10 Keys to Entrepreneurial Success

This is the 1st of 10 Chapters from my ebook you can get in it’s entirety on the Ryver website here.  I decided to Post these one chapter at a time.  I hope you enjoy them and glean a few useful tips you can use in your pursuit of entrepreneurial success.


Forward – I was born a salesman and an entrepreneur. I really believe that’s true. Along the way, others have helped me become better, but the drive, desire and discipline to succeed at both have been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have parents who made me believe I could achieve anything I set my mind to. I love entrepreneurs. I love being one, I love meeting other entrepreneurs and I love everything about entrepreneurship. Having twice been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, I get asked a lot about what the magic bullet or secret sauce is that’s allowed me to catch lightning in a bottle more than once. The answer should be obvious: There isn’t one. If there were, everyone would be rich and successful. What I can share with you are some of the traits, habits and practices I believe increase your chances of success, and without which you’re doomed to failure (or at the very least, far less likely to succeed!). I hope the following brings you the same success and satisfaction it’s brought me.


The Omniscient Entrepreneur

The first key to being a successful entrepreneur is to know your stuff. Know your product, know your market, know your positioning, your message and what it’s going to take to get where you want to be. Benjamin Disraeli, who twice served as Prime Minister of England, once said the secret of success in life is for a person to be ready when their opportunity comes. Being prepared as an entrepreneur means knowing as much as you can. You need to become an expert in whatever it is you are attempting.

How? Study everything. Learn everything. Be curious. Seek knowledge from wherever you can. Then question everything you read and hear until you’re confident in your knowledge of what you’ve learned. It helps if you have a natural love for learning, but if you don’t, you better be disciplined enough to learn all you can. What you don’t know will get you every time. I learned long ago I was not as smart as some, but I knew I could outwork my competitors.

I began my professional career as a salesman. I still am, but for the first 11 years I paid my bills entirely by carrying a bag and a quota. So, how did I go from being a computer salesman to becoming a co-founder and CEO of ACT? By teaching myself how to write code, that’s how. I had a pretty good idea that the computers I was selling could be used to better manage my contacts. I also knew no one had done it yet. So I became my first programmer. I learned enough code to build the forerunner to ACT!

How did we take SalesLogix from nothing to $108 MM in just 5 years? By clearly understanding exactly where the holes and opportunities were in the market, and then identifying the most effective and efficient way to get our product to our customers (more on this in Key #4). We had a crystal clear vision so that nothing was left to chance and little happened by accident.

In Stephen R. Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, his second habit is “Begin With the End in Mind.” You’ve got to know where you are going and then you need a clear roadmap on how to get there. (By the way, if you haven’t already read Covey’s book, do yourself a favor and read it. There’s a reason it’s sold over 25 million copies.)

Now, if after all your study and research, there are still some things you don’t know well enough, find experts and mentors who do. I’ve been doing this for nearly three decades, with more than a little bit of success, and I still seek out the expertise of trusted advisors and experts. If you have to, hire them. I was fortunate to have three great mentors in my life. Now, at 60 and in my 5th venture backed startup, I found a fourth mentor. There is always someone you can learn more from.

In my companies I always talk about only employing “A” Players. Now, I know everyone says that they only hire the best, and I believe most of them believe they do, but I’m telling you it’s not the same thing. I’m not talking about good employees or even great employees; I’m talking about hiring the best.

In every organization there’s an “A” Team, a “B” Team and a “C” Team, with talented, valuable people on each. The bigger my companies got, the more they looked like other companies with “A,” “B” and “C“ players, but in the early days, all I have working for me is the “A” Team. Why? Because to be agile and still produce a great product in the shortest period of time, requires the very best talent you can get, in every position. By the way, if you find you also have a “D” Team in your organization, it’s time for a reorg because you need to cut the “D” players loose.

I had an extremely talented employee working for us, but in the end it just didn’t work out. He was so highly valued that his former employer quickly rehired him, but asked, “What happened? We’ve never found anyone better than you?” The former employee, a class act, honestly replied, “You don’t understand, everyone there is in an entirely different league. I couldn’t keep up.”

When I say “A” Players, I’m talking about the best of the very best.

