The 10 Commandments of Startups (for Now)
Howard Tullman

Getting a business off the ground is difficult enough. Don’t commit the mistake of making it more complicated, too.

I spoke recently on business basics at the Chicago Startup Summit, which was put together by teams at Virgin Unite and RM72 as an educational and networking experience for entrepreneurs and wannabes, with a particular focus on socially-conscious businesses.

When I ordinarily talk about The Perspiration Principles, I focus on what I regard as the five main requirements for success in business and, of course, in life: passion, preparation, perspiration, perseverance and principles (or values). The sessions at the Summit offered an opportunity to broaden the conversation and add three more P’s to the pot: people, purpose and planet.

The central idea was to ask how we can change businesses for the greater good, either by creating businesses that specifically focus on doing good or helping existing businesses think about and implementing cost-effective and innovative ways in which their business can address broader social concerns. The goal is a double bottom line; profit and public good.

The diverse group of participants spanned the social spectrum so much so that I occasionally felt that, while I was talking about bedrock basics, super-smart people like Mats Lederhausen, of BE-CAUSE, (mission statement: building businesses with a “purpose bigger than their products”)  were talking about concepts and ideas that sounded a lot more like rocket science. But based on the reactions and comments of the crowd, everybody found something to help them make sense of this crazy and exciting new world of constant change and disruptive innovation.

In any event, I was grateful for the opportunity to review with the group some of the basic concepts that have been the foundation, for almost half a century now, of my practice and of The Perspiration Principles as well. While some of the ideas have been expanded and adapted, it’s amazing how little the fundamentals vary.

Here are the Top 10 from my ever-growing list:

1. You Get What You Work for, Not What You Wish For

Hard work always wins. In the real world, effort trumps talent. Hope is not a strategy. We may not outsmart them all, but we’ll certainly outwork them.

2. Keep Raising the Bar

Constant iteration is the key. You get better by getting better. Successive approximation beats postponed perfection. There’s no finish line – ever.

3. Shoot for the Stars

Always ask for the best seat in the house. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. If you don’t ask, the answer’s always “no.”

4. Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Feasibility will compromise you soon enough. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by the limitations of other people. Fueling your fears is a waste of imagination.

5. Keep Moving Forward

Excellence is always anchored in perseverance. It’s only a “No” for now. Over every hill is another hill. The only easy day was yesterday.

6. Start Now with What You Have

Waiting doesn’t necessarily get you to a better answer. The time will never be “just right.” Elaboration in planning is a form of pollution. A good plan executed today beats a perfect plan next week. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Only the winners decide what were the war crimes.

7. Nobody Said Life Was Fair

In the world of startups, there aren’t rewards or punishments, there are only consequences. Some win, some lose, but those who don’t constantly change die for sure. There’s no such thing as a good excuse. Make smart mistakes and don’t repeat them.

8. Never Play the Blame Game

People who blame their circumstances for their situation will never change things for the better. The ones who succeed look for the conditions they need to succeed and, if they can’t find them, they make them. When you continually blame others, you give up your power to make things better.

9. Sometimes the Baby is Just Ugly

Time is the scarcest resource. Opportunity costs are everything. If you’re digging yourself into a hole, the first order of business is to stop digging. Don’t be reluctant to change your mind. Don’t try to do things cheaply that you shouldn’t be doing at all. Stubborn on vision; flexible on details.

10. Make Something that Makes a Difference

Focus on making a difference and making a life rather than just trying to make a living.

Howard Tullman is CEO of 1871