When I was building FatWire Software with my grad school buddy in the late 1990s, David Packard’s business philosophy was always at the back of my mind. His book, The HP Way, describes how he and Bill Hewlett created one of the most successful companies of all time and spawned Silicon Valley. They led Hewlett-Packard from a garage in Palo Alto to a multi-billion dollar global corporation by following basic principles and sticking to their values.
In addition to an inclusive and democratic leadership style, the nurturing of employees, and adaptability to the marketplace, the HP co-founders believed in a lean, focused approach towards product development–on not taking too much on. Packard recalls in The HP Way how an engineer told him that more businesses die from overeating than from starvation. These words rang true to me when I considered how much capital to accept for FatWire early on. As described in the Wall Street Journal, my co-founder and I chose not to be distracted by promises of grandeur and instead concentrated on what was best for our core mission.
Packard also recounts how he and Hewlett wore many hats in the beginning: “We had to tackle almost everything ourselves—from inventing and building products to pricing, packaging and shipping, from dealing with customers and sales representatives to keeping the books, writing the ads and sweeping up at the end of the day.” As a serial entrepreneur, I can certainly relate to this need for versatility and for a healthy dose of humility when starting something from scratch. There’s no strict division of labor, simply a small team willing to do whatever it takes to make the company successful.
Another key ingredient of HP’s growth that I try to emulate is trust in employees. Hewlett and Packard believed that, if employees’ opinions and careers are valued, they will work hard and do a good job. This mindset stands in stark contrast to that of Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel who wrote Only the Paranoid Survive and promoted a culture of constant employee oversight. Each of these leaders built hugely impactful tech businesses, but undoubtedly The HP Way is more my style.