Quotes For Entrepreneurs–-March 2016

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

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Quotes For Entrepreneurs–-March 2016

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“Indoors or out, no one relaxes
in March, that month of wind and taxes,
the wind will presently disappear,
the taxes last us all the year.
Ogden Nash

If this is the first year you are operating as a company you may be surprised to learn that corporate taxes are due March 15.

“Expectations is how things happen; chance is how they come true.”
George Murray (@bookninja) in “Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms of George Murray

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“History’s major lesson: experiment.”
Beston Jack Abrams

I used this in Beston Jack Abrams on Curiosity, Experimentation and Action

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“In the mind of an artist, a vacation is working without interruption.”
Lani Picard

Also true for many an entrepreneur.

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“Early to bed and early to rise probably indicates unskilled labor.”
John Ciardi

I think of this some mornings when I am on the way to a 7:30am Bootstrapper Breakfast or getting up for a 6am phone call with a European client. Tweeting this led to two exchanges.  The first was with Andrew Shindyapin of Snooty Monkey and AutoMicroFarm.

  • Andrew Shindyapin (@ph0rque): There’s a Russian saying: “Education is light. Lack of education is, barely light and you’re off to work.”
  • Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): Reminds me of this Russian saying, “Today is an average day; it’s worse than yesterday but better than tomorrow.”

And the second was with Faye Gelb:

  • Faye Gelb (@UserRoadmap): lack of technology?
  • Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): In my case it’s more a lack of common sense or a wealthy relative. A teleportation device might cut commute time.

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“Remember this on your way up: the biggest dog was once a pup.”
Evan Esar

If you are playing a long game–looking ahead three to seven years or even a decade–then you consider the ripples your actions leave. Kindness and favors done to newcomers that few are interested in helping pay dividends over time. I like the “real recognizes real” conversations around the table at a Bootstrapper Breakfast and it’s a way to meet up and comers at least a few years before they are well known.

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“If pleasures are greatest in anticipation,
remember that this is also true of trouble.”
Elbert Hubbard

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“The soul is a herd and thought is a shepherd, but reality is a fence and chance is a border collie.”
George Murray (@bookninja) in “Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms of George Murray

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‘Most people think it’s incredibly difficult. It turns out, it’s much harder than that.’
Bill Gates in “Lessons From Eradication.” (a review of Nancy Leys Stepan’s book Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?)

More context:

“I don’t remember the first time I heard of smallpox, but when I was a kid in Seattle in the 1960s it wasn’t exactly top of mind for my friends and me. I’m sure I heard about it when the World Health Organization announced in 1980 that smallpox had been eradicated, but I still didn’t pay much attention. After all, smallpox had been eradicated in the United States for almost a century; it’s hard to get too worked up about a disease that nobody you know has ever gotten. It wasn’t until later, when our foundation joined global eradication efforts, that I really started thinking about what it takes to wipe a disease from the face of the earth. Most people think it’s incredibly difficult. It turns out, it’s much harder than that.”
Bill Gates in “Lessons From Eradication.”

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“It’s a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful…and a little lonely.”
Marshall Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke”

Also true for startups and entrepreneurs. Of course Matt Dillon is a fictional character, but most startups start out as the product of someone’s imagination–granted it’s imagination that’s frequently blended with frustration and an inability to hold (or in some cases to get) a regular job.

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“Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.”
Derek Sivers

I referenced this in “Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.” You and your business remain works in progress.  This implicit need for co-evolution between your skills and the total capabilities of the business are ideally a virtuous cycle of self-reinforcing improvement.

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“But the Book of Job is more than just a gambling story with a happy ending.”
Mordecai Richler in “Joshua Then and Now

I used this to characterize the dubious quality of a sales pitch to tap your 401K for a startup in “Q: Should I Tap My 401K To Bootstrap?

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“When they get in trouble they send for the sons-of-bitches.”
Ernest King

King is reputed to have said this when he was called to be US Chief of Naval Operations at the start of World War 2. I am reminded of this sometimes when I go with a client on a sales call to a new prospect: they are in so much pain they are ready to ask for help from a startup.

