Emil Michael’s Top 10 Pieces of Business Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs
Emil Michael, Uber’s former chief business officer, has made an undeniable impact on the tech world. The Silicon Valley legend famously raised more than $15 billion for the ride-sharing app, making it the most valuable private startup ever. Since then, the Harvard and Stanford alum has worked with various startups, including GoPuff, Revolut, Brex, Kalshi, and Dandy. Naturally, aspiring business moguls are always reaching out to Emil Michael for his sage industry advice. Here’s what Emil Michael says about seeking success in 2022 and some helpful reminders for anyone to level up.
- Stay Humble.
“It’s sort of a humbling lesson, but you could always do better. You could always improve yourself — work harder, smarter, and learn new things. And so that perspective always stayed with me: to stay humble no matter where you are in your career or your life,” Emil Michael said.
- Expand your view.
“I attended public high school, so when I got to Harvard, everything changed. Harvard was the biggest worldview I think I could have ever imagined. It’s pretty motivating to know that you can do anything if you put your mind to it because your peers were doing it,” Emil Michael said.
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
“There is no shame in failure. For the companies I coach now, or the CEOs I work with, I try to tell them that they have to scale their maturity, business skills, and their company together. The faster your company is growing, the faster you need to be learning and growing,” Emil Michael said. “You want your company to be a unicorn and with that comes some responsibility to your community, to your employees and to your investors. And if you’re ignoring any part of that, you could get out of balance.”
- Surround yourself with the best people.
“The analogy that I use is when you’re a startup, and you haven’t made it yet, you have to behave like a tribe — kind of a family. You’re all working hard toward the same goal. You’re making an extraordinary effort in hours, in risk-taking, and so on,” Emil Michael said. “And people need the motivation of a leader who has passion and speaks with conviction. But when your company gets big, it’s now a civilization, not a tribe, with many stakeholders. And making that transition is a really hard thing to do when you’ve been a tribe for so long. And becoming a civilization means that there’s a measure of diplomacy you and your employees have to have. There’s a measure of considering the outer-ring effects of whatever your business is doing. And that transition these days is happening faster than ever because from your computer at home over a weekend, you could write an app that goes worldwide, right? But then next week, you’re a huge company or phenomenon, and all the scrutiny is on you.”
- Balance the outside noise when it comes to politics.
“If you talk to any of the CEOs of these young companies, what they’re grappling with is outside politics influencing inside politics. They’re trying to understand: What can they do for the world around them? Their employees are demanding that they be more conscious of their effect on the world. And it’s hard because businesses are there to make profit as is required by their shareholders, serve their customers, and take care of their employees. So they’re going to struggle in this environment with only focusing on what had traditionally been the metrics for success. Social media further exacerbates this challenge because anyone with an opinion can throw a bomb in, and that bomb is on your lap whether you want to deal with it or not. Whether this person knows what they’re talking about or not, you have to be reactive to that.”
- Keep clear boundaries between investors and entrepreneurs.
“There’s a clear line you don’t cross in terms of ‘faking it until you make it’,” Emil Michael said. “Every investor knows that a company is going to be more optimistic than they are, so they add a discount to whatever they hear, but having integrity when you project your business is inviolable.”
- Stay proactive.
“From a negotiation standpoint, what I’ve always told people who want to learn is: There is an element to just outworking the other side,” Emil Michael said. “Being smarter about what you think their needs are, being smarter about the marketplace, being smarter about what your competitors are offering. But then, do the work for them. Write term sheets. And just being on the proactive side of a negotiation goes a long way, because you end up learning better than they do while they’re figuring out how to get to yes.”
- Invest in your team.
“There’s no doubt that the best investments I’ve made have been in the young employees and leaders who I can share my experience with. And that is incredibly gratifying to see. When I joined Uber, I inherited one employee — a 20-year-old college dropout — and that was it. So I had to build my team from scratch. And today, he is at this company, Gopuff, and he’s thriving, and he’s becoming a true executive, and watching that journey has been incredible. I hope to have an army of people like that someday who are all building their own companies or doing their own thing —people who I can point back to as having had a hand in helping them, having actually helped them become the leaders they had the potential to be.”
- Be responsive.
“I’m not in the business of coaching. I like to think of it as business-building, and that includes building people, leaders, leadership skills,” Emil Michael said. “The bad side of being hyper-responsive is I take every call.”
- Do all things with intention.
“Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. And the right reasons cannot be just to get rich,” Emil Michael said. “That is not something that will sustain you through the difficult times when it looks like you’re not going to get rich. And there’s no company ever created that hasn’t had its ups and downs. You have to care about the mission. Ideally, you care about the mission. You care about the people you’ve surrounded yourself with because they put their fate in your hands. They’ve given up big salaries, they’ve moved across the country, they’ve done things that sacrifice family time and relationships as well.”