But time and again, the most successful entrepreneurs made it clear that starting a company is really a calling, not a business opportunity.
"If you're doing a startup, you're certifiably crazy."
"If you're doing it for the money, you oughtta be a VC, not an entrepreneur."
"In an interview, if the candidadate asks about salary instead of equity, you don't want them."
"If you have a VP of Marketing or VP of Sales who isn't a founder, you're already screwed."
That last one is interesting, as Blank was talking about how to keep things lean in the new economic realities.
Tony Hsieh, the well known CEO of online retailer Zappos.com -- who sold his first company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million in 1998, took a more aspirational approach.
To build a long-term business, Hsieh said, entrepreneurs must "chase the vision, not the money." Successful companies need a vision that's larger than just money, profits, or being number one in its market. "Whatever you're thinking," he added, "Think bigger." As a litmus test, he suggested that entrepreneurs ask themselves "What would you be passionate about for 10 years... even if you never made a dime?" If you chase the vision, he said, "the money will eventually follow."
The key word, of course, is "eventually." Hsieh warned that there's no get rich quick formula, and that business owners must think long term. "If my only goal was May 2009," he said, it would make perfect sense to fire all of Zappos' call-center workers and never answer the phone. "That wouldn't affect 2009 revenue," he said, but in two-to-three years it would have a profound effect on the business.
Establishing a set of core values is the key, and you need to adhere to them even if it postpones revenue and profits in the short term. He cited a time early in Zappos' history when the company walked away from 25% of its revenue because it couldn't give those customers the service that Zappos is known for.
It sure sounds good, but it's got to be easier when you sold your last company for a quarter of a billion dollars. So I asked Hsieh about how entrepreneurs can stick to their visions even as they struggle to make payroll? Ever the optimist, he pointed that your company's money goes farther in a recession, and that technological advances -- like cloud computing -- can cut the costs of starting and running a business.