What does it mean to Execute?

I was very impressed with the blog post by Ben Kaufman titled “What Raising Money Means to Me“. I believe personal stories tied to the ups and downs of building a business are always fascinating to read. Ben is young, went through the Paul Graham’s Startup Curve and I believe has had his awakening. You can see it in his passion and language

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My grandfather called me to congratulate me on building a successful company. We still hadn’t done shit. We just got some dude to write a check.

Things I have learned from closing rounds & announcing funding:

  1. Be bigger than your round: If the press is only writing about how much money you raised, it’s because you haven’t done anything bigger. That’s on you and your team. Work your ass off to make sure the money is not the news. You should be really fucking uncomfortable if the money you raised overshadows the work you’ve done. It scares the shit out of me every night. Still does. Don’t rest on your round. Fight your round, be bigger than it. Make people forget that time you raised money.
  2. Lead through it: The way you carry yourself through the announcement of a financing has a huge effect on your team and community. If you pretend it’s the coolest biggest deal in the world- they will too. Suddenly, all the hard work they are putting into launching a new product is out-shined by the fact that you got someone to write a check. As some illusion of success is felt, the collective level of hustle will naturally wane.
  3. Be insecure: When I sign a term-sheet, I get angry and uncomfortable. “Shit, ok no excuses anymore–I gotta do this.” There is an immense sense of responsibility. Let your team feel your stress, your angst, your hunger. The passion of all around you will go through the roof. People won’t just throw money at problems, they’ll work with the same scrappiness and drive that got you this far. You don’t have to pretend you’re a big fucking deal. You’re not (yet). Be insecure.
  4. Congratulations: Don’t congratulate people for raising money. That was never the goal. The goal is building a successful and meaningful business. When people raise money, instead of congratulating them, wish them luck. Their work is just getting started.Congratulating people for financing perpetuates a problem that has plagued the startup world. The problem is that that it’s easy to focus on the hype surrounding a company, and lose sight of the fundamentals. This is why our industry is flooded with what I call “startup fuckers.” These are people whose only ambition in life is to raise money, and then sell their company. They have no real interest in building a meaningful and enduring business. If we let startup fuckers dominate, we all lose. Read TechCrunch and any other “deal blog” and you’ll see countless companies boasting about how much money they’ve raised and how great they are as a result. It’s bullshit. They’ve done nothing (yet). Don’t fall into the trap of congratulating them. This is my favorite startup quote of all time (although I don’t know who said it): “Congratulating an entrepreneur for raising money is like congratulating a chef for buying the ingredients.” That says it all.
  5. Put your ass on the line. Lay out clear goals for your users and staff as to what you hope to achieve with this round of funding: why you’ve raised the money, what you’ll do with it, and how the collective performance of everyone involved can be measured. Even if the money is news in the short term, you’ll have something to point to. “Judge me on this.” Some say under-promise / over-deliver. That’s fine. But do promise something, otherwise everyone will make up their own mind about how much your round should let you accomplish.

The above 5 points says it all. I have written a lot about not putting emphasis on raising money, it is distracting and gives a wrong sense of accomplishment. I think every startup should be focused on building something of value, solving a tough problem, don’t give into the hype of TechCruch or the Media although I think the Media and everything else comes to you when you are able to really Execute on the solution to the problem that your startup was founded on. Being an Entrepreneur is always about juggling priorities and ensuring that you are making slow progress but one cannot take the eye from the ball about Executing on the promise to your customer, your partner or your investors. That is what I saw in the post by Ben. Having the discipline to Be Bigger than Raising Money is hard when you are 25, I really take my hat off to Ben Kaufman. I wish all entrepreneurs to learn the same wisdom.

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