Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in October 2017

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

I collect quotes for entrepreneurs from a variety of sources and tweet them on @skmurphy about once a day where you can get them hot off the mojo wire. At the end of each month I curate them in a blog post that adds commentary and may contain a longer passage from the same source for context. Please enter your E-mail address if you would like to have new blog posts sent to you.


Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in October 2017

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“The personal strengths and weaknesses of a leader are no true indication of the merits of his cause.”
Roger Zelazny in “Lord of Light

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“The exceptional assembly line comes before the quality car –strive to make your assembly line better and better.”
Bill Walsh in “Score Takes Care of Itself

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“San Francisco is in the future. San Francisco’s future isn’t pretty. It’s cold, hard, technological. It’s fueled by both extreme poverty and extreme wealth. By technology and heroin. It is the future of dystopian novels. It is the future of Gibson and Philip K. Dick. It is the future of Blade Runner.”
Mike Hudack in “San Francisco: Now with More Dystopia” (hyperlinks added)

Hudack’s “Coming Apart” is also worth reading for it’s capsule summaries of “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray,”Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, and “Republic 2.0” by Cass Sunstein:

  • The 21st Century economic order has been kind to an elite few but unkind to most;
  • Institutions of civic society that once brought us together — from fraternal organizations to bowling clubs to churches — have disappeared;
  • The Internet, and social media particularly, has pulled us apart rather than pushed us together.

Mike Hudack in “Coming Apart

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“The only firm rule I have is to take up one thing at a time and to take up nothing else until my mind is free. I do not believe in quick decisions unless in an emergency. I would rather take my time about making up my mind, and I nearly always manage to do so. Indeed, anything that can be decided in an instant is something that ought not come to me.”
Harvey Firestone

This is a very good rule not only for executives but for founders as they start to grow the team: if a team member or subordinate brings you an easy decision you are not delegating effectively. They should be bringing you the hard problems not the easy ones.

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“I’m a great optimist. but I often think of the worst case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture [book]

This is not actually in the “The Last Lecture [transcript]” but was added to the book version.

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“Tell the truth. Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act.”
Jordan Peterson

Useful advice for sales and negotiations in particular.

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“What we think or what we know or what we believe is in the end of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do.”
John Ruskin

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“You don’t need a lot of users to learn — just a few good customers.”
Ash Maurya (@ashmaurya)

But…you have to actually talk to them. You cannot take a veterinary approach to customer support and customer development. Ash agreed: “Yes – the follow up is that if you can count your customers on your fingers and toes, you must know them on a first name basis.”

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“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”
Charles Kuralt

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“All of us lead a double life: the one we wished to have and the one we actually have. Maybe we have another one (one we invent) and even a fourth: one we are credited with.”
Carlo Ferrario

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“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. An ignorant antagonist does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”
Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court

More context:

“But, don’t you know, there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”
Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court

Certainly offers comfort of a sort to startups going against entrenched competitors but as Hugh Keogh observed:

 “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”
Hugh Keough

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Rich Rogers (@RichRogersIoT) posted this diagram with the following observation: “For 50+ years we have been building software that provides us with answers. We must now reverse engineer the rules from the data & answers.”

My comment: The “Rules” in the before diagram were understandable and explainable, currently this is rarely the case in the after diagram.

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“Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book.”
Peter Drucker in “Seeing Things as They Are” (1997)

h/t Quote Investigator; ten years to go. Drucker offered reasons why and what is likely to replace it:

“Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care? And for the middle-class family, college education for their children is as much of a necessity as is medical care—without it the kids have no future.

“Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.”

“Crisis means that things will get either much better or much worse, certainly much different.”

“It took more than 200 years (1440 to the late 1600s) for the printed book to create the modern school. It won’t take nearly that long for the big change.”

“Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off campus via satellite or two-way video at a fraction of the cost. The college won’t survive as a residential institution. Today’s buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded.”

