Insights and Opinions

Two Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know


When you're looking to disrupt any industry—advertising, yogurt, VoIP technology, or whatever—begin with learning everything you can.

Who else is in the market? Do they have a solution? I have always forced myself to ask three very basic, but very important questions before moving forward with any idea. Put yourself in your customer/consumers shoes and ask the following questions:

  • Why do I need this?
  • Why do I need yours?
  • Why do I need it now?

Also, determine what ingredient you want to focus on as a company that will be your core differentiator. At Rubicon Project I decided to focus on our people and culture.

In my experience, the often-quoted phrase in business "the customer always comes first" is old school thinking from the days when employees and employers were loyal to each other for a lifetime. Unfortunately, those days are over. I believe in "people first." I created a formula at Rubicon Project that we live by – People. Product. Customers. – in that order. On our wall in the middle of our office reads in large letters: Great people innovate great products, and great products attract great customers.” It all starts with people. Furthermore great customers will always want to continue to work with great people. This network effect can be powerful, and an accelerator in its own right.

For me it was important to hire winners – not just because they've proven that they can win, but because they have had the "taste" of winning. Once you have tasted it, nothing else compares. I believe winners are even more motivated by the fear of losing. And winners want to work on winning teams, with other winners!

Lastly, in the find out phase be open to ideas that come to the surface that you may not have thought of before.

Challenge yourself. As an entrepreneur, you will be living your business so figure out what you like doing and make sure that you can stay in love with it for the foreseeable future – through the highs and the lows – I can assure you that you will experience both. The lows are when this matters most.


So what comes next? The need for speed and a rapid roll out.

A racecar driver will tell you that you achieve the optimal result if you accelerate into the apex of a corner when on the racetrack. This is something that goes against your Driver's Ed class and natural instinct, but you'll ultimately emerge faster at the end of the course.

One of the biggest challenges for many entrepreneurs is getting out of their own way and not succumbing to over-thinking. It's often too easy to get hung up in the methods and lose sight of the results. Sometimes it is better to get something out the door and into beta at 80% than waiting for it to be 100%.

Timing your roll out is also important. Being first to market is great, but does not necessarily mean you'll be the market leader. On the other hand, being late to market doesn't always mean you won't win. What's most important to determine—as part of the ‘Find Out' period—is whether the market is ready for your idea or solution. You can change your product, your marketing or your go-to-market strategy, but to fundamentally change the needs of a market is challenging, requires education and is time consuming – all of which is expensive.

Something we outlined for Rubicon Project back in 2007 when we were just starting off was to create specific "full-time" jobs vs. "part-time" jobs. This may seem intuitive, but when you are starting a company and only have a handful of employees, each person usually has to wear many different hats. They should have only one "full-time job", and the others are "part-time jobs." This entrepreneurial instinct is excellent and exactly what you want to find in great people; however, it does make it difficult for them to focus on what's most important for them to focus on – individually – to roll out a solution.

Why does this matter? A "full-time job" is what you wake up every morning thinking about and fall asleep worrying about. Whereas "part time jobs" are where you jump in to assist in someone else's full-time job.

At the end of the day don't be afraid to challenge yourself, but be sure to focus on the three questions I outlined above. Always stay true to your core beliefs and don't get caught up in the methods – stay focused on the results!

Frank Addante is the founder and CEO of the Rubicon Project, an online advertising technology company. He recently took Rubicon Project public. This was reprinted from his blog with permission.