Entrepreneurial learning journey: building your startup team

Lean startup thinking is based around the concept of a MVP as a means of sharing your product vision with your target customers, containing sufficient value to attract early adopters. Asking the right questions of your MVP is key, it’s as much a process as a pilot version of your product, and guides you broadly around your business model assumptions, many based on your hunches.

Testing all aspects of the business model, not just the product features, is vital, and this applies to developing your ‘Minimum Viable Team’ (‘MVT’)?  As Steve Blank states, a startup is a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Having a talented team is an essential ingredient to startup success and scaling, as any aspect of the business model.

Most startup founders work on the basis that they will find the folks they need to scale their business either by word of mouth within the startup community, or within their own network, when they need them.  Alas experience tell us those serendipitous moments don’t always occur. The route of chance isn’t always successful, or even best financially in the longer term.

So what are the key considerations in your startup team building strategy, when seeking to create a key part of your business growth engine? Here are some thoughts.

1. Hiring Philosophy

What is the vision for your MVT in terms of its purpose, values and principles held as underlying attributes that will make a difference?

Rockstars gives leverage You’re looking for rockstar starters who can create 10x more leverage – ‘moonshot thinking’ –  than an average employee. The effectiveness gap between employees can be multiple orders of magnitude. In startup hiring there are few shades of grey, go for those that can add rocket fuel to your momentum.

Culture-contributors are better than culture-fitters A startup culture is part of the business model and customer experience. Just like we want people to contribute new skills and ideas, we want people to contribute new culture. Hiring culture-fitters does not make your culture better. The founding team will soon be outnumbered by new hires. They will decide your future culture, not you.

Hire for potential & learning not experience & experts Potential and experience are not mutually exclusive, but potential is far more valuable. Everyone usually hires for experience, but for a startup my view is to hire those whose potential will explode when they join you, pulling you along with them. Interviewing for experience is easy because you are discovering what someone has done. Interviewing for potential is hard because you are predicting what they will do. How do you do this? They get excited talking about what they could do rather than what they have done.

Static expertise quickly becomes obsolete. To survive and grow we must be a learning organisation. The clearest signal of a learner is curiosity. Curious people, by definition, love to learn, while experts talk about what they know.

Experimentation is a crucial mechanism for driving breakthroughs in any startup. If you want to create a successful, hyper-growth company, you’ve got to focus on empowering your teams to rapidly experiment.

Hire for difference not similarity There is a natural bias to hire people ‘like us’. Fight this bias. Hiring similar means we value repeatability and efficiency over creativity and leverage. Hiring different brings new skills, paradigms, and ideas, which are the sparks and catalyst of leverage. You will naturally want to hire people you connect with. Fight your instincts.. Don’t default to ‘she’s like one of us’.

2. Focus on Personality

Simply, what sort of people did we want in our team alongside us on our startup journey? I’ve developed this simple framework, a combination of attitudes, character and behaviours, to check for ‘togetherness’. They are:

·     Openness: We look for free spirits, open-minded folk who will enjoy the startup adventure and new experiences – the highs and the lows.

·     Conscientiousness: A startup can be a bit chaotic and disruptive, so we look for people who are organised and dependable.

·     Extraversion: We look for energisers, live-wires who tend to be more sociable and keep noise and energy levels up – not office jesters, but people who can keep the lights burning

·     Agreeableness: High scorers for this trait are often trusting, helpful and compassionate. Empathy is an invaluable trait to have when building your startup to balance the searing ambition.

·     Emotional stability: People with high scores for this trait are usually confident and don’t tend to worry often.

We are social creatures, and a deeper understanding of who we (and others) are can provide a valuable tool for working with others. You can build a more effective MVT using personality traits as part of your hiring decision.

In terms of the attitudes and behaviours we sought, these maybe summarised as follows:

They would much rather act than deliberate Generally, startup business plans are less useful than the planning process, as things change so quickly. Before the plan shoots out of the printer, things have already changed and ‘the plan’ is already outdated. Stuff happens.

Very few startups resemble their original plan, and that’s a good thing, because it means they’re pivoted and reshaping their businesses to meet the needs of their customers. Great startup employees are the same way.

They have an appetite to get out of the building Great start up people obsess over the customer, they understand calories are best spent making a real difference for customers. Every business has finite resources. The key is to spend as much of those resources as possible on things that matter to the customers. Fretting over trivial things doesn’t help anyone. It’s just a waste of energy.

They don’t see money as the solution to every problem One of the key lessons founders learn in a startup is resourcefulness. How do you take limited resources and turn them into something remarkable? That’s also true of the best startup employees. They’re remarkably resourceful. They’re constantly looking for creative ways to make the most of the resources they have.

3. The concept of ‘Tour of Duty’

Start-ups succeed in large part because their MVT is highly adaptable, motivated to go the extra mile and create something different. However, entrepreneurial employees can be restless, searching for new, high-learning opportunities, and other startups are always looking to poach them.

However, if you think all your MVT will give you lifetime loyalty, think again. Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. When Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee engagement as a four-year ‘tour of duty’, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business, the company would help advance her career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

A tour of duty has a defined end, but that doesn’t have to be the end of an employee’s tenure. One successful tour is likely to lead to another. Each strengthens the bonds of trust and mutual benefit. If an employee wants change, an appealing new tour of duty can provide it within your company. This is a more effective retention strategy than appealing to vague notions of loyalty and establishes a real zone of trust.

The tour-of-duty approach for a startup works like this. The business hires an employee who strives to produce tangible achievements and who is an important advocate and resource in the MVT. A tour-of-duty is established, either two or four years. Why two to four years? That time period seems to have universal appeal. In the software business, it syncs with a typical product development cycle, allowing an employee to see a major project through. At the end of this ‘tour’, the business could pivot to a new direction, and thus the MVT needs to pivot too.

Properly implemented, the tour-of-duty approach can boost both recruiting and retention for a startup. The key is that it gives both sides a clear basis for working together. Both sides agree in advance on the purpose of the relationship, the expected benefits for each, and potentially a planned end.

The problem with most employee retention conversations is that they have a fuzzy goal (retain ‘good’ employees) and a fuzzy time frame (indefinitely). The company is asking an employee to commit to it but makes no commitment in return. In contrast, a tour of duty serves as a personalised retention plan that gives a valued employee concrete, compelling reasons to finish her tour and that establishes a clear time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. Personalised tours produce even positive feelings.

