I spent some time recently thinking about what companies that grow up to be extremely successful do when they are very young. I came up with the following list. It’s from personal experience and I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions. While plenty of non-successful startups do some of these things too, I think there is value in trying to match the patterns.
They are obsessed with the quality of the product/experience
Almost a little too obsessed—they spend a lot of time on details that at first glance wouldn’t seem to be really important. The founders of these companies react as if they feel physical pain when something isn’t quite right with the product or a user has a bad customer support experience. Although they believe in launching early and iterating, they generally won’t release something crappy. (This is not an excuse to launch slowly. You’re probably taking too long to launch.) As part of this, they don’t put anyone between the founders and the users. The founders of these companies do things like sales and customer support themselves.
They are obsessed with talent
The founders take great pride in the quality of their team and do whatever it takes to get the best people to join them. Everyone says they only want to hire the best people, but the best founders don’t compromise on this point. If they do make a hiring mistake, they fix it very quickly. And they hire very slowly. They don’t get any thrill out of having employees for its own sake, and they do the dirty work themselves at the beginning. As part of this, they really focus on getting the culture of the company right.
They can explain the vision for the company in a few clear words
This is most striking in contrast to companies that require multiple complicated sentences to explain, which never seem to do really well. Also, they can articulate why they’re going to succeed even if others going after the problem have failed, and they have a clear insight about why their market is a great one. More generally, they communicate very well.
They generate revenue very early on in their lives.
Often as soon as they get their first user.
They are tough and calm
Founders of great companies are always tough and unflappable. Every startup seems like it’s going to die–sometimes multiple times in a single day–and founders of really successful companies just seem to pull out a gun and shoot the villain without losing their train of thought. Formidableness can be developed; I’ve seen weak-seeming founders grow into it fast.