The Seven Heavenly Startup Virtues


My last post delved darkly into the Seven Deadly Startup Sins. Now, in the spirit of optimism and fair play, let’s turn our eyes to the light and consider the cardinal virtues early stage companies should cleave to:

Chastity. In this case, I don’t mean sexuality. Chastity implies using courage and boldness to drive toward moral wholesomeness and education as a means to achieve purity of thought. The heart of the matter is purity. If your motives are pure, your actions will be right. In startup terms, this means you must consider the long-term consequences of every action you take; remember your plan. In your startup, at your small bore level, you are God. Does this action match God’s plan?

Abstinence. Here is a great definition I saw recently about this virtue: “Constant mindfulness of others and one's surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation.” In entrepreneurship you must have self-control; your company must act only when it needs to AND only where it needs to. Consider this: Startups aren’t actually so much defined by what they do, as by what they don’t do. The edges are the definition. Where do you act and where do you abstain?

Generosity. Give to get. Be unfailingly generous. I don’t mean financially. You don’t have much money. But be generous in spirit. Always consider the other person’s view, not along with your view, but before your view. Because the other person’s view matters more. They are the employee, customer, investor, partner whose attitude and behavior you must change to succeed. Be about them. And then they will much more likely become about you.

Diligence. Live over your store. Work hard, both because of the work itself, but also for the example your work sets for others. Success is a ski slope, so go as fast as you can, but never so fast you lose control. Make promises to yourself, your team and the market. Then keep them. Big wins are accumulations of small victories. Focus on those small wins and everything it takes to achieve them. Then, the big victory will come.

Patience. Everything takes longer than you expect, want and need. Often, the companies that win are those that simply survive until the conditions for winning emerge from the chaos of the market.  Almost always, especially early on, you won’t get just the deal you need, just the big hire you seek, just the partnership you want. You have to take what can be taken, adjust, and move on. Going back to the ski metaphor, don’t get over the top of your skis. That produces nasty high speed crashes. Move as far and fast as you can, given the reality around you.

Kindness. Always be kind. Everywhere. To everybody. This can easily get lost in the hurly burly of business, but it is so, so key. Being kind not only is good business—that departing employee you just insulted could become Joseph in Egypt down the road and hold your fates in his/her hands—it is good living. Being kind opens up the emotional pathways that can facilitate all the virtues here. Being kind means you are other directed, it demands patience and forbearance. My partner at the fund said to me recently, “Forgive her, and that’s for you, not for her.” Exactly right.

Humility. The most successful entrepreneurs I have known have nearly universally been humble. They know they don’t know it all. They know they didn’t do it themselves. They are confident, charismatic in some cases, but never self-glorifying. They show respect to their peers, colleagues, customers, and investors, and all those groups can feel it and love them for it. If you think it is about you, regardless of circumstances, you are wrong. If you think it is about everyone around you, regardless of circumstances, and you are simply doing what you need to be doing on their behalf, you are right.