James Sun the CEO of Pirq and one of the contestants on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice recently gave a talk at Seattle’s Thinkspace regarding his personal philosophy on how to avoid being an “entrePOORneur” (his word, not mine) and becoming a successful businessperson.
“We Literally Have a Pivot Every Day”
“The world is changing and the question is, as an entrepreneur, can you master change?” Though Sun’s father disagreed with this concept, believing that the right way to run a business was to set a goal and go for it, Sun points out that the world is changing. Between advancements in technology, not to mention the rapid uptick in new businesses being created, the flexible businesses are the ones that survive.
Plan for Stress, Because It’s Coming. Fast.
Likening the entrepreneurial world to day trading, Sun spoke to the necessity of being prepared to handle “the stress of a term sheet going bad [and] still needing to pay $200,000 in payroll.” Upon entering the entrepreneurial world you have to prepare yourself both emotionally and mentally to deal with the weight of entire company on your shoulders. There is no more upper management. The “buck stops” with you and nobody else.
Get Ready To Multitask
Once again harkening back to the world of day trading Sun points to the reality that you are going to be dealing with more than one problem at a time, all the time. “If you ever try day trading, your heart palpitates. You get so nervous about what’s happening in the macro and micro conditions for that stock, and you have to watch it on four screens.” If you’ve ever waited on tables in a busy restaurant, keeping your eyes in incoming and outgoing orders, as well as the satisfaction of your customers, you have a small idea what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
Everyone is a Salesman
“Selling is extremely important, even as a programmer. You have to learn to sell to both investors and your first customers.” Sun also adds that your sales strategy is going to have to adapt as you move forward. This is another example of the Pivot Principal in practical action.
The Elevator Pitch
We’ve all heard about the elevator pitch. You have a brief opportunity to explain your product, maybe thirty seconds. Is your product demonstrably unique and can you explain it in a way that not only tech-fans will understand? This is invaluable in terms for getting investors. Sun himself says “You have to have a unique approach to your market, your product, and your team. If you’re not unique, it will be really difficult for someone to cut a check for you or buy from you.”
Somebody’s Got To Take Out The Trash
This isn’t just a literal statement but one about the division of labor. “When you’re putting your team together, not everyone can be the CEO – or even C-level. Everyone has to take a role, and if you can be humbled to take a backseat role, the team can move forward.” Are you prepared, especially in the early days, to do the work that you were delegating to other people in the past?
Know Your Strengths, Know Your Weaknesses
It’s time to look in the mirror and make an honest assessment of yourself. It’s hard, but a completely necessary step to succeed. Are you a recent college grad with no real world experience? Then perhaps you need to find somebody who has worked for one of the big guys. “There is value in working at Microsoft or Google because there is an an institution of knowledge you wouldn’t find at a startup.” Are you a old school developer who got to where they are via experience and moxie? Then Sun insists that it’s imperative to “find a partner who has (business) experience or who comes from a really good college.” Sun reiterates that this really “does matter to investors.”
Don’t Forget the Dollar Bills
It’s easy to imagine your Startup as an idealistic empire where the most important thing is the purity of the product, but that’s not the real world. “Money matters in getting your product to market, money matters in getting your product developed, and it matters in terms of your revenue model upfront.” Remember that it’s always a good idea to build a unit model you can scale. Sun harkens back to his Pirq experience, “when you offer something for free, and then charge later – we all know what happens.”
Don’t Look Over Your Neighbor’s Fence
Just because the Startup next door is doing something doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. “The world that we’re living in today is bigger and bigger… but every industry is different.”
Eventually You Are Going To Be The Big Bad Boss
Nobody wants to hear this but if you’re going to survive in the cutthroat world of Startups you’re going to have to hire slow and fire fast. “Inspiration and dreams alone are not enough – you have to weigh the costs, and there are costs to being an entrepreneur and running the business.” You’re going to have to step up and make tough choices, and at the end of the day own those choices as your own.
Turn Mistakes Into Learning Experiences
Sun still works building Pirq, and is ready to admit that the company, “is still a work in progress.” Just be sure not to repeat errors and turn every misstep into an opportunity for knowledge or growth.