10 Startup Ninja Lessons from Rypple and Facebook, Part 2By Jay Goldman on October 28, 2010 in How To...
This is part two — the second 5 — make sure to check out Part 1.
There’s a reason Peter Thiel, one of our amazing investors, is offering to pay 20 people under 20 to ‘stop out of school’ and start something new: startups are an incredibly focused way to learn about business and success. There’s really no experience like the world of venture-backed tech startups for learning a huge amount in a very short time. I’ve had the great fortune to be part of the Rypple team for almost two years now and I thought it was a great time to look back at some of the key things I’ve learned.
Peter is also an investor in Facebook, which you may have recently seen inaccurately portrayed in Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s excellent The Social Network (including a scene in which he makes his $500k seed round). There’s a lot of great lessons to be learned from Zuck’s story, so I’ve weaved them in too.
6. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!)
We all over think things. We stress out about all of the things that could possibly go wrong and spend time trying to solve them before we even start. Zuck didn’t worry about the trouble he might get in when he built Facemash. Jack Dorsey, Ev Williams, and Biz Stone didn’t stay up all night worrying about how Twitter would scale.
How to be a KISS Ninja
Step back from decisions and decide if there’s a simpler approach. The simplest option is usually the best option. Always take the approach that saves time without introducing unacceptable risk. Fight hard to overcome the natural tendency to complicate things, especially by your colleagues who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid: they need your help.
Every software company makes a decision about what kind of company they are: sales-led or product-led. Sales-led software companies tend to make really bad Enterprise software. We made the decision to be a product-led company as one of the first decisions we ever made, and we’ve stuck to it despite all kinds of incentive to go the other way. That said, I’ve learned a huge amount how to sell within the context of being product-led, including strategies, techniques, and approaches to selling at every point in the pipeline.
How to be a Sales Ninja
Our Co-CEO David Stein is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met. I asked him for one piece of wisdom about becoming a sales ninja: “Listen to what many people are telling you, synthesize that, and then offer the same solution to all of them that solves their problems in a more elegant and powerful way than they ever imagined.” Succinct, to the point, and very powerful — the same way you should do sales. The other thing I learned from him is that every email you write can be made shorter. Shorter = better.
Rypple is growing really quickly — I was the eighth person to join and we’re now over 25. That kind of growth can quickly go badly if you don’t have the most rigorous standards about who to hire. New hires go through a stringent process to qualify them as being good team members, factoring in both their technical fit for the job and their cultural fit for the team. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but the scene in The Social Network in which Zuck is ‘interviewing’ summer interns by having them hack a box while doing shots says a huge amount about how to only hire the best people.
How to be a Recruiting Ninja
My colleague David wrote a great blog post called Gun to your head… how to hire the Rypple way. Go read it. We’ve had excellent conversations in the Rypple Managing Master Class podcast with Johnathan Nightingale, Director of Firefox Development, Corey Reid, Chief Cat Herder at Freshbooks, and Farhan Thawar, CTO at Extreme Venture Partners about their hiring practices. Go listen to them. Remember two things: As hire As, Bs hire Cs. And hiring just to fill a space now is borrowing from the future to pay the present.
I’d spent a lot of time reading about venture-backed startups before I joined Rypple but I’d spent very little time on the inside of one. Daniel and David know a huge amount about this topic, having raised rounds at Workbrain, and now twice at Rypple. This is one of the key things I wanted to learn when I came on board and I’ve had the privilege of seeing a deal go from pitch to close from the inside.
How to be a Funding Ninja
One of the most important things I learned: don’t wait until you’re thirsty to dig a well. Raising when you need the money makes you desperate and weak. Raising when you don’t puts you in the power seat. You should raise as much as you can at the best possible valuation when you’re raising, but don’t raise just for the sake of doing it or you’ll give away your company for money you don’t need. It’s way cheaper to do a software startup than it’s ever been so do everything in your power to make it to profitability without taking money.
10. Technical know-how
We have one of the best teams in the business, now spanning two coasts. Everything I’ve learned has come from them — all of the stuff above, plus a nearly-immeasurable amount of technical know how. I now know more about development, architecture, server infrastructure, Java, GWT, and design than I ever thought possible.
How to be a Tech Rockstar Ninja
Rockstar Ninjas know one very important thing: you can’t be an awesome lead singer without an amazing band to back you up. Surround yourself with people smarter than you and then become as sponge-like as possible. Approach everything with the attitude that you do not know and that you need to learn.
What have you learned?
That’s been my experience in a startup — everyone’s is different. What have you learned? Share your story in the comments.