Thus when working with MVT employees, establish explicit terms of their tours of duty, developing firm but time-limited mutual commitments with focused goals and clear expectations. Ask, ‘in this relationship, how will both parties benefit and progress in the lifetime of the MVT?’

4. Lessons from Google

A company’s culture and core values are the bedrock of innovation and effective teams, and Google has established a suite of practices for you to use when building your own effective startup team.

Back in 2013, Google conducted a rigorous analysis deemed Project Aristotle to identify what underlying factors led to the most effective Google teams. Over 200 interviews were conducted across +180 active teams over the course of the two-year study. More than 250 attributes were identified that contributed to both success and failure.

Their hypothesis was that they would find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team. Turns out they were dead wrong.

The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. Here are the top five keys to an effective Google team, in order of importance:

Psychological safety Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking a risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea.

Dependability On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs. the opposite – shirking responsibilities). Perfection is not optional. The enemy of great is good. Always strive for the best possible product, service or experience.

In a decentralised team working remotely, this core value is extremely important. Always trust your teammates are doing their best work with good intentions. Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments.

Structure and clarity An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Meaning Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary – financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example. The self-directed employee takes responsibility for her own decisions and actions. Having a team that can constantly say “We can figure it out” creates a competitive edge.

Impact The results of one’s work, the subjective judgment that your work is making a difference, is important. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organisation’s goals can help reveal impact. The world’s most precious resource is the passionate and persistent human mind. Get your team to embrace long-term thinking.

Every member of the team needs to embody a growth mindset: the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere.

That media fervour for the unicorn startups and their celebrity founders can suggest that it only takes the one or two entrepreneurs to build exceptional companies on their own, or with a co-founder. I think that’s rarely the case.

Henry Ford once said, Why is it that every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a mind attached? In a startup, minds dramatically amplify the value of hands and they become even more powerful when they’re able to engage with like-minded, stimulated other folk in the team.

The first four minutes: the growth mindset of entrepreneurs

It’s 63 years ago – 6 May 1954 – that Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. Inspired by Sydney Wooderson, who set the British record set at 4 minutes 4.2 seconds on 9 September 1945, Bannister started his running career in the autumn of 1946.

He had never previously worn running spikes or run on a track, but he showed promise in running a mile in 1947 in 4 minutes 24.6 seconds on only three weekly half-hour training sessions. He was selected as an Olympic possible in 1948 but declined as he felt he was not ready to compete.

Over the next few years, improving but chastened by this lack of success, Bannister started to train more seriously. In 1951, Bannister ran 4 minutes 8.3 seconds, then won a mile race on 14 July in 4 minutes 7.8 seconds at the AAA Championships before 47,000 people.

After failure at the 1952 Olympics, Bannister set himself a new goal: to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.  On 2 May 1953, he ran 4 minutes 3.6 seconds, shattering Wooderson’s 1945 standard. This race made me realise that the four-minute mile was not out of reach, said Bannister.

Other runners were making attempts at the four-minute barrier and coming close, notably American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy, who ran 4 minutes 2.0 seconds. Bannister had been following Landy’s attempts and was certain his Australian rival would succeed. Bannister knew he had to make his bid.

6 May 1954. Aged 25, Bannister had begun his day at a hospital in London as a junior doctor, where he sharpened his racing spikes and rubbed graphite on them so they would not pick up too much cinder ash. He took a mid-morning train from Paddington to Oxford, nervous about the rainy, windy conditions that afternoon

With winds up to 25mph, Bannister said that he favoured not running, and would try again at another meet. Just before the start, he looked across at a church in the distance and noticed the flag of St George was moving but starting to slow. The wind died. The conditions were far from perfect, but Bannister knew at least one obstacle had been eased. As the run began, the conditions did worsen, with a crosswind growing, but by then Bannister was in his stride.

The race went off as scheduled at 6pm with Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher providing the pacing. Brasher led for the first two laps, Bannister stayed close and then as the race reached lap three, Chataway came through to maintain the pace. The time at three-quarters was 3 minutes 0.5 seconds but Bannister knew he had to bide his time.

Bannister began his last lap, needing to run it in 59 seconds. Chataway continued to lead around the front turn until Bannister began his finishing kick with about 275 yards to go (just over a half-lap). He flew past Chataway onto the last straight and threw everything at the challenge ahead, his tall, powerful style driving him on. Could he do it? He knew this was it. The world stood still. It was just him and the track. He was being carried by history.

The announcement came. The announcer excited the crowd by delaying the proclamation of the time Bannister ran as long as possible:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which – subject to ratification – will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three…

The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement.

Bannister’s time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He’d done it. He’d broken the world record. He’d done what so many believed was impossible. But Bannister’s record only lasted 46 days, Landy beat his time on 21 June in Turku, Finland, with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. Bannister went on to win the 1,500m at the 1954 European Championships with a record in a time of 3 minutes 43.8 seconds. He then retired from athletics to concentrate on his work as a junior doctor and to pursue a career in neurology.

It was doubted that a man could break the four-minute barrier for the mile. Experts said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile. It wasn’t just dangerous; it was impossible. Perhaps the human body had reached its limit.

As part of his training, Bannister relentlessly visualised the achievement in order to create a sense of certainty in his mind and body. It took a sense of extreme certainty for Bannister to do what was considered un-doable. He alone was able to create that certainty in himself without seeing any proof that it could be done.

Once he crashed through that barrier, the rest of the world saw that it was possible, and the previous record that had stood for nine years was broken routinely – 24 people broke the 4-minute mark within a year of Bannister.

Once Bannister proved that once you stop believing something is impossible, it becomes possible. He decided to change things. He refused to settle. When no one believed his goals were possible. When his competitors were hot on his heels, he picked up his pace. He took things into his own hands, and decided to tell a better story. And in doing so – he did the impossible.

Bannister undoubtedly had a growth mindset, now an established learning theory from the work of Carol Dweck whose research-based model showed the impact of mindsets. She unpacked how a person’s mindset sets the stage for either performance goals or learning goals.

A person with a performance goal might be worried about looking smart all the time, and avoid challenging work. On the other hand, a person with a learning goal will pursue interesting and challenging tasks in order to learn more.