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“The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it.”
John Ciardi

In our workshops for entrepreneurs we treat the real world as the test for your startup ideas. Our goal is to provide with an opportunity to compare notes with other entrepreneurs, learn some new tools and make plans you will apply them after the workshop ends and the real test begins.

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“Static isn’t the absence of a signal but the absence of a single focus.”
George Murray (@bookninja) in “Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms of George Murray

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“There are two things you should never be angry at: what you can help, and what you can’t”
Evan Esar

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“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that in itself is a choice.”
William James

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Startup Law of the Jungle: It is extraordinarily difficult for a tiny, undercapitalized, understaffed company with zero customers and no market awareness to identify and exploit a new opportunity fast enough to leave all competitors behind.”
Mike Maples in “Billion Dollar Secrets

I think this argues for expertise and social capital, at least for B2B, as advantages that work at small scale to differentiate.

“When you’re starting out, it’s better if your potential competitors don’t care about what you’re doing.”
Mike Maples in “Billion Dollar Secrets

I had a similar thought in “Lighting the Way for Your Competitors.” Both of these quotes are from:

“It is extraordinarily difficult for a tiny, undercapitalized, understaffed company with zero customers and no market awareness to identify and exploit a new opportunity fast enough to leave all competitors behind. As soon as a business opportunity becomes apparent to even a small number of people, the odds begin to work against the startup. I call this effect the “Startup Law of the Jungle.” Being non-consensus and right affords the startup the time and runway to survive, adapt, and succeed after trial and error without fatal consequences. It lets them master a set of differentiable and specific skills, and build strength for inevitable competitive battles that will come in the future. When you’re starting out, it’s better if your potential competitors don’t care about what you’re doing.”
Mike Maples in “Billion Dollar Secrets

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  1. buys ten books
  2. reads three of them
  3. sees how many awesome new books are out and buys eight more
  4. repeat forever until house explodes

Stefan Bachmann (@Stefan_Bachmann)

My wife and I reached an equilibrium at 8 book cases and a couple of boxes in the garage. Now I have to give away a book for every new book that I buy. While I cannot save any magazines after I have read them–I didn’t know you could throw magazines away until I got married–I do have 6 boxes of comic books with cardboard backs in individual plastic sleeves.

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“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
Bessie A. Stanley

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“We do not fear the unknown, but rather what we can imagine–what we suspect might be, but cannot yet count on. The truly unknown is a cinch.”
George Murray (@bookninja) in “Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms of George Murray

I think this is one characteristic of entrepreneurs, they don’t fear the dark. If they don’t know they shine a flashlight and walk in.

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To better reflect our workflow the kanban board now only has two columns:

  1. Stalled
  2. On Fire

Sad Operator (@SadOperator)

My suggestion for the “Executive Staff” version has

  1. Probably Not a Good Idea
  2. Late

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“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete. They’ll ask: how can computers help humans solve hard problems?”
Peter Thiel in”Zero to One.

h/t Dorai Thodla; I referenced this in “Entrepreneurs Exploit Errors in Conventional Wisdom.”

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“All buildings are predictions. All predictions are wrong. There’s no escape from this grim syllogism, but it can be softened.”
Steward Brand in “How Buildings Learn”

This is a useful model for products as well.

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“Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices–only recognize them.”
Edward Murrow

h/t David Gurteen (@DavidGurteen)

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“In a startup, it may look like a sales problem or a marketing problem but it’s also an engineering problem.  There is something you can do to the product to affect the situation.”
Sanjay Srivastava

I used this in “Cutting Your Teeth in Sales.” The reverse is also true: you can compensate for product problems in your marketing message and your sales approach.

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“Never do anything just for the money.”
Derek Sivers in “Anything You Want

I referenced this in “Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.” Money is a means not an end. If people don’t want to pay for your product or service that indicates it’s not providing value, or that you have priced it incorrectly.

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“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”
T. S. Eliot

Since entrepreneurship is as much an art or a craft as a science I think there are similar implications for advising entrepreneurs.

