I fell into a trap early in my career. I was wildly successful, well respected, promoted every year, and I was getting more and more responsibility.

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You’re wondering, “What is the problem? That’s what everyone wants, right?”

Yes, you want to be successful, but you don’t want to be a jerk.

I was a jerk.

I was a tough guy (I still am, btw.) in a kill-or-be-killed environment. I reveled in the kill. I needlessly hurt people. I did it because I wanted to win.

I was young. I had a lot of growing and learning to do. …

“Tell me about the other executives?” I asked “Jason,” the CEO of a life sciences startup.

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“There aren’t any other executives. It’s just me. That’s why I wanted your help,” he said. “I’ve never scaled a business before.”

That was almost four years ago. At the time, Jason’s revenue had just passed the $1 million ARR mark.

There are many stages to the growth of a startup. Jason was realizing that he was ending the first phase of building a startup:

Phase One: It’s all about you. Scaling to $1 million ARR.

Now, you can argue that there’s a Phase Zero of just getting your startup off the ground and building…

Do you know about the theory of rational thought? The theory of rational thought has at its core the basic assumption that people will act in a logical manner. Now, if that was true, then a great startup CEO would have much more power than a board of directors because a great startup CEO is running the company, not the board of directors.

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A great startup CEO will have much more effect than the best board of directors ever will on the success or failure of a company.

After all, you’re there every day, working to build your company. You’re intimate with every detail, every nuance of your company. …

“We’re ready to push the button,” Jeroen, my co-founder and VP Engineering, said to me.

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“You’ve signed off on all the design changes that needed to be made?” I asked Jeroen.

“Yes. Sid has done everything on the list,” Jeroen said.

“Okay, then let’s do it.”

And with my agreement, we just spent $180,000 “taping out” our first product.

I’d approved tape outs a million times before, so the process was nothing new to me. However, this was the first time, as founding CEO of my company, that I’d agreed to “push the button.”

By modern standards, spending $180,000 to…

I’ve worked with a lot of great engineers over the years. Arguably, these engineers might be the best in their field.

Of all the great engineers I ever worked with, my favorite was Dave Bingham. Dave was one of the founders of Maxim Integrated Products, one of the most successful Analog IC companies ever.

In fact, without Dave’s innovations, Maxim likely wouldn’t have achieved nearly the level of success it did. That’s how important Dave was to Maxim.

Before helping found Maxim, Dave was General Electric’s Scientist of the Year, so he had a track record of success long before…

I really respect Steve Blank. He’s got a great view of startups, venture capitalists, and the startup ecosystem as a whole. Plus, he’s viewed as the Godfather of the lean startup movement, so what’s not to like?

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Blank, 68, has been around a long time, and he’s seen how venture capital has changed from what it was to what it is today. And, he’s not a fan:

“The role of venture capital was to teach you how to turn your idea into a profitable company. The role of venture capital now is the greater fool theory.” Steve Blank

The reason startups are struggling to hit profitability is because they don’t have to be profitable any more.

Blank’s right…

There are some meetings that are so impactful that you never forget them, even twenty years later. And this throwaway meeting that Thomas and I had at Tellabs, a major telecommunications manufacturer, years ago definitely was one for the books.

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Thomas was the most senior applications engineer in my organization, and I really enjoyed meeting customers with him. Thomas would do the heavy lifting of answering the detailed technical questions the customer might have, and then I could sit back, observe, and add in if necessary.

The thing I loved about working this way was I was free to listen…

500 BC General, Sun Tzu, was right: Spies are a key to success.

“Hostile armies may face each other for year, striving for the victory that is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition, simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” Chapter XIII: The Use Of Spies, from The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

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Okay, so what do spies have to with business success? The answer is everything.

If Sun Tzu were a CEO today, instead of a general 500 BC, then he’d be saying that market research (spies)…

“How long do you think it’s going to take to get funding?” Blossom asked me.

It was January, and we had just started raising money.

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“My guess is we’ll be funded by June,” I said to my wife.

It turned out I was right. We were funded by June…two years later!

We started off our fundraising with a lot of momentum. We had lots of warm introductions to VCs through the various contacts I had.

A very rare thing happened after one of our first meetings. A VC actually called me to pass on the deal.

Then something even rarer…

“You look very tan,” I said to “Jason” during our Zoom update. “How was your vacation?”

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“The vacation was great,” he said. “The weather was a perfect 80 degrees every day with a slight breeze off the ocean. We had a really nice time.”

“I’m guessing that may be part of the reason for item number five on your list?” I said, laughing. I have my clients write up a top five list of items they’d like to discuss during our conversations. Jason’s item number five was, “I think I’d like to sell the company in the next year.”


brett fox

I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at www.brettjfox.com

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