(A few years ago, for Startupping, I asked several entrepreneurs about their best and worst decisions. With the shuttering of that site, their answers vanished from the web. I’ll be reposting them here. Their biographies may not be up to date.)
John Battelle is an entrepreneur, journalist, professor, and author who has founded or co-founded businesses, magazines and websites. Formerly at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Battelle, is also a founder and Executive Producer of the Web 2.0 conference and “band manager” with BoingBoing.net. Previously, Battelle was founder, Chairman, and CEO of Standard Media International (SMI), publisher of The Industry Standard and TheStandard.com. Prior to founding The Standard, Battelle was a co-founding editor of Wired magazine and Wired Ventures. John is currently the founder and Chairman of Federated Media and blogs at John Battelle’s Searchblog.
1. Either keep control, or don’t act like you have it. This was the primary lesson of The Industry Standard. I felt like this was the first large scale business I built on my own, and I acted like it. But majority control was always squarely in the hands of the company who funded it. We fought, and I lost.
2. Don’t skimp on hiring. Ever. I’ve hired folks who had the right resume, but I knew in my gut were not right for the culture of the business. I thought the skills/resume overshadowed the ability to work together as a team. They never do.
3. Do it for love, not money. This is pretty careworn, but it’s very very true. I’ve never ever started anything for money. Some folks are really good at starting companies to make money, but I’m terrible at it. I suspect most entrepreneurs are like me.
3a. But make sure what you are doing makes sense to others. Everything I’ve started or been part of starting, I’ve talked to key folks who would make or break the idea, and gotten their buy in and encouragement/help first. If folks who are critical to the idea are not interested, well….that’s a pretty good sign it isn’t going to fly. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, but it probably means you’re not the person to do it.
4. Pick one constituency and stick to it. Very early on, we decided that FM would be “author driven”. We could have made the company “advertiser driven” but it struck me the core business had to do with the folks who produce the sites we work with. At Wired, it was all about the ideas. At the Standard, it was all about the journalism. One clear core driving force helps clarify decisions during the tough early years.
5. Don’t do something because you can. Do it because it’s good for the folks in #4.