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“The first choice is not the choice, but the decision to choose.”
George Murray (@bookninja) in “Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms of George Murray

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“The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”
Herbert Agar in “A Time for Greatness”

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“He who is always climbing sees less and less of more and more.”
Frans Hiddema

This also applies to the risks of Big Data analytics and the limits of the Big Picture.

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“If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.”
Doris Lessing in “Particularly Cats

A startup is the future struggling like a newborn infant to draw it’s first breath. Two other perspectives:

“The future not being born, my friend, we will abstain from baptizing it.”
GeorgeMeredithBeauchamp’s Career

“The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”
William Gibson

For more on detecting the future see “John Gardner: Leaders Detect and Act on the  Weak Signals of the Future

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“The tests of character come to us silently, unawares, by slow and inaudible approaches. We hardly know they are there, till lo! the hour has struck, and the choice has been made, well or ill, but whether well or ill, a choice. The heroic hours of life do not announce their presence by drum and trumpet, challenging us to be true to ourselves by appeals to the martial spirit that keeps the blood at heat. Some little, unassuming, unobtrusive choice presents itself before us slyly and craftily, glib and insinuating, in the modest garb of innocence. To yield to its blandishments is so easy. The wrong, it seems, is venial. Only hyper-sensitiveness, we assure ourselves, would call it a wrong at all. These are the moments when you will need to remember the game that you are playing. Then it is that you will be summoned to show the courage of adventurous youth.”
Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938) in “The Game of the Law and Its Prizes”

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“Men who drive sharp bargains with their customers, acting as if they never expected to see them again, will not be mistaken. They will never see them again as customers.”
P. T. Barnum in “Art of Money Getting

I used this in “P. T. Barnum’s Golden Rules For Making Money

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“The lurking suspicion that something could be simplified is the world’s richest source of rewarding challenges.”
Edsger Dijkstra (See also Dijkstra Archive)

h/t Programming Wisdom (@CodeWisdom)

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“Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer calls for help.”
Derek Sivers in “Anything You Want

I referenced this in “Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.” I like this image of situating your business in a community you are trying to help. It creates a three pole model where you are committed to personal improvement, to improving the capabilities of the business, and improving at least the situation if not the possibilities for  your target customer set.

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“Software and cathedrals are much the same – first we build them, then we pray.”
Samuel T. Redwine Jr.

h/t Programming Wisdom (@CodeWisdom)

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Someone sent me a postcard picture of the earth.
On the back it said, “Wish you were here.”
Steven Wright

You can get this same sensation in the looks certain prospects give you after you have briefed them on an innovative product you believe they should be interested in.

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“Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.”
P.T. Barnum in “Golden Rules For Making Money

I used this in “P. T. Barnum’s Golden Rules For Making Money” Note this is not “follow your passion” but “build on your strengths.”

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“Testing shows the presence, not the absence of bugs.”
Edsger Dijkstra (See also Dijkstra Archive)

this comes from an exchange at a 1969 NATO Conference on Software Engineering. It was in response to this statement:

“Much of program complexity is spurious and a number of test cases properly studied will exhaust the testing problem. The problem is to isolate the right test cases, not to prove the algorithm, for that follows after the choice of the proper test cases.”
Alan Perlis

Change: When the Winds of Change Blow Hard Enough, Even the Most Trivial of Things Can Become Deadly ProjectilesIt’s equally applicable to scientific hypotheses, including the key hypotheses supporting your business model: your product hypothesis, your customer hypothesis, etc… You can prove them wrong–you can falsify them–but you cannot prove them correct such that they are safe from subsequent falsification.

Worse, things change, and what once worked may have been obsoleted by changes in the market or customer needs. Which reminds me of the Despair.com poster (shown right) Change: “When the Winds of Change Blow Hard Enough, Even the Most Trivial of Things Can Become Deadly Projectiles.”

