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Scott McNealy: To have a successful start-up, be careful who you marry

Sun Microsystems' Chairman and co-founder doles out 5 tips for leaders of start-up companies at the Plug and Play Expo in Sunnyvale, CA.

Scott McNealy
Scott McNealy delivered the keynote speech at Plug and Play Expo Fall 2008.
Sun Microsystems

If you're itching to take your struggling start-up to the big time, you could do worse than take Sun Microsystems' Chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy advice to heart. After all, in three months, McNealy and the three others of his cohort turned their start-up profitable and brought us Java, Solaris, and

Besides, how could you not want to listen to a guy who, when flummoxed over launching a PowerPoint presentation during a keynote talk at the Plug and Play Expo in Sunnyvale, CA, sarcastically quips, "You know, this Windows thing...I use Open source. F5? That's intuitive."

Rule #1: Have a controversial strategy. Look for the counter-intuitive idea and go after it. If you're conventional, you'll do things the same way things have always been done. Differentiation is key. The hard part is, you have to be right.

Rule #2: Break the rules of business, but don't cheat, lie, or steal to do it. If you do, you'll drive off your brainiest collaborators and will lose your credibility among your once-loyal staff.

Rule #3: Get a little money, but not too much. A small funding pool will force you to be scrappy, efficient, and to find new production approaches.

Rule #4: Have a cause. "Humans are coin-operated in general," McNealy says, "But they also like a little psychic income." As an example, Sun created Curriki, an open-source cirriculum wiki, that solved a problem McNealy and his son encountered during his son's grade school project.

Rule #5: Just do it, but marry well. Pour your heart and soul into a start-up, but try to do it before you marry. McNealy didn't marry until he was 39, he said, but has since caught up with four sons. "The most important decision you make is who you marry and have kids with," McNealy advised. "Pick a spouse or significant other, or whatever you want. Just make sure you pick a good one. There's some real technical advice for you from an entrepreneur."

For more concrete products, downloads, and tips, start-ups can visit Sun's Web page for start-up essentials. Or, McNealy suggests, just e-mail him: