50 Things I’ve Learned In The Last 5 Years Of Starting & Running Ampush

50 Things I’ve Learned In The Last 5 Years Of Starting & Running Ampush

October 14, 2014

  1. Tenacity is the most important trait for building a company. It is not intelligence, creativity or salesmanship, but sheer determination. Wake up every day and push the ball forward.
  2. Making decisions is hard; but a ‘bad decision’ outweighs no decision every time. As you learn, you will even start to make good decisions.
  3. Never be the bottleneck for someone to get work done; this is one simple principle which requires you to be organized, effective at communication, and good at delegation.
  4. Your customer is king. Focus on them as early as possible and as often as possible. Teach your entire company to do the same. Starting with the customer gives robust clarity on most decisions. This does not mean the customer is always right, sometimes you have to disagree with them to make them successful.
  5. Co-founders you trust and like are FAR better than co-founders with complementary skill sets.
  6. Go slow with Advisors; make someone demonstrate persistent interest in you and your company before issuing shares or compensation.
  7. Product is hard. It requires depth, iteration, and lots of saying ‘no’. Let me repeat: product is hard. Try to build this DNA as early as possible.
  8. Engineering and shipping software is a discipline like practicing medicine. This means you need real expertise and you can’t outsmart, brute force or “hustle” your way through it. Do it right the first time and always.
  9. When your company is growing quickly, expect everything to break down every 6-9 months. This isn’t really avoidable, but move quickly to fix it.
  10. Don’t be in a huge rush to grow and scale – take your time to understand customers, the market, and your own product. This is vital later.
  11. Competition is usually a sign you picked a good market; don’t obsess over competitors. At most, they are a source of data about your customers’ needs. Obsess over your customer.
  12. You really do not understand something until you’ve done it. Any analysis ahead of action is purely speculation. Analysis post-action can be driven by real data.
  13. If you are constantly using your authority to get your team to do things as you see them, something is wrong. Instead try to use data, logic and persuasion.
  14. Related to the above, if you are ALWAYS right, something is wrong or people are lying to you. Accept when the data is not in your favor and admit when you were mistaken.
  15. Constantly ask the question, “What does great look like?” and spend real time and rigor getting answers and seeing examples. This goes for people, product, processes, and everything else. Your biggest threat (especially as a first time entrepreneur) is not knowing this, and not being able to identify it.
  16. Invest in training and development early. For yourself and your whole team. Hard skills and soft skills. This is incredibly high leverage and high ROI.
  17. Retained executive search can be incredibly valuable as they have the ability to bring candidates who you never could bring on your own; contingency recruiters are generally a waste of money.
  18. Your (at least) first 20 hires join because of you and your vision. Realize what that means as you run the company.
  19. People are people. They are all different from each other; they all have good days and bad days, and everyone enjoys being recognized and praised. People need to be motivated, guided and empowered.
  20. Compensation is NOT the top motivator of most people. Working on something interesting, and seeing their impact on the bigger picture usually is.
  21. As a founder/owner/manager, you are not the same as your team. Even if you sit next to them, joke around and drink together. Your ability to impact someone’s career (and therefore their life) makes you different. You’re much more deeply committed. The sooner you realize this, the better you will be at your job.
  22. If your goal is to be liked by everyone, you will likely fail at that goal and not be a good founder/leader. Your job is the success of the company first, and ideally to be respected and understood by your team.
  23. When it comes to business results, be ruthless. But when it comes to individuals, be very compassionate.
  24. Almost without fail, if at any point you think in your head, “this person is not good, we should let them go,” then you are probably right. Try to do it as soon as possible but compassionately. Because one bad apple really can spoil the bunch.
  25. Have company lore. Humans have been passing on stories verbally for ages. This adds to the fun of company building, and binds people together more closely.
  26. Emotional ups and downs are the hardest part, yes – it is true. What you may not know is that they don’t really go away even as you grow and see some success. The great things aren’t as great as they seem and the bad things are usually not as bad. Keep calm and move forward.
  27. Intuition and your “gut” are more data (or experience) driven than most people admit. You are unlikely to have intuition on day 1, but after thousands of interviews conducted, hundreds of bugs fixed, and scores of conflicts resolved, you will “feel” the answer faster.
  28. Feedback is a gift. Don’t just give it frequently but seek it all the time, in multiple different ways. Create a culture where feedback is viewed as a gift and given frequently.
