Prior to speaking at a breakfast meeting hosted by a Phoenix magazine, I received an advance question from a participant: "What advice do you have for someone who is starting a business?"
I thought about it, and realized there were several ‘rules’ which contributed to my success. So, I wrote down the rules and presented them at the meeting. The response was amazing. I’ve since edited and consolidated the rules, and added new ones. I still present them to audiences.
My rules come from significant life events.
I suspect I've encountered more significant life events than most people. I grew up in a lower-middle class family in Baltimore. We were always broke. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always earned my own money, whether by selling newspapers, pumping gas, working in construction or in a factory.
At 16, I was stood up to be executed twice during a robbery. Somehow, my would-be executioner could not pull the trigger. Although there were witnesses, I was the only one who testified against the two perpetrators; they went to jail.
I was a rifleman with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. Many saw significantly more combat action than me, but I saw my share, too. After 5-6 weeks, I was wounded and medevaced to Japan.
Using the G.I. Bill, I graduated from the University of Baltimore. I passed the CPA exam, but worked only a few years as an accountant. The lion's share of my career has been as an entrepreneur.
I’ve been lucky in business.
At LeaseAmerica, I started and grew a division to 84 employees with annual revenue of $150 million. Its success redefined how business in that industry is conducted.
While there, I started a software company in my basement -- Parsons Technology. It grew to 1,000 employees and almost $100 million in yearly revenue. I was the only investor when Parsons Technology was sold to Intuit, who made me retire for a year.
Retirement wasn’t for me, so when the mandatory year passed, I used money from the sale of Parsons Technology to start Go Daddy. Today, Go Daddy is the No. 1 registrar worldwide in both new domain registrations and domains under management. At times I came close to losing everything, but decided to "risk it all" rather than close Go Daddy. To this day, I am the only investor.
One more thing.
Some of the rules I learned the hard way. Others I learned from history. I've read that original ideas are rare; and I can't imagine any of mine represent new ideas. But I've assembled them, put them to work in my life, and can attest that -- more often than not -- they hold true.
Here are the 16 rules:
1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we're in our comfort zone. I hear people say, "But I'm concerned about security." My response to that is simple: "Security is for cadavers."
2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it's attempted. Just because what you're doing does not seem to be working, doesn't mean it won't work. It just means that it might not work the way you're doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn't have an opportunity.
3. When you're ready to quit, you're closer than you think. There's an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed."
4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of "undefined consequences." My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, "Well, Robert, if it doesn't work, they can't eat you."
5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, "As you think, so shall you be."
6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don't look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.
7. Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.
8. Be quick to decide. Remember what General Patton said during World War II: "A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow."
9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.
10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don't know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven't examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.
11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you're doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.
12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you're doing as anyone else, provided that what you're doing is legal.
13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn't fair. You make your own breaks. You'll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).
14. Solve your own problems. You'll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you'll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: "You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others." There's also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: "A wise man keeps his own counsel."
15. Don't take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.
16. There's always a reason to smile. Find it. After all, you're really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: "We're not here for a long time; we're here for a good time."
Copyright 2005 by Bob Parsons. All rights reserved.