When you bring together influential figures in technology, fashion and entertainment, as the Details Tech & Tastemakers Summit did on Wednesday in New York City, you tend to get colorful results.
You may get Nick Wooster, the former menswear fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, wearing flowery Prada pants. You may get Michael Preysman, the founder of online retailer Everlane, explaining how to create stories people want to share. One thing you're sure to get is some good advice for starting and growing a business. Here are three tips for charting a path to success from founders at the event:
Set clear milestones.
By now, most founders know how important it is to start lean. Even so, some of them make the mistake of trying to grow too quickly, investing in hiring or other expansion efforts before nailing down their business model, said Pete Cashmore, founder of tech news website Mashable.
Just as important is recognizing when it is time to grow. If you starve your company of talent or other essentials past a certain point, someone else can copy your business model and take over your market.
One way to know when you've hit that inflection point is to set clear growth milestones. "That's a very healthy way to run a business," Cashmore said. "There's a lot of math you can do in advance. It's a risk, but you can really lower that by figuring out what's our ROI per person, at what stages and inflection points can we scale up pieces of our business."
Hire people for their passion, not their experience.
While experienced employees can be great assets, they can also ruin your company culture. Marc Kushner, founder of Architizer, a social network for architects, said that in the early days of his company he needed to hire experts in sales and internet publishing. But he made a mistake.
"I hired people with tons of experience but who lacked a specific passion about what the site was after," Kushner told the audience. "And what I ended up with was a culture that I hated."
Over the past two years, he has set about retooling the company. Less experienced employees who are more motivated and excited about the Architizer mission have proven to be crucial. So, rather than hiring subject-matter experts, Kushner said, he now taps young architects to fill key positions, because they have the necessary passion for the industry.
Cashmore agreed. "You can't tell people what to do, really," he said. "Ultimately you can only enable them to do what they want to do."
Work hard, then work harder.
As hard as the early days of a startup can be, you may find yourself looking back wistfully on them once your company gets bigger. Growth brings a whole new set of challenges and responsibilities. Don't expect to ease off the throttle.
"Get ready to work really hard, and harder, and more and more," Olivier van Themsche, founder of The Cools, a social marketplace, told aspiring digital entrepreneurs. "It's rewarding, but you have to be ready for this."
It was a message echoed by other speakers when giving advice to would-be founders and professional bloggers: Success does not come quickly or by accident. "Sacrifice everything," street-style photography phenom Tommy Ton said. "Sacrifice your personal life. Be prepared not to eat, to be tired."
An old lesson, and one it seems every entrepreneur has to learn for himself.