Dweck became interested in people’s attitudes about failure. Dweck noticed that some people rebounded while others seemed devastated by even the smallest setbacks. After studying the behaviour of thousands, Dweck coined the terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’ to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and ability. When people believe they can get improve, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

Bannister’s achievements support Dweck’s model of the fixed versus growth mindset shows how one’s beliefs about your own underlying potential impacts actual achievement. At the same time, neuroscience discoveries were gaining traction, researchers began to understand the link between mindsets and achievement. It turns out, if you believe your brain can grow, you behave differently.

Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.

What’s the best way to get started with your growth mindset development? One way is to identify where you may have fixed mindset tendencies so that you can work to become more growth minded. We all live upon a continuum, and consistent self-assessment helps us become the person we want to be.

For some people, failure is the end of the world, but for others, it’s this exciting new opportunity. Instead of focusing on output, which can be seen as emblematic of a fixed mindset, think about the effort needed to improve. Thus the takeaway is it’s not the most talented, but those willing to keep going and overcome barriers that enjoy more success. Hard work brings results.

The boom and bust nature of startups often results in entrepreneurs being viewed simplistically as successes or failures based on the outcome of their startups. However, the real key to success is mindset, which allows entrepreneurship to be viewed as a journey rather than a distinct outcome.

Fixed mindsets attribute failure to a lack of innate ability, get beaten down by it and become much more risk averse and self-conscious. On the other hand, entrepreneurs with growth mindsets are better suited for the startup rollercoaster ride, as they learn from their experiences and don’t attribute failure to a fixed trait.

This leads them to be able to analyse problems more deeply and bounce back more effectively. In a growth mindset, there is a lot of truth in the saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It also happens to make you smarter.

Perennially innovative companies like Tesla, Apple and Amazon are distinguished by a learning culture that fosters curiosity, innovation and encourages risk taking. They realise that learning generates its own unpredictable rewards, rewards you will miss if you aim only at specific, measurable goals and disregard the roles of effort.

As a growth-mindset entrepreneur, your success is an incremental aggregate of many little ideas. Every new positive or negative data point should raise more questions. Why did customers like this product so much? Was this luck? The growth mindset engenders continuous innovation and improvement even in the face of success.

So, how do you cultivate a growth mindset?

1. Don’t be defined by what you already know rather identify with your current learning, have a learning path defined, have an appetite to learn and enjoy the learning process itself. Embrace the iterations of steps backward as much as the steps forward.

2. Enjoy lessons learned for what they are don’t focus just on the outcomes, no matter how significant they maybe. Instead, recognise milestones by learning from the effort it took to achieve them. Success and failure are both by-products of the learning journey and offer valuable lessons.

3. Don’t be self-defining fixed-mindset entrepreneurs are self-defined by their results. Growth-mindset entrepreneurs are never self-defining, rather they embrace the journey and trust results will follow. Growth mindset entrepreneurs show long-term resilience, repeated innovation and the necessary drive for future enduring success.

4. Hear the voice of a growth mindset entrepreneur in your head – challenges are exciting rather than threatening, here’s a chance to grow, think the growth potential in following this opportunity, even if it’s out of your comfort zone – just like the example of Bannister.

5. Focus on the process you can learn from the processes and improve for the next time. Don’t let yourself sink into fixed mindset thinking, worrying about a challenge, a setback, or a bad outcome, focus on how to improve the process so next time out the outcome may be different.

Many successful people, including Einstein and Edison, said they learned more from their failures than from their successes, many of their breakthroughs came after a number of failures that provided learning experiences.

The more we are organised around stretching and growing, and being comfortable with confusion and setbacks, the more we are going to create growth mindsets.

Your future only exists in your own mind. To own your future, you must always be taking steps to grow and make the future bigger than your past, always looking ahead at what’s possible. Having a bigger future is not about how much time you have left, it’s about what you do with that time.

Always maximise the value of your past as you move forward, and know that your past won’t become useful until you’re committed to having a future that’s even bigger. Like Bannister, I always expect the life ahead of me to be much bigger, more exciting, more motivating, more engaging, and more fascinating than anything I’ve achieved before.

Each of us needs to believe that within us is a sub-four-minute mile performance, where we cast aside all self-doubt  of the little voices in our head and refute the naysayers.

The first sub-four minute mile could have belonged to someone else, but Bannister wanted it more, he had a growth mindset. Three minutes and 59.4 seconds that changed history. Few other sporting moments have been crystallised in a nation’s memory in the same way as the first sub-four-minute mile. It’s still special too – more people have climbed Everest than run a sub-four-minute mile.

Millions saw the apple fall, only Newton asked ‘why?’

Martin Zwilling writes an inspirational blog on a variety of issues impacting startups – here’s the link http://blog.startupprofessionals.com/ – and recently asked in his blog Do you have the intelligence to be an entrepreneur?

This set me thinking about some of the great innovators and their own entrepreneurship credentials, and how current startups mavericks like Elon Musk compare to those that have gone before.

As Zwilling states, many people feel that they just aren’t smart enough to be an entrepreneur, yet there seems to be no convincing evidence that a high IQ is a prerequisite for being an entrepreneur. We all know of successful businesses started by first-time entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, and according to many ‘street smarts’ (experience) tends to trump ‘book smarts’ (intelligence) every time.

Another perspective is that there are in fact multiple types of intelligence, and we all have strengths and weaknesses along all of these scales. It appears that most successful entrepreneurs are those with the broadest range of skills and experiences, while a depth in any given discipline is not so important.

Zwilling identified the eight most commonly recognised intelligences that cover the potential of most humans, prioritised by applicability to the entrepreneurial role:

Word-smarts (linguistic intelligence) People with a high linguistic intelligence display a high facility for word usage and languages. They are typically good at communicating ideas. Good entrepreneurs need these skills to lead a team, sell ideas to customers and investors and write strategies.

People-smarts (interpersonal intelligence) These attributes are the embodiment of social skills. Entrepreneurs with high social skills interact more effectively, they are able to sense the feelings, motivations and temperaments of others, to enlist their support and negotiate effectively.

Self-smarts (intra-personal intelligence) Intra-personal intelligence is the capacity to understand your own strengths, weaknesses and motivations, and to capitalise on these insights in planning and strategy.

