RALEIGH – Three-time entrepreneur Patrick Sullivan, with two successful exits (to Google, to Facebook), talks about lessons he’s learned as he launches a third startup (Bonsai) in Raleigh.

Lessons I learned along the way and very important to me is hiring people smarter than you, which is critical for early-stage companies.  I think a lot of young and inexperienced entrepreneurs don’t realize how valuable of a lesson that is at the early stages. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

  1. My personal belief is that you train people to leave and excite them to stay – never try to milk team members for everything they are worth. Try to keep them engaged and excited to stay on (good pay, good equity, good work/life balance, and interesting projects to work on), but always support folks when they are ready to leave and pursue their next passion or stop along their journey.
  2. Identify a problem first, then create a solution (even if it doesn’t scale), then create your product (it should scale).  This enables us to keep our operation as lean as possible until we know exactly what to build and pour a lot of resources (time and money) into.
  3. Innovate fast and fail faster — you won’t know something doesn’t work unless you try. Never be afraid to try! This is what I have lived my entire career believing and carrying out.
  4. Accept change. Do not be afraid to pivot if the universe is pulling you and your company in a certain direction. If you listen to what the market says, you will be more likely to connect with users and customers. Check your ego at the door, because one person never has all the answers. It’s about observing and listening to the changing world around you.
  5. Above all else, the key to success (particularly when running at non-stop speed while starting a new company) is the importance of stability and family. I wouldn’t be the success story I am today without the support of my wife, Chastity. The way she has stepped up to the plate to raise our sons and the unwavering balance that she provides me on the home front enables me to be the risk-taking entrepreneur that I have evolved into since she met me.

Serial founder Patrick Sullivan talks exits to Google, Facebook and new venture, Bonsai, in Raleigh