Counting Your Blessings

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

The next few weeks and perhaps the next few years are going to be awful. Keep counting your blessings anyway, remain kind, and continue to make a difference.

Peggy Noonan wrote My Brothers and Sisters on March 8, 2002 in the Wall Street Journal. She subtitled it “A report from New York, six months on” indicating it was a reflection on 9/11. I have re-formatted an excerpt as a meditation on the need for counting your blessings.

The odd thing
   about these people
   is that they have everything.

They are rich, accomplished, healthy;
   they have marriages, children, love;
   they don't have to be up nights
   worrying about paying the rent
   or the electric bill.

And they are not really happy.

They have been lucky so long
   they don't even know
   they're lucky anymore.

That's the bad thing that can happen to you 
   when you've been lucky too long:

You start to think it's not luck,
   it's what you deserve.

And instead of being grateful
   you get a bitter-tinged sense of entitlement.

You start to think you deserve it,
   you made the right choices.

You're smarter than the dumb people,
   or more accomplished than the lazy people.

When the truth is
   you're lucky and blessed
   and should be on your knees
   saying thank you for your good fortune.

The next few weeks and perhaps the next few years will continue to be marked by considerable turmoil between the rise of a blood drenched Islamic Caliphate, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and an Ebola epidemic that is currently estimated to kill 20,000 and may kill ten or a hundred times as many if it kills enough doctors and nurses in one or more African countries to trigger a collapse of urban healthcare systems.

Perishable Opportunities For Kindness

There is much we are aware of and little that we can influence, but don’t let that become an excuse for not making a difference where you can.  We may all only live once but I prefer a 19th century Quaker assessment of the obligation that places on us over any number of hedonistic or self-centered “you only live once” philosophies:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Stephen Grellet

Related Articles and Blog Posts

Second Sight: A Meditation on Silicon Valley and 9-11

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Michael S. Malone wrote “Second Sight” for the Dec-3-2001 issue of Forbes ASAP (a great quarterly magazine put out by Forbes and edited by Malone that no longer seems to be available on-line).  It’s also collected in his book “The Valley of Heart’s Delight: A Silicon Valley Notebook 1963-2001” as Chapter 3. It’s a meditation on Silicon Valley and 9-11. Writing in the aftermath 9-11 he reflects on the roots of Silicon Valley in the Cold War and World War 2.  What follows are excerpts with subtitles and hyperlinks added, intermixed with commentary

Second Sight: Seen Through A Relic, A Haunting New Vision

I bought it on eBay as a lark, in the days when we all felt rich enough to do such flippant things. I don’t even remember my winning bid, which says something as well.

It came in a 3-foot-square cardboard box, which I opened on the driveway to minimize the mess, as workmen behind me sanded and hammered away while restoring my house. It was wrapped in a black foam sheet encased in wadded pages of the Connecticut Post. One headline read: “Gates Tells Congress to Trust High Tech.”

I knew what I’d find when I pulled away the sheet: a Norden bombsight. But I was still taken aback by its presence. It was black as anthracite, with dust in every corner and curve. The dust of an English runway, perhaps? Or sand from North Africa? Or just the cobwebs of the garage in which it had sat for the past half century.

Malcolm Gladwell did a TED Talk on the “Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight” in July 2011 where he asserted that the development of the Norden cost 1.5 billion dollars in 1940 dollars, about half the cost of the Manhattan Project.

Less Menacing Than Coldly Malign: A Relic Weapon

It seemed less menacing than coldly malign, in the way only a relic weapon could. Twenty pounds, not much bigger than a football, with a cylinder at one end, a sphere at the other. It was seeded with knurled knobs and toothed gears and dials. From one side hung an old cloth-insulated wire terminating in a plug. Underneath, it held a small pane of glass the size of a cigarette pack. On top, a second pane opened like a porthole into the sphere. And at the center, covered with a rotting rubber eye protector, was a lens.

I set the contraption atop the recycling bin and stepped back to regard it. On that bright Northern California day, my prize seemed like a dark emissary from a forgotten time. From one angle it looked like a clock mechanism, from another an automobile transmission, from yet another a bomb.

It was, in fact, all three. Mounted in the nose of a B-17 bomber, attached with gyroscopes and rotating mirrors and cables to the airplane around it, and manipulated by a deft bombardier, the Norden was the most dangerous weapon in the world in the early years of World War II. Once it was set on a target and adjusted for airspeed and other variables, the Norden literally took over for the pilot, flying the plane on a strict approach path and telling the bombardier when to push the button to release the ton of bombs or incendiaries from their racks 10 feet behind him.

So technologically innovative and important was the Norden–neither the Germans nor the Japanese had anything close–that bombardiers were sworn to do whatever was necessary to keep one from falling into enemy hands. If the bomber was going down, they were to pull out their .45-caliber automatic and shoot it or pull a switch that ignited an explosive mounted inside the device. Or, if all else failed, they were to obey orders to ride the plane right down into oblivion in the German soil.

“Neither the Germans nor the Japanese had anything close” is not quite correct. A German spy ring stole the plans for the Norden before the war: they were used to implement the Lotfernrohr 7 that saw wide use by the Germans.

My Father Used a Norden Bombsight in the Nose of a B-17

My father sat at just such a Norden bombsight on a rickety seat in the Plexiglas nose of the “Badland Bat,” a B-17 in the 615th Squadron of the 401st Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. As the barrels of the twin .50-caliber machine guns overheated from his futile attempts to shoot attacking German fighters, as flak burst just beyond the glass and dying men in planes around him screamed into his headset, and as his heart pounded and his hands shook from the fear and the adrenaline, he would bow his head as though in prayer and bring his eye against the frozen eyepiece. Twisting one knob, then another, he would align the reticulated crosshairs on the target. Then, so freighted with helplessness and horror that the passing seconds seemed like days, he would hit the switch that surrendered control of his life and those of the seven men around him to that little black machine.

The target itself had been identified that morning at a pre-dawn briefing in a Quonset hut thick with the smell of cigarettes and coffee. The target always had a name–Schweinfurt, Cologne, Berlin–and a title: ball bearing factory, pillboxes, industrial district. But on the map and in the crosshairs, it was merely an image of a bridge or a crossroads, or the shape of a building. There were no people in sight; just the abstract shapes of targets and then the sudden blooming of explosions as the Badland Bat left a swath of fire across miles of German farms, villages, and towns.

Thirty times over Germany and France between January and June 1944, my father bowed to his bombsight. Looking back, he would tell me that for all the terrors of being fired on by antiaircraft guns and being strafed by German fighters as his bomber flew into and out of target zones, the worst moments were always those seconds when he handed his life over to the Norden–the long moments as he waited for it to tell him to rain death over the countryside.

