Tech In Motion Silicon Valley gathered four of young innovators and game-changers in the tech world as part of annual 30 Under 30 list at Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View for a conversation about what it’s like to run a fast-growing tech company while still in one’s twenties.
The participants were: Steven Eidelman, cofounder of Whistle; Lisa Falzone, CEO and cofounder of Revel Systems; AJ Forsythe, CEO and cofounder ofiCracked ; and Morgan Knutson, chief product designer at Dropbox. The discussion was wide-ranging and full of hard-won lessons. Here are eight of them:
1. Accept that even your dream job is going to suck sometimes. “I used to be a competitive swimmer,” said Falzone. “I think all good things in life are love/hate for me.”
It may seem obvious that sacrifice comes before achievement, but members of Gen Y grew up hearing the message that work should offer personal fulfillment, Forsythe said. “I think that can get lost in translation as probably not ‘You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever done and it’s going to be s****y work, and the happiness is going to be delayed,’”he said. ”It’s not that you shouldn’t optimize for happiness, but you have to do stuff you don’t want to do.”
2. Hiring good people is too important too rush. “The best people in the world at hiring still only get it about 70 to 80% right,” Forsythe said. “I always find it’s best to wait for the right hire,” agreed Falzone, adding that she once took nine months to hire a head of HR — and would probably have had to fire the candidates she almost hired for the job.
3. Talent isn’t the place to get cheap. For all the talk of fulfillment, “business exist to make money,” said Knutson. “They don’t exist for any other reason than to make money. We can misconstrue it as altruism as much as we want, but the fact is we spend our life on wages.” The people you want to hire understand that and aren’t going to accept less than they’re worth. “For me, if this person is amazing, I never want to lose them, and I’m going to pay this person whatever they need,” he said.
4. That said, just throwing money around can get you the wrong sort of talent. “If someone comes in and there’s already a sense of entitlement because they were making way too much money in the their last job, that’s going to be an issue,” said Eidelman.
“This is advice for everyone: If the first thing out of their mouth in an interview is about compensation, kick their ass out the door,” agreed Knutson.
6. Startups are great places to get experience, but lousy places to get formal training. Because so many of them are launched by people just out of college, graduates think of startups as good first jobs, but that’s not necessarily the case. “Early stage companies just don’t have the time or the manpower to train people,” said Falzone. “If you just want to pick it up and learn it on your own, then join an early stage company.” If you need a more structured form of experience, big companies are the way to go.
7. Networking is best when it doesn’t feel like networking. “Don’t pitch right away” is Eidelman’s advice to founders looking for backers. He and his cofounder spent two years in private equity before becoming “obsessed” with the idea for Whistle, at which point they were able to go back to people they’d known in their previous lives for help. “A lot of those relationships we leaned on for our first round of funding were people we met right out of college,” he said. “Relationships matter.”
8. Use the power of narrative. Forsythe, whose company repairs shattered screens on smart phones and mobile devices, said he wrote “Tell stories and explain why” on a whiteboard in his office. It’s a message that he uses as a sort of mantra to help him stay motivated and motivate those around him. “It’s always important that you can go back to why you’re doing what you’re doing, and the way you do that is by telling stories,” he said.