Guest Post: A Startup's Twelve Days Of Christmas

Story by Mark Solon


Mark Solon, a venture capitalist at Highway 12 Ventures, posted this piece--which he originally wrote last year for the Idaho Statesman--on his blog this morning, and gave us permission to reprint it here. Solon invests here in the Rocky Mountain region, and has been kind enough to let us occasionally feature his posts.

I've spent the bulk of my career investing in companies and interacted with hundreds of entrepreneurs, founders and CEO's. I've learned dozens of priceless lessons from them about building a business. Many of these lessons you can also find in the top business books. However, the most valuable lessons I've learned about building a business aren't found in many books. They're not about strategy, or markets or technology. They're about people, and the best lessons I've learned about the human side of business have come from working side by side with my partner Phil Reed here at Highway 12 Ventures for the better part of the last decade.

Phil was the co-founder of both ComputerLand and BusinessLand, two highly successful startups, both of which went public. He's raised capital from the top venture capital firms in the world and also been part of small companies that never fulfilled their promise and had to shut their doors (if you ask him, those were the source of the most valuable lessons he's learned). In fact, Phil has founded or co-founded over a dozen companies during his career and he is incredibly passionate about sharing those lessons and helping budding entrepreneurs.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to give entrepreneurs the top twelve lessons I've learned from my partner. Call it "Phil's twelve days of Christmas for start-ups".

1. Never have a difficult discussion over email or the phone. Phil has always taken the time to sit down with people face-to-face to work through problems.

2. When someone is acting irrationally, try and find the underlying issue. Are they having problems outside of work? Is their family ok? Look past this issue and try and help. Phil's taught me that good people usually act irrationally only when there's an outside root cause.

3. Build a large network of people you respect and trust to advise you on your business. More eyes make better decisions.

4. Avoid the temptation to put friends or confidants on your board. You need people who aren't afraid to challenge you, and are willing to tell it to you straight.

5. Be careful of leverage. Just because you have the upper hand at the moment, doesn't mean you have to use it. Having leverage and not using it is an extremely powerful gift. It usually comes back to you.

6. The quality of the people you hire mean infinitely more than the product you've developed. Phil's mantra has always been, "great people build great companies".

7. Enjoy the journey. It's not about the exit or the liquidity event. If you're doing it just for the money, you'll never make it through the hard times.

8. It's okay to build meaningful relationships with the people you work with. Life's too short to not share those bonds.

9. If things go south, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Starting a business is a noble pursuit. Dust yourself off, look everyone in the eye, pay off your debts and know you gave it your best shot. Then go start another one.

10. Resumes only tell part of the story. Hire high-character people who have consistently demonstrated exceptional achievements in their lives, both in business and other pursuits.

11. Sometimes you have to be willing to go against the crowd. Have the courage of your convictions.

12. Always do the right thing. Trite? Yes. What's the "right thing"? That feeling in your tummy. Don't ignore it. It's the "thing" that lets you rest comfortably at night.

Merry Christmas Phil. You inspire everyone around you and I know I speak for countless entrepreneurs who you've mentored and have learned so much from you. This region is lucky to have you.