My father was a young man of intelligence and imagination, and those combat experiences made him brazen. He sneaked off the base the night before D day to meet a girl in a local pub. They also made him cold-hearted. When a rookie crew arrived to replace his hut mates who had died in an earlier raid, my father teased them, saying they’d taken the doomed side of the shelter; they died the next day on their very first mission. But, after four months and 25 missions, the experience began to break his mind. In letters home, the cocky young man who’d circumvented the censors by disguising his number of raids as his birthday (“I am 21 years old today”) found himself toward the end struggling to compose a single coherent sentence (“I can’t seem to keep my mind on one thought anymore.”).

Unlike every second man in the 8th Air Force, my father made it home alive and unhurt. Five years later, he was back overseas, this time on a Pacific island and with a new job in Air Force intelligence. Through another lens–this one shielding his eye with a smoky black filter–he watched purple lightning crackle across the mushroom clouds rising from Eniwetok atoll.

Eighth Air Force  suffered more than 47,000 casualties and more than 26,000 dead in WW2. It’s hard to appreciate the willingness required to “press that attack” and take the losses that WW2 American flyers suffered. Even in the age of drone warfare we may face those days again if our enemies prove as dedicated to their cause as the WW2 Germans and Japanese.

Cold War Baby

My father returned to Germany, and I was a Cold War baby, born in Munich, then a city of vacant lots scraped smooth of the rubble of a once thriving metropolis. It had become a Norden world, with all of us hurtling forward on autopilot over a menacing landscape. Only a few people, like my father as he took the .32-caliber automatic out of the closet and headed for the Czech border, still felt they had some control of their fate.

But soon he lost even that. At the end of the decade we came home. My father found himself closing his military career in Washington, D.C., shuttling back and forth as liaison officer between the war rooms of the Pentagon and the White House, and between the CIA and the FBI. It was a position of enormous responsibility but little control. My father began to sit alone at lunch in the garden of the Hirshhorn Museum to calm himself; on Friday nights he would drink to fend off his sense of the inevitable.

A Nadir in October 1962

He reached his nadir in October 1962. On duty nights, my mother would awaken me at midnight, and we would drive from Falls Church, Virginia, into D.C., me in pajamas and wrapped in a blanket in the back seat. It was usually so lonely and dark that I would sleep the whole way. But this night was unlike any other. Every light in every building on Pennsylvania Avenue and along the Capitol Mall seemed to be on. Yet the streets were eerily empty.

We picked up my father. He usually drove us home, but on this night he was incapable of holding the steering wheel. His voice had a tone I’d never heard before–a tone it probably hadn’t taken in almost 20 years. The Cuban Missile Crisis had begun. Until we arrived, my father had sat alone, in the basement of the Office of Special Investigations before a bank of Teletype code machines, reading with growing horror as they spit out the beginning of the end of the world. The ICBMs armed, Strategic Air Command at fail-safe, airborne divisions kneeling beside runways. He had known as much as anybody on earth about what was unfolding, but he could do nothing about it. The bombsight had taken over. And for hours he sat helpless at ground zero, waiting to die, knowing his family would die as well.

Silicon Valley Had Been Born of War

Suddenly, it was over. Everything seemed to change. Although it was still a Norden world, the target had receded for the moment. My father had almost been a victim. A heart attack a few weeks later nearly killed him. But he survived, retired from the military with honor, and took a job with NASA, heading west with his family to California.

We arrived in Silicon Valley just in time to join the illusion. The Valley had been born of war. Military contracts had built Hewlett-Packard and Varian; the nuclear age had given birth to the Valley’s largest employer, Lockheed Missile and Space. So, too, had defense orders underwritten the success of the Valley’s first modern company, Fairchild Semiconductor. All had grown rich building successive generations of weaponry; they would grow richer yet.

Harry Truman once observed “the only surprises are the history you don’t know.”  Malone recounts some facts that are hiding in plain sight about the origins of Silicon Valley. Radar, radio, and countermeasures–both mechanical and electronic–underwent a rapid evolution to become what was called “electronic warfare.” Starting with World War II efforts and continuing with the Cold War, military R&D funded a considerable amount of engineering effort in Universities and private firms in Silicon Valley.

Valley Turns Away From War, Toward The Department Store

About the time we arrived, in an event all but forgotten even by historians of technology, the Federal Communications Commission announced that all future televisions would offer not only VHF tuners but UHF tuners as well. It was a little event of immeasurable consequences. Chasing million-unit orders, the chip industry for the first time turned away from the bombsight business and toward the department store.

It has never turned back. I remember the day my father brought home a Hewlett-Packard 35 calculatorand pronounced it a miracle. I remember standing in line, with the boys who would later create the personal computer revolution, in the lobby of a NASA building waiting my turn to play Lunar Lander on a computer terminal. I saw the first Atari video game in the hallway of a comedy club down the street from my house. And I walked with my father through a trade show in San Francisco and saw the Apple I, built by two of my neighbors.

America no longer seemed a Norden nation. Our fate was no longer on autopilot. Sometimes we even imagined we were flying the plane. My father cheated death for a quarter century. Each time his heart would fail, some new technology appeared on the scene to save him. He traveled the world, programmed his computer, drank beer, and gave his time to charitable work, acting as though death couldn’t catch him. And when he did die–from a fall off a ladder, not from his scarred old heart–even his death seemed an act of will, not helplessness.

The HP-35 was Hewlett-Packard’s first pocket calculator; it exceeded the numerical accuracy of most mainframe computers available and fit in a shirt pocket.

The Alchemy of Technology and Desire Would Deliver To Us  Of Our Dreams

It was now a willful world, as though an alchemy of technology and desire would deliver to us all of our dreams. Our enemies were less defeated than enlisted into a cybernetic common cause. The autopilot retreated so far into memory that two generations forgot it. We replaced it with nostalgia for the future: the aching desire for that distant, more perfect place we could already imagine, promised to us by our technologies. Our perpetual unhappiness was that we were not there yet, a there that raced ahead from calculators and PCs to bioengineering and nanomachines.

Somewhere, no doubt just ahead, lay the fulfillment of all our desires. The beauty of it was that now, it seemed, anyone could plot his own flight path and pilot his own life.

Modern civilization will require continued sacrifice to prevail. Lee Harris wrote about this in detail in “Civilization and Its Enemies“Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long accustomed to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe . [...] They forget that in time of danger, in the face of the enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish. [...] They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.”

That Prelapsarian Time, Just Ended Yet Long Ago

It was in that prelapsarian time, just ended yet long ago, that I carried the Norden bombsight out to the sunny driveway, past the workmen and the new Jaguar, all of them paid for with overvalued stock options. I set it atop the recycling bin, filled with newspaper headlines about the latest stock market record high: “eBay’s Whitman America’s Richest Woman CEO.” I looked through the eyepiece…and saw nothing. Nothing except a mirror reflection of the brilliant day before me.

Disappointed, I put the device back in its box, another bauble from the bubble, and returned it to the garage, between the old, unread art books and the new, unused porcelain–an evil old black toad forgotten in the shadows.

