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Start With What You Know: 7 Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur

Pardot co-founder and Atlanta Tech Village developer David Cummings delivered the morning keynote address at the first Industry Leadership Summit, sharing these seven secrets of success:

1) Even great products need marketing.  When Cummings launched his first product in college, a simple CMS system, he learned this cardinal rule for success.  “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will not beat a path to your door,” Cummings said.  The product only achieved success after Cummings and two interns spent 6 months on guerilla sales and marketing — cold calls.  Achieving success required marketing acumen, and that knowledge became a fundamental principle for the development of Pardot.

2) Sell painkillers, not vitamins.  In this metaphor, imagine vitamins as bonuses, nice to haves, that can make your life better in the long term.  Painkillers, though, have much more value because a person in pain will pay much more money for immediate relief.  “When you repeatedly hear from your clients, ‘I don’t know how I ever lived without this product or service,’ you know you have a painkiller,” Cummings explained.

3) Embrace your constraints.  Vast access to resources can muddle focus.  Instead of concentrating on how to overcome your constraints, learn to work within them.  Without any venture capital, Pardot achieved success by using that limitation to focus business in a highly targeted atmosphere where it could be successful.

4) The startup with the most money doesn’t always win.  “When you have easy access to money, you start adding features and modules and build out so much that you end up turning your product into a Frankenstein,” Cummings said.  Remaining small and scrappy enables companies to heavily tailor products directly to customer needs and deliver a product that is immediately useful.

5) Good timing is better than good luck.  Every idea that is worth being thought of has already been thought and explored by entrepreneurs.  What separates the successes and failures is timing.  Hit the market too early, and you risk fatigue and antiquation by the time the market is ready for you.  Wait too long, and you’ve missed the boat.  You have to be Goldilocks and go to market when conditions are “just right.”

6) Focus on one thing and do it well.  Stay true to what is working for business and only change when it business begins to slow.  By understanding how much money mid-level marketing managers were allowed to spend on their credit cards without approval, Cummings knew exactly how to price Pardot for the companies it targeted while turning a profit.  This grew the company without ever requiring venture capital.

7) Culture matters.  “Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is entirely within control of the leadership,” Cummings explained.  Your mission should be to be the best place to work and the best place to be a customer.  When you take time to build your team, there is nothing that you can not accomplish together.