We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident


We hold these truths to be self-evident: All men and women are created equal. Among their rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And a couple more: Over decades of working with startups and new technologies, I’ve learned some deep truths about the fabric of early stage reality. Here are some of those learnings.

Insufficiency is the natural state of everything. Whatever you need most, be it time, software developers, money, customers, there will always be less of it available than you need. Coping with systemic insufficiency is one of the keys to startup success. Doing more with less sounds like a cliché, but for startups, it is a hard truth.

No is the default response from everybody to everything. As Buddha says, it takes every no to get to yes. The early stage is the world of no. Investors say no. Customers say no. Recruitment candidates say no. The world says, no, or even worse, says nothing, because the world could care less whether you succeed or whether your company exists. To get a new technology off the ground, an entrepreneur must develop strong armor against noes.

The reality is that noes, being nearly ubiquitous, have scant value. They may feel hurtful, but they don’t actually have a lot of weight. The provide a little learning, if you pay close attention, that can be helpful in moving toward the ultimate yes. But the truth is that only the yes matters, and only by persevering through a sea of noes can you ever get to the shore of yes.

Constancy is more important for success than genius. Perseverance furthers, says the I Ching.  I have met a number of geniuses in my career. A few of them succeeded. I have met a number of dogged, constant, fixated entrepreneurs in my career. Many of them succeeded. There is no substitute for genius. But genius isn’t essential or sufficient for success. Having a plan and sticking to it is essential for success. That plan may change (in my experience it almost ways does), but there is always a plan, and the great entrepreneurs ignore everything that isn’t critical to that plan. Focus, focus, focus leads to startup success.

Telling the truth is always the right thing to do. Lying is so easy. So natural. So human. If can feel like the only way out. Why take in on the chin right now? Why open yourself up to criticism or consequences? You can fix this before anyone finds out! You can turn it around. My experience, though, is that it is always better to tell the truth, quickly, plainly and completely. To everyone else, but most importantly to yourself. You, even a few folks close to you, may be swayed by the myths you build in your mind. But the world won’t change. Actual reality won’t shape shift for you. Only by training yourself to confront the world as it is, warts and all, can you become the kind of person others trust and that the world sees as worthy of the heavy responsibilities that stand behind great success.

Love trumps duty in producing teams that win. Through discipline and duty, you can make people do what you want. But, through mutual love, you can cause people to want to do what you want them to do. Love wins. Teams of humans that truly love one another and love the adventure they share together can accomplish anything. Climb Everest. Win the World Series. Generate scientific breakthroughs. Create new companies. If two teams attack the same problem at the same time with the same resources, the team with the greatest mutual love will win. Do what you love, with people you love, and there really is no downside scenario.