Late on a Mid-September Afternoon

Then late on a mid-September afternoon I took the box out again. Our family had just returned from church, where we had, with other Silicon Valleyites in the pews around us, wept and prayed for the thousands murdered by terrorists. As I bowed my head, I felt the distant mechanical shudder of the autopilot kicking in once more. Driving home, I could see my neighbors putting out American flags and glancing up nervously at any sound overhead. We put out a flag of our own. Then, without thinking, I went into the garage and brought out the Norden.

I did the same as before, though the day was overcast, and the papers in the new recycling bin carried headlines proclaiming “WAR.” The Norden was dustier and darker than ever. The eyepiece seemed harder and more brittle. Once again, I bowed and put my face to it. Looking through the lens I saw this time what I had missed before. What my father had seen before me.

Silicon Valley and 9-11

I saw my family and home caught squarely in the bombsight’s crosshairs.

Thought Leadership: A Briefing For San Bruno Rotary

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Audio, Events, Silicon Valley, skmurphy, Thought Leadership

I gave a talk on “How to Give a Great Demo” in April at the Co-Founders Club and met Elijah Angote, founder of “The Best Notary” who arranged for me to speak at the Rotary Club of San Bruno today. So I have him to thank and the audience knew who to blame. I really enjoyed the talk and felt very at home with the group. Here is the audio for the core of the talk (I have cut intro and and about ten minutes of Q&A)

Or download from

Here is a handout from the talk.

Thought Leadership

A Briefing for San Bruno Rotary, Aug-6-2014 by Sean Murphy, SKMurphy, Inc.

  1. What is thought leadership?
  2. Why will it bring you more business?
  3. How do you get started?

Thought Leadership: Discern the important events and trends at work in the present, predict their likely effects, and offer perspective and actionable advice in time to have an impact.

Thought Leadership In Action

  • Advise prospects and customers on how to overcome their most pressing problems
  • Customers bring you their hard problems, prospects ask you for insight on options

How Does It Bring You More Business?

  • A reputation for expertise means that you get called first
    • You can compete on more than price:  expertise acts as a differentiator
    • Encourages current customers to bring you new challenges
      • May lead to new opportunities and even new offerings for emerging needs

Key Practices for Thought Leadership

  • Careful observation, questions, networking
  • Writing and speaking to build influence

Build a Communication Strategy

  • Identify audience / Understand their needs  / Position your message / Promote
  • Measure success: website traffic, mailing list size, inquiries, customers

Execute: Your 90-day Plan Should Address:

  1. What other people say about you
  2. What you say
  3. What you write
  4. Getting found when people are looking

Topics You Can Always Talk About

  • Change: what’s waxing and waning
  • Significance of recent events
  • Checklists to identify or resolve problems

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

You can only take action in the present.

“I have gradually come to appreciate that the really important predictions are about the present. What is happening right now, and what is its significance?”
Robert Lucky

What Is The Current Situation / What Is Significant About it?

  • Before you can make predictions you have to understand what’s happened.
  • The easiest predictions are based on the “acorns” already planted in the present

Checklists:  Develop A Coachable Perspective

  • Teach customers and prospect to diagnose problems from symptoms
  • Teach prevention and self-service so that they call you for high value problems

Thought Leadership Brings Business

  • You get called first
  • Compete on more than price
  • New opportunities
  • New offerings

About SKMurphy, Inc.: We help you find leads and close deals

Bootstrappers Breakfast

If you are looking or a speaker for your Silicon Valley business group please contact us. I enjoy giving highly interactive presentations to groups  of 12 to 40 people.  I am happy to talk to larger groups but I prefer where there are opportunities for real audience participation.  I also do a number of interactive webinars and workshops for groups who are not based in Silicon Valley so if that’s of interest please feel free to contact me as well.

Ten Mistakes Early Stage Bootstrappers Often Make

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, Rules of Thumb, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Over the years I have moderated several hundred Bootstrapper Breakfasts (since starting them in Silicon Valley in 2006). After doing a hundred or so and working with many clients who were bootstrapping I came up with a checklist for common mistakes bootstrappers and bootstrapping teams make in their first year or so.

  1. Leaving Your Assumptions Implicit: Not Writing a Customer Development Plan
  2. Believing that Anyone Will Want Your Product: Not Targeting a Specific Buyer
  3. Confusing the User (or the Audience) with the Buyer/Customer
  4. Believing Your Product Will Sell Itself (Looking for Smarter Prospects)
  5. Developing the Full Product: Not Selling the Smallest Piece Possible at First
  6. Not Focusing on Break-even and Profit
  7. Expecting Too Much Too Soon: Not Planning for “Target Practice”, Iteration, and Improvement
  8. Confusing VC with Customer: Going for (2% of) a Really Big Market
  9. Expecting the Same Control Over Prospects and Team Members as Your Code Base (Single Founder “No Compromise” Mindset)
  10. Treating the Business Like a Hobby (Thank God for Significant Others, Recently Deceased Relatives, and Crappy Day Jobs)

Five additional challenges that also need to be navigated

  1. Managing different aspects of your identity at personal, family, and business level.
  2. Understanding the emotional connection required for a successful business transaction: mission, brand promise, and  logo.
  3. The networking etiquette in Silicon Valley: cards, introductions, how to get acquainted.
  4. Making the transition from selling to friends to selling to a strange
  5. Making the commitment to a business footing: licenses, structure, tracking expenses (and acknowledging that now you can fail).

Adapted from a talk I gave in August 2009 at the San Francisco Bootstrapper Breakfast.

Mentor at B2B Startup Weekend

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Silicon Valley, Startups, Workshop

Startup Weekend logoCome share ideas, form teams, and launch startups. … Come join us for weekend-long, hands-on experience where you will learn what it takes to launch a startup, meet others with the same shared passion for entrepreneurship, and maybe even create a new business! Sean Murphy is excited to be a mentor at the event.

June 6-8 in San Francisco, CA


Use promo code SFB2B10

During this Startup Weekend, entrepreneurs will be empowered to pitch, build teams and transform their B2B based ideas into Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).

Update Sat-May-17 from Sean Murphy: I am grateful to Scott Sambucci of SalesQualia for recommending me as a mentor and glad that I was able to suggest that Emily Tucker of TaroWorks and Liz Fraley of Single Sourcing Solutions take part as mentors.

IEEE-CNSV Panel Explores Engineering in Japan vs Silicon Valley Mon-Mar-3

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Events, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

I am helping to moderate a panel 7pm Mon-Mar-3 at IEEE-CNSV on “Innovation: Work and Life of the Engineer in Japan and Silicon Valley” The event takes place at Agilent Technologies, Inc. in the Aristotle Room, Bldg. 5 located at 5301 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara, CA 95051. There is no charge to attend and the event is open to the public.

The event is organized by Takahide Inoue, the Global Outreach Director for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Berkeley.

