Lessons Learned by Gianni Martire

*I wrote most of what follows about 10 years ago while lecturing at NYU Stern.

Lesson 1: It’s All About the Team.

  • The founding team of any startup is by far the most important component of a company’s ability to launch an idea to market. Most people will invest in a team well before the actual idea.
  • Be extremely careful and particular in selecting the founding team. You can’t do anything on your own, but the wrong people will make any hill a steeper climb. Learn how to screen for toxic psychopaths. They’re charismatic, manipulative, high-IQ, dangerous little f***ers.
  • Don’t trust people who cheat on their wives or girlfriends. They’ll cheat on you too; assholes are assholes.

Lesson 2: Build Something People Want.

  • Pitch your idea to your friends and family first. Make sure you are not the only customer for your product.
  • Stupid scales in America. Depending on the target demo, keeping things stupid may be the smartest thing you can do.

Lesson 3: Pick One Idea and Keep It Simple.

  • Never try to solve too many problems at once.
  • Focus, focus, focus. Don’t try to sell too many services. Just make one thing super simple.

Lesson 4: Don’t Serve Raw Cookie Dough.

  • When you can pitch your idea in 20 seconds and people actually understand what the hell you’re talking about, then the idea is ready for mass consumption. Until then, keep baking.

Lesson 5: Factor Everything by 3 (and Sometimes 4).

  • Multiply everything by a factor of 3:
  • 3t + 3$ = Why most people aren’t entrepreneurs.

Lesson 6: Find the Right Investors.

  • Don’t be stupid, or people will try to take advantage of you. Keywords to look out for: “Plain vanilla” (when an investor refers to the contract his lawyer drafted), “Let’s use my attorney to save money,” or (my favorite) “I know people that would serve on ‘our’ board.”

Lesson 7: Don’t Lose Control!

  • See Lesson 6. Things tend to crumble when the wrong people are driving. The wrong people are usually the ones telling you what great drivers they are.

Lesson 8: Don’t Let the Noise Make You Second-Guess Your Gut.

  • Have the courage to follow your heart, as long as the plan is backed by data. Dissenting opinions aren’t always helpful.

Lesson 9: Persistence and Insanity Are Important.

  • You need to be really persistent and pretty crazy to actually think you can pull this off.

Lesson 10: Loose Lips Sink Startups.

  • Got a great idea? Keep your mouth shut! Even if the university that funded you introduces you to an adjunct professor, don’t tell him your idea as you’ll have a competitor as I did.

Lesson 11: Plan for the Worst but Hope for the Best.

  • Shit happens. As CEO, you need to plan for your own death. If you were to disappear, would the plane come apart in mid-air? Automate and streamline your business. Always design automatic stabilizers for probable events. Even a GME squeeze, never do anything naked.

Lesson 12: You Need to Drink Your Own Kool-Aid.

  • You can’t convince the world you have the best product if you don’t believe it yourself. Self-doubt will always be obvious.

Lesson 13: Only Hire People That Are Smarter Than You (Very Easy for Me)

  • Why pay someone if they can’t teach you anything?
  • Don’t think fancy schools means smarter.

Lesson 14: Money Should Never Be Your Motivation.

  • Would you trust the surgeon that became a doctor to have a big house and a hot wife? The same rule applies to CEOs!
  • Don’t hire money-driven CEOs. They always kill what makes a company great.

Lesson 15: Move Once Things Start to Hit.

  • Stand still for one second, and you’ll be the deer in headlights. Your competitor is driving, and they aren’t slowing down.

Lesson 16: Don’t Be a Joke (People Like to Laugh).

  • If you tell people you are going to change the world, you better do it — otherwise, you’ll look like an idiot! Never overpromise. No one can give anyone the moon, but you can definitely get a piece of it.
  • Some people will always laugh, but you shouldn’t care about them. Aspire to be co-chair of the Zero Fucks Club.

Lesson 17: Keep Your Mind Clear and Focused.

  • All work and no play will make you too miserable to lead anything.
  • Meditate. Meditate. Meditate.

Lesson 18: Confidence!

  • You have to believe you can walk on water. Any self-doubt will be obvious.
  • Use real data to back up your claims. Don’t pitch stories, pitch facts.

Lesson 19: Think Like a Drug Dealer

  • Push your product to everyone, the younger the better! Give people the first taste for free, then convert them into paying clients (freemium business model).
  • Have a scalable model so you can expand your territory.
  • Pay off the cops.

Lesson 20: Mistakes

  • Make the same mistake twice, and you will fail. Make 100 new mistakes, and you’ll succeed.
  • Just learn as fast and as cheaply as possible. Don’t get embarrassed. Just learn.

Lesson 21: Leave Your Ego at the Door!

  • Napoleon lost the war a long time ago.

Lesson 22: Stop Trying to Think Outside the Box.

  • Think of something that only true misfits could imagine. That’s the kind of stuff that gets people’s attention.

Lesson 23: Success Is a Menace.

  • Success fools smart people into thinking they can’t fail, as it gives a false sense of confidence. Be confident about where you are going, but stay humble and recognize that you can make mistakes. This keeps you honest and on track.

Lesson 24: Forget the Past. Focus on the Future.

  • Never stop thinking about the next big thing, every product will have its decline.

Lesson 25: Never Take Yourself Too Seriously.

  • Seriously.