Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Women In Tech: Sol Tzvi On Starting A Startup . . . Part II

Posted by Guest Writer - August 31, 2010

[Sol Tzvi is head of Genieo, an Israeli startup. She shares her story of starting a startup. Part I is here.]

By Sol Tzvi, CEO of Genieo

Convincing others - Being a humble CEO

I enjoyed working for Microsoft for those few years in the past. I was presented with many challenges, especially at a time when securing Microsoft product was a major problem, which required prompt solving, due to Microsoft software being regularly infected by viruses.

I had multiple roles in the organization, the major one being building our customer messaging system from scratch, a system designed to deal with the frustration caused by hacker attacks on the Microsoft software. People used to hate Microsoft so much back then (now they've shifted their attention to other targets).

I loved Microsoft as a company, I loved the people around me and I loved dealing with these challenges.

However when working in corporations one too often finds oneself seeing holes when others see only walls. You find yourself knowing what the right thing to do is, yet taking forever to convince others. You spend all your energy talking to people instead of taking action.

Too often I found myself frustrated and thinking: "Oh well, when I have my own company I'll be the one making the decisions, and I'll lead all my people to the Promised Land, in my own way."

Years went by, and ironically I must admit, I've learned that in order to be a good leader one has to sometimes let other people lead.

Everybody's seeking guidelines. And still, if you choose to work with great and smart people, you must allow them the freedom of choice; otherwise you will only find yourself building another corporation, with people taking forever to convince you and each other before actually beginning to build the product.

Startup companies do not have this time to waste, and as the leader of such a company you must hire great and creative people, and make sure you allow them the space and freedom to spread their wings and take you up.

This is why, even at the earliest stage of founding my own company I realized I cannot tell people: "Hey! THIS is the right thing to do."

Instead, I knew I had to bring them around my ideas, make them understand what I want, and let them come with their own solutions -- so that they can express themselves the same way I always wanted to do myself back then.

Raising money

For the longest time, my impression of people who went around raising money from strangers in order to support the development of their own ideas was that they must be arrogant. Today I know otherwise.

People who believe so strongly in their own ideas, can feel comfortable enough asking for other people's money as a means to realize their dreams. However, whether it's VC money or Angel money, it all comes from people who worked very hard for it, and therefore it must be respected.

So, I eventually found myself asking investors to believe in an idea of mine.

It took me a while to understand that it is not the idea I'm selling for the money, but it is rather me and my skills. I don't think that Genieo is the cleverest idea I ever had but I do believe it came up at the right moment, which enabled me to make it happen and lead my company to success.

Oh yes, I may fail, the investors may lose their money but they can rest assured that they've put their money into a great management team, which increases their chance of success.

When you go around raising money do not fix yourself only on the idea or on its potential. Investors are after the full package, they are looking for the right people who can make it happen.

I never spend extra money on a business class ticket when I travel around the world, I never buy fancy stuff to make me feel like a successful CEO, but I do try to spend a fair amount of money on my employees. This is the wisest investment I can make with my investors' money.

Find your partner

Never start a company by yourself. A great partnership and collaboration will always prove more beneficial than anything you can do on your own.

The greatest challenge when starting up a new company is finding the right partner. A person to walk with you all the way: "To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part" - yes, exactly like a good marriage, you must find the person who will complete you, fill in your weak spots, encourage you when you lose faith -- a person with whom you can share all your intimate thoughts on your path to success. It may be hard to do but you'd better find that great partner for this journey.

Consider as well, that your investors and employees are also partners. When they lose you lose, when they fail you fail, their success is your success.

And always remember that when you win they should all be winners, and you must make them part of the celebration by showing them your goodwill and gratitude, and give them more than you promised to give. Remember that without them you wouldn't be standing there, at that moment of success.

We can all fail, as great as we may be. Sometimes it'll be because of wrong timing, other times we may take the wrong direction. People who dare always make mistakes.

Remember that you are not defined by what you do or don't do, or by what you achieve or do not achieve. You are the reflection of the strength of your faith, and of the power of your will and diligence. This is what makes you who you are and it all has to do with the freedom you give your mind. You are the dreams you dare to dream.

Every light bright or faint, begins with a spark of the freedom of dreaming and the courage to believe. This is the difference between the creator and its opposite, the eliminator.

The road does not seem so long and hard when in good company.

- - -

Part I is here.

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