We recently celebrated producing over 100 episodes of the Dealmakers Podcast. where some of the most successful entrepreneurs share how they did it. During this process, I have collected the most important lessons learned from entrepreneurs that have built billion dollar companies.
On the podcast, we’ve featured many great entrepreneurs and investors who have raised hundreds of millions for their startups as well as many that have exited for $1B. These are some of the key takeaways…
1) Stay humble, and they are
2) Stick with it, keep your eye on the end game
3) The worst that can happen is you have to get a job again
4) It’s about people
5) It’s all about culture
6) Culture is a competitive advantage
7) It’s not for the money. The first company Mohit Aron built is worth $7B and the second one $1B.
8) An exit isn’t just about cashing out
9) You never stop growing
10) It can be smarter to hire an outside CEO. This allowed Daniel Cane to sell Blackboard for $1.6B.
11) Be careful who you pick as investors
12) Raising money is about relationships is one of the constant patterns when I was thinking about the lessons learned from entrepreneurs that have appeared on the podcast.
13) You’re never too young to start
14) You’re never too old to launch another startup. Joe DeSimone was 50 and his business is worth now $2.5B.
15) Early retirement doesn’t work for entrepreneurs
16) Entrepreneurship is addictive
17) Money costs more than the interest
18) Investors can bring a lot more value than the money
19) You can bootstrap a really big company
20) Now all your employees can work remotely. Sid Sijbrandij built GitLab into a $1B business with all 700 employees working remotely.
21) Fundraising can take years but it doesn’t have to
22) Develop your network years before you need it
23) There are a lot more billion dollar companies that exit than you probably realize
24) A good college can pay big dividends in a valuable network
25) You can build a great company with your family. Ben Uretsky and Mosey Uretsky built Digital Ocean into a $1B business.
26) Successful people enjoy sharing with others
27) Starting a company and growing it, is never, ever easy
28) Take time out with family now, tomorrow is never promised
29) One of the greatest rewards of a big exit is what it does for your team
30) If you love problem-solving entrepreneurship is for you. Kristo Käärmann saw the problem with transferring money overseas and that led him to build a $3.5B company.
31) There is always more to learn
32) It doesn’t matter where you come from and how little you start with
33) Cold emails still work for fundraising
34) Ideas are cheap, it’s all about the execution
35) Having a unique distribution channel is a massive advantage
36) Nothing works until you’ve got product-market fit
37) Big businesses aren’t as evil as you think, once you sell to one
38) The cliche about big businesses being too slow and lost in red tape are still true
39) Long earn-out periods in acquisitions rarely work
40) Second and third startups aren’t always easier, nor a guaranteed success
41) For fast-growth companies, local capital partners can make expansion easier
42) Most M&A deals don’t last, but they can
43) Innovate or die
44) Don’t rely on one strategic partner or channel for your success. David Karandish sold Answers.com for $900 million but the company almost died when Google changed its algorithms on search.
45) Your unique vision and application, is more valuable than the idea, just as these Uber and WeWork competitors have proven
46) Most repeat entrepreneurs still raise outside money, even if they can afford not to
47) Delayed gratification really pays off
48) Nothing stays impossible when great teams let themselves dream big. Reggie Aggarwal had over 100 employees. He had to let all of them go except for 15 of them. He recently sold Cvent for
49) Private equity seems to be taking more public companies private again
50) Your first startup probably won’t be your last
51) You can’t be discouraged by investor rejection, some like Henry Ward have faced 300 no’s to build a $1B business
52) It doesn’t matter how much you start with, whether it’s $800 in your pocket or going $200k in debt to make it work
53) When it comes to exits, everything is negotiable
54) Entrepreneurs often become angels themselves like Fabrice Grinda. So far he has invested in over 400 startups.
55) Taking plenty of time to think and hone your idea is worth it
56) There’s little that can’t be accomplished when you are committed to the mission
57) A great M&A advisor can bring a lot of value
58) The first offer you get for your startup probably isn’t the best one. Josh Abramson declined a $9 million acquisition offer at age 18 when he was in the process of building Vimeo.
59) Being the head of a public company is a different ball game to being a founder. Jay Chaudry built five companies and knows this well with his last one valued at $10B.
60) Silicon Valley is still alluring but you can do just fine launching your startup somewhere else
61) Everything is always changing
62) Talk to your customers often was another repeating pattern when looking back at those lessons learned from entrepreneurs
63) A recession can be a great time to start a business
64) It’s a lot easier to raise money when you’re not in a recession
65) Take the money while it’s on the table, it may not be there tomorrow
66) You can build a multi-million dollar revenue business in less than 2 years. Michael Cammarata did it at age 13.
67) Great investors flock together
68) Make sure you are in a really big market. Jeff Raider took this to heart and built not one but two billion dollar companies with Warby Parker and Harry‘s.
69) Corporate partnerships can be a great gateway to an exit
70) You can build businesses designed to get bought
71) You can create a very content-rich podcast in a very short period of time, with the right introductions
72) More successful founders use LinkedIn and email than any other communication tools
73) It’s really hard to go work for someone else, after the freedom of your own business
74) Going to work with others is a great way to learn from the inside. Gene Berdichevsky was employee #7 at Tesla and then went out to build a $1B business.
75) Successful founders are generous. This was one of the surprising lessons learned from entrepreneurs that have built billion dollar companies. If you are greedy the chances are slim to none when thinking about reaching the top of the mountain. It is a long steep battle and you need people that are loyal and well rewarded along the way.
76) Successful entrepreneurs are good at listening to feedback
77) You can never do it all alone
78) The best entrepreneurs empower their teams and get out of their own way
79) Top entrepreneurs love to read
80) Surviving exit due diligence is rarely fun or fast
81) Agreeing to an exit is rarely just about what the founders get paid
82) Billion dollar companies are still often born in garages and cramped studio apartments. Just ask Jyoti Bansal as he recently sold his business for $3.7 billion
83) A great legal team is a good early investment
84) Strategic acquisitions can often justify billion-dollar valuations
85) Companies are bought not sold, but you have a lot of influence over the appetite for and price of your business
86) The IPO roadshow can be fun, but anti-climatic
87) Great books can still be a game-changing factor in motivating to success
88) Startups are raising more and more rounds of funding, a Series E is no longer uncommon
89) Most of the best startups are born out of personally experiencing inefficiencies in the market
90) The most mature industries are some of the most vulnerable to disrupt
91) Your brand can be more valuable than your business looks on a P&L sheet
92) A roll-up of the industry is common before a large acquisition or going public. Daniel Saks used the acquisition spree strategy to build a $1B business.
93) Starting out in a consulting firm or investment bank is a common first job before launching a startup
94) Most successful entrepreneurs focus on flying the business, not grabbing a parachute and looking for the nearest exit
95) Travel and quality time with family are the top luxuries successful entrepreneurs splurge on when they achieve big exits
96) How we handle our health is going to change a lot in the next few years
97) No one regrets becoming an entrepreneur, no matter how hard it is
98) Fundraising is a lot more efficient when you shortlist the best fitting investors first
99) For immigrants, America is still very much the land of opportunity, and it’s a good thing for America too. Many of those lessons learned from entrepreneurs were from those that were immigrants.
100) You can win by having a big piece of a medium-sized company, or a small piece of a really big one
At the end of the day, storytelling is everything when building a meaningful business. This is applied to fundraising, attracting customers, or building partnerships. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key.
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).