The panel members are:

  • Takashi Yoshimori, Toshiba Semiconductor
  • Laura Smoliar, Independent Consultant, Signal Lake Venture Capital
  • Tom Coughlin, IEEE Region Six Director-Elect, CNSV member and Independent Consultant
  • Kim Parnell, Past Chair, IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, CNSV member and Independent Consultant
  • Brian Berg, Past Chair, IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, CNSV member and Independent Consultant

Here are some of the questions I hope the panel is able to address:

  • What are innovation lessons from Silicon Valley?
  • How does Silicon Valley do so many innovations?
  • What are innovation lessons from Japan?
  • How do Japanese engineers sustain their interest in a topic to achieve mastery instead of moving on to the “new hot thing” or next “bright shiny object?”
  • What makes an innovative culture? What can other areas do to create an innovative culture?
  • In Silicon Valley, we tend to celebrate the individual over the group. For Silicon Valley engineers how do you give back to your  community?
  • The Japanese say that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” For Japanese engineers, how do you disagree constructively with your peers to foster innovation?
  • What advice do you have for engineers for finding an idea that can inspire them to work on for several years before it becomes a reality?
  • How do you see the work of the engineer changing in the next five to ten years?

I hope you can join us tomorrow night. Here are some background material on Silicon Valley’s innovation culture you may find relevant.

Here are five related blog posts about Silicon Valley it’s entrepreneurial culture

Finally Tom Wolfe wrote “The Tinkering’s of Robert Noyce” about the founding and early culture at Fairchild and Intel for Esquire in December of 1983 and updated it for Forbes ASAP fourteen years later as “Robert Noyce and his Congregation.” (Aug-25-1997).

The text of California Historical Marker 836:

PIONEER ELECTRONICS RESEARCH LABORATORY – This is the original site of the laboratory and factory of Federal Telegraph Company, founded in 1909 by Cyril F. Elwell. Here, Dr. Lee de Forest, inventor of the three-element radio vacuum tube, devised the first vacuum tube amplifier and oscillator in 1911-13. Worldwide developments based on this research led to modern radio communication, television, and the electronics age…California Registered Historical Landmark No. 836..Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the City of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Historical Association, May 2, 1970

Discerning the Future

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Robert Pirsig in his afterward to the tenth anniversary edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

This book has a lot to say about Ancient Greek perspectives and their meaning but there is one perspective it misses. That is their view of time. They saw the future as something that came upon them from behind their backs with the past receding away before their eyes.

When you think about it, that’s a more accurate metaphor than our present one. Who really can face the future? All you can do is project from the past, even when the past shows that such projections are often wrong. And who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?

Ten years after the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the Ancient Greek perspective is certainly appropriate. What sort of future is coming up from behind I don’t really know. But the past, spread out ahead, dominates everything in sight.

I feel a sense of “the future coming up from behind” more and more.  When I worked in semiconductors and later networking I used to be able to rely on Moore’s Law to see at least a decade into the future. For the last thirty years Moore’s Law has always had ten years of life left in it; we will probably be saying that on the other side of the Singularity. But now it’s hard to see what trends can be relied on to continue.  I spend more time now trying to discern the likely trajectories of various technologies and businesses but I have much less clarity.

“We build up whole cultural patterns based on past ‘facts’ which are extremely selective. When a new fact comes in that does not fit the pattern we don’t throw out the pattern. We throw out the fact.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It’s also hard to separate the harbingers from the outliers and to compensate for blind spots. That’s why they are called blind spots. Rejecting disconfirming evidence is another way that blind spots are preserved.  When I started this business I knew that I was going to focus on Silicon Valley startups and work primarily face to face with clients. In the first year that I started I handed my card to an entrepreneur and he said, “You need a Skype address on this card.” I didn’t agree.

Of course I was dead wrong.  Today more than 1/3 of our clients are “out of region.” And while we meet and work face to face with many clients, most of our interactions, even with Silicon Valley clients, are on-line in Skype, wikis, shared edit documents, and other virtual collaboration environments.

“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.


The gumption-filling process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it. But it’s nothing exotic. That’s why I like the word.

You see it often in people who return from long, quiet fishing trips. Often they’re a little defensive about having put so much time to “no account” because there’s no intellectual justification for what they’ve been doing. But the returned fisherman usually has a peculiar abundance of gumption, usually for the very same things he was sick to death of a few weeks before.

He hasn’t been wasting time. It’s only our limited cultural viewpoint that makes it seem so.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

So if I can’t see what’s coming how do I maintain my gumption? I focus more on conversation and real time collaboration, to reacting intelligently to events, and to spending more time making sense of recent events–facts–rather than trying to predict. I spend more time trying to cultivate peace of mind to prevent overreaction: I find meditation, fasting, reading all very helpful in maintaining perspective.

“Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really. It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

Serenity as a ground state allows you to react more rapidly and more intelligently: first because you overlook less and second because you are less likely to overreact.

“The ultimate test is always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

I guess one thing I have gotten better at compared to a decade ago is admitting mistakes–to myself and to others–more quickly. Self-deception is an “own goal” that blocks debugging a situation. And prevents you from seeing the recurring problems you are causing yourself  and others.

“Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you’ll see the difference. The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. “
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

It may be as useful to determine what’s not likely to change, what will still be true in five or seven or ten years as what will be different.

Four years ago I speculated that the twenty teens were going to be less about new inventions and more about changing the design of jobs, business processes, and business models to take full advantage of what’s already been invented. I am not saying that we don’t need more innovation, just that we have not adjusted our business practices to take advantage of what’s already here.

Two Mastermind Open House Events in November and December

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

SKMurphy Mastermind Groups SKMurphy Mastermind groups have a unique high-technology focus and are limited to eight qualified members. We guide a small group of peers to brainstorm and critique your critical business issues. Our use of ‘workout buddies’ provides a level of feedback and joint accountability that will help you to become more effective. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to present their businesses issues, share referrals, and advise one another in a confidential, supportive environment during two meetings a month.

SKMurphy Offers Two Upcoming Mastermind Open House in November and December of 2013

Both events are no charge and will allow you to meet other members and potential members of our Mastermind groups.  The regular meetings run two hours and are held twice a month; the cost is $100 per month.

As we approach the new year, we want to take stock and evaluate what will impact our bottom line. Join us for the upcoming Open House. Bring your 2014 plans and let’s get a jump-start on making it your best year ever!

More information


Working For Equity CEO Panel Returns to Silicon Valley Code Camp 2013

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

We are reprising our “Working for Equity” CEO Panel for the fourth year at the 2013 Silicon Valley Code Camp. Here is the current write-up, we will be adding panelists’ bios in a few days.

Many of us in Silicon Valley seek either to found or to be an early employee at a technology startup. If you aspire to create a startup come take part in a conversation with four startup founders about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners. The startup founders range from serial entrepreneurs to first-time CEOs, they will share their vision, drive and passion as they discuss the nuts and bolts of following their dreams to building something that will change the world.

Please Register for Silicon Valley Code Camp and indicate your interest in the session, this determines the size of room we will be in. We have had some great discussions not only among the panelists but with the audience–more than half the time for the session is allocated to questions from the audience–so please let us know if you plan attend so we will have room for you. There is also a Mobile Session Viewer And Planner.

