One of the most interesting podcasts I have listened to recently was Reid Hoffman’s 10 Commandments of Startup Success on the Tim Ferris show. Reid shares some of the highlights and lessons learned from his own podcast, Masters of Scale.
Reid Hoffman’s 10 Commandments of Startup Success
Commandment 2: Hire like your life depends on it. It does. [19:26]
Commandment 3: In order to scale, you have to do things that don’t scale. [25:37]
Commandment 4: Raise more money than you think you need — potentially a lotmore. [36:18]
Commandment 5: Release your products early enough that they can still embarrass you. Imperfect is perfect. [44:45]
Commandment 6: Decide. Decide. Decide. [1:00:16]
Commandment 7: Be prepared to both make and break plans. [1:03:13]
Commandment 8: Don’t tell your employees how to innovate. [1:07:21]
Commandment 9: To create a winning company culture, make sure every employee owns it. [01:12:32]
Commandment 10: Have grit and stick with your hero’s journey. [1:23:22]
Of all these insights, the one that has stuck with me most is the last one. Reid talks about how at some point in the life of almost every startup, there comes a decisive crossroads. In these situations Reid gives a speech where he likens entrepreneurship to the hero’s journey. Fraught with adventure, steep odds, and the promise of treasure if the dragons can be slain. He then asks the entrepreneur if they are going to be the hero in this story.
Reid’s speech is a great example of the importance of narrative for startups.
Narratives are the glue that holds a company together. It tells the what and the why of the business. It is what your customers think of when they see your logo and it is why your employees will take pay cuts to leave the job security of some cushy corporate position. When the going gets tough, the importance of narrative is revealed. During times of crisis, employees will rally around a company that has a compelling story behind it. When a company doesn’t, don’t be surprised if they jump ship as soon as it starts letting on water.
One of the key roles for any startup CEO is as storyteller-in-chief. It is their responsibility to craft their company’s story, to nourish it, and to communicate it effectively to their teams. A CEO that neglects this responsibility will be an ineffective leader and fundraiser. The importance of narrative to companies is one of the (multiple) reasons I prefer to invest in CEOs that have a deeply personal connection to the problem their company is trying to solve. This personal connection allows them to build a much more authentic and genuine story around why they are building this business.
A strong central narrative will make all the difference in the world when the chips are down and things are looking dire.
A strong narrative will give people a reason to look themselves in the mirror and say:
I am the hero in this story.