Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson, two of the tech world’s most lauded entrepreneurs, just gave their best advice on how to start a company during a Google + hangout this afternoon.
It was sponsored jointly by Google for Entrepreneurs, the company’s set of programs and tools to support startups, and Virgin’s not for profit foundation Virgin Unite.
Here are some of the most interesting tips and exchanges.
Their core advice for entrepreneurs
Branson: “If you’ve got a great idea that would improve people’s lives, just do it.”
Musk: “You want to be extra rigorous about making best possible thing you can, find everything that’s wrong with it and fix it. Seek negative feedback, particularly from friends”
Musk: “In all of the companies I’ve been involved with, theres always been a very difficult time. its usually shortly after the beginning. things seem optimistic, rosy, and exciting for the first 6 months to a year, then things start to go wrong. You encounter issues you didn’t expect, step on landmines. It’s bad. Years 2 to 4 or 5 are usually quite difficult. A friend has a saying, it’s ‘eating glass and staring into the abyss.’
Take SpaceX. The first three launches failed. We were too stupid to know how to make a rocket go to orbit … We barely scraped enough money together for the fourth one.
In most cases, companies go though this phase of you being in constant danger of the company dying. if you’re cofounder or CEO you have to do all kinds of tasks you might not want to do…if you don’t do your chores, the company won’t succeed … no task is too menial.”
…That’s been the case with every company I’ve been a part of … It wasn’t that long ago that [Tesla and SpaceX] were almost dead.”
Branson: “I knew Elon in those days, I’m surprised his hair is still black and not grey. Elon is saying is there’s a very thin dividing line between success and failure. It’s all about survival.
At Virgin, we’ve had similar situations…we’ve had bank managers sitting on our doorstep… Fighting to survive is critical, most companies do not survive. The important thing to learn is you’re going to learn enormous amount from building one. If you don’t survive, and 8/10 companies don’t, you should learn from that and just try again.”
On running multiple projects at once
Musk’s advice — don’t.
“If you’re in the early stages in a company, you have to focus your resources. if you diffuse them, your chances for success are much less. Don’t try to run two companies at once. It wasn’t originally my intention to run Tesla, but I had to in the end.
Focus on one company, throw as many hours at it as you can. Seven days a week, no breaks, no sleep. That’s what you should do when you’re starting a company.”
Branson: “Find someone to run your company on a day to day basis that’s hopefully better than you. Most of us don’t have the time to find that person, we stay completely immersed in it. It frees you up to have a family life, to look at the bigger picture, to look after your body.
You’re not necessarily the best person to run the company on a day to day basis.”
Musk: “I tried that. I wasn’t successful doing it at Tesla … maybe at some point in the future…”
How they lead and approach/manage talent
Musk: “Talent is extremely important. It’s like a sports team, the team that has the best individual player will often win, but then there’s a multiplier from how those players work together and the strategy they employ.
You have to have a very compelling goal for the company. If you put yourself in the shoes of someones who’s talented at a world level, they have to believe that there’s potential for a great outcome and believe in leader of company, that you’re the right guy to work with. That can be a difficult thing, especially if you’re trying to attract people from other companies. They have to believe their efforts will be rewarded financially. That’s arguably the least important factor but still relevant.”
Branson: “…It is just so important that you surround yourself with people who share the burden with you, enjoy good times and help you through bad times. A good leader doesn’t try to do everything himself, he’s willing to let other people make mistakes, as well as make good things. I think as early as possible, you need to find people to work with you to share the burden. Don’t feel that you’re the only person who has the answers.”
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