Starting Something

Starting Something” By Wayne McVicker
Wayne starts the book with the lines: “I made a few hundred million… I lost a few hundred million.” His tale in “Starting Something: An Entrepreneur’s Tale of Control, Confrontation and Corporate Culture” is a fascinating entrepreneurial story. The book follows McVicker’s journey as the co-founder of Neoforma, the first health care-dotcom-B2B-e-commerce company (that was a mouthful!), which opened its doors in 1996. By the time of its IPO in 2000, Neoforma had grown from the seed of a good idea into a publicly traded company worth $3 billion. Yet there was trouble ahead. The five year chronicle which ended with McVicker stepping aside in 2001 is definitely worth a read. Great storytelling of a the growing pains and exilerating ride from one employee in 1996 to 230 by IPO time in January 2000.

McVicker worked with a great format for the book: each chapter is basically a self contained story dealing with a crucial element of the start up with perhaps the concept of a “learned lesson”. An easy and fascinating read at the same time which ends with the Twelve Things to Keep in Mind When Starting Something:

  1. Be who you are. If you aren’t true to yourself, your company’s culture will suffer.
  2. Hire for culture first, experience second. If someone feels wrong, they are. However exhausting and distracting hiring is, don’t delegate it until after the first hundred employees—and then only very carefully.
  3. Communicate empowerment. In the maelstrom that is a young company, it is easy for employees to feel helpless or isolated. All employees powerfully influence a company’s success and direction. Let them know they are valued and their voices are heard—often and in many ways. Don’t waste the potential of any employee.
  4. Learn to release, without letting go. When you delegate (and you must) you can neither control every detail nor allow the idea to get diluted. Make your plan clear and monitor progress regularly. If you hired well, everything will work out.
  5. Balance is not always found in the middle. Make and communicate clear decisions. Changing a position is better than not having one.
  6. Do one thing well, then do it better. Then, while you are still improving the first thing, consider doing one, and only one, related thing well. And so on.
  7. Regularly wear your customers’ clothes. Most entrepreneurs come from the industry they are trying to serve, but when confronted by the challenges of starting or running a business, they quickly lose touch with the customer experience.
  8. The unsatisfied customer is the most important customer. Therein lies all opportunity.
  9. Never let your competitors drive your business decisions. Stay focused. If your competitors come up with something good, your customers will let you know.
  10. Never let your investors drive your business decisions. They are usually smart and can be intimidating, but they aren’t as familiar with your business as you are. Their viewpoint is short-term; yours should be long-term.
  11. Listen to all advice, but trust what you know. As you confront frequent obstacles, you may begin to question your core beliefs. Don’t. Be patient. Ideas that require customers to change behavior often take ten or more years to implement.
  12. Enjoy yourself. It is very easy, during the inevitable times of monetary starvation and market inertia, to lose sight of how much fun it is to create something new and useful.

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