14th December, 2018
“If you’re an entrepreneur, you should be scared,” Guy Kawasaki told the audience at the inaugural Startup Grind APAC Conference. From harnessing fear to the importance of sales, Kawasaki’s insights were a goldmine for any attendees working on or considering a startup journey.
Introduced as “the wise guy” by Tribe founder and media personality Jules Lund, Kawasaki spent more than 20 minutes discussing the reality of running a tech startup, the attitude of Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists and what he likes most about Australia as a place to live.
Throughout the fireside-style chat, Kawasaki answered questions with his patented sense of humour, at one point joking that his upcoming book (yet to be launched publicly) already has more readers than Lund’s Tribe has followers on social media.
Judging by the audience’s reactions to this and other gems of comedy throughout the talk, the Canva chief evangelist still knows how to work a room.
But, focusing on the most salient advice for startup founders, we’ve presented a list of Kawasaki’s top five lessons for entrepreneurs below.
While Kawasaki was clear on his opinion that Australian and New Zealand startups could do better at celebrating their victories, he also believes the fear of failure is a very positive motivator.
“There’s only two kinds of entrepreneur: one entrepreneur is scared, the other is lying,” Kawasaki told the crowd. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you should be scared. If you’re not scared, you’re stupid; you’re a psychopath.”
While everyone wants to be perceived as “this big dog on the porch”, Kawasaki said that the reality is very different.
“No-one knows where the next VC fund is coming, if it’s coming. You don’t know if your potential partnership is going to work,” he said.
Kawasaki then illustrated the point with an example of his time at Apple, describing how Steve Jobs used fear to motivate his staff to work harder.
“Steve Jobs would come up and pick on a guy and say ‘Who hired him?’ and I thought, ‘I don’t wanna be that guy’.
“So the fear of embarrassment and the fear of failure is a very powerful motivator – I woke up every day scared that he’d pick on me, so I did the best job of my life.”
The example of Jobs prompted Lund to enquire whether Kawasaki thought the visionary co-founder of Apple feared anything.
Kawasaki’s response? Don’t pretend to be able to understand Jobs.
“I suppose at some level he must’ve feared something,” said Kawasaki. “But, let’s just say Steve Jobs was six standard deviations away from most people.
“To put it in technical terms: he had a different operating system. I don’t think mere mortals can understand his operating system, so it’s very difficult to define that and it’s also very dangerous to try and emulate Steve Jobs.”
In fact, Kawasaki puts Jobs’ genius at a level that could only be matched by “three, four, maybe five” other visionaries throughout the entirety of American business history (and he includes Walt Disney and Elon Musk on the list).
One of Lund’s early questions in the session spoke to the title Kawasaki held at Apple, Google and now Canva: what exactly is an evangelist and why don’t more companies seem to employ them?
For Kawasaki, evangelism is about advocacy, which is easier to do for some brands than others.
“At my first role as an evangelist at Macintosh, I brought the good news about Macintosh: that it’ll make you more creative and more productive,” said Kawasaki. “Now with Canva it’s bringing the good news that you can create great graphics, it’s empowering and it’s democratising design. It’s good news.
“So I can tell you now the key to evangelism is that you have good news. It’s easy to evangelise good stuff, it’s hard to evangelise crap… if Microsoft called me up I couldn’t evangelise for them.”
Kawasaki also noted that brand evangelism has probably been confused with evangelical belief in recent years that the religious connotation means that “so many people in secular business are uncomfortable with it”.
When asked what he thought was the primary thing that causes startups fail, Kawasaki was unequivocal in his response.
“Lack of sales is the number one reason startups don’t take off.
“Sales fixes everything. You can talk about all the strategic partnerships, all the potential, all the patent-pending, curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting technology you have – all of that is meaningless.
“Sales fixes everything.”
You want a successful startup business? Better start selling.
Echoed by other speakers throughout the two-day conference, Kawasaki draws a line in the sand when it comes to the merits of a great startup concept.
“Ideas are easy and implementation is hard,” he said.
“I can give you good ideas all day long … if you’re telling me that simply the knowledge of your idea would render it defenceless, then you don’t have a good idea.”
And again, more succinctly: “If it’s that easy to rip it off, then you don’t have anything”.
Instead, Kawasaki and the other founders at Startup Grind all agree that the success of startups is more often earned by good founders that have a true depth of knowledge in their chosen industry, supported by a great team of people who all agree on what they’re trying to achieve.
Feature image: Alya Tau Photography.