  29. The only way to do #28 is to have everyone “assume positive intent.” Assume people want to do a good job, they want the company to succeed, and they want to learn and scale in their career. Even if these aren’t all true, it makes one more open minded and less petty. If your team does this, 99% of conflicts go away because they are more than likely due to miscommunications or misunderstandings.
  30. You will make lots of mistakes. Lots. Forgive yourself and keep on chugging. Try not to make the same mistake twice and you should be fine.
  31. Leading and managing people well is NOT an innate talent. Get a coach and a mentor and learn as much as you can. You will improve continually over time.
  32. A great lawyer is worth it. A great lawyer (and any great advisor for that matter) has an opinion and can explain it well enough to convince you. Bad lawyers/advisors either ask you to take their word for it or worse, do whatever you ask and then send you the bill.
  33. Find a great accounting person as soon as possible. Review all cash out and all cash in, regularly. Understand basic accounting (3 statements), and cash flow management. Know what working capital is.
  34. Accountability is your job, and it must be done consistently and constantly. No part of the company (as a founder/CEO) can be ‘handed over’ to someone else. Your lack of understanding is not an excuse to be inconsistent, and not constantly keeping the bar high.
  35. Be authentic and genuine. Share “bad news” as much as you share “good news.” Your team, your customers, and your investors will always appreciate the truth. Always.
  36. A great executive has an immeasurable positive impact on your company; unfortunately, a bad exec has a similarly negative impact. Worse news: knowing which is which in an interview process is extremely hard.
  37. Bring on an “HR” person earlier than you think you should. Beyond just administrative leverage, you get emotional leverage. Let’s face it – most folks want to complain to someone and most of the time it’s simply venting. Without an HR person, you are that person. And as a founder, you have a tendency to take this complaining too personally and too seriously. After all, no one can ever be unhappy in the company you started, right?
  38. Talk with other entrepreneurs/CEOs regularly. You may think that your company’s problems are unique to you and that you are the only company with these problems. In reality, most things you face are much more common than you realize.
  39. There is no such thing as a momentary lapse of integrity. If someone is dishonest, it is likely not the first time, and definitely will not be the last time. When you first see it, take decisive action.
  40. Revenue cures all known business problems. Prioritize it at the right time yourself, and have the right people prioritize it continually.
  41. Remember and remind yourself that you chose this path. Don’t feel bad for yourself and don’t EVER expect people to feel bad for you.
  42. Your company’s brand and reputation is built more by what your customers, partners, and competitors say about you than by your fancy website and collateral.
  43. You improve what you measure.
  44. The right kind of ambition for you, your co-founders and your whole team is for individual success to be a function of company success. If someone puts themselves ahead of the company, they do not belong.
  45. Being so busy that you don’t care what you eat can be a blessing or a curse. Surround yourself with healthy food and you will remain healthy. Being an entrepreneur should not be an excuse for being overweight.
  46. Find some time-efficient way to do exercise. Seven minute workout, company-wide workout sessions… Whatever it takes.
  47. Learn to unplug. When you go on vacation, turn off your email and make yourself hard to reach. This serves two purposes: it lets you really recharge, and it also shows you how good you are at delegating and ‘business building.’ If your company stops functioning without you, you are doing something wrong.
  48. Learn to micro-unplug; this means doing something for a short period of time where you cannot think about your company. Video games, sports, cooking or just a great conversation unrelated to startups, you or your company.
  49. It is really really hard for your friends, family and spouse to truly understand what you are going through. Do your best to share and involve them, but don’t expect them to fully get it. Don’t let this be a blocker for your relationships or make you feel alone.
  50. Starting a company is a marathon through and through. Before you start a company, ask yourself if you want to spend at least a decade working on it. Be ready to make the kind of commitment to work on something for 3,650 days. It’s long, difficult, and most of all – a lot of fun.


Jesse Pujji (@jspujji) is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ampush (@ampush), an advertising technology company that helps performance marketers acquire new users, generate sales, and re-engage customers on mobile. By powering full-service ad buying, management and insights, the AMP platform makes it easy for advertisers to reach people with smarter in-stream ads on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Ampush is based in San Francisco with offices in Chicago and New York.