep

Starting something new is achieved by being on the cusp of innovation.
You get there by going deep and learning everything there is.
The more you learn, the more you can “peer over the edge”.
In your field, know more than anyone.

Business lesson #9

Form a unique perspective

Starting something new is not just about knowledge accumulation.
It’s also about thinking differently.
After step 1, step 2 begins:
What new thought, idea, or product can you generate?
How are you going to attack the market in a unique way?

Business lesson #10

Validate with customers

There are a lot of misconceptions about this one.
Sometimes a customer can say yes when they really mean no, and vice versa.
Spend as much time with customers as possible.
Go so deep that you understand them better than they understand themselves.

Business lesson #11

Starting moving

Anything that can push the ball forward, do it.
The most important type of activity: one that generates customer traction.
Signed LOIs, committed customers, beta users.
These are priority one.
Any progress in this direction should be pursued relentlessly.

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator

PAUL GRAHAM is the co-founder of the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator which has invested in 267 companies some valued at $150 million or more including Stripe, Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. On his Twitter account, Paul shares actionable insights from his extensive experience as an investor and entrepreneur.

Business lesson #1

One advantage companies that are still run by their founders have over other companies is that founders have the confidence to be unconventional. Employees worry they’ll get in trouble if they do things differently. Founders don’t.

Business lesson #2

Early on, the ideas of startup founders can either be grand and vague, or smaller and more concrete. Many founders think investors want the former. Maybe bad investors do. But the successful founders are the ones whose ideas are concrete.

Business lesson #3

If you talked to the founders of Apple in the first couple of months, you know what you’d be talking about? Not visions of how one day everyone would carry a computer in their pocket, even though that did happen. You’d be talking about chips.

Business lesson #4

People who copy your startup are at an inherent disadvantage. All other things being equal, earnest people are more likely to succeed. But earnest people don’t clone.

Business lesson #5

It’s a bad sign when founders use the word “disrupt” when talking about their company. People who make things aren’t thinking about disruption. It’s merely a consequence of what they do, not part of the recipe.

Business lesson #6

Preventing communication between parts of your organization that need to be kept separate is as important as encouraging communication between parts that don’t.

Business lesson #7

Making important decisions without consulting anyone else is not a sign of strength or intelligence. In fact rather the opposite.

Business lesson #8

Valuation matters far, far less than the decision of whether to invest or not. The spread between bargain and outrageous startup valuations can’t be more than 5x, in a world where the best investments can return 1000x.

Business lesson #9

I have never read a business plan or a balance sheet. The reason I don’t care about business plans is that I can learn more from 5 minutes of interrogating the founders than from 10 pages of fluff they’ve written.

Business lesson #10

If you bet on people, you don’t have to worry about either missing real trends, or getting fooled by bogus ones. Good people will find the real trends and avoid the bogus ones. And who better to make that call than the ones actually doing the work?

Sources: Jason Fried’s newsletter on Hey, Ryan Breslow Twitter account, Paul Graham Twitter account

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20 Must Read Books For Entrepreneurs in 2018 – Part II

11. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable. The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched. Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business.

12. Start Your Own Business, Sixth Edition: The Only Startup Book You’ll Ever Need by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media

Tapping into more than 33 years of small business expertise, the staff at Entrepreneur Media takes today’s entrepreneurs beyond opening their doors and through the first three years of ownership. This revised edition features amended chapters on choosing a business, adding partners, getting funded, and managing the business structure and employees, and also includes help understanding the latest tax and healthcare reform information and legalities.

13. The Purpose Is Profit: The Truth about Starting and Building Your Own Business by Ed ”Skip” McLaughlin

The book eliminates the mystery of becoming an entrepreneur. You will learn: why distinctive competence trumps passion,where and when to get funding without losing control, how to build an entrepreneurial brand that lasts, why profit should be factored into every business decision, how ethical behavior breeds trust and unlocks profit. As a bonus, The Purpose Is Profit includes two manuals: The Startup Roadmap details the 21 steps you should take to build a profitable business. The Startup Funding Guide delivers the tools you need to fund your business.  

14. $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

In preparing to write this book, Chris identified 1,500 individuals who have built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment (in many cases, $100 or less), and from that group he’s chosen to focus on the 50 most intriguing case studies.  In nearly all cases, people with no special skills discovered aspects of their personal passions that could be monetized, and were able to restructure their lives in ways that gave them greater freedom and fulfillment.
In the book he wrote are the most valuable lessons from those who’ve learned how to turn what they do into a gateway to self-fulfillment.  It’s all about finding the intersection between your “expertise” – even if you don’t consider it such — and what other people will pay for.

15. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

The book presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places. Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

16. The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman

17. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

The latest groundbreaking tome from Tim Ferriss, the #1 New York Times best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek.

18. Crushing It: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuk

This new book chronicles brand new lessons, strategies, tactics, advice and inspiration pulled straight from both his own amplified business experience and that of dozens of other influencers and entrepreneurs from around the world. Vaynerchuk offers fresh tactical advice on how to become a household brand on social channels like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat; podcast platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud, iHeartRadio, and iTunes; and other emerging platforms like Musical.ly.

If you’re looking to build a brand that can grow your business, this is a must-read business book for the year. And though it’s a guide to building your own path to professional and financial success, remember that it’s not about getting rich. It’s about living life on your own terms, wrote ryrob.com.

19. The Startup Hero’s Pledge by Tim Draper

 

Startup Heroes are the ones that drive progress, and whether you bring us to another planet or make your neighborhood a nicer, happier place, you can become a Startup Hero. This book is the first step. It helps you take that first step. The step will be different for everyone. It might be to call that customer. It might be to draw up a design concept. It might be to talk to your boss. With this book, I hope to guide people to think big, drive change and go full speed ahead. I am giving them a pledge to do their work for good, and I am giving them some of the tools they need to accomplish their goals. – Tim Draper

20. Rework by Jason Fried

Most business books give you the same old advice: Write a business plan, study the competition, seek investors, etc. If you’re looking for a book like that, put this one back on the shelf. Read it and you’ll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses.

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