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Tech Industry

Startup Secret No. 14: The class you need to take

You can be an expert at your product, but you can't be an expert entrepreneur without knowing finance.

"Learn finance."

--Rafat Ali, founder of paidContent. Currently founder of Skift, a travel intelligence startup

Rafat Ali started his influential site about digital media in 2002. He took funding from Greycroft in 2006, sold the company to Guardian Media in 2008, and left Guardian in 2010. He's working on another startup now. (Side note: Guardian recently put paidContent on the block.)

I got this tip by asking him for something that came from his experience moving his company from idea to his own departure. He added:

"These days it is trendy to tell people to learn programming, as that's important to build the product, but if you want to build a company, you can't run away from numbers. It will help you set up the company the right way, work well with co-founders and employees, and also on the funding and exit side. Can't go wrong there."

One gets the impression that Rafat wishes he'd had a better grasp on his own financial position in the company he started.

But how do you "learn finance?" Go to school? My advice starts with cultivating advisers. You want people a few years ahead of you who do what you do, obviously, and also investors who are not invested in your company. Money makes for conflicts of interest. Buy people coffee (or better, drinks), shut up, take notes. And get your hands dirty. Avoid, as much as you can, handing off the job of running the numbers to partners or hired guns.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every day for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.