Dan Pickett is the co-founder of Launch Academy. He has been building web applications with Ruby on Rails since 2004, the year Rails was first publically released, and is co-organizer of the Boston Ruby Group. He has a demonstrated passion for teaching and mentoring aspiring developers. He lives in Bridgewater, MA with his wife, Shannon, and dog, Linux. Follow him @dpickett.
Who is your hero?
The founders of GitHub (Chris Wanstrath, PJ Hyett and Tom Preston-Werner) are my heroes. They started out as great developers and have built an amazing product and culture. They do wonderful things for the open source and educational communities, and they seem to have a lot of fun running their business.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Tony Hsieh says that we should be passionate about the customer. If you’re focused on solving their problems and helping them, your business will grow.
It’s truly amazing how powerful the voice of the customer can be. At Launch Academy, we are fanatically obsessed with the customer experience, and it shapes every decision we make. A business cannot exist without customers, and customers have more options now than they ever have before. You have to demonstrate that you care, and that your business was built with them in mind, first and foremost. If you can cultivate such a relationship with your customers, they will reward you with their business and their endorsement.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
Letting my business define me was a big mistake. While I love my work and the businesses I’ve been involved in, there is a richness to life and happiness beyond the job that can make you a better entrepreneur. It can be tempting to put in those 90-hour weeks and grind things out, but the fact remains that you start to hit diminishing returns after 50 or so hours. Not to mention, you’re probably spending 20 percent of that time focusing on the wrong things. It’s important to know your cognitive limits. It’s also important to find other activities that “fill your tank” and bring you joy.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I tackle my toughest creative challenge first thing in the morning. It starts the day off on a great foot, and my creative energy is highest in the morning.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Avoid other people’s money if at all possible. Sell your early customers on the vision of your product before you fully build it out, and involve them in the realization of that vision if you can. To me, having a fruitful relationship with your customers is better than having another person at the table with high growth exclusively in mind.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Find a mentor, get a partner, or get a business coach. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and to get yourself into situations where you’re not putting your best foot forward. It’s important to get outside perspective that challenges your approach and way of thinking.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
When I can fire myself with confidence that our customers and team members will continue to be inspired and happy, I will know that I’ve built something truly special. I think too many founders focus on building what I call “executive dependence.” I think true leaders are always looking for ways to remove themselves as a bottleneck.