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This first appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Accelerator series.
A few our entrepreneurial heroes work on more that one company at a time. Steve Jobs (Pixar, Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square), and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn, Greylock). And we regularly hear of entrepreneurs who are working at companies that acquired their first company who are now working on new companies while still at their acquirer.
It’s takes an extraordinary talented entrepreneur to be able to do this. So, should you try to emulate this? “Mostly” no.
If you are working on your first company or you don’t have a clear track record of success, put all of your energy into your first venture. Go all in, unambiguously. Your employees will expect, and respect this. Your customers will hope for this. Your investors will require this. And, the likelihood of your success will increase.
That said, I encourage every entrepreneur to have their own equivalent of Google 20% time, where you spend 20% of your time on something other than your primary company. If you are a first time entrepreneur, invest this energy in things that directly benefit your company. Find a peer group like Entrepreneurs Organization and invest time and energy in learning from and giving to your peers. Invest some of your 20% time in your local startup community, taking lessons from my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, which will have immediate positive impacts on you and your company’s reputation in your local ecosystem. Or invest actively in your own personal development as an entrepreneur through reading, spending time with other entrepreneurs, and actively engaging with accelerators like TechStars.
Once you’ve had some success, even if you are still running your first company, start expanding the definition of what “mostly no” means. I encourage every CEO I work with to serve as a director on another entrepreneur’s board. If you’ve made some money, don’t be afraid to make some angel investments in other companies. But stay focused on your business or else you might find yourself in a position where you suddenly don’t have the success you think you do.
Once you’ve sold your first company, or taken it public, you can start diminishing the definition of the word “mostly.” Some entrepreneurs love to be involved at the inception stage but don’t want to run companies. Others like to have a portfolio of companies they are working on at the same time, with one being the primary company. An example of this is my long-time friend and entrepreneurial collaborator Rajat Bhargava. We’ve now done nine companies together, with four of them currently active. Rajat is CEO of one of them (StillSecure) and a major shareholder and board member of three others that he’s helped co-found that I’ve funded (Yesware, MobileDay, and SafeInstance.) But this is an exception, build on a collaboration between entrepreneur (Rajat) and investor (me) over almost 20 years.
While it’s often tempting to start multiple companies, especially as you start to have some early success with your first company, resist this temptation, mostly.
David Cohen just put up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boulder Startup Community. It’s a short presentation that you can look at below and is a great way to get a lay of the land in the Boulder Startup Community.
This will be an organic document so if you are doing something that you want us to add, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll update the doc.
When I created Startup Revolution and began writing Startup Communities, I insisted with Wiley (my publisher) that the word be “startup” and not “start-up” or “start up” or even “StartUp”. It took a while to (a) get everyone to agree to that and (b) expunge the efforts of the copy-editor to reintroduce some gross variant of “startup” but I finally got it done.
Today I noticed a post from Andrew Hyde titled Washington Post Style Guide Now Includes “Startup” as A Word. Awesome.
We had a similar conversation when Startup America Partnership was formed in 2011. After some back and forth we all got it right.
I’m glad that “Startup” is making its way into the style guides of the old media world.
I don’t think I’m breaking new ground by saying that book publishing is going through a rapid transformation. I’ve learned a lot about traditional publishing after working with Wiley for the past few years on Do More Faster, Venture Deals, Startup Communities, and Startup Life. I’ve also experimented with self-publishing with HyperInk for the book Burning Entrepreneur. And, as I continue to publish books in the Startup Revolution series, you’ll see a lot more experimentation from me, both around the writing and publishing process, as well as with regard to engaging with everyone reading these books.
Recently, I starting pondering what would happen if a book wasn’t simply static content, but an actively-engaging, community-building platform? What if a class could read and share notes, an executive team could collaborate around a book, or a community of readers could interact within the text itself?
I recently found a social reading technology called BookShout!, and, after spending some time with them, think they are addressing a lot of things I want in my current book reading experience. As a result, I’ve launched Startup Communities: Creating an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City on BookShout!
If you download the book and join the community, you not only get the book, but you can also connect with me, see my notes, invite others to join you, and create robust communities and in-line conversations inside the book.
To help entrepreneurs worldwide, Startup America is also using its full resources to reach out to millions of entrepreneurs so that we can all read the book together. Leaders of Startup America, including Steve Case (the founder of AOL) and Scott Case (the CEO of Startup America) are going to read and share their notes as well.
We listen to music together and go to movies together – now we can read books together. I hope you’ll join me, participate, and give me feedback on what you think.
SPECIAL OFFER: Thanks to BookShout! and Startup America, I’m giving away 250 free digital copies of Startup Communities on BookShout! The first 250 people to create an account at Bookshout.com and send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org will get a copy. All I ask in return is that you make notes on areas that help you, invite others, and engage with me, give me feedback on what you think.
I just found out that Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City made the Amazon Top 10 Business Books of 2012.
I’m not a huge “made that list person” but as a writer this is a very cool thing, especially when I look at the other books, and writers, on the list. I’m downloading all of the other books right now and taking them on my two week vacation which is coming up.
I’m at Defrag this morning listing to Kevin Kelly explain how the global super organism already exists and why it is different than the Kurzweil defined Singularity. Awesome – and extremely consistent with how I think about how the machines have already taken over. Kevin’s intellectual approach is clearer and deeper – which I like, and will borrow heavily from. Kevin’s book, What Technology Wants, is also in a swag bag and I’ll be reading it next week.
One of the powerful concepts is that the “city is the node.” As I’ve been talking about Startup Communities, I’ve been explaining the power of “entrepreneurial density” and why everyone is congregating around cities again (intellectually referred to as the reurbanism of American). It’s really cool that he’s using the Degree Confluence Project to “show” (rather than simply “tell”) this.
A few of the books on the Amazon Top 10 Business Books of 2012 touch on this theme – I’ll be looking for it as I read a lot on the beach the next few weeks.