Leading a startup is analogous to being a first-time parent. You can read books and articles, you can talk to others that have been through it, but no one can ever fully determine what it’s like until he or she experiences it first-hand. Since joining Sumo Logic as a first-time CEO in 2012, it has been quite a ride.
Boiling down the experience of my first two years as a CEO of Sumo Logic, I have found eight tenets that I want to share:
1. Few will understand your process or state of mind. Many will try, but few will succeed in understanding the investment of time, emotion and energy associated with leading a start-up company. Though it is difficult, accepting the isolated nature of being a leader is important. This acceptance will embolden you to move forward with your work rather than exert energy to seek the understanding or acceptance of others. It’s lonely. Get over it.
2. Listen to your gut. Entrepreneurs receive a landslide of advice from well-meaning colleagues, friends and family – even total strangers offering advice in columns such as this one. But, even the best advice can prove worthless when it is heeded in the wrong situation. So while it is important to appreciate good advice, it is also critical to trust your gut. Often your first idea is the best and your first inkling is correct. Furthermore, if things go wrong – you will have no one to blame but yourself.
3. Ban the phrase “other people’s money (OPM).” Every entrepreneur should always behave as if the money they are spending is theirs. People often become lackadaisical when they internalize that they are using OPM. And a startup cannot afford to be frivolous with resources.
4. Believe in karma. I’ve seen many people sabotage their careers with arrogance. You never know how people will enter, exit and re-enter your life. Especially in Silicon Valley, where the entry level engineer today is tomorrow the startup founder on the rise. It is important to plant your feet firmly on the ground, keep a level head and be courteous to everyone you meet. As the old saying goes, “Keep your words sweet, you may have to eat them one day.”
5. Listen more than you speak. You don’t learn too much while you’re speaking. However, I learn many things during brainstorms with my team. A good leader listens first and speaks last. This will allow you to see all sides of a situation before weighing in. Silicon Valley is home to some of the brightest people in the world. What is the point in hiring them if you do not make time to listen to their ideas?
6. People matter. Though technology is a focal point of many businesses, people are still the foundation of the business. People are still the decision-makers. So it behooves the leader of a company to find the best people and create an environment they want to come to every day. Balancing the needs of people with the needs of the business will go a long way when scaling the business.
7. Your investors are a great resource. Working with high-quality venture capitalists (VCs) can change everything for a startup company in Silicon Valley. Their access to customers, top talent and strategic partners is invaluable.
For Sumo Logic, our VC partners, Greylock, Sutter Hill Accel and Sequoia, have been instrumental in bringing us amazing talent and marquee customers. Venture capitalists make a living on identifying the right markets with the right teams with the right momentum. Markets and momentum can swing though, so be sure to secure funding when you are on the way up.
8. Belief in your mission inspires. As unoriginal as it sounds, you must believe in yourself and your company more than anyone else. If you are not passionate, your employees, investors and customers will not get passionate about your company. In many ways, enthusiasm and belief in your vision is the most important asset of any entrepreneur.
Related: Mindfullness and the Startup CEO
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