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April 22, 2017 / Michael Yaroshefsky

Leaving Footprints with Other People’s Feet

When Steve Jobs announced his medical leave in 2011, Google’s Larry Page asked if he could visit Jobs to get tips on how to be a good CEO.  According to Jobs:

“My first thought was, ‘Fuck you.’ But then I thought about it and realized that everybody helped me when I was young, from Bill Hewlett to the guy down the block who worked for HP.  So I called him back and said sure.”

Jobs, who is generally known for his egoism, recognizes the importance of others in his success.

I came across this passage during a rereading of Walter Isaacson’s biography for one of my HBS classes, and it seems particularly relevant in the middle of raising a Seed Round for RocketVisor. Without any substantial business history to point to, investors at the Seed Stage stage are taking massive bets on the entrepreneurs and visions.  For Apple, Mike Markkula’s guidance and $250,000 line of credit was a crucial break for Jobs and Wozniak to begin converting their project into a company.

RocketVisor could not have gotten to this point without the generous support of investors, advisers, team members, and even customers who believe.  There’s no doubt that, like Apple, building great products is the surest path to success.  But doing so requires capital, advice, effort, and adoption by this village of support that forms around a business.

Keith Ferrazzi in Never Eat Alone observes the same:

“Ask any accomplished CEO or entrepreneur or professional how they achieved their success, and I guarantee you’ll hear very little business jargon.  What you will mostly hear about are the people who paved their way.”

Part of our success has been an enthusiastic cohort of product testers at Hubspot, and I like to visit them frequently at the office.  One day I walked passed a wall in their office with this quote by one of Hubspot’s founders, Dharmesh Shah:

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Dharmesh has a good point: it feels great to give back to those who believed in you by making them look smart for doing so.

But I think the message is bigger than that — or perhaps even the very opposite of what Dharmesh proposes.  This is what Jobs ultimately realized when he agreed to meet Larry Page.

Success is more than just making your believers look smart and closing the loop; it’s about continuing the cycle anew.  Success is enabling others to accomplish great things by believing in them and supporting them.

It reminds me of the final class of “High Tech Entrepreneurship” at Princeton, where Professor Ed Zschau delivered an emotional farewell rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.  Scrawled on the chalkboard behind him was the following ethos:

“Leaving footprints with other people’s feet.”