While I think our panel is one of the better reasons to attend Code Camp there are another 232 sessions offered by experts and practitioners that cover a broad range of topics of interest to software engineers. Code Camp takes place all day Saturday October 5 and Sunday October 6 on the Foothill College campus at 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA. The “Working for Equity” panel takes place on Saturday October Oct 5 at 1:45.

For more information on earlier “Working for Equity Sessions” see

Ebb and Flow

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Smith: What do you see in your future?
Stafford: We’ll go back West and I’ll keep on writing poems. I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along. So I inhale and exhale. I experience, write poems, get now and then great feelings of being on the edge of writing something that reverberates through my own self and that’s very interesting. But I don’t have any big or sustained project or any ending revelation that I can tell you about.

From an Feb-6-1971 interview with William Stafford by Dave Smith in “Crazy Horse 7 (1971).

A Viable Business Model Embraces Ebb and Flow

What if the right model for a successful business that is long term viable is not the crescendo (the “hockey stick”) but ebb and flow. I think it’s more important how you manage cutbacks and necessary expense reductions, the organized abandonment of products that have failed or are obsolete, and the intelligent pruning of initiatives that either have not worked out or are not longer working.

The VC ecosystem profit model is predicated on “the exit” or “the liquidity event.” The professional investor’s goal in an early stage firm is to make the ongoing management of the firm someone else’s problem. Their advice will not guide you to a long term viable business model.

A Resilient Business Model Is a Forest of Offerings

What if successful firms look more like forests, where each tree is a different product and you have a mix of offerings at different stages in their lifecycle. I admire entrepreneurs who are not afraid of running out of new ideas, in the same way that William Stafford was not afraid of having his best days behind him.

You Need A Bushel of Acorns, Not a Diamond

The alternative is to look for the one big idea that is the home run, and to guard it jealously like a precious gem. The problem is that when you guard your best ideas you don’t subject them to the scrutiny they need so that you can refine them and  you don’t seek advice and perspectives from prospects, potential partners, domain experts, and others that would allow you to improve them.

“A myth about innovation is that it is about big ideas. Of course, in the end you want an idea with the power to transform your core business. No idea ever started out as a billion-dollar one, yet large companies often start out asking for $100 million ideas. But imagine if somebody asked, in month six of e-Bay, “Do you have a $100 million idea here?” Nobody could have told you that. So instead we have to create a lot of low cost experimentation. We need lots of $25,000 and $100,000 experiments.”
Gary Hamel, in an interview with David Kirkpatrick in Fortune Sep-6-2004

VC Business Model Focus is on Exit Not Sustainability

If you can look at your business as ebb and flow–acknowledging the need of renewal even at the core and requiring constant exploration at the edges to find new opportunities–you may not tell the crescendo story that excites the professional investor, but you may have a much better map for how to prosper.

On a visit to Leningrad some years ago I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. From where I stood, I could see several enormous churches, yet there was not trace of them on my  map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: “We don’t show churches on our maps.” Contradicting him I pointed to one that was very clearly marked. “That is a museum,” he said, ” not what we  call a ‘living church.’ It is only the ‘living churches’ that we don’t show.”

It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes.

The opening paragraphs to E. F Schumacher’s  “A Guide for the Perplexed.”

Advice For Entrepreneurs Who Want to Build an Enduring Business

A long term viable business model embraces ebb and flow: it organizes the abandonment of failed and obsolete products to enable investing in new growth.

Related posts:

Evelyn Rodriguez Envisions a Silicon Valley Renaissance of Art & Culture

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Among my other pursuits, I envision a Silicon Valley renaissance that brings a love of art, culture, place, and the divine spark alive and innate within our humanness out into the open.

To that end, I’m working on some ideas that revive Parisien style salons. Imagine curated one-of-a-kind intimate living art experiences. Seasonal dishes. Cross-fertilization of folks from the agriculture/foodie arena, the arts, and the techie financiers of the region.

Inspiration and pushing our edges is not a solitary act.

The Italian Renaissance wasn’t about one artist, one patron. It was a movement. A concerto with many players in the orchestra. I concur with this statement from the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA:

“While the voice of an idea may appear to be individual, in fact the emergence of new ideas is a collective effort.”

Evelyn Rodriguez “About Page

It’s a compelling vision. To the extent that we can create opportunities for collaboration and shared improvisation that infuse art with our strengths in science and technology I think it would be possible to spark a new Renaissance. In Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s “Here Is New York” I observed

What the Silicon Valley settlers lack in comparison to those who aim for New York–probably less interest in the arts or finance–they compensate for in their commitment to innovation, science, and technology.

I wonder if we have neglected the arts to our detriment.

Evelyn Rodriguez elaborates on models for collective efforts in  “The Myth of the One-Woman Inspirational Whirlwind” and references a great quote by Michael Schrage:

“If we really want to understand innovation and collaboration, we have to explore shared space. Consider Watson & Crick: How many experiments did they do to confirm DNA’s double helix? Zero. Not one. They built models based on other people’s data. These models were their shared space. Their collaboration in that shared space powered their Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough. If you don’t have a shared space, you’re not collaborating.”
Michael  Schrage, MIT design researcher and author of “Serious Play

In “$650,000 grant drops in your lap, and you’d…” Rodriguez outlines an approach very similar to the Art Prize model developed by Rick De Vos that has helped to transform Grand Rapids, MI.

Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s “Here Is New York”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Two excerpts from E. B. White‘s 1949 essay,  “Here Is New York,” that I thought were also applicable to life in Silicon Valley

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

I think it’s also true, at least in technology, that the residents of SiliconValley “are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.” Silicon Valley is actually a very small place: whether you find yourself here as a visitor or a new settler you should open yourself to serendipity. Stop by a Bootstrapper Breakfast if you find yourself at loose ends early some morning.

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last-the City of final destination, the city that is a goal. lt is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidìty and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

This division into three parts–natives, commuters, and settlers–is also true in Silicon Valley. Many now commute from bedroom communities in the East Bay and points farther East and South. What the Silicon Valley settlers lack in comparison to those who aim for New York–probably less interest in the arts or finance–they compensate for in their commitment to innovation, science, and technology.

I still worry that Silicon Valley is a nicely furnished room in a house that’s burning down (the State of California). I found  White’s essay worth reading 70 years after he wrote it, with these two passages in particular offering insights applicable to Silicon Valley.

Some related posts on Silicon Valley:

Ben Kaufman on “What Raising Money Means”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, Silicon Valley

Don’t congratulate people for raising money. That was never the goal. The goal is building a successful and meaningful business. When people raise money, instead of congratulating them, wish them luck. Their work is just getting started.

Congratulating people for financing perpetuates a problem that has plagued the startup world. The problem is that that it’s easy to focus on the hype surrounding a company, and lose sight of the fundamentals.

This is why our industry is flooded with [...] people whose only ambition in life is to raise money, and then sell their company. They have no real interest in building a meaningful and enduring business. If we let [the people] dominate, we all lose.