Number-smarts (logical-reasoning intelligence) Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to calculate, quantify and think logically. Entrepreneurs use strengths in this area to balance their passion for a specific solution and to develop the specific steps and financial resources required for building, rolling out and scaling the business to success.

Nature-smarts (naturalist intelligence) This sort of environmental and cultural insight is rooted in a sensitive, ethical and holistic understanding of the world and its complexities. Good entrepreneurs use this to see new markets first, predict trends and devise effective marketing campaigns and demographics for focus.

Picture-smarts (spatial intelligence) Spatial intelligence is the ability to think in three dimensions and the ability to visualise with the mind’s eye. Core capacities include mental imagery, spatial reasoning and an active imagination. It’s easy to see how this is important for entrepreneurs in solution design and product branding.

Body-smarts (kinaesthetic intelligence) This intelligence involves a sense of timing and the perfection of skills through mind-body coordination. Business entrepreneurs who good at building innovative new products are especially strong in this area. Strengths here also lead to leadership presence.

Music-smarts (musical intelligence) Musical intelligence is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre and tone. In addition to being key to any business directly or indirectly related to music, this skill helps entrepreneurs to be better listeners. Music-smart people also tend to be logical.

An interesting analysis by Zwilling, which profile can you identify with? Where does your intelligence manifest itself?

Reflecting on my own strengths, then I can identify with the ‘number-smarts’ detail above. Indeed, one of my clients last week acclaimed me as a genius with numbers, as I’d prepared a complex but user friendly financial model that gave her a financial map of her business model canvas. I smiled and replied that the accolade of ‘a genius with numbers’ belonged to one man – Isaac Newton – who had always been someone I revered. Newton’s thinking was undoubtedly the mark of a hugely intelligent genius, in the language of mathematics.

It has been said that the main difference between a genius and an ordinary man, is only that a genius knows how to think, rather than what to think. Often the word genius is accompanied by words like creativity, or maybe it is their IQ, or some combination of the two that sets them apart from the rest.

Maybe there is more. Geniuses look for entirely new concepts and believe that anything is possible – traits of entrepreneurs. It is this belief that leads them to approach problems in different ways – often they will see connections and patterns where the majority of us don’t – again an underlying characteristic of entrepreneurs.

So what makes a genius? Let’s look at Isaac Newton to see if we can identify some traits, and how we can learn from them to enhance our own entrepreneurial thinking styles.

Isaac Newton experienced a difficult and lonely childhood. His father, a farmer, died three months before he was born on Christmas Day 1642 at Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire, and when he was two years old, his mother, Hannah, moved away to remarry, leaving Isaac to be brought up by his grandmother for eight years.

He was a thinker from a young age, making a working windmill driven by mice running around a treadmill aged eight. After Grammar School, his prodigious academic talent was recognised and in 1661 he went to Trinity College Cambridge.

Having dabbled in the study of alchemy, combining ‘the magical and the mechanical’, the first sign of his unique thinking style, by the end of 1666 he became the first to describe techniques for differential calculus, using his own definitions of ‘fluxions’. It was during this period too, when prompted by a falling apple, he compared the attraction exerted by the Earth at its surface with that required to keep the Moon in orbit, and the concept of ‘the universal law of gravity’ was born.

Not content with this, Newton then went on to conduct a series of brilliant experiments and he was the first to discover the true properties of white light, that it was composed of more basic rays, each of which had its own colour – the spectrum.

As a result of his endeavours, Newton was made a Fellow of Trinity College in 1667, but his academic career was only just beginning. Over the next few years he refined his mathematical research. Newton’s published his masterwork Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica in 1687, known as Principia. In this work, Newton stated the three universal laws of motion.

Principia is undoubtedly one of the books that changed the world. However, it’s a modest volume, about 6 by 8 inches, weighs about three pounds and consists of 512 pages written in Latin filled with mathematical problems, calculations and diagrams. Newton’s work was quickly recognised as that of a genius, and in 1703 he received the ultimate accolade in British science by being elected president of the Royal Society. He was knighted two years later.

Newton was a difficult man, working in solitude, prone to depression and often involved in bitter arguments with other scientists, but by the early 1700s he was the dominant figure in British and European science. He died on 31 March 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Newton towered intellectually above his contemporaries as no other since – Einstein had his picture on his office wall – writing his own epic of scientific discoveries and contribution to mathematical thinking. Newton himself had been rather more modest of his own achievements, famously writing in a letter to Robert Hooke in February 1676: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. Although he did not arrive at his theory of gravity in any single moment, watching the falling apple was his eureka moment – though not the cartoon version that the apple actually hit Newton’s head. It’s an enduring image, and following a period working in orchards in Oregon during his vagabond years, Steve Jobs named his company ‘Apple’ and the original logo was that of Newton sat under an apple tree.

So, let’s look at Newton’s genius, his ability to come up with ideas, and generate alternatives and conjectures like a modern day entrepreneur. Why are so many of their ideas so rich and varied? How do they produce the variations that lead to the original and novel? By studying the notebooks, correspondence, conversations and ideas of Newton, researchers have teased out particular common thinking strategies and styles of thought that enabled him to generate a prodigious variety of novel and original ideas. The following are thumbnail descriptions of strategies that are perceived in Newton’s thinking.

Newton looked at problems in many different ways. Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has spotted. Newton believed that to find a solution to a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem.

Newton used pictures to share his thinking. The explosion of thinking in the Newton was intimately tied to the recording and conveying of a vast knowledge in drawings, graphs and diagrams, also seen in the renowned diagrams of da Vinci and Galileo.

Newton was productive. A distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. He guaranteed productivity by giving himself idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. Newton too was a prodigiously novel and disruptive thinker. In his yearning for Theory of Everything he sometimes worked 18 or 20 hours a day. This gargantuan capacity for work he continued for a quarter of a century when in his prime.

Newton made novel connections. Like a child playing with Lego, a genius is constantly combining and recombining ideas, images and thoughts into different combinations in their conscious and subconscious minds. Newton’s falling apple moment enabled him to combine differing concepts in a novel way, and as a result he was able to look at the same world as everyone else and see something different. Leonardo da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water. This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.

Newton thought in contradictions. Geniuses think different thoughts because they tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects. Because Newton could tolerate juxtapositions and variations, he was open to novel and ambiguous stimuli, and could see the hidden relationships that led to his spontaneous breakthroughs.