“High school graduates should work for at least five years before going on to college,” he recommends. “Then it will be more than a prolongation of adolescence.”

Peter Drucker in “Seeing Things as They Are” (1997)

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“Talk is cheap. Show me the code.”
Linus Torvalds in LKML email thread Fri-Aug-25-2000

h/t saint_abroad in HN item 15464832 “Insist on implementation to back theory.” Running code (or other viable prototype or proof of concept) is the path to a working consensus and effective teamwork. You need to take small steps in the beginning to build shared trust and situational awareness, enabling larger projects later.

“Life is action, the use of one’s powers. As to use them to their height is our joy and duty, so it is the one end that justifies itself.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in “Life as Joy, Duty, End”  speech to Boston Bar Assoc. Mar-7-1900

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“Tell me if you know, will I succeed in that which I desire?”

“You will succeed in that which you are about, but by then it may not be what you desire.”

“I do not understand you, Morningstar.”

“I know that, too. But that is the way it is with all oracles, Jack. When that which is foreseen comes to pass, the inquirer is no longer the same person he was when he posed the question. It is impossible to make a man understand what he will become with the passage of time; and it is only a future self to whom a prophecy is truly relevant.”

Roger Zelazny in “Jack of Shadows

Most experiences are not transformational so that it is normally straightforward to predict how you will feel afterward. But an intense startup experience, successful, break-even, or unsuccessful, can change your perspective.

Don Reinertsen (@DReinertsen) suggested this was “Apparently some sort allegory on product development.” My reply: An oracular pronouncement applicable to kings, entrepreneurs, product managers, characters in fantasy novels, and anyone with a heartbeat.

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Hyperscale There’s one more trend I want to mention, though it’s not about a specific market. I think we’re now in the era of hyperscale technology companies. If you believe Metcalfe’s law, it stands to reason that network-effected technology companies are now far more powerful than ever before, simply because the number of people connected to the internet keeps getting bigger, and n^2 gets big really fast.

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft have powerful advantages that are still not fully understood by most founders and investors. I expect that they will continue to do a lot of things well, have significant data and computation advantages, be able to attract a large percentage of the most talented engineers, and aggressively buy companies that get off to promising starts. This trend is unlikely to reverse without antitrust action, and I suggest people carefully consider its implications for startups. There will of course be areas where these companies are naturally weaker, and these are good areas to start companies.

Sam Altman in “2017 YC Annual Letter

I think there are three distinct kinds of threats in priority order:

  1. Attention/advertising: Facebook and Google.
  2. Distribution / E-commerce: Amazon
  3. Pervasive Hardware/Software Systems: Microsoft and Apple. Traditional anti-trust is probably strongest and best equipped to deal with this.

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“Starting a company is an interesting balance of thinking you know something most don’t, yet humility to learn from your customers/market.”
Eric Jorgenson (@EricJorgenson)

This reminds me of:

“To deal with an uncertain future and move forward requires strong opinions which are weakly held.”
Bob Johansen quoted by Bob Sutton in “Strong Opinions

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“Don’t fake it till you make it. Breakthroughs in business relationships happen when your sincerity is clearly powered by diligent preparation.”
Chris Fralic in in “How to Become Insanely Well Connected

This is my summary of a longer passage (bolding in original):

Don’t fake it till you make it. It may be common wisdom for finding confidence, but I have seen it used to justify winging it in important meetings. Faking it in this context doesn’t mean bluffing your way through interactions that make you feel insecure or intimidated. That leads to bad decision making.

I’ve seen people overstate their credentials because they were put on the spot, or blindly target every executive in a room because they figured they should. This rarely leads to long-lasting relationships.

If you want to connect with someone professionally to move your goals forward, you need to know exactly why you care about that person or their company. And you need to know how to articulate it succinctly.

Everyone seems to have a story about a cold call miraculously turning into a career-making breakthrough. This doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because your sincerity is clearly powered by diligent preparation.

