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35-year-old CEO of $1.4 billion company: ‘Don't let perfect be the enemy of good' is terrible advice

Source: Amplitude

You've probably heard the aphorism "perfect is the enemy of good" before. Plenty of people swear by it, from Mark Cuban to Jeff Bezos.

Spenser Skates, the 35-year-old CEO and co-founder of analytics software company Amplitude — which has a market cap of $1.38 billion — disagrees. People who settle for "good enough" are worried about "killing momentum," when they should be focused on fully committing to the best idea they can possibly generate, Skates tells CNBC Make It.

He cites his own entrepreneurial background as proof.

In 2011, Skates and his friend Curtis Liu created a voice recognition startup called Sonalight, which Skates describes as "a version of [Apple's] Siri before Siri even existed." The company got into the famed startup accelerator Y Combinator, landed some investment money and saw its app downloaded 500,000 times — a dream start for any young venture.

Yet behind the scenes, the co-founders weren't sold on their own idea — which was "pretty good," but not "the bestest best," Skates says. Rather than ride it out and enjoy "some OK success," he adds, the duo ditched the startup within a year to focus on Amplitude, which they built from Sonalight's custom-made analytics tools.

Their gamble paid off. "It wasn't [even] that hard of a decision," says Skates.

"I had to say 'No, this doesn't matter. We're going to go do something else instead,'" he adds. "There was difficulty in that. But it was better at that point to just move on and instead focus on something we could really put our energy in."

It's timely advice: Entrepreneurship is on the rise in the U.S., and starting your own business is risky.

Nearly one in five adults in the country — 19% — are either in the process of launching a new business or have started one within the past three-and-a-half years, according to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report published earlier this month by Babson College. That's a record pace, surpassing 16.5% from last year's report.

Rising interest in entrepreneurship doesn't change the fact that starting a new business is an uphill battle, for a number of reasons. Roughly 20% of new businesses fail within their first year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With that in mind, any entrepreneur might be thrilled to simply see their startup survive. You might be scared to change direction, because the people you're working with — co-founders, employees, investors — could lose faith and bolt.

"For a lot of teams, it's a hard decision, because you're talking about killing your momentum on something and restarting on something else, even when that might be the right decision," Skates says. "It's hard to do because it's existential, potentially. The entire thing can fall apart."

But if you want to be successful in the long term, you can't settle, he says.

"[Liu and I] knew we wanted to build something, no matter what, and we were going go see it through," says Skates. "It was just a question of what that thing was."

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