Newton made bets. Newton’s process was trial and error, a journey down many dead-ends that eventually gave him a solution. It is not luck, but creative insight of the highest order. Newton’s diaries show he often noted things as ‘interesting’ and wondered if it had potential. This curiosity of an unrestrained search for ideas led to his hypotheses or bets, which he would explore and ultimately prove.

Recognising these thinking strategies of Newton and applying them will make you more entrepreneurial for sure. Newton ‘knew how to think’, so adopt some of his ways to improve your own thinking – it will work.

Embrace the thinking of Newton in your every day approach to work and you’ll unearth new ideas to take your business forward. Give yourself 10% of the working week – that’s just one afternoon or morning – to thinking.

Millions saw the apple fall, only Newton asked the question. Newton made the most telling remark on the process of thought that I have ever encountered. It is also the simplest. When asked how he had come upon his theory of gravity, he said, By thinking on it continuously.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: The Ramones, New York

Hey, Ho, Let’s Go! My entrepreneurial learning journey steps into New York, and that can only mean one thing – the breakthrough music innovation and cultural impact of The Ramones. The Ramones launched the grassroots punk-rock movement in New York with their eponymous 1976 debut album. Their short, combustible songs marked them down as a loud-fast energetic sit-up-and-take-notice band, setting up a new genre, which changed the music industry forever.

Some may think that being a musician doesn’t involve much entrepreneurial flair, however if you think about it, making commercial music is something that requires creativity, motivation, collaboration and determination – four ingredients that are also key to being an innovating entrepreneur. In the UK, Tony Wilson and Factory Records were game changers as founders of the Indie music scene.

Walk down East 2nd Street off of The Bowery in Downtown New York, and you’ll pass by Albert’s Garden, a small community garden midway up the block. If you happen to visit on a day when the gates are open, head inside and you’ll find a beautiful little East Side village oasis maintained by local volunteers. But for something particularly special, make a left when you enter and walk down the path to its end.

At first glance, the blank grey concreted brick wall in front of you might seem entirely unremarkable when compared with the beauty of the surroundings. But had you been here on a particular day in early 1976 you would have seen four long-haired punks in leather jackets and ripped jeans posing for their album cover that would forever change rock’n’roll.

Guitarist Johnny strummed rapid-fire bar-chords, Dee Dee introduced songs with a raw-throated countdown (‘1-2-3-4’) that became a group trademark, as he pounded a relentless stream of eighth notes on the bass. Drummer Tommy anchored the frantic beat with superhuman energy. Lead singer Joey’s vocals were delivered in a deadpan, unique style. Dark glasses, leather jackets and long dark hair. The iconic, unified collective identity that The Ramones worked hard to make appear effortless set them apart.

The Ramones formed in 1974 after the foursome left high school. Their name and pseudonym came via Paul McCartney, who had briefly called himself Paul Ramon back when the Beatles were the Silver Beatles.

The Ramones got back to basics, simple, speedy, loud, stripped-down rock and roll tunes. Voice, guitar, bass, drums. No makeup, no egos, no light shows, no nonsense. The sound influenced thousands of bands, and proved so durable that The Ramones stuck to it for their entire career.

The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts, their final show was in Los Angeles on August 6, 1996. They released 21 studio, live and compilation albums over a 20-year period. The first four are their acknowledged classics – Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977), Rocket to Russia (1977), Road to Ruin (1978) – inciting a revolution in music and lifestyle. Yet they never had a Top Forty hit, which seems an ironic pity since their songs possessed a hypnotic and energetic sound.

On 20 July 1999, The Ramones were at the Virgin Megastore in New York City for an autograph signing. This was the last occasion on which the original four members of the group appeared together. By 2014, all were dead.

I first started listening to The Ramones at 15 years old, and I swear there was simply nothing – nothing – as much fun as being at a Ramones show, where the entire room literally pulsated with energy as everyone pushed and shoved and careered around like dervishes into each other. Each track was under three minutes of pure energy, dubious lyrics and pulsating sound. Ramones concerts in Manchester as a teenager – they were the most fun you could have with your clothes on.

With just four chords and one manic tempo, The Ramones blasted open mid-’70s music, reanimating the listening experience. Their genius was to frame the short, simple aesthetic of punk in terms of attitude, sound and art. Their visual imagery complemented the themes of their music and performance. This fashion emphasised minimalism, which was a powerful influence on the New York punk scene of the 1970s and reflected the band’s short, simple songs. Ramones music has a Pavlovian effect on me – the song starts, and the world blurs around the sound. Still does.

Walking around New York in 2015, there were folks of all ages in the classic Ramones iconic tee-shirts, their wardrobes being as robust and as heritage as mine. There were numerous people in Albert’s Garden on Thursday making the connection. So whilst you sing ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ outloud and look back over your shoulder for your youth, here are some great lessons for startup life I’ve taken from The Ramones.

A DIY ethic drives innovation Punks were revered for their Do-It-Yourself abilities. Before today’s fashion of clothing sold already ripped on purpose, there were punks ripping their clothing… just because. The Ramones made it up as they went along, like a startup they had to find their market and determine product-market fit, working out where their audience was.

Try, try, try – and see what happens. Just like The Ramones, experiment. The Ramones gigged virtually every night for their first two years – they put themselves out there, into the market. Get out of the building and put your product into the market, strive for low cost, low risk accelerated learning. Don’t worry about failing – the goal is to learn what the market wants.

Attitude and conviction trump talent The Ramones’ ‘product’ was, in reality, very simple, raw and basic in the extreme, but Joey Ramone is one of the most iconic front men ever, yet he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Talent is awesome, but punk proved it’s often overemphasised. Success is achieved by a host of variables, none more so that sheer-bloodied single-mindedness to get up there and make it happen. Startups need to remember this when launching their product – talent rocks, but attitude is king. It’s about conviction and determination to make it happen.

Belief. Punk took on an established industry with major labels in control and broke the rules with their disruptive thinking. In doing so, they changed the dynamics and disrupted an established market. They had enduring success and created a lasting legacy, albeit measured in cultural terms, if not financial.

