Business

CEO Secrets: Five tips from tech titans

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Media captionWikipedia founder: You must 'reboot'

What does it take to be a successful internet entrepreneur? How do you build a global digital brand from scratch like Instagram, Kickstarter or Wikipedia?

What better way to find out, we thought, than to ask the founders who built these companies.

For a few months now we've been asking the bosses who cross our paths at BBC News to share the advice they wish they had known when they started out, as part of our ongoing series CEO Secrets.

Our coverage of the recent Web Summit in Dublin, followed by some fortuitous chief executive visits to London, have allowed us to assemble an impressive line-up of tech talent.

The hope is that the advice they choose to share will both betray something about their personalities, and the environments that fostered their businesses.

Tip one/Wikipedia

The counter-intuitive advice to fail - "fail fast", "fail often", "fail better" - is often heard from the lips of internet entrepreneurs.

Jimmy Wales, cofounder of online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, really believes it.

"The first version of Wikipedia was called Nupedia," recalls Mr Wales. "It was very top-down, very structured," he admits.

"I beat my head against the wall for two years, I knew the system was too complicated, but I didn't want to fail."

Don't invest all your money in one thing, he now advises.

"Give yourself a chance to reboot."

In fact Jimmy Wales was involved in several unsuccessful internet ventures before Wikipedia took off.

Marcus Gibson, editor of the Gibson Index, which monitors small businesses in the UK, says: "American firms are quicker than British firms at acknowledging the end of the line. If only because their investors are much more hands-on.

"Founders can often arrive in the morning to find the locks on the office have been changed overnight by the lead investor."

Tip two/BlaBlaCar

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Media captionWATCH: BlaBlaCar boss Nicolas Brusson shares his business secrets

If Jimmy Wales wishes he'd listened to feedback earlier on, another chief executive encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to defy the critics.

"You'll find lots of investors telling you, 'you need to think of the market'," says Nicolas Brusson of BlaBlaCar, one of France's most successful web companies.

"But if you do something truly new, your market does not exist, you are going to create your own market."

BlaBlaCar allows users to pay to take up unused seats on private car journeys.

It defied its early critics by creating a new market for digital hitch-hiking, in the emerging sharing economy.

Tip three:/Kickstarter

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Media captionWATCH: Yancey Strickler of Kickstarter shares his success secrets

"Creativity and integrity are everything," advises Yancey Strickler, chief execuive and cofounder of the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, an online platform which allows anyone to give financial backing to novel business ideas.

"Pursue a solution that you feel proud of, that you know feels right and morally correct."

This kind of idealism - some would say piety - has become the hallmark of many internet companies, particularly in America.

"Don't be evil" was famously adopted as Google's early mantra, while Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook's overarching mission is to "connect the world".

But fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneur Harper Reed, who sold his online payments business start-up Modest to PayPal, told us he has little time for appeals to morality by online businesses. "I don't know how moral ad clicks are," he told us.

However, he immediately relates to Mr Strickler's call for "integrity".

"It's a passion thing," he explains. "You're standing up and saying I can do this better, it needs a level of passion you don't have in normal business."

Tip four/Instagram

A bunch of pasty-faced students in hoodies staring at laptops with empty pizza boxes strewn around them.

This may be the image in your mind of the Silicon Valley start-up, thanks to films like The Social Network.

But Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger cautions against obsessing about work to the detriment of your health.

"We came close to burning ourselves out in the early days," he recalls.

"Your incremental extra two hours between the 12th and 14th hour of work, you are getting diminishing returns," he now realises.

"Take time for yourself, for exercise, it sounds trivial but actually can make a big difference."

He also recommends the camaraderie of well-chosen cofounders.

"If there's somebody you can turn to who is your cofounder," says Mr Krieger, "who you'll look at and say 'alright, we've got this', it really, really helps."

Tip five/Tinder

Last but not least we managed to hook up with Tinder founder Sean Rad.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn't dwell on the importance of cofounders, since the dating app's early history is mired in personal animosity.

"Work can sometimes get overwhelming," he admits.

So he has developed a numerical coping strategy.

"It's very important to identify the three most important things you need to accomplish, to get 80% of the results."

Break the rules: A sixth point

Are these pioneers of the internet goldrush really a different breed of entrepreneur?

Shellye Archambeau, of MetricStream, a software company based in Silicon Valley, told us there is one important factor to consider.

"As soon as you start [your company] now, you can be global," she says.

Not only does the reach of the internet allow you to think on a vast scale from the outset, but it also affects how you find your customers.

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Media captionWATCH: Software CEO Shellye Archambeau offers her success tips

"In the old days if a customer found a great product, they might tell five people," says Jimmy Wales.

"But these days someone might tell 300 people on Facebook. So telling the story is key."

The chief executive of a modern internet company needs to be an adept storyteller, it would seem, as well as a passionate leader. Someone who can engage social media users around the world.

How successful this particular crop of internet entrepreneurs are at this, you can judge from the CEO Secrets videos that will appear on the BBC News website this week.

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