From Startup to Business, a Long Strange Trip

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, at Net:Work 2010

Five years ago, a few months before I officially raised seed funding and turned GigaOM, a blog into GigaOM, a start-up, a mentor of mine cautioned me of the differences between raising capital and starting a business and actually building a business. Why are you starting this business? Is it money? Is it fame? Or is it something more, he asked.

I told him that I fundamentally believed that the world of information — how it is created, distributed and consumed — was going to change forever and I wanted to be part of that shift and build a fundamentally new kind of information (not media) company. His parting advice before I embarked on the entrepreneurial journey: it always takes much longer to build a business.

From Start To Start

I was reminded of his words last week during conversations with serial entrepreneur, start-up guru and author, Steven Blank and Google’s vice president of Local (and one of the first twenty employees) Marissa Mayer. In both conversations, we mused about how long it takes to really build a business.

Google didn’t really become a real business till 2003, four years after it got its start. Facebook’s first big year was 2010; six years after Mark Zuckerberg got started in his dorm-room at Harvard. Twitter is four years old and it is searching for its fiscal future. Building a business, is a process that takes, what seems like a lifetime of educated guesses, crazy bets, 100-hour weeks, timing and luck — and that is assuming that one has a product that the market actually wants.

More importantly, it needs an entrepreneur who is willing to go the distance — a quality that separates starters from superstars. T.J. Rodgers (Cypress Semiconductor), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin & Larry Page (Google), Marc Benioff (at Salesforce), Steve Jobs and Pradeep Sindhu (of Juniper Networks) — are all examples of folks who took the long view.

Reinvention Rocks

And from the looks of it, not one of them seems to be done. (Larry Page in fact is ready to start his act two as the chief executive of Google this month.) In fact they all seem to be, almost always starting over – rethinking, reimaging, and redrawing the future in their mind. And in doing so, they are forcing their companies to avoid the trap of short-term thinking.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, at Net:Work 2010Take Benioff as an example. Behind his bluster and bombast (effective tools of drawing attention to his company) is firm belief in an on-demand future and how he wants to be part of it. It started with CRM software as a service and has since evolved to include cloud platforms and social working & analytics.

When I started Salesforce, I asked myself why all enterprise software wasn’t like Amazon. Now I’m asking why all enterprise software isn’t like Facebook… how can we learn from that and bring that into the enterprise? (Benioff at GigaOM Net:Work Conference)

Whether his acquisitions of Heroku or Radian6 work out or not, one cannot fault Marc for trying to find the future he believes in. Right or wrong, only time will be the judge.

Little Ideas, Big Dreams

Last month, I caught up with Pradeep Sindhu, founder of networking gear maker, Juniper Networks. In our informal chat about the future of networks, Sindhu was still enthusiastic as ever, bubbling with ideas and chomping at the bit, as he and Juniper try to figure out the new network architecture for a very dynamic, stochastic network. Not because he needs to, but because he wants to.

It was over 15-years-ago, he figured out a new kind of networking architecture that could move data much faster and in much larger quantities than any gear on the market at that time. Sindhu had one firm belief — Internet Protocol-based network will triumph. Today the company is worth $22 billion in market capitalization. It has been a long slog — many folks who joined Sindhu for the ride are long gone, but he still keeps going. Like Benioff, Sindhu kept broadening the horizons and with it, his company’s ambition.

Zuckerberg, who started off with a dating aid-for the freshman crowd has evolved first into a social network, then into a social operating system for the web, to being the glue that binds the social Internet and is on the way to becoming a new communications layer of the internet. The big rewards are going to come for Facebook in 2011 and for years to come, as revenues and profits explode — seven years after he started out in his dorm room.

Amazon’s Bezos put it best when he once said, that in order to succeed, one needs to be willing to fail, be misunderstood for the long term and think for the long term. That is the best piece of advice for any founder, of any kind of company. For me, it is the only way to think about our business.

Five years since I embarked on the journey, not a morning comes when I don’t feel the desire to get up and get to work. I am fortunate to have the greatest job in the world — I get to meet many of these mavericks and learn from them, willing to adapt and expand my horizons. Why would I want to do something else?

PS: If you have any thoughts and would like to share them with me, please email me at omsays@gigaom.com.

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