Open Source Startup Mantras

June 26th, 2007 by Roy Russo

Ever since Tom and I started LoopFuse, its been an exciting and educational experience. Although its been several months, we’ve had great acceptance/adoption by customers and partners alike. While Tom, Matt, and I discuss the future of LoopFuse and have engaging conversations with other notable folks that have founded successful and sometimes unsuccessful startups, I felt it was probably a good idea to write down some of the key points that have made us successful up until now. I consider this an exercise in self-reflection, as I will likely refer to this blog article several months from now and question whether all these points remain true. Most of these bullet-points are taken from various readings and personal experiences accumulated over my (short, and getting shorter) life.

So here is my unordered list, of what I consider to be self-reciting mantras that every open source entrepreneur at this stage in his company’s life should accept and live by:

  • Get used to hearing “no”. As Paul Graham puts it, “fish swim, birds fly, and deals fall through”. Get used to it. You may think your solutions are the best thing since sliced bread, but your prospect/investor/cashier-at-Burger-King will not always agree. Don’t let “no” affect you. March on, don’t look back, and keep a mental note of the naysayers for future laughs.
  • You must believe in the inevitability of your company. I give credit to Marc Fleury for this one, as he etched it in my head when Julien and I started the JBoss Portal project. The simple fact is that if you do not believe in the inevitable success of your endeavor, do not ever expect others to. Both, Tom and I, believe wholeheartedly in the inevitable success of LoopFuse. The question for us is not if we will become the dominant force in the market, but how soon.
  • Use your competitor’s strengths against him and exploit his weaknesses. Special thanks to Sun Tzu, and my teenage years spent playing BattleTech. ;-) I won’t open my kimono on this topic any further, and will keep our competitors guessing and what crazy/unforeseen/seemingly-delusional stunt we pull next. You’re likely in a space dominated by proprietary vendors, yet you have a disruptive business model. Be nimble, cunning, and disruptive.
  • Listen to your customers/community. I remember when Red Hat hosted the JBoss acquisition orientation, and had Matthew Szulik stand up in front of our entire team and state his belief that the Customer is #1 at Red Hat. To be honest, this was the first time ever that I’ve heard such a thing at a software company, let alone from the CEO! Let the proprietary guys focus on nickel-and-diming their vendor-locked customers. You focus on making your customers happy.
  • Build a superstar team of members that complement each other and all believe in your vision. You may think you know it all, but you don’t. Surround yourself with the best and brightest in every discipline needed to build a business (attorneys, CPAs, industry experts, sales, marketing, etc), and get everyone working toward the same goal. Marc Fleury had Bob Bickel and James West had Artemis Gordon. Neither could’ve done it alone, but together they achieved greatness. Don’t let your own ego stand in the way of your inevitable success.
  • You must always be selling. Conferences? Selling. Local JUG group? Selling. Crazy guy on the street-corner talking to himself? Selling. I recently saw a 60-minutes expose on this guy, that wears one of those silly “Hello, my name is…” name tags every day of his life. He wears one on his jacket. He wears another on his undershirt. He has it tattooed on his chest. This guy is always selling himself, his ideas, his name, and his reputation. So much so that he’s built an entire business on his name. As an entrepreneur, you must spread the word of your vision. Every contact, no matter how trivial it may appear, is a potential deal or an important avenue to a deal. Spread the word… learn from Scott.
  • Coffee is your friend. You won’t sleep. Get used to it. ’nuff said.
  • Do your homework. Over time, Tom and I have accumulated mountains of market research data. As they say, knowledge is power, and this case is no different. You must know what the Gartners, Forresters, and industry analysts/experts of the world are forecasting for your market. You’re going to war, and as we’ve seen in recent history, having accurate intelligence is critical.
  • Build a business plan. If you’re a techie, you will likely not enjoy this, but you must maintain this critical living document on-hand at all times, just like you maintain your own technology roadmap. Your business plan is a living document and the roadmap to your business. You will continuously refer to it for market, financial, hiring, and sales plans/goals. Live by it, and adapt it to changing market forces.

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