Get a Startup Pre-Nup–and 5 Other Surprising Strategies From a Veteran CEO
This startup mentor and venture investor shares her best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
As co-founder and CEO of Endeavor Global, Linda Rottenberg selects, mentors, and scales promising, high-impact entrepreneurs in 30 countries and several U.S. cities. Today, Endeavor Entrepreneurs--1,700 selected from over 55,000 candidates--generate over $15 billion in annual revenues and create more than 1.5 million jobs, according to Endeavor’s website.
Linda also oversees Endeavor Catalyst, a venture fund with over $115 million assets under management, which co-invests in Endeavor Entrepreneurs.
For over a decade Linda was known by another name, la Chica Loca (“the Crazy Girl”), for insisting that high-impact entrepreneurs exist in emerging markets. Her book, CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags, was a New York Times bestseller.
In May, Linda delivered the commencement address at Babson College, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading business schools for the study of entrepreneurship. In her speech, Linda shared six strategies she has learned over the course of a two-decade career as an entrepreneur, mentor, and venture investor:
Strategy #1: Close doors.
“As a student at Harvard College and later Yale Law School, I was told ‘Keep all your options open, don’t close any doors.’ If you hear this advice, promptly ignore it. It’s perfectly normal to feel conflicted about which path to choose, but if you keep all your options open, then you may torture yourself with one foot in and one foot out of multlple careers. Or you may face regret when you choose the path of least resistance. Closing doors allows you to go all-in on your dream.”
“Close doors today. If you make a mistake, you can almost always re-open them later.”
Strategy #2: Get a startup pre-nup.
“Three-quarters of entrepreneurs launch companies with friends or family. It sounds like a great idea. I hear it all the time: We share a common vision, we complement each other’s skill sets. We practically finish each other’s sentences. The problem? These sentiments rarely last. Something will change. Maybe one founder wants to keep growing, while another prefers a lifestyle business. Perhaps someone’s role shrinks but their equity remains the same. Or maybe the idea of three co-CEOs no longer seems so great two years in.”
“My advice? Formalize your partnership agreement ahead of time. It may seem awkward to explore a startup prenup, but trust me: If you’re going to start or join a business with those you love make sure you have a plan if the love goes away.”
Strategy #3: Form a circle of mentors.
“For years I fell prey to the romantic image of a soul-mate mentor who would be ‘the one.’ But wait: I have to find both a spouse and a mentor? Suddenly this model was not romantic, it was deeply stressful. Then I thought, ‘If I want to avoid climbing a single corporate ladder why would I rely on advice on a single mentor?’”
“I believe in forming a circle of mentors. Your circle should include people at different points in their own careers, ideally from different industries and professions. One should be younger to keep you up on the latest trends and technologies. One should be a peer, maybe even a frenemy. Larry Page sought advice from his biggest frenemy, Steve Jobs, before reclaiming his CEO title at Google.”
“Build a circle of mentors. You’ll get fresh insights and a kick in the pants when you need it most.”
Strategy #4: Be less super, more human.
“Speaking of kick in the pants, each year before Endeavor’s big gala, I share a draft of my speech with my husband, Bruce Feiler, best-selling author and New York Times columnist. Each year he promptly tears it apart, as he did for an early copy of this speech. ‘Too much superman, not enough Clark Kent,’ he’ll say.”
“Wait! I thought it’s the job of a CEO to sound confident! Avoid your kryptonite. Especially, I thought, as a female CEO. It wasn’t until Bruce was diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer in 2008 that I finally heeded his advice. I had no choice, I wanted to be by Bruce’s side during chemo appointments. We had three-year-old twin girls at home. Endeavor was expanding, and I was a wreck. I needed my team’s help and could no longer hide my emotions, so I let it all out. To my surprise, rather than push people away, it drew them closer. ‘Now that we know you’re a real person,’ team members told me, ‘we’ll follow you anywhere.’”
“As you become leaders, don’t strive for super-human status. Be less super, more human.”
Strategy #5: Look beyond the binary.
“When I co-found Endeavor in 1997, company structures are binary: for profit or non-profit. We launch Endeavor as a global non-profit to build trust for selecting and mentoring high potential entrepreneurs around the world. But Endeavor never fits the non-profit mold. We support for profit businesses, and Endeavor itself is a high growth venture. To make matters more complicated, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and some others helped me launch a co-investment fund, Endeavor Catalyst. We raised $150 million to invest in our entrepreneurs and generate profits for our investors while making Endeavor self-sustaining.”
“Twenty years ago, organizations were binary, just as perceptions of gender were binary…The world has moved beyond the binary. You asked for a new word? Endeavor is the world’s first ‘trans-profit’.”
“Here’s the reality: every for-profit needs a mission, and every non-profit needs a market. It’s just conventional language that boxes us in. Don’t get trapped in trying to fit yourself or your career into a traditional label. Look beyond the binary and create your own.”
Strategy #6: Go big and go home.
“The thing I most wish I’d learned earlier is this: Life will always reveal moments that are chaotic and unplanned. If you want to navigate these moments successfully, make chaos your friend. But even more, learn when to slow down, when to shift gears. For years I knew only one gear, faster, higher. I lived the mantra, ‘Go big or go home!” Eventually, I learned that to go forward, sometimes you have to take a step back. I changed my mantra to go big and go home.”
“Going home isn’t just about work-life balance, it means asking the larger questions: What purpose am I trying to achieve? What life do I want to live? And what world do I want to live in?”
“As you go forward, as you greet life’s uncertainty, its transitions, its crises of faith, keep asking these big questions. Sometimes it will feel like you’re taking two steps forward, twenty-two steps back. If you’re ever feeling stuck, try employing one of our strategies: Close doors; form a circle of mentors; be less super, more human; look beyond the binary; go big and go home. And get a startup prenup!”
“But if you think these strategies are crazy, then Chica Loca, your ghost of future failures, has one more warning: If you’re not being called crazy, then you’re not thinking big enough!”