The Keys of Successful Entrepreneurs

On Monday night, I attended an Atlanta based angel meeting with a fantastic guest speaker. David Alexander, founder and President of Soliant Health (formerly Elite Medical), spoke on the keys of successful entrepreneurs. It was a great message and one that I wish more people had heard. The highlights are

Burn your ships. When Cort├ęs landed in Mexico in ~1519, popular lore says he instructed his men to burn their ships (he actually had them sunk). The point of this maneuver was to give them no other option than to be successful at establishing a hold in Mexico. And it worked. Similarly, in the entrepreneurial world, Alexander argued one must be willing to burn their ships in order to make their venture successful. He talked about 7 very difficult years of transferring balances on credit cards and staying up at night wondering what he was screwing up.

I think the concept of burning your ships is one that more entrepreneurs need to embrace – the concept of no escape. It is too easy to plan escape routes, trick yourself into thinking you’re 100% committed when you’re really only 90% committed, etc. To be a truly great company that makes an impact on the world, you need to have no other choice than to succeed.

Culture is created in a crock-pot, not a microwave. When starting his company, Alexander discussed thinking they would create culture by having popcorn every Friday. What he quickly realized is that culture is something that arises from a concentrated effort over years rather than something that is forced upon a team. In particular, he spoke of the importance of traditions, whether they are small weekly things or annual events that bind a team together in a shared mission.

I believe that culture starts day one and is begun by the founder, but quickly adopts qualities of every team member. If you hire right and pay attention to infusing institutional memory into new hires, you’ll see a cohesive culture created. If you act aloof or hands off from your team, I think the culture of your company will quickly outpace and pass you by – to the point that the company you founded may no longer resemble something you are proud to be a part of.

Despite your belief, your company is not a diamond, but an ice cube. As founders, we have (we have to have?) a belief that what we are doing is revolutionary, game changing and has a long shelf life. In reality, the minute our concept is conceived, it is morphing, changing and becoming irrelevant. The challenge as a founder is to stay entrepreneurial, innovate and embrace new paths continually.

Lift people up. To achieve a cultural fit, have a dynamic team and have a team willing to burn their ships for and with you, you need to lift up your team. Alexander talks about figuring out ways to help your employees and partners start their careers and become leaders in the future – whether this is at your company or encouraging them to go down another path.

Last night was a great gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors. I hope to attend more events like this in Atlanta and export some of these concepts to Athens in the coming months. What are other keys to being a successful entrepreneur and building a world class organization?

No Comments

Leave a Comment