The Three Best Pieces of Entrepreneurial Advice I’ve Received

This column was originally published on on 8/26/2016.

Inspiration can come from all kinds of sources – a book, a poem, a motivational poster, or even from another entrepreneur who has already blazed the trail. The best inspiration sparks a thought-provoking discussion which can lead to more innovation, a crucial hiring decision, or even help get your company out of a rut. While that Holy Grail “aha!” moment takes different shapes for each of us, when it does happen, it can have a big impact on your life and your company.

While there are too many people who I could thank for sharing their wisdom and helping me navigate my entrepreneurial path, here are a few words of wisdom that have continued to resonate with me over the years:

“Surround yourself with people who complement your skills and let them run.” — John Thornton, General Partner of Austin Ventures

To be successful as an entrepreneur, it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself about your own strengths and weaknesses. But, the corollary is that it is imperative that you understand the importance of surrounding yourself with a stellar leadership team. This team should bring complementary skills to the table, rounding out your leadership team with executives and key players who complement and amplify your abilities. At the end of the day, having driven and knowledgeable folks who can cover your “blind spots” is a way to gain insight, side-step pitfalls, and create a true culture of success. I’ve made a point of doing this at every step along the way on my entrepreneurial path.

 “Don’t focus too much on the competition or cool technology for its own sake.” — Dr. Rob Adams, Director of Texas Venture Labs, University of Texas

I have seen this scenario occur time and time again. A young, eager entrepreneur launches a cool product and tries to dominate the market. However, instead of spending time building strong features and benefits into its products and responding to customer needs, the company gets distracted and instead focuses on every step their competitors take. Don’t get me wrong, companies should be aware of what their competitors are doing; the danger comes when you focus too heavily on the competition which can lead you down a one-way street to unproductivity.

Instead, spend time listening to the wants, needs, and pain points of your prospective customers, then focus on developing a solution that addresses those issues vs. overreacting to competitors’ every move. This has helped drive our growth at SailPoint over the years: we’ve dedicated ourselves to staying laser-focused on identifying gaps in the market so that we can solve real-world challenges faced by our customers and prospects.

“Be incredibly selective about getting the right people in the door early, as they’ll reinforce the right values as you grow.” — Mike Maples, Jr., Entrepreneur and Investor

 As simple as it sounds, developing cultural alignment starts with choosing the right players from the day you open for business. It’s important to find people who already share the values and beliefs you want to live by in your organization. This starts with the leadership team who ultimately pass those values down to directors and managers. New hires will look to tenured employees to see what it means to be “bought in” to a set of values. Your company culture will help to determine who is attracted to the workplace, who chooses to stay, and how hard your team works toward your company’s ongoing success. Laying this foundation from day one can help ensure you end up as a market leader instead of a market laggard.

While I have received countless pieces of advice over the years, these are three memorable sayings that are some of our “secrets to success.” Incorporating these simple, yet powerful principles into my thinking has helped SailPoint to not only survive, but to thrive in this competitive marketplace.