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Friday Favorites: 5 Lessons from an Entrepreneur (and Engineer from Google, Apple, and Microsoft)

Happy Friday!

Women Grow Business is broaching its sixth full month in action(!) And as an initial way to celebrate, favorite posts per readership will be shared again for enjoyment each Friday this summer.

So welcome to some summer fun and Women Grow Business’ Friday Favorites. And expect to see next week more reviews of DC-region networking events for women entrepreneurs (great resource by Marissa Levin), marketing misfit wisdom from Mayra Ruiz McPherson, optimizing website brilliance from Deborah Ager and more.

From 5/2009, it’s Gayle Laakmann and Friday Favorites

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Guest contributor Gayle Laakmann is an entrepreneur and engineer who has previously worked for Google, Microsoft and Apple. She is founder and CEO of CareerCup, which offers services to help candidates prepare for technical interviews with preparation tools. And she’s currently a Wharton MBA student and an advisor, plus former VP of Engineering, to EmptySpaceAds which creates a tool enabling websites to monetize their empty space. Gayle can be reached at her blog http://www.technologywoman.com or http://twitter.com/techwoman.

Working for Microsoft, Google and Apple, I not only became a better engineer – I became a better entrepreneur. Their successes and failures, encapsulated in these five lessons, provided me with invaluable instruction in how to build a company and effectively compete.

#1. Build a large network.
The “Biggies,” as I like to call them, have an unfair advantage: they have a network of literally thousands of experts. At Apple, I worked with some of the industry’s best designers. Microsoft has people who specialize in every conceivable role. At Google, I could walk down the hall and speak with the inventors of revolutionary technologies.

To compete with the biggies, you’ll need a network of your own. Get out to those start-up happy hours. Grab business cards. Set up coffee and lunch chats. And be open – you never know who might come in handy.

#2. Know the value of your time.
On my first day at Microsoft, our orientation leaders informed us that the receptionists will perform filing and other tasks for us. I was stunned. What a cool perk! This “perk,” of course, was really just efficient business: my time is expensive.

I arm myself now with a small team of outsourced assistants doing various tasks, from editing to emailing. These assistants allow me to spend my time where it counts: growing the business.

#3. Be really good – at a few things.
The Apple iPhone can browse the web and play music, but it can’t cut and paste. Why? Because Apple learned a long time ago that it just has to be really, really good at a few things. People will forgive the rest.

I would love for CareerCup to be the go-to source for companies, head hunters and candidates. But you know what? We can’t excel in one without sacrificing another. So, we made our choice: we’re going to be the source for technical interview prep. The rest can wait.

#4. Think less, experiment more.
[image Night Experiment by Fragilelisa, Creative Commons] -Google does more than just permit employees to experiment, it practically forces them to. “Googlers” spend 20% of their time on a personal project. While the vast majority of these 20% projects fail, a few, such as Gmail and Google News, go on to be very, very successful.

A fancy spreadsheet can’t predict the future, nor can a room full of MBAs. Sometimes you just have to experiment and see what happens.

#5. And sometimes…give up, so that you can succeed.
What’s more dangerous than failure? Not being able to admit it.

Big companies are infamous for chugging along on projects that will likely never generate a profit. Not only does this waste oodles of money each year, it also discourages risk taking. When you can’t cut your losses, the cost of a mistake goes up dramatically.

Entrepreneurs are, by and large, people who stubbornly refuse to give up. This persistence, however, can be our Achilles heel. We have to learn to give up so that we can eventually succeed.


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