Chris Fralic in “How to Become Insanely Well Connected

Fralic also wrote a good article in Forbes on “How to Nail an Email Introduction

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“You can tell if you’re meant to do something if you’re more excited than nervous during crucial moments.”
Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

I think this “more excited than nervous” indicates that you are in flow, challenged but still able to create and execute. This insight reminds of my pick for the opening quote of 2009–and an emotion I identify with as an entrepreneur.

“I am not afraid…I was born to do this.”
Joan of Arc

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“An Armenian saying advises: ‘give a horse to the truth teller, he will need it to flee.’ But give one to the liar too: he will need it for his parade.”
Sandro Montalto

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“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
Charles Goodhart

Also known as Goodhart’s Law.

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“Ideas are cheap, but acting on them is quite expensive.”
Ash Maurya

Getting trapped in ideation is also quite expensive. Exploring ideas is less expensive (whether it’s customer discovery or prototyping using simulations or scale models)  than trying to launch them at scale so the challenge is to strike a balance between four activities: generating new ideas, exploring new ideas for fitness and viability, launching a new offering or initiative, exploiting existing ideas (that may be inferior to new ideas that have yet to be explored and/or launched).

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“Half of our mistakes is worth twice of our successes.”
Arturo Montieri

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“Deja Moo: the feeling that you have heard all of this bullshit before.”
Tony Kern in “Blue Threat: Why to Err Is Inhuman”

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“Things that have never happened before, happen all the time.”
Scott Sagan in “The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons

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“A change is something people do.
A fad is something people talk about.”
Peter Drucker

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“We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards — gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards… in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do.”
John Holt in “How Children Fail” (1964)

I think Holt offers some strong insights for what not to do if you want your startup to be a learning organization–and in most markets, certainly new markets, the only real advantage is to continue to learn faster than your competition.

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“To learn anything other than the stuff you find in books, you need to be able to experiment, to make mistakes, to accept feedback, and to try again. It doesn’t matter whether you are learning to ride a bike or starting a new career, the cycle of experiment, feedback, and new experiment is always there. But you won’t risk mistakes if you think you will be punished. You have to be sure of forgiveness if it is a genuine mistake. You won’t accept criticism or negative feedback either, unless you are sure it comes from someone you respect, someone that you know has your interests at heart.”

Charles Handy in “The Hungry Spirit

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“It is not, in fact, in the nature of human beings to be perfectly accurate, and it is unrealistic to believe they ever will be. The only reasonable way to get a program right is to assume that it will at first contain errors and take steps to discover these and correct them. This attitude is quite familiar to anyone who has been in contact with the planning of any large-scale operation, but it is completely strange to most people who have not.|

The trouble, I think, is that so many educational processes put a high premium on getting the correct answer the first time. If you give the wrong answer to an examination question, you lose your mark and that is the end of the matter. If you make a mistake in writing your program-or, indeed, in many other situations in life outside a classroom–it is by no means a catastrophe; you do, however, have to find your error and put it right. Maybe it would be better if more academic teaching adopted this attitude also.”

Christopher Strachey in “System Analysis and Programming” (1966)

The need for humility and a willingness to retrace your steps to discover your errors is useful not only for programmers but also entrepreneurs. Market entry does not have to look like a final exam where you only have one chance to get it right. A low key exploration focused model can allow you multiple chances to refine your understanding and succeed slowly instead of failing fast.

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“You can find all the new ideas in the old books; only there you will find them balanced, kept in their place, and sometimes contradicted and overcome by other and better ideas.  The great writers did not neglect a fad because they had not thought of it, but because they had thought of it and of all the answers to it as well.”
G. K. Chesterton in “On Reading” in Common Man

h/t Mark Zimmerman in “New Ideas

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“A lot of anxiety comes from the mental equivalent of hitting the gas when you don’t have traction.”
Michael? Mayer (@mmay3r)

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