This is my favorite startup quote of all time (although I don’t know who said it): “Congratulating an entrepreneur for raising money is like congratulating a chef for buying the ingredients.”

Ben Kaufman in  “What Raising Money Means to Me

Four key points for bootstrappers (from 8 Tips for Evaluating Funding Alternatives)

  • Revenue, especially break even revenue, is never dilutive of your ownership.
  • Paying customers are real proof that there is demand for your product. Getting funded is proof that an investor thinks there will be demand for your product.
  • Your most important investors are your spouse, friends, and family who will provide you with emotional support on the entrepreneurial roller coaster.
  • Professional investors don’t want control of your business, they want a return on their investment.

Related Posts on Viable Business Models

Exits vs. Enduring Companies

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

VCs and angels may talk about changing the world, but their business model rests on a more prosaic calculation: Buy low, sell high. They invest in companies they think will become more valuable, so they can sell their stake for a sizable profit. From the time that VCs invest in a company, they have five years—10 at the most—to sell their entire position, hopefully for many times more than their original investment. After that, it doesn’t matter to them whether the company survives a year or a century.

To put it another way, the VC model is based on creating wealth for investors, not on building successful businesses. You buy into a company early on and sell out a few years later; if you pick well, you can make lots of money. But your profits don’t accrue to the company itself, which could implode after your exit for all you care. Silicon Valley is full of venture capitalists who have become dynastically wealthy off the backs of companies that no longer exist.

Felix Salmon “For High Tech Companies, Going Public Sucks

Marc Andreessen’s selection as “The Man Who Makes the Future” in a recent Wired cover and interview highlighted five key idea and related project or companies he started as a result:

  1. 1992: Everyone Will Have the Web  (Mosaic at NCSA)
  2. 1995: The Browser Will Be the Operating System (Netscape)
  3. 1999: Web Businesses Will Live in the Cloud (LoudCloud)
  4. 2004: Everything Will Be Social (Ning)
  5. 2009: Software Will Eat the World (Andreessen Horowitz)

It’s interesting that there is no mention of Jim Clark recruiting him to start Netscape, he does have an interesting aside as to how ephemeral even significant products can be:

Andreessen: One of the first times Zuckerberg and I got together, in 2005 or 2006, he stopped me in the middle of conversation and asked: “What did Netscape do?” And I said, “What do you mean, what did Netscape do?” And he was like, “Dude, I was in junior high. I wasn’t paying attention.”

Felix Salmon offered a less enthusiastic endorsement than Wired:

“In many ways, Andreessen’s entire fortune has been built on the greater-fool theory: if you build something trendy enough, there’s probably going to be a huge lumbering company out there somewhere willing to overpay for it. Hence the buzziness of the Wired interview — clouds! social! SAAS!”
Felix Salmon in “The Problem with Marc Andreessen

Salmon’s assessment echoes Chris O’Brien 2009 profile, “The Curious Case of Marc Andreessen” written just prior to the launch of Andreessen Horowitz, which triggered a Curious Case of Marc Andreessen Part 2. Some excerpts

And then there’s Marc Andreessen, the businessman, who seems to me to be — how can I put this charitably? — a bit of a dud.  [...]

I don’t want to imply he’s a failure, because he’s not. But when I look at Andreessen’s business track record, I’m less interested in his checking account than the financial statements of his companies. As far as I can tell, Andreessen has never started or operated a profitable business, with one exception: Netscape turned an annual profit, back in 1996 when it posted a $19 million profit. Of course, that was when the company still charged you $49 to buy a copy of Netscape Navigator. Once Microsoft started giving its Explorer browser away for free, that was all she wrote. Andreessen and Netscape couldn’t figure out another business model, and vanished a couple of years later in a complex deal with Sun Microsystems and AOL that was announced November 1998.


Andreessen’s reputation has only risen as he has emerged as a leading angel investor for the Web 2.0 industry, advising or investing in companies like Facebook and Twitter. These companies reflect the philosophy of service and technology over revenues and profits.


Of course, at some point, these priorities have to change. A company has to actually make money. Innovation can’t be sustained by creating a venture-backed Ponzi scheme where one money-losing start-up is sold to another, which is then sold to another.

Losing money indefinitely isn’t just a financial failure. It represents a failure to truly understand how a service or product is creating value for a customer, how to communicate that value, and how to persuade the customer to pay above and beyond for that value.

That, all too often, is where the valley still falls short: Failing to innovate around the business to the same degree it innovates around the technology.

Three years after O’Brien’s article his assessment seems prescient.

Michael Malone “Good Friday: A Day to Contemplate Your Life”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, Silicon Valley

One of the few times in my life I have had a hardwall office (bedrooms and conferences rented by the hour don’t count) was when I started Full Circle Connections. I printed out posted a number of quotes on one of the walls starting with this one. I have bolded the sentences that resonated directly with my life experiences. You can take more than one day a year to contemplate your life.

“There are no few of us who find ourselves washed up on the shores of middle age wondering what happened to that bright promise, asking ourselves why we could never fit in the usual corporate slots, why we have always been our own worst enemies–yet knowing, as we’ve always known, that we are destined to make our mark…somewhere.

Here in Silicon Valley we celebrate entrepreneurship. Rightly so, history may well call this place the greatest  entrepreneurial explosion in human history. But in celebrating, we often forget the cost: the dark obsessions, the wrecked families, the career failures. Most of all the terror–the daily depressions and nightly sweats, wondering why, why, you can’t fit into corporate life, why you have to shoot your mouth off and go and do the impolite just because you know its right; then wondering if you really have the courage to risk everything to go it on your own.

The most disturbing and least admitted truth of Silicon Valley is that no one wins all of the time and most of us never win at all. That means someday, perhaps every day, each us of will be battered and tired and running away from our destiny, from what matters most to us.

Just what our destiny is–starting our own company, changing our careers, devoting ourselves to our families–only our hearts can tell us. A spring morning, like this Good Friday, with its hum of redemption and renewal, is a good time to start listening.”

Excerpts from Michael Malone’s “A good day to contemplate the rest of life.” April 17, 1996 San Jose Mercury News

I was in the process of re-assessing my life 16 years ago when I first read Malone’s column. It was good advice then and it’s good advice now. The life I have chosen as an entrepreneur is never easy and it’s never dull. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t also strive to become  a better father or a better husband or a better brother or a better son or a better grandfather or a better uncle and or a better friend and or a better neighbor. Because I need to better at all of those roles as well.

The full column is available in Malone’s The Valley of Heart’s Delight: A Silicon Valley Notebook, 1963–2001

“Entrepreneurs start businesses because..they have no choice. Passion and energy drive them on good days and sustain them on bad days.”
Barry Moltz in “You Need To Be a Little Crazy

CTO Mastermind Open House

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Consulting Business, Silicon Valley

Saturday March 24, 9-11am

Ground Floor Silicon Valley, located at  2030 Duane Avenue, Santa Clara,

We are launching new Mastermind groups in response to several requests from entrepreneurs who wanted to form an advisory board of peers with a deeper understanding of each other’s businesses and shared accountability.