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First Rule of Presentations: No matter how slick the demo is in rehearsal, when you do it in front of a live audience the probability of a flawless presentation is inversely proportional to the number of people watching, raised to the power of the amount of money involved.”
Mark Gibbs in “The Myth of the Digital Lifestyle

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“You can’t communicate complexity, only an awareness of it.”
Alan PerlisEpigrams on Programming” (105th epigram) from SIGPLAN Notices Vol. 17, No. 9, September 1982

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“A good goal is one that actually changes your actions in the moment. Goals are not about the future.”
Derek Sivers in an interview with James Altucher

This reminds me of this quote

“The future is an abstraction, all change is happening now.”
Marcelo Rinesi

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“If I am anxious about a past misfortune, then this is not because it is in the past but because it may be repeated.”
Soren Kierkegaard

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“Reciprocity is the mother of contention.”
Gideon Wurdz in The Foolish Almanac

I guess reciprocity works both to “repay every kindness” and to “take an eye for an eye.” The Foolish Almanac  is a funny book from 1906–now out of copyright, link is to an online version available at the Internet Archive–that I learned about from this Garson O’Toole (The Quote Investigator). His blog post on “Nothing is Impossible” traced this book as the source for “It is said that nothing is impossible; but there are lots of people doing it every day.”

Here are three other quips from the book I found funny:

  • Before meeting his wife and family at the station a wise man will put his house in order for the homecoming.
  • PRESS-AGENT–one who presages or foretells. See LYRE.
  • Noah never cared to take the children to see the animals at the circus.

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“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”
William Osler

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“The important thing is that the first steps in any crisis should be planned in advance.”
K. D. Gregory in “Aviate Navigate Communicate

The game of Go has the concept of well understood opening moves called joseki and fuseki, as well as strong moves in “life and death” situations called tesuji. Strong players understand this patterns of play and use them to improvise particular responses based on the specific situation. I think there are corollaries to entrepreneurial activities.

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“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.”
Shakespeare “Hamlet” Act V Scene II

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“Inventing is the mixing of brains and materials.
The more brains you use, the less materials you need.”
Charles Kettering

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“An egotist is not a man who thinks too much of himself; he is a man who thinks too little of other people.”
Joseph Fort Newton

I was reminded of this quote in reading Raghav Haran’s “Career Advice No One Tells You” which was a mix of quite good (points 3 through 8, and 10) and quite toxic advice (points 1,2,9, and 11)  that encouraged a sense of superiority that would do more to set you back than help you move forward.

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“What we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of our true intent.”
Thurgood Marshall

This is an excerpt from a longer passage that I used a different portion of in “Advising Entrepreneurs.” Here is the longer passage which I have found on a number of quote boards but have not been able to source:

“What is the quality of your intent?

Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through. We cannot sugarcoat the feelings in our heart of hearts. The emotion is the energy that motivates. We cannot ignore what we really want to create. We should be honest and do it the way we feel it. What we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of our true intent.

My intent will be evident in the results.”
Thurgood Marshall

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“The invention alters the society, and eventually is used in ways that were at first quite unthinkable.”
Colin Cherry in “The Telephone System: Creator of Mobility and Social Change

I used this as part of a larger opening quote in Customer Development Helps Entrepreneurs Assess the Value of an Invention

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“A fish drowns in the air.”
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

I see this in startups who die seeking funding instead of bootstrapping to find customers and prove the value of their business, or who spend money on nice office and staff they can only pay for a few months because they engage in “success theatre.” This reminds me of

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”
Eric Hoffer

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The Startup Owner’s Manual by Blank and Dorf (2012) provides a series of detailed flow diagrams, complete with conditional directions and specific instructions, for conducting customer interviews to collect the evidence needed for hypothesis testing. The book contains few anecdotes, deep illustrations, or interesting tangents into other parts of the entrepreneurial journey. Instead, it is a long string of commands: first, do this, and then that.
Ted Ladd in “Customer Development and Effectuation: A Review of Textbooks to Teach a Contemporary Introductionto Entrepreneurship [emphasis added]

I find Saras Sarasvathy’s Effectual Entrepreneurship, Ash Maurya’s Scaling Lean, Peter Drucker’s “Innovation and Entrepreneurship“, and Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited” all very effective at communicating practical principles of entrepreneurship.

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