By René Lacerte, CEO and Founder
One of the biggest pitfalls of being an entrepreneur in the current Silicon Valley boom is that, once again, people are emulating other’s ideas rather than emulating other people. This might sound a bit strange, but think about it for a moment: Isn’t it much more lucrative to be the next Steve Jobs rather than the maker of the next iPad knock-off? Isn’t it, in essence, more fun to have your heroes be people rather than apps or machines?
One of the first things they teach you in any school is that the best way to learn is to find yourself a great mentor. I owe much of my success to working with amazing people and learning all I could from them. Admiring other people’s style and substance—even more than their products—has helped me generate great, original ideas of my own, and helped me build successful businesses without ever feeling jaded or uninspired. I believe that any successful business owes its corporate magic to people.
So, I offer you, as food for thought, three people who have made a profound difference in my life and my career:
Grant Lacerte, Data Corp of America: Besides being an amazing father and friend, my dad was also remarkable for inventing products and services at Data Corporation of America (DCA) and founding two visionary companies in his career— Financial Research Associates (FRA) and Certi Data Corporation (CDC). At DCA, way back in the 70s, he invented a device, which he eventually sold to ADP, that collected book keeping and payroll data from accountants using a cassette tape. At FRA, he aggregated data from accountants to let accountants and other businesses know how they were doing. In the late 80s, at CDC, my dad pioneered remote payroll processing with the first PCs. All of these businesses are precursors to what we do on the web today. But, even so, the most important lessons I learned from him are basic ones that have informed all of my companies: follow your passions, hire great people, and know how to manage cash. These simple goals were the essence of my dad’s success as well as my own.
Pete Kight, CheckFree: I got to work with Pete when he was running CheckFree in the mid 90s while I was at Intuit. When we sold him one of our divisions, Pete impressed me with his laser focus on execution and task completion. He and his team were passionate about getting the job done and getting problems solved. As a result, they didn’t just change an industry; they created the industry and category known today as bill payment.
Scott Cook, Intuit: Working at Intuit in the mid 90s gave me the opportunity to learn from Scott first hand. Scott practiced and preached something that has shaped everything I have done: he understood that you have to not only listen to your customers, you need to be obsessed with serving and understanding your customers. A focus on—and passion for—customers must be part of your corporate DNA. At Intuit, Scott was one of the first in the software industry to do market research with customers through focus groups and usability sessions. The results speak for themselves, as the accounting industry went from a few dozen players to Intuit dominating with more than 80% market share. And Scott was passionate not just about listening to customers but also about listening to employees. Both qualities are ones that I try to emulate.
There are many more people that have influenced me, and I know many more will cross my path in the years to come. So, for all emerging entrepreneurs out there, I offer this humble piece of advice: find a mentor. Heck, find many mentors. Take time away from thinking about your product to think about people, your customers, your employees and your friends. The key to success is not in building a great product; it is in building a business that can change people’s lives. And that can only be accomplished when you make people your priority.