I am a huge fan of George Grellas writing and when his revised website removed this essay I had previously linked I asked if I could post it here for entrepreneurs to appreciate how much Silicon Valley has been transformed in 60 years. George said that while he was not in Silicon Valley in 1956–or even old enough to appreciate it at the time–he retains a great nostalgia for the Valley that is no more.
Two long quotations, one from Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal and the second from Benjamin Franklin’s “Letter To Ezra Stiles, 09 March 1790,” that explore duty and religion. A client recently lamented they had yet to find “the end of the rainbow, much less a pot of gold” and I was reminded of quote by Edwin Land, “the bottom line is in Heaven.” These two quotes reinforce that perspective.
Do Your Duty, Come What May
What is to become of us when everything leaves us—health, joy, affections, the freshness of sensation, memory, capacity for work—when the sun seems to us to have lost its warmth, and life is stripped of all its charm? What is to become of us without hope? Must we either harden or forget? There is but one answer—keep close to duty. Never mind the future, if only you have peace of conscience, if you feel yourself reconciled, and in harmony with the order of things. Be what you ought to be; the rest is God’s affair. It is for him to know what is best, to take care of his own glory, to ensure the happiness of what depends on him, whether by another life or by annihilation. And supposing that there were no good and holy God, nothing but universal being, the law of the all, an ideal without hypostasis or reality, duty would still be the key of the enigma, the pole-star of a wandering humanity.
Do your duty, come what may.
A peaceful conscience and harmony with the order of things are easy to say and hard to achieve, but certainly worth striving for. I look at a successful business as generating value for customers, which requires you to have empathy for their needs and to identify those you can fulfill with distinction and at a profit that pays for innovation and future improvements to meet competitor’s actions.
“You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Letter To Ezra Stiles, 09 March 1790
in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1904 (Chapter 12) John Bigelow editor
In the middle of a thunderstorm or an earthquake or lying sick in bed with a serious illness it can be hard to believe in a providential universe. Certainly at low points on the entrepreneurial roller coaster you can lose your sense of purpose and of a place in the universe. I like this answer by Franklin where “doing good” to others is his focus over needless study of issues he expects “soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” He wrote it March 9, 1790 and was dead five weeks later in April of the same year.
Like many activities we engage in, business is an opportunity to do good for others. Not a hugely popular sentiment in Silicon Valley but true nonetheless.
Related Blog Posts
Concerned about Silicon Valley values, William Davidow wrote “What Happened to Silicon Values” in 2012 and concluded, “Silicon Valley is no longer as concerned about serving the customer, and even sees great opportunity in exploitation.” Here are some excerpts with additional comments.
The Consultants Network of Silicon Valley (CNSV) was recognized by IEEE Region 6 in 2015 for its outstanding achievements in promoting members’ skills and providing educational opportunities for Silicon Valley. The award reads:
IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Chapter presented to
Consultants Network of Silicon Valley
For creating a network to promote the skills of its consultants, fostering collaboration among its members, creating alliances with other IEEE chapters, and providing educational opportunities for Silicon Valley.
Lee Kuan Yew (16 September 1923 – 23 March 2015) governed Singapore as its first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990. He shepherded the transformation of a small island economy into a first world technology leader.
Here are some excerpts from “The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew” published in 2013, a collection of quotes curated from public sources. I have added some commentary after each related to entrepreneurship.
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.
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
I gave a briefing to the San Bruno Rotary on Thought Leadership on Aug-6-2014. Here is the audio for the core of the talk (I have cut the introduction and about ten minutes of Q&A)
Or download from http://traffic.libsyn.com/skmurphy/ThoughtLeadership140806c.mp3
Here is my handout from the talk.
In the last eight years I have moderated several hundred Bootstrappers Breakfasts. 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.
I will be a mentor at the B2B Startup Weekend June 6-8 in San Francisco.
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
- Sean Murphy, moderator.
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.
- Soul of New Machine by Tracy Kidder
- Regional Advantage by AnnaLee Saxenian (and her follow up “The New Argonauts, Regional Advantage in the Global Economy“)
- Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely
- Understanding Silicon Valley: Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region (Martin Kenney, ed.) in particular the “”Silicon Valley Came to Be” chapter by Timothy Sturgeon that offers the key insight that Silicon Valley is at least 100 years old if you date it–correctly, I believe–from the founding of Federal Telegraph in 1909.
Here are five related blog posts about Silicon Valley it’s entrepreneurial culture
- In “Steve Blank on the Secret History of Silicon Valley” I suggest, based on Sturgeon’s analysis, that while World War 2 activities contributed significantly to the growth of Silicon Valley it’s founding can be dated to Federal Telegraph in 1909 (as noted by California Historical marker 836).
- Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s Here Is New York
- Federated Entrepreneurship
- Federated Entrepreneurship: Evangelizing Entrepreneurship
- Federated Entrepreneurship: Play Your Own Game
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 is hard work, we travel facing backward into the past so that it seems to sneak up from behind us. Some insights on discerning the future using Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” as a point of departure.
SKMurphy Offers Two Upcoming Mastermind Open House in November and December of 2013
- Mon-Nov-18 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in Sunnyvale
Register at http://www.meetup.com/BayAreaMastermind/events/150458632/
Tonight at Roundtable Pizza 1220 Oakmead Parkway Sunnyvale, CA 94085
- Fri-Dec-06 Noon-2pm in Cupertino
Register at http://www.meetup.com/BayAreaMastermind/events/150458632/
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 http://www.skmurphy.com/services/startup-advisor/
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
- Recap of Working For Equity CEO Panel at SVCC 2012
- Slides from Working for Equity Panel at SVCC 2011
- Sean Murphy to Moderate Panel on “Working For Equity – The World of Startups” at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2010
- Work For Equity Panel Set For SVCC 2010
A long term viable business model embraces ebb and flow: it organizes the abandonment of failed and obsolete products to enable an investment strategy for new growth that emphasizes experimentation in anticipation of a high rate of early small failures.
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“
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
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:
- 1992: Everyone Will Have the Web (Mosaic at NCSA)
- 1995: The Browser Will Be the Operating System (Netscape)
- 1999: Web Businesses Will Live in the Cloud (LoudCloud)
- 2004: Everything Will Be Social (Ning)
- 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.