Unpopular decisions

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When I started my own startup, more than 20 years ago, one of my goals was to start a company where all the employees will always be happy. My reasoning was that as the company grows, it mainly relies on employees to be productive, and happiness and satisfaction drives productivity. Therefore, it seemed to me, keeping everyone happy is an important goal to make the company successful.

Is everything under control?

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Advice to startups is usually about strategy: how to raise money, how to meet partners, how to choose a business model, how to expand overseas, etc. I’ve been investing and advising Korean startups for over 5 years now – I’ve seen plenty of strategic mistakes made by Korean startups. But those mistakes are almost never why they fail.

Having the right people on the bus

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One of the best 20th century business books “Good to Great” compares building a great company with driving a bus. The business leader is the bus driver and has important decisions to make: where will the bus go? How will it get there? And who should we let on the bus? Where should they each sit?

Being too strategic

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Very few startups fail because of bad strategy. This isn’t immediately obvious – if you read an analysis of why a certain startup failed, the person analyzing the situation will often give a strategic reason for the failure; they will say the startup raised too much money, or not enough money. That the product didn’t have a good market fit. Or that a giant (facebook, google, amazon) went into the market and crushed the startup. If you’re a startup founder reading these types of analysis you will reach the wrong conclusion that your main task is to find the right strategy.

Room for Error

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Experienced entrepreneurs, those who are now in their second or third venture (or more) are more likely to be successful. This is a known fact, and a reason why investors prefer “serial” entrepreneurs (founders who have been through several ventures) even if the previous ones were not successful. The experience itself is as important as the success. In fact, some would argue – it’s the previous failures, not the successes, that increase your chances to succeed the second or third time.

How to reach out

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One of the most common requests I get from Korean startups is: “please introduce me to a partner”. Even though I am almost used to this request, I still find it strange that I am being asked it.

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