You probably can’t afford to pay them what their worth so give them stock options. People want to be a part of something that is going to change the world. They also want to be part owners. A lot of companies talk about employees “taking ownership,” but are stingy when it comes to actually putting their options where their mouths are. Talk is cheap, and in the end, you always get what you pay for. If you’re serious about building something great, invest in an “A” Team. The result is an agile team that does great work, fast.

There are lot of good businesses you can start and be a solopreneur, but if you are going to do something big, it takes a team. Assemble the best team that you can afford. The more “A” players you can attract, the better. “A” players outperform “B” players by a factor of 2-10x, especially tech people like programmers, product designers and marketing experts. It is often hard to find these type of people much less hire them. But it can be done if you are good at selling! See #8.

I have been very fortunate to work with many people that were much better at something than I could ever hope to be. You have to be a pretty secure person to hire people better than you in their specific expertise. You will learn from them and add to your own experience and talent.

It takes a certain amount of humility to work with extremely talented people. You have to realize you don’t and won’t have all the answers. You have to be willing and able to be wrong. Some arrogant leaders think if an idea does not originate from them then it can’t be good. Or they often take credit for one of their people’s ideas. That really sucks and is huge mistake. People need to know they are valued for their experience and talent. They need to know you are expecting them to contribute with original and often contrarian ideas. They need to know you have great respect for them. And if you don’t have great respect for them, you hired the wrong people.

To succeed in a big way it takes a team. A great team. Trust me, you simply cannot do it on your own!

I am known for having very strong opinions, but I learned a long time ago that my opinion is not always right. I have been wrong many times. I go out of my way to demonstrate to my team that I know I am not always right and I expect to be challenged. I can state my opinion very forcefully but then say with sincerity that I may well be wrong and want everyone else’s view. People who work with me learn that I expect them to make their opinions known forcefully. Heated discussions can be very valuable as long as everyone knows it’s just a discussion. It’s not a war!

Whenever I sense that someone else is holding back I usually say, “If you and I always agree then one of us is no longer needed–and I am not going anywhere.” I love to hire strong people. If I can intimidate someone, they ought to be intimidated. If they are not strong and secure enough in themselves, they probably don’t fit and need to go.

I go out of my way to get consensus on a significant decision. There are times when I KNOW the right thing to do but I’ll still discuss it as long as it takes to get everyone on the same page. I want it to be OUR decision, not my decision. People need to know they have been heard if they are going to get on board even though they may think a different decision is the right one. I almost never make arbitrary decisions. There are times when an unpopular decision has to be made but that should be very rare.

I love it when someone on my team comes up with something brilliant. I am quick to make a big deal of the fact that it is brilliant. I’m also relieved that a problem has been solved no matter who it is that solved it.

At ACT!, it was my partner Mike Muhney who thought of the name. For months we tried but could not come up with a great name. It was so frustrating! He got on a plane to NY and said to himself “by the time I land, I am going to have a name.” When he got back home and told me the name and how he had arrived at it, I knew he had discovered the right name. ACT. An acronym for Activity Control Technology. I added the exclamation point. ACT!

At Ryver we wrestled for a very long time about our positioning (see #4). We thought we had built a new and innovative CRM system. But it became very clear that was not what we had built at all. Everyone we showed it to said they loved it but “it’s not CRM!” We would ask “well then, what is it?” They replied, “I have no idea.” We wore out every possible position we could think of. We’d settle on something for about two days and then we’d all hate it. This went on for months as we were working to finish the product.

Finally one of the co-founders walked into my office said he had figured it out. He then made the case for “Team Communication.” When he was about halfway through, I KNEW he had nailed it. I was thrilled! Once we adopted this position, it resonated with everyone inside and outside the company. We had spent two years reimagining email and the answer was Team Communication. I was thrilled that SOMEBODY had figured it out. I would have liked to have been the one to do it, but it did not have to be me.

I recently said to someone that while I get much of the credit for ACT!, SalesLogix and now Ryver, “the great thing is that I know no one person can take credit for any of them.” It took a team.

The bottom line is, when it comes to entrepreneurial success, knowledge is power. Get it where you can, when you can, from whomever you can.

Pat Sullivan

Was co-creator and CEO of ACT!, The Best Selling Contact Manager. Founder and CEO of SalesLogix The Leading Mid Market CRM Two time winner of Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Co-founder and CEO of Ryver, The Best Team Communications that is FREE.