Come to the meeting and see if you feel comfortable with the other folks that we invite and we will work out times and locations. There will certainly be one group that meets on weekends, there may be others that meet on a workday.

The difference between these mastermind meetings and a Bootstrapper Breakfast meeting is that anyone is welcome to drop in to a breakfast, this will be the same group meeting and holding each other accountable for goals and commitments. Over time, because these entrepreneurs are more or less in the same stage of their business and meeting multiple times they will get to know each better than the average breakfast attendee.

There is no charge for this open house but if you decide to join a facilitated small group there is a small monthly subscription.  Want to be notified of future open houses join Bay Area Mastermind meetup.

Tools for Finding a Physical Workspace: Deskwanted, LiquidSpace, Loosecubes, OpenDesks

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Consulting Business, First Office, Silicon Valley, Startups

If you are looking to rent a desk or conference room by the hour, day, week or month here are four tools you can use to search. All of them cover Silicon Valley and other metropolitan regions as well

Updated: Also consider Evenues and Cloud Virtual Office, see below for details.

Implications for the  future of startups and small service firms:

  • It’s interesting that same forces that are making fractional leases on computing capability available in the cloud seem to be at work enabling the ad hoc provisioning of workspaces.
  • Coupled with the pervasive availability of wifi in coffee shops and eating establishments and transition to laptops or even smaller form factor tablets and smartphones for computing support,  the old assumptions that an incubator provided value offering office space, Internet connectivity, and space in a co-located datacenter are defunct.
  • For startups with less than a dozen people, both their computing and physical office configurations are becoming increasingly virtual.

I think this will enable new opportunities for firms to provide professional services, knowledge work, and clerical support in a variety of new forms and delivery modes by interacting either in virtual on-line spaces and/or virtual office space on demand.

Update Thu-Feb-09
: A commenter suggests also provides information about meeting rooms and event venues. I took a quick look at the site for Meeting Rooms San Jose and learned about a number of new venues to consider. The site also had an interesting blog post on “A Brief History of Coffee Houses as Meeting Places” which reminded me of this RSA video of Steve Johnson on “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In it he explains that coffee houses were one of the first co-working establishments that allowed people to mix and recombine different thoughts to form new ideas.

Update Fri-Feb-10: I came across Cloud Virtual Office (tagline “Virtual Offices & Touchdown Space”) researching “Going Bedouin” a term coined by Greg Olsen that I had written about previously on “Bootstrapping Startups: Bedouin, Global, Incessant, and Transparent” Related blog posts:

  • the original blog post by Greg Olsen is no longer available but a copy that admits an image that contained his recipe for a Bedouin startup is still up at “Going Bedouin” on GigaOm
  • The Long Hallway” by Jonathan Follett

Update Mon-Apr-2 a reader suggested DesksNear.Me as another tool for this list.

The Startup Mythology of Silicon Valley

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Silicon Valley, skmurphy

A post on Matt Wensing’s blog alerted me to an atypical post on TechCrunch by Mark Hendrickson “Startup School and the Instigation of Entrepreneurship.” It’s an insightful critique of the startup mythology of Silicon Valley. Some excerpts:

“We are experiencing a generation of entrepreneurs who prioritize the phenomenon of entrepreneurship over its justification; we ought to be concerning ourselves as a community with teaching folks not only how to get into the entrepreneurship game but how to find their purpose as well.”

I think the dominant myth of Hollywood is to be part of a movie. Silicon Valley’s default aspiration is to be part of a venture backed startup. How do you know you are in a venture backed startup? You secure investment from a venture firm and are celebrated in the pages of TechCrunch. This detracts from a focus on value creation, as Jeff Nolan observed in January 2009, writing in “Why the TechCrunch Economy Will Falter” (bold in original):  “…a fundamental flaw in the startup economy promoted by a wide swath of pundits and proponents, that starting is more important than sustaining.”

Hendrickson continues, using the phrase “deliberate practice” which echoes Anders Ericsson‘s “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

We should develop and promote a more deliberate practice of discovering passions worth pursuing and problems worth solving in a less haphazard way. [...] But without it, institutions like YC and its Startup School will likely continue receiving and channeling ever-more entrepreneurs who may be well-versed in tactics but who lack anchoring values that drive their efforts. And that will be a shame not only for those individuals but the investors and customers who await the fruits of their labor, which otherwise could have amounted to so much more.

Tim O’Reilly has also suggested to  entrepreneurs that they “Work on Stuff that Matters.” Alas this is easier said than done but essential to making a significant contribution. In “Overnight Success”  I recommended that “if you define success as making a lot of money quickly you should go into sales and cut out the middleman”.

It’s easy to lecture other people about their shortcomings, or at least your perception of their shortcomings.  I think the celebration of financing events as accomplishments instead of as a sometimes necessary precursor to the start of real efforts is one problem that Jeff Nolan, among many others, has already touched on.  One of the differences between the 80′s and today is a condensed time frame caused by a “built to flip” mentality that focuses on “cashing out” in a year or two instead of five to ten years building a real company.

I am reminded of the movie “Hoop Dreams” which documented how an entire generations of inner city boys are aimed at a few slots in the NBA. Most that miss are left with few if any marketable skills or fallback options for earning a living.  But all along the way they are encouraged by coaches, scouts, and others who are paid to fill the pipeline with new recruits.  I worry that a lot of what passes for entrepreneurial advice is given by folks who profit from their participation in the venture ecosystem and it is encouraging an “entrepreneurial lifestyle” that bears little resemblance to what’s needed to create and manage a going concern.

People ask me why we work with bootstrapping entrepreneurs and how we make any money at it. I like the orientation that most bootstrappers have toward creating value for their customers (it’s the only way they can get paid so it’s also a matter of enlightened self-interest). We run our practice on a “low intensity long duration” model that assumes success is going to require perseverance, intelligent experimentation, and a commitment to solving problems that will make a difference in people’s lives (a shorter answer is that we make less than we might serving other firms but we enjoy it more so it balances out).

See also

A Nicely Furnished Room In A House That’s Burning Down

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

Silicon Valley is a nicely furnished room in a house that’s burning down, the state of California.

From Joseph Vranich‘s blog “CA Business Departures Increasing–Now 5x 2009” June 20, 2011.

  • From Jan. 1 of this year through this morning, June 16, we have had 129 disinvestment events occur, an average of 5.4 per week.
  • For all of last year, we saw an average of 3.9 events per week.
  • Comparing this year thus far with 2009, when the total was 51 events, essentially averaging 1 per week, our rate today is more than 5 times what it was then.

The same tracking system has been in place throughout the three-year period.

The top five destinations are (1) Texas, (2) Arizona, (3) Colorado, (4) Nevada and Utah tied; and (5) Virginia and North Carolina tied.

