In July, I joined two former Fortune 500 CEOs to launch a new business – training CEO succession candidates for the world’s most significant companies, utilizing dozens of current and former CEOs as faculty. The launch has had its share of ups and downs, changes in direction, and frustrations. But in March, it seems the dam busted open. Our capacity is now basically sold out through the end of 2011, and we are already planning for significant expansion of our offering.
There are many things that have surprised me this time around. Here are three:
1. No one gives you credit for your previous success.
All the excitement, the accolades and accomplishment that go with launching your previous company stayed with the old company. Hey, people may be a little more curious to see what you are up to this time, but in the end, the business concept either stands on its own or it doesn’t. We tweaked our approach more than a dozen times until we got it right – and only then did things take off. Benefit of the doubt is a myth.
2. The biggest sale is to your employees.
Sure, landing that first customer (actually, cashing that first check) is sexy and exciting. Getting partners lined up is critical. But the most important sale a start-up CEO can make is to their employees. You have nothing but a concept. You cannot offer any form of stability. You don’t even know what the company will look like in a year. All you can offer is a vision of an exciting future – and a positive, fun place to work. And if you are just lucky enough to convince a handful of the very best people to join you for the ride, you are well on your way to the destination. I know of many leaders, even CEOs, who are widely considered a$$ holes by their employees. There aren’t many founders with this same reputation.
3. The biggest advantage is your learning curve.
You have succeeded once before in a specific market. You learned a lot. But it’s not what you now know that is valuable the second time around. It’s your ability to learn faster. I don’t know much about the market which I am currently seeking to disrupt. But I make decisions faster. I am quicker to pull the trigger on a great idea, and to pull the plug on a bad one (or employee). I feel that we are growing as a team, as a concept and as a company at an accelerated rate. And that feels like a real competitive advantage.