The Ramones made the mind shift change that is needed to begin thinking and behaving like a startup and ask themselves the questions that an entrepreneur must ask: What is the value of the work that I do or the product I make? What problem does my music solve for my target audience? In the case of music, it’s a gap in the market for a genre, a sound, an image.

Authenticity inspires customers The Ramones started with bold artistic expression of their own, truly authentic, not seeking to copy or replicate others. They inspired a revolution. The startup leadership lesson here is one of my favourites: you can be confident and competent all you want, but if you’re not accepted as real, and having a point of difference in what you offer customer, you won’t inspire a following. People like real.

The brand is more important than individuals. Only two members of the Ramones (Joey and Johnny) lasted from inception to dissolution of the band, and yet their popularity never wavered.  The ‘Ramones’ brand mattered more than the individual members. Similarly for a startup, the founding team will evolve, you make your first hires and scale with new folks with the required skills. Work hard to build your culture and your brand so that no matter who’s representing it, it remains true to your founding vision.

Build demand. Anticipation builds demand. Bands understand this, trailing publicity for their next album release or Tour dates. For startups, building anticipation during your product launch and create customer demand is key. People don’t know you’ve been working on your project for months. You need to get them excited, but you can’t build all that excitement on launch day. A product launch should never be a surprise – think about Apple. Sure, they’re secretive, but they’re really good at building demand before their launch day.

Bootstrapping. Indie bands are just like a tech startup teams coming together – they assemble a team of complementary skills, create a rough-cut demo tape and begin touring small venues. For startups, they gather a team of varying skills, produce their first prototype, and begin networking with customers and investors. What is selling merchandise at shows if not bootstrapping? And where startups have angel investors, bands have record deals, to launch that first album.

It’s a lean startup. As for new tech products, the same for new music – the key with frequent releases is to learn from them, that way you can fine tune your song writing, performance, and marketing for releases down the road. Playing songs live before they are released gauges crowds’ reactions and if it doesn’t getting them leaping in the air, then it’s back to the drawing board. The purpose is to experiment early and often, listen to what people say about you and adapt accordingly – creating minimum viable products.

Get out of the building, put on a show. Startups are focussed with iterating, constantly trying new things and experimenting with new features until one proves popular. That’s what bands do, get out of the building and onto the road, touring and performing at as many venues as they can to socialise and promoting their product. Enter the minimum viable track. Once you’ve got the early versions of your music in front of your audience, start responding to their feedback. If there are tunes they like, concentrate on those  —  if there are tunes they don’t, scrap them and try something else in their place. Get the approval of these early listeners – get validation, then pivot your product.

The early punk scene in NYC was as diverse and experimental as anything in the history of music, it was an exhilarating breath of fresh air, with the iconic club of CBGBs where they all launched, which remains in the tapestry of New York culture, just as Albert’s Garden, 40 years on. The Ramones, Devo, Television, Talking Heads – led by the enigmatic David Byrne – were all pioneers of a new genre, entrepreneurs for sure. If you’re never inspired to pick up a guitar or write great tunes, you can learn some key startup lessons from The Ramones.

Rock music is, after all, a business. There are partnerships to consider, record deals to craft, intellectual property to protect, tours to organise and merchandise to sell. Of course there’s also groupies, drugs, and trashed hotel rooms that one doesn’t (normally) find in a startup setting.

What’s your signature tune and tone of voice? What is your target audience in an already crowded market, why would people buy from you ahead of others? How hard are you really working to be different and stand out from the crowd, and build your own audience? What are you doing to optimise your potential, your talent, your energy, your fulfilment, your joy, your love, your self-actualisation, your Life?

Look back to 1976 when you stand in Albert’s Garden. Life. Why would you want to be anyone else if you’d been Joey Ramone?

Entrepreneurial learning journey: restaurant innovation in Boston

Learning is something I care passionately about, and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity over many years to put myself in the position to feed my curiosity and acquire new knowledge. This has come from structured education, ‘hands-on’ experience, practitioner and peer learning.

It’s been a combined process of autonomous and interactive development. I love to learn new things, and to share the things I learn with others. I feel fortunate to follow a career which allows me to do something I love doing for my job. My mantra is to learn something new everyday – ask my kids, I used to ask this of them each morning every day they went to school.

So I recently set off to spend some time in America, visiting planned locations, businesses, individuals and conferences I’d researched. My objective was to unearth new insights from startups and established entrepreneurs that operated in different cultures, from practitioners sharing their experience, and to satisfy my curiosity about unearthing new thinking from new research.

My first stop on my entrepreneurial learning journey was Boston, home to the disruptive free thinkers who ignited America’s independence – John Hancock, the first signature on the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and second cousin to John Adams, second President, and Benjamin Franklin, another Founding Father and polymath.

If someone asks you to name a U.S. city associated with tech startups, chances are you’ll list San Francisco or New York, probably not Boston – however, it’s the city where Facebook and Dropbox were born. It isn’t home to many consumer focused tech companies, so doesn’t hit the radar, but the intellectual power here is staggering, with Harvard and MIT providing the academic capital. As a result, for years, Boston has topped the list for most venture capital invested per capita across the U.S.

Located in downtown Boston, steps away from the waterfront, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is alive today as it was in 1742 when it was proclaimed it ‘The Cradle of Liberty’. It was built by funding provided by a wealthy merchant, Peter Faneuil, as a gift to the city and has been a hub of free thinking since.

Firebrand Samuel Adams rallied the citizens of Boston to the cause of independence from Britain in the hall, and at 10am on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read in public for the first time from the balcony to the crowds below. Subsequently, George Washington toasted the nation here on its first birthday. It was also in Faneuil Hall that a young John Kennedy gave the first televised political speech in America.

Historically, the edifice was home to merchants, fishermen, and meat and produce sellers. The market remained a vital business hub throughout the 1800s, but by the mid-1900s, the buildings had fallen into disrepair and many stood empty. The once-thriving marketplace was tagged for demolition until a committed group of Bostonians sought to preserve it in the early 1970s.

Today, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is actually four places in one location – Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market, and 70 retailers occupy the 200,000 square feet of retail space, all set around a cobblestone promenade where food emporiums of every flavour, culture and genre exist side by side as jugglers, magicians and musicians entertain the passers-by. So by all means, stroll, shop, eat, laugh, wander, wonder and explore it all, a hub of creativity and a mixed-use festival marketplace.

