7 Personal Lessons I Have Learned About Building Great Startups

Investor Syndicate

Serial entrepreneur Micha Breakstone, co-founder of Chorus.ai, which was recently acquired by ZoomInfo for $575M, has every reason to focus exclusively on his many successes, but he prefers to speak openly about his experiences as a founder and startup advisor. He believes that success is only possible when individuals are willing to learn from challenges, as well as wins.

“In my experience, most startup founders that learn from their mistakes end up succeeding. It may not be a multi-billion-dollar success, but they end up building something of real value and in that sense succeeding,” he says. 

Breakstone presented a keynote speech at fnSummit 2021, in which he’ll detail seven lessons for founders. He’ll tell personal stories and offer advice on topics such as the importance of choosing the right co-founders, knowing market size, building your team and pushing for speed to market.

“As a founder, you’re selling the future. You're selling a vision.” - @MichaBreakstone Share on X

Create perceived momentum

According to Breakstone, being the fastest at getting a product to market is critical, but that’s just the start. A company must also create the sense that they’re moving even quicker than they are, a concept he calls “perceived momentum.”

“As a founder, you’re selling the future. You’re selling a vision. Your company is getting a valuation of $50 million before you have earned a cent because people believe that you understand something about the future that they don’t yet, and that you can get them there,” he explains. Perceived momentum can be generated by hiring people or appointing board members who are stars in their field. “If you have 10 people on your development team and four are out of Google, you’re already looking bigger than you are,” he says. Breakstone also suggests that founders publish thought pieces that position themselves as leaders and that they invest in a compelling design language. 

“Another trick to build momentum is to space out your company announcements. If you have made five advancements quickly, announce them over a few weeks, so that you create the sense that you are continuously moving forward,” he suggests.

However, Breakstone cautions not to create a false sense of reality. Honesty and authenticity are key. “You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to convey the confidence that you are moving quickly to find the right answers,” he says.

“You're selling a dream, so it better be a dream that is worthwhile. I think it's important to be motivated from a deep place. If it's only for money, it's going to be hard to maintain over time.” - @MichaBreakstone Share on X

Believe in your mission

Creating a buzz only works if you believe in what you are creating. He explains: “You’re selling a dream, so it better be a dream that is worthwhile. I think it’s important to be motivated from a deep place. If it’s only for money, it’s going to be hard to maintain over time.”

Breakstone will share some of his own experiences with finding a sense of mission, detailing how the objectives of a company may change over time, but the mission and vision can be maintained, anchoring decisions in deeply considered company values.

”At the end of the day, getting employees, investors, and customers to follow you is so much easier if (a) you have a deep and compelling vision of the world, and (b) you actually believe in it.”

“You can scare people into working hard. You can try to ‘buy’ people into working hard, but one thing you can’t do is buy their hearts and souls.” - @MichaBreakstone Share on X

Put people before product

Of all the lessons he presents, Breakstone is most passionate about the need to treat people – the team, clients and co-founders — with respect. Aside from it being the right thing to do, he also adds that he believes it is a predictor of success. 

“I’ve worked with over 200 companies in the last three years, and I can tell you that people who take care of others succeed more than those who don’t.” 

He cites a Google study that found that “psychological safety,” a state in which people feel comfortable being vulnerable and empowering others, was the number one predictor of a successful team. 

“You can scare people into working hard. You can try to ‘buy’ people into working hard, but one thing you can’t do is buy their hearts and souls. The only way to truly motivate them is by treating them well, treating them as partners in your journey.” 

Check out our video from the event and see if you qualify for membership to attend upcoming Founders Network events.


fnSummit, taking place from October 13-15, 2021, is an annual event where founders, investors and partners come together to explore the theme of growth. Located in a beautiful resort in California’s Carmel Valley, the event offer participants a chance to network, share ideas and enjoy a variety of recreational and team-building activities.

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