Paul Teshima at MaRS Mornings: 5 lessons on building a billion-dollar startup

Paul Teshima at MaRS Mornings: 5 lessons on building a billion-dollar startup

Paul Teshima says that to build a successful company you have to solve big problems—and he would know. Prior to his current position as co-founder and CEO of Nudge, Paul was part of the executive team at Eloqua, where he grew the company over 13 years and through two economic crises, leading to its eventual acquisition by Oracle for $957 million in 2012.

Yesterday, Paul gave a talk at MaRS Mornings, a monthly speaker series celebrating creative founders, sharing his journey as an entrepreneur and the five lessons he’s learned building—and selling—a billion-dollar startup.

Paul Teshima MaRS Mornings
Paul Teshima at MaRS Mornings

Lesson No. 1: When in doubt, do something

Every successful startup will have luck as it grows, but you still have to get out there and make things happen. Strategy is important, but you can’t stay in the boardroom forever.

Pulling from James H. Austin’s Chase, Chance, and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty, Paul explained that there are four types of luck: personal, impersonal, hidden and motion. Motion luck is particularly important here. When you are out in the world and doing something—talking, building, selling, executing or whatever it may be—you’re mixing things up. Things are bound to emerge from that action. So when in doubt, just start doing something.

Lesson No. 2: Culture is built through storytelling

Storytelling works in building culture because the best stories are memorable. People retell the best ones and also want to have their own stories. So what happens? They go out and start finding them.

Paul explained that the anatomy of a great customer success manager boils down to four characteristics. The person has to be a great storyteller, curious, optimistic but cynical, and have expertise in the area. Giving people in your organization a platform to find and tell their stories will help you build a storytelling culture and sell your business.

The anatomy of a great customer support manager. Source: Nudge.

Lesson No. 3: The market isn’t fair

The market is one of the most important factors that determines whether a startup will fail or succeed. It doesn’t matter if you created the market or whether you have a great team; if another company comes along that does what you do better, customers will shift. As Marc Andreessen once wrote: “In a great market—a market with lots of real potential customers—the market pulls product out of the startup.”

When Marketo came into the market in 2010 and threatened Eloqua, Paul’s team had to rethink how it was doing things to stay competitive. If you’re having growth challenges, do win/loss reviews to see what is going right and wrong. Talk to potential new customers, get market intelligence and look for people who are objective.

“Be patient with the data and really understand what is happening before you make big changes,” Paul told the audience.

Lesson No. 4: Focus on the bright spots

As you look to improve your company, don’t forget to focus on the “bright spots” to help initiate change. Companies often spend too little time on what is going well. Double down on initiatives that are succeeding to improve growth. Some recommended reading? Check out Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard for more on how to find your company’s bright spots.

Lesson No. 5: Get it done. Do it right.

If you missed Paul’s talk, follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #MaRSMornings or check out this Storify recap.

Join us at the next MaRS Mornings

At the next MaRS Mornings on May 13, we will hear from Cameron Piron, the president of Synaptive Medical. The event is free but registration is required. Registration will open soon—keep an eye on

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