The Union Oyster House, located outside Faneuil Hall, enjoys the unique distinction of being America’s oldest restaurant. Housed in a building dating back to pre-Revolutionary days, it started serving food in 1826 and has continued ever since with the stalls, and its centerpiece, a fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar. Since 1826, the Union Oyster House has known only three owners.

As an aside, the toothpick was first used in the U.S. at the Union Oyster House, enterprising Charles Forster first imported the picks from South America. To promote his new business he hired Harvard University students to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks. They caught on.

So on one side of Faneuil Hall, heritage, longevity and an established brand; across the road, a community of food startups, elbowing their way into the market, creating noise and attention, using innovation as their go-to-market weapon. Are there lessons for both the new and old here, should we focus on innovation or core – seeking to get market share from the same customers with food they know they want, or to provide something different? The answer is both.

Start-ups and established businesses alike must balance their focus on their core business, while also pushing an innovation edge. How do you innovate (experiment) in new areas while maintaining strong execution on your core business? While it seems that start-ups tend to do the former well, and larger firms the latter, it is possible to do both? Not only is it possible, it’s necessary.

If you’re a large company, the pull of ingrained processes and practices, and the pressure to produce short-term results, naturally inhibits creativity and new ideas. It’s hard to devote your precious resources to risky propositions, but you need to if you want any chance of surviving in the ever-changing marketplace.

Large companies also need to figure out how to make failure fast and cheap after all, the primary reason behind most enterprises’ risk aversion is the hefty price tag of failed experiments. But if you design research and testing protocols that make it easy to determine the viability of new ideas early in their development, you reduce the cost of failure.

Scanning the periphery is also important. If you’re only looking at your current competitors and customers, you might miss crucial demographic shifts, new rivals, technological developments, and other macro-environmental changes at the edge, which can creep upon you unawares.

If you’re a start-up company, you have the opposite challenges. Creativity, agility, and risk-taking are your hallmarks. While your entrepreneurial spirit makes innovating easy, it also may pose challenges to solidly executing on your core business and a ‘business as usual’ being. It’s easy to get distracted by new possibilities and it’s tempting to constantly tweak things. Your efforts need to be focused on, well, focus.

So what are the entrepreneurs’ lessons I picked up from the food innovators in Boston?

Hold your ambition. Drill down to your absolute aspirations and lock them in. Then be sure to execute on them flawlessly so that customers learn exactly what you stand for and come to trust that you deliver.

Stay relevant. Keeping a sustained relevance with customers by ensuring an up to date understanding of the relevant cultural and contextual changes in your market, and a strategic approach to interpreting them.

Be creative. Apply creativity in all aspects of your business model. Innovation shouldn’t be limited to new products and offerings. One restaurant had a simple menu with items priced at one triangle ($6), two triangles ($12), three triangles ($18) and four triangles ($24).

Stay Fresh. Keeping your business model as fresh as your fish by leading the charge to change the dining experience. One restaurant has done away with tipping, paying employees a living wage that’s already included in the price of the food.

Create demand. One restaurant puts aside 25% of its tables as ‘not bookable’. If you have the luxury of flexibility, same-night tables are the way to go. These tables are released each day via social media and are rewarded to the first to respond via e-mail.

Be smart. Take customers on a new journey to keep your offering new and different. One restaurant had full tasting menus of avant-garde dessert dishes. Individually they wouldn’t sell as part of a meal, but a sample menu created new demand.

Be quirky. Create eye-catching product names. One restaurant had visually stunning plates. Dish names are abstract, like ‘The half moon, silky and smoky’ and ‘Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories.’ This leads to an extreme element of surprise, as a diner never knows what will arrive at the table next.

Provide product information. One place that had a QR-code sticker pasted on the glass in front of each fish to find information about the species, harvest location, ecology and fisherman biographies that caught my eye. A simple way of providing more product innovation.

Shock your customers – in the nicest possible way. In a new restaurant, there are no menus. Rather, your waiter will ask you what foods you like and don’t like, what you’re in the mood for, and whether you have any food allergies or sensitivities. After he conveys this information to the kitchen, chef will whip up a unique meal, with each course conceptualized not from a recipe or menu but out of his whimsy.

Make it personal. The personal one-to-one interaction with the waiter is as important as the food. I had one waiter who took my order, then he spent five extra minutes doing something special. He transformed himself from a workman into an artist. In those few extra minutes, he became remarkable, and memorable, he made me feel like I was his only customer that night. It takes 99% of the time you spend just to be average. The remarkable stuff can happen in 1% of your time – in a flash.

Some useful learnings for sure, but underlying all these food entrepreneurs is that they marketed their products and restaurants with a story around their purpose, passion and vision. Here is a stand out story that was on the back of a particular menu.

A man wrote a letter to the restaurant: I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to bring him into your restaurant?

The reply from the restaurant owner, said: I’ve been operating this restaurant for many years. In all that time, I’ve never had a dog knock crockery off the table or pictures off the wall. I’ve never had to evict a dog in the middle of the evening for being drunk and disorderly. And I’ve never had a dog run out without paying a bill. Yes, indeed, your dog is welcome at my restaurant. And, if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome to eat here too.

People don’t necessarily buy what your product is. They’re buying into your story, the values you have and the experience you will give them. The restaurant with the menu with the dog story was small, but they are not actually selling food. They’re selling a complete experience. You’re not buying food from them, you’re buying interactions with them.

Boston is a city with a heritage based on its people – the patriots and those who inspired the independence revolution. They had no resources, they just got people together and made stuff happen. Likewise business model innovation isn’t all about product development and design, as I found in Boston, it can be quite simple, and be about people and making the customer experience memorable, distinct from from the competition. In doing that, it truly creates a point of uniqueness that no innovation can directly copy.

Good habits of mindful startup entrepreneurs

Raise your hand if you can start working immediately whenever you want, never get tempted and never get distracted by social media or email or reading the newspaper? No? Me neither. But I’ve learned something that helps a lot. It’s all about our willpower and habits, the part of our mind where we decide on actions to take.

The philosopher Plato first described our internal willpower struggle around 400BC with the allegory of the chariot. In the driver seat, you have the rational mind with a certain amount of willpower, and the chariot is pulled by two horses representing our spirited energy. The charioteer can guide the horses for a while, but if he fights them for too long, or is too weak, the horses will eventually take control of the chariot and go against our demand, and thus lose our focus.

