Founders, whether you’re building a venture to flip or a company to run it until you retire, ask yourself, “If there’s one thing that should I build to last, what should it be?”
You may have a very definitive answer. Or, you may find yourself struggling for an answer because as you look at your surroundings, you’ll probably notice that there aren’t too many things that are built to last.
There was a time when one can count on buying and owning things that would last for years. One of my parents’ neighbors still uses a 30-year old Hoover vacuum cleaner and a 20-year old Black & Decker toaster oven. A dozen years ago, I inherited a 1925 Singer sewing machine that is still in good working order. I own an antique coffee grinder that still works even though I keep it for decorative purpose.
Today, we live in a world of cheaply made products, upgrades and disposables. Much what we buy and use has a short shelf life. My electrical coffee grinder needs to be replaced every few years. American products (Walgreens’, Sunbeam) that are made in China don’t outlive their warranty terms. I don’t know why the heart monitor warranty boasted ‘life-time’ when I have to replace it every ten months. When it comes to our smart phones and laptops, we are encouraged by the providers to upgrade so we can enjoy the latest technology. For every antique dining table or chair, there are thousands of pre-fabricated IKEA items, which are purchased by urban dwellers. When they move, they’d post the item info on Craigslist or dump them on the sidewalks. My young friends who shop at H&M and Target complained of clothes that don’t last more than a season. In addition to the cheap products, there’s a cornucopia of disposables that we use each day.
When we pause to think about it, it is quite alarming: disposable food wrappers, product (CD, DVD, toy, game) wrappers, diapers and wipes, disposable gloves, beauty product wrappers and containers, as well tools (shavers, brushes, pens), etc. So many businesses continue to churn out disposable products—many in the name of convenience and health safety.
Today, we have entire generations that have grown up with disposables—not just disposable goods, but a disposable mindset. I live in one of the startup epicenters where most founders pursue the built-to-flip model. If you attend some of the startup meet-ups, you’ll likely hear pitches from founders who want to build a software and/or a service, with the plan to flip their business. Definitely not built to last.
So why do I pose this question to aspiring founders? Because in a fast changing, mobile and disposable world, more than ever, you need trusted and reliable individuals in your life.
As John Donne asserted, “No man is an island.” We all need—family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and mentors—to inspire us, help us grow, to support us. We also need others so that we can share, give back and contribute to a higher cause.
All of this applies to founders. Whether you’re building a company to flip or to run it until you retire, you need people to help you. There’s one thing that you should build to last: your ties with others. It’s an insight and a priority that I see missing in the corporate world, and in many unseasoned founders’ mindset.
You’re the captain of your own vessel and you want to make sure that each crew member that you’re bringing onboard is someone you can respect, collaborate well with, depend on, and trust. You need trusted resources to help you build your venture. It can be close friends who are your cheerleaders, a former boss or teacher who can serve as your mentor, former peers or direct supports who can join your crew, and vendors and suppliers who are responsive and accommodating.
It is common for startup founders to bootstrap as much as possible, but one area that you should not bootstrap is human resource: quality connections and quality individuals that you will bring on board.
In order to have these resources in place, you have to cultivate those ties. If you’re a natural at connecting with others and cultivating strong ties, then you are already in a strong position to build your venture. But if you don’t have a strong support system in place or know how to develop one, you need to make it a priority and incorporate it into your venture.
I’ve worked with many founders and co-founders and can tell you that it’s always the people that make or break deal or a venture. No matter how well prepared you are, you’ll encounter obstacles on your entrepreneurial path; you’ll want to have trusted individuals in place to help you solve problems and move forward. Product glitches and operational failures don’t happen by themselves; they occur because of the individuals who are responsible for them—the founder, the CEO, the CFO, the CTO, the VP of operations, etc.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to develop lasting ties. You do need to be genuine when you reach out to people; you need to be trusting, open, generous as well as responsive.
Here’s are some basic insights that are often overlooked in our fast moving world of upgrades and disposables, which should help you think about how to develop lasting ties.
First, focus on quality. If you have a 500 LinkedIn or 1,000 Facebook friends, this does not mean you have a 1,000 quality connections. Ask yourself, how well do you truly know all your connections? Could you write two paragraphs about each individual and his/her personal history—judgment, goals, values, habits, experiences, talents, and skills? When you look at your LinkedIn / FB lists, how many individuals do you trust without reservations? How many can you depend on in your personal and professional life, for advice, for support?
When it really matters, there’s no value in ‘linking’ or ‘friending’ individuals you’ve met for two minutes, or worse, never met in person. In the big picture, no one really cares how many connections you have.
Again, focus on quality. There are so many hours in a day. You have to be selective with your choice of whom you want to develop strong ties.
Second, connect with individuals on a genuine level. Do you share a natural affinity? Do you like the person? Do you share common interests values, and standards? What kind of individuals are they? Are they genuine? How do they behave and treat others? What are their work habits and performance standards?
Three, you get what you give. If you want quality connections, then you need to offer quality connection.
Four, build a reciprocal connection and pass on the good karma. As others are there for you, you need to be there for others as well. Just as you seek those whom you respect and value for help and support, you also need to give back or forward the good karma by being there for others who need your help and support.
A little anecdote about an individual who builds to last. The first time I met my friend John, it was at an informal business roundtable that I had organized. All the individuals who attended were there to connect in person and share best practices, as well as to discuss opportunities for collaboration. While some of the individuals were more than happy to share their challenges and ask for advice, John shared his own team’s best practices and offered to host the next roundtable. I could tell that John was one of those individuals who genuinely like to share and help. I was pleased that the gathering was productive for the group and grateful to see that someone else was willing to pick up the baton.
John and I have been friends for a few years now. We’ve collaborated on numerous occasions. I’ve met some of his friends and colleagues; I can tell their connections are genuine, and in some instances, reflect a long history. John is blessed with all kinds of resources, and he happily shares. As he was with our group, John is always genuine when he interacts with others: be it the stranger who sat next to us at one of his favorite restaurants, the CEO of a famous local business or the staff at one of his clubs. John is not on LinkedIn. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t have a Twitter account. Yet, he has cultivated exceptional personal connections so that when he needs help, he makes one phone call and help arrives.
This is the kind of built-to-last mindset that has helped one individual become a successful human being and serial entrepreneur. It is a requisite that all aspiring founders need to incorporate into their journey.
© 2014-2015 My-Tien Vo