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Lessons learned

June 24, 2009

I have started two businesses, a large restaurant and a computer services firm.  The first was successful and the second wasn’t.  Both were tremendously challenging.

While I learned a lot from each business, most of what I learned came from my failed business.  Here’s a laundry list of those learnings:

  • Manage cash flow
  • Pick great people
  • The buck stops with me
  • Most people want to be led
  • Not everone wants to be an owner
  • It doesn’t need to be perfect
  • Negotiate well
  • There are dishonest people out there, my gut is right most of the time
  • Never know what will happen if you ask
  • Find effective and interested mentors
  • Do what you love and the money will follow
  • You can make money doing anything
  • Make a plan
  • Financial projections are just that, projections
  • Understand financial statements
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly
  • Competition is good
  • A day spent on competitive research is not a day wasted
  • Don’t lose focus on your own business
  • Being scared is okay
  • Hire a good accountant
  • Find a trusted advisor
  • Treat critical feedback as a gift
  • Persistence pays
  • An “A” team is more important than an “A” idea
  • Ideas are meaningless if you can’t execute
  • You don’t have to have a professional skill
  • Entrepreneurship is a lot of work….and a lot of fun
  • People are self interested
  • It is not that hard to be exceptional
  • Make raving fans out of your customers – they’ll sell you
  • Help your staff accomplish their personal and professional goals
  • Have wide open lines of communication
  • It’s okay to tell your team how the company is doing
  • Communicate early, often and honestly
  • It’s okay to ask for help

This list is only a very partial list.  Had I known some of these things before I started my second business, I’m convinced it would have been a successful company (in fact, had I known these things, particularly the “do what you love” piece, I would never have started my second company).

As I go through the process of finding my next opportunity, I keep these things top of mind.  In fact, I’ve turned down at least two business opportunities as a direct result of some of these learnings.  Now the trick is to make sure I don’t miss the “right” opportunity because of this learning!

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4 Responses to “Lessons learned”


  1. Great post! Thank you for sharing your experiences as an entrepreneur. “Doing what we love” for a living is really an important key for a successful business.


  2. Hey Mark,

    This stuff is gold! I think I’m going to print it out and stick it on the wall of my new office!

    – Aaron


  3. […] I was reading an HBR blog article with a list of 15 “hyper-practical” start-up tips but oddly found the list presented by one of the commenters (Mark Mawhinney) on the article to be a much better list of tips. Lessons Learned […]


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