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Students Hear What It Takes to Run a Startup

Last Thursday, over 50 entrepreneurially-minded HBS students gathered to hear what it really takes to run a startup. Our featured guest, Doug Levin, serves as President of Black Duck Software, the leader in software compliance management solutions. Having founded the company over five years ago, Levin has grown Black Duck from an idea into a thriving company with over 80 employees and 500 customers around the world. Black Duck was even the subject of recent HBS case by Professor Constance Bagley.

The “Top 10 Must-Haves for a Startup CEO” was held on Thursday 1/24 at 5pm. The event was co-sponsored by the TechMedia Club and the Entrepreneurship Club.

Levin started his talk by sharing the excitement and the challenge of life at a startup. He urged students to understand that leaders at startups, more so than at any other stage in a company’s life, must keep their eye on enormous number of metrics, employees, products, and stakeholders. While it can be overwhelming at times, Levin conveyed the enormous sense of satisfaction and ownership that only a startup CEO can feel. He continued by stressing the importance of hiring good people into your organization and managing your board proactively and with transparency.

With this broad perspective in mind, Levin proceeded to share a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for young CEOs:

DO
 Do what you are good at and love to do. That may
or may not be the CEO job.
 Do hire people who have more expertise than you in certain areas.
 Do identify your personal weaknesses and address them.
Then identify more weaknesses and address those.
 Do get lots of advice from your board, advisors, coaches,
mentors and others, but then still make your own decisions.
 Do come to accept you have to drive the company in
order to achieve and overachieve every single day.

DON’T
 Don’t let the expectations of others or a “dream job”
picture lead you to pursue the CEO job.
 Don’t operate under the belief that strategy alone is the key
to a startup’s success. There are many other important factors.
 Don’t assume that there are formulas for exits,
challenges, competition, etc. Each and every situation is unique.
 Don’t place your interests before the interests of the
board, executive management team, your rank-and-file
employees, or investors.
 Don’t give up your personal life. There’s more to life than work,
and being a well-rounded person is key to avoiding burnout.
Don’t be another supernova in a suit.

While it can be overwhelming at times, Levin conveyed the enormous sense of satisfaction and ownership that only a startup CEO can feel Following the event, Levin joined a group of eight HBS students for another meeting of the “Eat with an Entrepreneur” Dinner Series. The intimate setting offered this much smaller group a chance to ask more personal questions about the highs and lows of life in a startup.

The event and subsequent dinner was co-sponsored by the TechMedia and Entrepreneurship Clubs as part of ongoing efforts to bring more successful entrepreneurs to Harvard Business School.

February 4, 2008
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