Our losses are occurring at an accelerated rate. Also, no one knows the real level of activity because smaller companies are not required to file layoff notices with the state. A conservative estimate is that only 1 out of 5 company departures becomes public knowledge, which means California may suffer more than 1,000 disinvestment events this year. The capital directed to out-of-state or out-of-country, while difficult to calculate, is nonetheless in the billions of dollars.

From Joel Kotkin’s “The Golden State’s War on Itself” in  the Summer 2010 issue of  City Journal:

California has long been a destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history.  [...]

Recently, though, the dream has been evaporating. Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state’s population grew just 5 percent. [...]

Since the financial crisis began in 2008, the state has fared even worse. Last year, California personal income fell 2.5 percent, the first such fall since the Great Depression and well below the 1.7 percent drop for the rest of the country. Unemployment may be starting to ebb nationwide, but not in California, where it approaches 13 percent, among the highest rates in the nation. [...]

Silicon Valley, for instance—despite the celebrated success of Google and Apple—has 130,000 fewer jobs now than it had a decade ago, with office vacancy above 20 percent. [...]

And Cisco, whose fortunes rose supplying the “picks and shovels” of the Internet revolution plans to shed 10,000 employees, or about 14% of its workforce by laying off 7,000 and getting 3,000 to accept early retirement according to a report by Ashlee Vance “Cisco said to plan cutting up to 10,000 to buoy profit

Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), the largest networking-equipment company, may cut as many as 10,000 jobs, or about 14 percent of its workforce, to revive profit growth, according to two people familiar with the plans.

The cuts include as many as 7,000 jobs that would be eliminated by the end of August, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t final. Cisco is also providing early-retirement packages to about 3,000 workers who accepted buyouts, the people said.

And Joint Venture Silicon Valley noted on Valentines Day 2011 that “Structural flaws in local government budget threaten to sabotage the regions gains.

A growing crisis in state and local government finance is undermining the economic recovery in Silicon Valley, according to the 2011 Silicon Valley Index released today by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The comprehensive yearly study on the economic strength and overall health of Silicon Valley shows signs of a slow comeback from the deep recession, but it also reveals a precarious road ahead for cities, towns and counties in the region as public revenue drops while the demand for services climbs.

“Silicon Valley’s economy is making slow but noticeable progress recovering from the major blow delivered by the recession,” said Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture, “but unless we address the fundamental structural issues in our local governments we cannot sustain continued growth.”

As entrepreneurs we have to identify and pursue the opportunities that are available, not lament the loss of earlier ones we may not have taken full advantage of.   But I wonder if we paid a  little more attention to local and state government policies and decisions, it might pay a significant dividend in improvements to the economic environment that is the necessary platform for our new business efforts.

Update July 14: I have reflected on this post and realized how difficult it can be to restrict your focus to those issues you can control or at least affect. As Stephen Covey points in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” under the first habit of “Be Proactive” your circle of awareness is much larger than your circle of influence.

It’s not my intent to start a political discussion or to to start a round of “Ain’t it Awful” but I worry that these structural issues were identified by independent observers with a stake in California’s ongoing economic prosperity, not people trying to complain or generate page views. I take them very seriously. I worry that the challenges they have identified will not be easy to address much less fix, and that for the most part the situation continues to deteriorate. Without thoughtful and concerted action a new equilibrium may be reached that looks closer to today’s Michigan than the California of the last few decades.

Update Sep-24-2012: a report from the Manhattan Institute,  “The Great California Exodus: A Closer Look“, by Tom Gray and Robert Scardamalia documents a migration of 3.4 million residents out of the state since 1990. Some excerpts:

Executive Summary

For decades after World War II, California was a destination for Americans in search of a better life. In many people’s minds, it was the state with more jobs, more space, more sunlight, and more opportunity. They voted with their feet, and California grew spectacularly (its population increased by 137 percent between 1960 and 2010). However, this golden age of migration into the state is over. For the past two decades, California has been sending more people to other American states than it receives from them. Since 1990, the state has lost nearly 3.4 million residents through this migration.

This study describes the great ongoing California exodus, using data from the Census, the Internal Revenue Service, the state’s Department of Finance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and other sources. We map in detail where in California the migrants come from, and where they go when they leave the state. We then analyze the data to determine the likely causes of California’s decline and the lessons that its decline holds for other states.

The data show a pattern of movement over the past decade from California mainly to states in the western and southern U.S.: Texas, Nevada, and Arizona, in that order, are the top magnet states. Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah follow. Rounding out the top ten are two southern states: Georgia and South Carolina.


California has an opportunity deficit that shows up in its employment data and its migration statistics. We can understand the nature of that deficit clearly when we compare the Golden State with those that lure its residents away. In such a comparison, as we have seen, one fact leaps out: living and doing business in California are more expensive than in the states that draw Californians to migrate. Taxes are not the only reason for this, but we have highlighted their effect because taxes—unlike rents, home prices, wages, or electric bills—can be changed through sheer political willpower.

California has cut taxes in the past, most dramatically with 1978’s Proposition 13, and when it has done so, prosperity has followed. Ballot propositions this November aim to do the reverse, raising taxes on business owners while the state is still struggling to hold its own against more aggressive, confident rivals. The results will send a strong signal, whichever way they go: the state’s voters will be deciding to continue on the path of high taxes and high costs—or to make a break with the recent trend of decline.

In the meantime, California’s leaders are not powerless to stem the state’s declining appeal. For example, they certainly can do something about the instability of public-sector finances, which is likely one of the key factors pushing businesses and people toward other states. They can also rethink regulations that hold back business expansion and cost employers time and money. And though there is no changing the fact that California is more crowded than it used to be and is no longer as cheap a place to live as it once was, policies can make the state more livable. One reason that land is costly now is that much of it is placed off-limits to development. Spending on transportation projects where they are really needed—in congested cities—can ease life on freeways that now resemble parking lots.

California’s economy remains diverse and dynamic; it has not yet gone the way of Detroit. It still produces plenty of wealth that can be tapped by state and local governments. Tapping that private wealth more wisely and frugally can go far to keep more of it from leaving.

SDForum Workshop Series “Networking for Lifetime Career Success”

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Silicon Valley

SDForum June Event Information:

Title: SDForum Workshop Series “Networking for Lifetime Career Success”

Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 7:30 AM – 10:00 AM

Description: During times of change, the ability to naturally and effectively network to identify new opportunities and develop professional relationships can be critical to success. In this interactive session, Next Step CEO, Jennifer Vessels, will provide proven tips for successful networking that attendees can put into practice immediately at the event.
This hour long program will include tips to you can use immediately to:

  • Create a memorable first impression.
  • Develop a compelling elevator speech to gain attention and be remembered.
  • Leverage ‘keys to networking success’ to stand out and be noticed (positively).
  • Utilize follow-up as foundation for long term relationship building

With time for networking, interaction and feedback built into the program, all participants will leave with an action plan and approach they can most effectively utilize for networking.

Confirmed Speaker: Jennifer Vessels, CEO of Next Step

Location: White & Lee, 541 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 100 Redwood City, CA 94063

Registration Link:

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