Last night I attended Founder Hacks III, the latest a series of STIRR mixers for entrepreneurs in San Francisco. These events are great for networking, but I especially like them because STIRR always has a few serial founders get up in front of the crowd and […]

Last night I attended Founder Hacks III, the latest a series of STIRR mixers for entrepreneurs in San Francisco. These events are great for networking, but I especially like them because STIRR always has a few serial founders get up in front of the crowd and –in five minutes or less– share one of their personal “success hacks” learned along the way.

A sign of the times, last night’s panel was star-studded with social networking specialists:

Ev Williams, founder of the messaging phenomenon, Twitter, and Obvious, the incubator that hatched it; Jonathan Abrahms, late of Friendster, and now founder and “junior computer programmer” at party planning site, Socializr; and Michael Cerda, founder and CEO of web-enabled telephony play jangl.

Each gave a piece of advice that is definitely universal to all founders.

I. Ev Williams got the crowd’s attention with this: “A lot of what you do doesn’t matter.” Of course, he wasn’t referring to entrepreneurship, per se, but all those distractions that eat up a founder’s time. “The #1 problem you’ll have, is that you’ll end up doing work that isn’t really important [to your business].” A key factor in your success, he said, will be your ability to identify the work that really matters. Then Ev offered his

5 Hacks
for cutting down on work that doesn’t matter

  1. Be clear about your goals
  2. be disciplined [in tasks and time]
  3. be realistic about what you can accomplish (“We think we’ll get done more than we can” — so we take on too much.)
  4. Cut [way] down on external meetings with other companies [because] most of them don’t/won’t matter.
  5. Say ‘No’ as much as possible, event though that’s hard.

II. Jonathan Abrahms focused his talk on a few of the hapless career experiences which taught him, essentially, not to judge a book by its cover.

“When it comes to decision-making about how to raise money, or hiring, we are trained to look at the wrong things.”

For example, a decade ago, after Abrahms was laid-off from Netscape, he told the crowd about how he got a lead at a new startup from power-VC Steve Jurvetson. But Abrahm’s initial meeting with company didn’t ‘wow’ him, so, “I didn’t go back.” Instead, when a second company, one that Fortune magazine had endorsed as a “Cool Company,” came along, Abrahms took that opportunity instead. The first company is now a famous, billion-dollar success [he didn't name it]. The second, where Abrahms elected to work, was later sold–without ‘wow-factor,’ Abrahms reports–to IBM.

The Hack: Don’t choose based on superficially attractive factors.

For example, Abrahms’ says, when you’re choosing a VC, don’t go with th firm with the big name. Why? Because more often than not, people with established name-recognition won’t work as hard, in part, because they have so much to lose.

“They tend to be mercenaries, not visionaries.” [Contrarily] “when you don’t have a name, you have to work with people who really like you and believe in you” [and people in whom you also have faith and trust.] When in doubt, he says, don’t “Go to the guy with the ‘bad haircut.'”

III. Michael Cerda, talked about the importance of constructing the right team.

“You’ll have plenty of adversity as a founder, and the last place you need [more]adversity in on your own team.”

As you’re building your company, there will be a demand, Cerda says, to hire all kinds of specialists — people with skills sets or experience that is different from your own, “because you need all kinds to make a [complete startup] team.” BUT, if you take this ethos too far, you’ll end up with “peopel with too many opposing agendas, and mindsets or views that are too divergent from your own.”

Cerda’s Hack: when it comes to hiring decisions, stick to the DNA that you know.

Cerda learned this lesson the hard way. He hired someone with “different DNA,” because he needed the person’s expertise. He wound up feeling betrayed (the person went behind his back to the board of directors) because, often different DNA also means differing agendas. In this way, consistent DNA among your team members is most important when it comes to establishing a circle of trust. Whatever you do, don’t go beyond that boundary of trust, merely to bring in someone with a specialized skill.

Please read more from Michael on innovation at Found|READ. Also see what Om had to say about Jangl here.

And you can read more success hacks here in our summary from Founder Hacks II, showcasing Patrick Koppula (Vadver), Scott Rafer (Lookery), and James Currier (Oogalabs).

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  1. Wow, that sounds really great. I’m in the bay area, maybe I will see you at a STIRR soon.

  2. Top Posts « WordPress.com Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    [...] 3 Serial founders share their ‘Success Hacks’ Last night I attended Founder Hacks III, the latest a series of STIRR mixers for entrepreneurs in San Francisco. These […] [...]

  3. The difficulty with learning from ‘success hacks’ is that so many of them are idiosyncratic to the hackers who performed them in the first place. It does not automatically follow that others will find them equally useful.

    Ev Williams’ five hacks for eliminating work that doesn’t matter might work for him, but that is no guarantee they’ll work for me. I know a lot of successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople, for example, who do a lot of outside meetings. Connections with companies other than their own can be the life’s blood of some organizations and managers. It depends on who you are, what kind of business you’re in, and who else is on your team to lend operational support. It just depends. So it simply cannot be taken as any kind of rule or guideline for success.

    Likewise, saying “No” a lot may work for Williams, but many successful entrepreneurs get where they are by saying yes a lot. By saying yes, I don’t sinking money into every PowerPoint deck that walks through the door. Every business needs gatekeepers. What I mean by ‘saying yes’ is keeping a positive and open attitude to whatever comes your way. I mean adding to the dialogue, instead of shutting it down. I mean encouraging innovation wherever and whenever you find it instead of strangling it because it doesn’t fit the imperative of the moment. Business in the Network World requires a constant input of fresh ideas. Saying no is necessary in certain situations, but as any kind of organizational dogma, it’s a dead end.

    I myself am a major proponent of Improvisation in business. If you look at any successful businessperson, you can see that they are almost always excellent improvisers. Quick on their feet, responsive, flexible thinkers, who always see more than one way to solve a problem, and see setbacks as an opportunity for learning and moving closer to the objective. The beauty is, improvisation can be taught and learned. It can give organizations and their employees the tools they need to succeed in any business environment. With improvisation, the success hacks are unique and appropriate to each business team, and each situation.

    Thank you for the post.

    Mike Bonifer

  4. It was my first Stirr event. It was really nice to see in person some of the top bloggers whose blogs I follow.

    Not to mention the organizers did a really good job with the arrangements, food and everything else.

  5. This is some really good advice and will be taken on board. http://www.crenk.com

  6. The talks from FounderHacks III « STIRR Backchannel Friday, November 16, 2007

    [...] good folks over at Found|Read wrote about the talks [...]

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    [...] in the Networked World, which comes out at the end of December. Last week I read a post here on Success Hacks, which got me thinking about how transferable such “hacks” really are. I commented: The [...]

  8. Computer Consultants Secrets Blog Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    All these tips are really good for those at any stage of their career. As someone that provides tips for small business computer consultants, I know that focus and planning are incredibly important when running a business. This means writing down a business plan and a marketing plan and following it to the letter, of course revisiting it often to make sure it still fits in with your goals. Many have a hard time understanding the concept of turning away business and saying “No,” but it makes sense when you think about the future of your business and long-term success; you want to get people that can contribute to your success and be committed for a long period of time and not those that will weigh you down without commitments.

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