Mar 17, 2022
Lessons from a Business Guru
Good business should always be an ongoing quest, not an endpoint.
Always do the right and noble thing. Doing the right and noble thing will always generate positive impacts. Quality, craftsmanship, and creativity are always appreciated and ultimately rewarded.
People should work with you, not for you. They should serve a higher purpose beyond their management and know that purpose well. It is that purpose which drives them and fuels their passions. When people are misaligned with the company's purpose or cannot consciously align with it, they will never feel happy or satisfied with their work.
The people who contribute the most to a company’s success are stewards of that business. The steward’s need for the organization to succeed is inherent in their essential makeup, and they wouldn’t dream of it any other way. Stewards can exist in any form, from the custodians to the owners. People who are not willing to be stewards of the business will eventually corrupt the business.
Time is the only non-renewable resource. It must always be appreciated, cherished, and never wasted. Time spent in reflection is never a waste.
You should always model the behavior you want to see.
These nuggets of advice don’t come from the Harvard Business Review. They don’t come from a prominent CEO, management book, cool new (or old) website, or a fancy accelerator program. They come from the former owner (now retired) of an engineering firm in good old Sutter Creek, CA, population 2,516 people.
That’s right. My Dad.
My Dad worked with a small troupe of engineers for 44 years. He was successful, although he intentionally kept his company small not to risk the family income in an industry that was mainly “up and down in nature” (he was an expert in septic system design and landslides). He did business in cash, on credit, and even in trade for fine local wines. It wasn’t a fancy corporation but a small family-owned local business that kept 5-10 families fed and housed.
A couple of months ago, I was chatting with him over a couple of beers about some challenges I’ve had at work lately. I’ve always relied on him to knock some sense into me about many things, and this evening wasn’t any different. He reminded me that when things went askew, “always return to the basics.” It was late, so I asked him to email me more about his meaning.
After a few days, he sent me the six points I wrote above (copied and pasted directly above, except for deleting a random tangent about the family dog).
As startup founders, we constantly look for new ways to do business. However, startups thrive on just basic business sense. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. There is nothing in there about processes or procedural mandates. Yet, as founders, we tend to forget that. Not because we intend to, but because we get so wrapped up in what we think we should do, the urge to envelop the simple in something complicated (because the more steps and people involved, the better, right?), the need to move faster, and so on.
But building great startups isn’t about catchy phrases or complicated processes. It’s about knowing what it fundamentally takes to do good business. Pay attention to people. Do the right things because they are the right things to do. Focus on doing high-quality, innovative work. Be a steward for the company. Maintain a higher purpose. Constantly evaluate ways of doing things that exceed expectations.
So, when we think about building our startups, we must challenge ourselves to think beyond the complications of running things the way we’ve been told and focus on the fundamentals. I have experienced how it can speed up product delivery, encourage innovation and creativity, and exceed our and customers’ expectations. But when we find ourselves drowning in the details, let us remember what my Dad, a geotechnical engineer from Sutter Creek, California, said and go from there…
“Always return to the basics.”