So it is with our minds. Staying productive and managing our impulses is all about strengthening our chariot driver and making sure we can steer our energy in the right direction. To do that, we must build up our willpower and focus on our good habits.

This is especially important for startups, where time is of the essence and building that PoC to test with customers is the most important priority. However, as noted, we all get distracted. What about just adding one more feature here, pitching to another potential investor this week, talking to a marketing agency? All are like the horses if you’re not careful, they’ll end up pulling you in the wrong direction, distractions from your primary focus.

At its core, willpower is your ability to get things done and shape good habits. It determines how easy it is for you start working and resist eating that third cookie and playing a You Tube video.

Think of willpower as a muscle: it’s something that you can flex and relax as you need to, strengthen with training, and lose if you don’t use it enough. This was shown in the radishes and cookies experiment, where scientists brought in participants who had skipped a meal and asked them to do one of three things:

  1. Eat radishes, but avoid eating cookies
  2. Eat cookies, but avoid eating radishes
  3. Just do nothing (i.e. participants weren’t shown either food)

Afterwards, subjects were asked to solve an impossible geometric puzzle. Participants who had eaten the radishes while resisting the cookies gave up much more quickly than those who got to eat cookies or weren’t shown food. Why? Because they used up their willpower resisting the cookies, and couldn’t use it on the puzzle.

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘I’d cave and grab the cookies. I’m just weak-willed,’ don’t worry: science has also shown that willpower is something you can train. So how can you develop a will of steel that that helps you work your way through the toughest tasks? Simple: pay attention to your mental and physical health.

No, I’m not going to go into tree-hugging mode and talk about good diet, exercise, get more sleep, drink a gallon of water a day to become more hydrated, then move onto mediation, yoga or pilates. I’m going to focus on habits, and practicing good habits to build that mental muscle.

There has been much documentation about the habits of successful people, thanks in large part to Stephen Covey’s highly successful book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While this has been a key piece of reading for the business community since the late 1980s, the traits are different for a startup leader.

Habits form our professional lives. They provide a framework on which we build the success we desire. I often study founders’ routines and how I can emulate them myself. Here are the some interesting habits I have gleaned from entrepreneurs I’ve worked with that can help give you starting points for your own successful daily routine in your startup.

Habit 1: Don’t take no for an answer, always look forward Being an innovator is all about disruptive thinking, to go beyond an existing market, seeing an unfilled gap in the market – or create a new market itself. You need to be a pioneer, keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, but if anything is a critical part of a good habit set of a startup founder, it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Put customers first A startup is an experiment, and progress requires an unwavering commitment to the customer, rather than your product. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Spend time on what touches a customer, and don’t do anything to your product that doesn’t generate value for them, and revenue for yourself.

Habit 3: Minimise low impact decision-making You have to be action led. From daily operations to strategic direction choices, waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you have more insight into what you’re doing than anyone else, and trust your instincts.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy or ‘hot’ the moment, is a recipe for mediocrity or ‘me2’ at best. Successful startup founders by definition habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others don’t because there’s less competition and a much greater chance for success. Make some bets, make your business about one simple problem, test it, and solve it.

Habit 5: Take one further step than everyone else – always look for the upside Problems are a regular part of startup life, it can often seem like everything is jam side down. To achieve success, look at both sides of the coin – every problem has an opportunity. Keep going when others stop, being opportunity focused makes you more positive about seeing potential in every situation. The habit of a positive mind-set is key.

Habit 6: Be visible – get out of the building The startup founders I’ve worked with consistently name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think customer’, be visible and get out of the building is key. Having conversations with potential customers is a key habit to building value in your product and building relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to be in conversations.

Habit 7: Start at the end Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the most innovative, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. The habit of thinking big, looking to the horizon and working backwards is key to growth.

Habit 8: Be organised and shift gears, out your meetings on a diet Sometimes having a head full of big ideas can lead to thinking being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains ineffective in implementation, and someone who achieves success, falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through and execute them. Prefer action to thinking, spend time planning but a lot more time doing, but know why and where you’re heading. Jettison protracted meetings and flabby agendas, make stuff happen.

Habit 9: Make small bets and make them quickly There is no guarantee anyone will buy your great idea. Your resources are limited and you don’t want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. Get out in the market fast and let potential customers tell you if you are onto something. Respond to feedback, change course and act. The habit of being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty

Habit 10: …and they don’t stop there, play tomorrow’s agenda today Achieving a goal, no matter how huge, isn’t the finish line for most startup founders, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another goal. Startup founders are restless, and don’t try to win just one race, they expect to win a number of subsequent races.

Habit 11: Be true to yourself Steve Jobs succeeded by following his own ‘inner voice, heart and intuition’. He said, Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.

Habit 12: Reflect on critical open questions through different lenses Most disruptive thinking is borne by a long cultivation of an open question, followed by the nurturing of a slow hunch. If you get a mental block, work at the problem each day from different angles, under different lenses – looking at extremes, considering what essential assumptions are and how to test them. Eventually I find some real traction with an idea that seems novel and has a good chance of working.

Habit 13: Plan tomorrow’s agenda today Before the close of business, go over what’s coming up the next day. Review and forecast what tomorrow is going to look like and how you’re going to get through that. It gives you an opportunity to prioritise, and also allows us to go to bed at night with a clear head. Your mind does a lot of work for you while you’re sleeping. You get there the next day and are much more efficient and productive

Similar to this habit, I have my own evening retrospective on the day just ended. Every night before bed, I think about this question: If I live every day the same way I did today, what kind of future would that create? It forces me to constantly evaluate whether or not my actions are lining up with my priorities. The future is shaped one day at a time, and it’s never as far away as we think.

We are stereotyped creatures, imitators and copiers of our past selves. The startup founder who wants to reach the top appreciates the might of the force of habit and understands that practices are what create habits. He is quick to break those habits that can break him, and hasten to adopt those practices that will become the habits that help him achieve the success he desires, as outlined above.

My own thoughts are that if I can get victory over myself, the odds are high I can help fix ideas into stuff that works. If I can’t fix myself, the odds are equally high I will never be able to add value and do good things. As Flaubert said, Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.