11 Indispensable Startup Lessons From Billionaire Donald Trump

By QuickBooks

5 min read

Even before he jumped into the political arena, Donald Trump embodied the American Dream. His vast wealth and laser sharp business acumen are a direct result of the lessons he learned through trial and error as he built his family business into a multibillion dollar empire. Here are 11 can’t-miss lessons from The Donald that you can apply to how you work in your own startup.

1. Publicity Is Way Cheaper Than Advertising

Throughout a career in real estate development spanning decades to the present day, Trump just couldn’t stay out of the news. He’s known for feeding his controversial points of view to the media, and seems to have a knack for inserting himself in trending topics and conversations. If you can master the art of generating publicity for your business, the exposure can be massive—costing a fraction of the cost of advertising.

2. Build a Strong Brand 

He may seem unpredictable at times, but Trump is always true to his brand. This is a man who knows what he stands for and doesn’t waver once he’s stated his position. Across print, radio, online and more recently, television, Trump has built a solid, recognizable brand. In fact, Trump has taken Forbes to task in the past for failing to include the value of his brand in their net worth calculations, arguing that “Trump” is the hottest brand around.

3. Think Big

The Donald just doesn’t do small deals or ideas. He’s famously said, “I like thinking big. If you’re going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big.” Enticing investors to get behind your idea and really shaking up an industry requires a lot of things, but at the heart of it lies a great, big, daring idea.

4. Don’t Be Desperate

Desperation is a huge turnoff in a potential business deal. Trump once told Inc.com, “When people come in with a sales pitch, it’s always bad news when they appear to be desperate. That works against them immediately. Enthusiasm is fine, but it shouldn’t be extreme.” This goes for your pitches to prospective investors, too. Focus on the value your startup offers, and don’t be needy!

5. Remove “I Quit” from Your Vocabulary

Trump’s affiliated businesses have claimed corporate bankruptcy four times: in 1991, 1992, 2004 and most recently in 2009. And yet today, he’s worth an estimated $4.5 billion. Can you imagine if he’d thrown in the towel that first time in 1991, allowing his immediate failure to dictate the chances he might take in future?

6. Protect Your Ass(ets)

Relevant to the previous lesson, it’s important to note that Trump has never had to claim personal bankruptcy. His business savvy and financial smarts guided Trump to form corporations, limited partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) in which his personal liability was limited. This allowed him to take huge chances with his many business deals without risking losing his own shirt. Keep this in mind as you structure your startup for growth and expansion.

7. Trust Yourself

Sure, it would be fantastic to be able to sink time, resources and money into every decision you have to make in your startup. Sometimes you just have to rely on your gut, especially when time and resources are slim. “Experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better off sticking with what you know,” Trump says.

8. Choose Your Associates Carefully

Early-stage startups can’t afford staffing errors. In the beginning, you need people with drive, experience and skill. More importantly, though, you need people you can trust. Trump recently explained to Bloomberg why he promotes from within and prefers working with people he already knows: “I like taking people that I know. They don’t have drug problems, they don’t have alcohol problems. They’re family. I would rather take guys at a lower level and move them up than hire people that you have no idea who they are.”

9. Learn to Code

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that every entrepreneur should learn how to code. Even non-technical founders are surrounded by software and automated processes. And as Donald Trump advocates, you need to know how much everything you’re dealing with is going to cost. How are you going to know whether the code your developer created was written in a week or an afternoon if you know nothing about coding? How can you evaluate the software options for your business?

Trump, and his father before him, made sure they knew every expense involved in their projects to the penny, from the price of a 2×4 to how much an extra bag of cement would run a project. In any startup today, coding is going to play a role in how your business functions on the back end.

10.  Tell It Like It Is

You may not always agree with him, but you always know where Trump stands. He definitely doesn’t pull punches or mince words, which can be a valuable asset for early-stage startups. While you don’t want to offend anyone, you don’t want to waste valuable time in meetings, pitches and negotiations by beating around the bush. Respect the time of the people around you and focus on conveying your message in as succinct and direct a way as possible.

11. Work Hard, Then Work Harder

In his 2008 book Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life, Trump says that most of the people he knew who had become wildly successful worked seven days a week. It might make you tired just thinking about it, but Trump is an advocate for working both smarter and harder, even if it means pulling 80-hour workweeks.

Getting your startup off on the right foot and onto a path of growth and success is a lot easier when you take the lead of those who were successful before you.

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Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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