Viewpoint / Company Building

Top 10 Insights of 2015 from Tech’s Leading Entrepreneurs and Thinkers


During the past several months, it’s been my distinct honor to talk with leaders of startups past, present and future on my podcast, Chat with Champions, about the range of their experiences, the hurdles and victories they encounter, and the magic of technology to transform things big and small in our lives.

Reviewing the posts has me looking forward even more to the discussions I’ll be having this year, so stay tuned for more on upcoming guests. For now, please enjoy this Top 10 list of the most interesting insights from entrepreneurs I hosted on my podcast:

  • Phil Fernandez, CEO, Marketo, on trusting yourself and your customers: “You’ve got to be willing to make a hard call to stop something when the world’s telling you that and then if you’ve got signals inside your business that everything’s working right, then lean into it. Because all the pattern matchers in the outside world aren’t going to know what your business is really doing.”
  • Ben Golub, CEO, Docker, on being committed to the startup journey: “My key advice to entrepreneurs is to be bold and to persevere and to recognize, at times, it’s lonely, and your job is you have to deal with that loneliness but also to build a great team around you so that the team can succeed. You can achieve almost anything if you’re willing not to take credit for it. And maybe that’s what most entrepreneurs need to learn.”
  • Ben Golub on being a mentor: “I think that notion of being a mentor sometimes means challenging people who work for you and giving them situations where they can fail. It is incredibly important because I think if mentorship is purely a coddling exercise, I don’t know that it necessarily gets people where they need to be.”
  • Venky Harinarayan, co-founder, Rocketship Ventures, on understanding your unique circumstances: “Everything has to be thought from the ground up. Every business, every start-up, every opportunity you’re going after is slightly different than everything else that existed before, which is why it is so much fun and that’s why this thing is such a great thing to do, to be an entrepreneur. So keep in mind that the advice you get doesn’t always reflect that nuance, that notion that everything is slightly different.”
  • BV Jagadeesh, founder, KAAJ Ventures, on taking the long view: “I think if you’re going to quit your job, especially a high paying job, and you’re going to attempt to start a company, do something big. And do everything possible to create an independent entity by itself. If along the way you get an acquisition offer, you can always evaluate that and figure out if that is right exit, but don’t do your company thinking, ‘I am going to exit.’ I think you’ll be setting on the wrong path if that is your starting point.”
  • Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm and Chairman of Glow, on building the right team: “It’s basically, in the final analysis, the only thing that matters. Teams ultimately — and not just the individual qualities and skill sets of the people — but the way they mesh together, the interactions between players, the mosaic that you create by hiring people and sort of putting them together, that’s really what determines success and failure at every company that I’ve been involved with and I think that’s probably true for any company out there.”
  • Christopher Michel, founder, Nautilus Ventures, on the importance of tenacity: “Many people told me, including my board and advisors, that it’s okay to quit and we never quit at We never quit, even when we were talking to bankruptcy lawyers; even when people were going to come to take the stuff from the office. We learned everything in those most difficult moments. For those of you out here listening that are going through a lot of challenges in your company, I hope you see it the way I did today, which is there’s a huge learning opportunity and a huge opportunity to focus on what matters and you might be really, really close to success. Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up,” and I think that that’s incredibly true.”
  • Marten Mickos, CEO, HackerOne, on hiring philosophies: “Hire people that you share values with and you enjoy working with. But that doesn’t mean you should hire people who are like you. You need to hire people who are not like you but who you still can work with, and it’s difficult to find that sufficient contrast. Don’t hire copies of you, but hire opposites of you who still share some values so that you could work together.”
  • Dheeraj Pandey, CEO, Nutanix, on letting others lead: “I believe that a company needs to have leaders who know when to let go because every leader that you hire in your organization needs to have that freedom, that right brain accomplishment that says, ‘I am moving the needle and I’m the leader of this organization as well.’”
  • And, finally, here’s my own impressions of what sets successful entrepreneurs apart from others: “First, I would say they have some kind of X factor. They have product obsession to solve real customer pain points. They have a vision to change the world, and are able to articulate it really well. They have hunger and determination to walk through any wall. They have high EQ and self-awareness, and above all, they have the ability to hire great people.”

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