YEC Member Spotlight: Heather McGough, Co-Founder at Lean Startup Co.

3 min read · 7 years ago


Heather McGough is co-founder, with Eric Ries and Melissa Moore, of Lean Startup Co. For five years, she has been providing education, tools, and partnerships to entrepreneurs and corporate innovators, empowering them to overcome challenges in building new companies and products. Heather develops new ways to support the global community of aspiring and existing Lean Startup practitioners, for companies both large and small in any sector, assisting in their continuous innovation and sustainable growth. 

Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)

Elon Musk. Not just because I’ve met him and think he’s bravely intelligent and humbled by his success, but because he thinks way beyond monetization and considers what he can do to impact the world. It’s such a cliche to hear people talk about building something that is going to change the world; I feel that unless you’re doing something social mission-based or thinking like Elon does about the environment or humanity, you might be doing something incredibly brilliant, but you aren’t necessarily changing the world.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

In terms of my personality and communication style, I’ve always been very open about sharing my opinions; that, paired with my confident and leading nature, sometimes made me think narrowly about creating solutions. Six years ago, a trusted mentor pointed this out to me, so I looked closely at myself and realized she was absolutely right. Since taking her critical feedback, I’ve found myself being a better listener, manager and partner. Plus, I now come up with multiple solutions to a problem before only setting my sights on just one.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

Long before co-founding Lean Startup Co. and Adoptful, Inc., I started a company called Urbanity Events, the first stop on my entrepreneurial journey. But I started out a wimp: I was worried about screwing up so much that I didn’t set the bar high enough, take on enough clients or push myself. I wasted almost two years working with one or two clients at a time — time I could have spent building our client base more quickly. My recommendation would be to seek out mentors and/or people doing similar work who can help you set your goals and expectations up front.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

I call it “brain work.” I spend the first hour focusing on things that require a lot of concentration and creativity, or sometimes I save this time for something I just plain don’t love doing.

What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Since I come from the world of Lean Startup, of course I’m going to say to test your ideas. We push ourselves to incorporate Lean Startup methodology into almost every aspect of the business. Build, measure, learn is a beautiful concept.

Define the problem and understand what you’re trying to achieve. Formulate a hypothesis. Know your assumptions and constraints. All of the aforementioned is highly iterative. Ask yourself what you’re going to build, what you need the most, and do you have a clear path for how you’re going to learn? Finally, gather your learning and develop your story. And if needed, go back to step one.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Follow your gut. People are going to have all kinds of opinions on what you should or shouldn’t do. Following your gut leads to risk-taking, and you don’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without taking risks.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

I’m experiencing great success right now in building my team. These are the people who will enable our company to educate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs from companies of any size in any sector. I feel personally successful when I’m happy with what I’ve set out to achieve; that can either be business-specific accomplishments or general career-based.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.