Some thoughts on the half-fast entrepreneur with half-vast experience. Any resemblance to the author or the reader is purely coincidental.
Recently, we worked with a startup on team building as they wrangled with the rapid growth of their business. They needed bring on new team members and wanted them to be productive and effective as quickly as possible. Working with the leadership team we reviewed Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of team development.
What seems natural, artificial, or supernatural is a function of familiarity. Nature is the background or context for innovation. The challenge is that we live in a world and culture formed by millennia of innovation so that some incredibly advanced technologies seem natural. The difference between technology and magic is not that one works more reliably than the other but that technology is part of the adjacent possible–seemingly impossible but comprehensible. Magic breaks our existing paradigm and is initially incomprehensible. As entrepreneurs we need to present our innovations as technology not magic.
This weekend I attended the Bay Area Maker Faire 2015. New this year was a Startup Pavilion with about 20 companies selling their products and looking for early adopters. Through out the show, I also found many startups looking for support for their kickstarter campaigns.
Excerpts from Paul Grahams’ October 2014 essay “Before the Startup” with commentary interspersed. This essay is in some ways less self-confident than many of his earlier ones. He seems to recognize more explicitly the limits of his ability to offer advice that entrepreneurs in the Y Combinator portfolio–or entrepreneurs applying to Y Combinator–will actually follow. The primary point he hammers home is the need to focus on customers and to realize that a startup a significant multi-year commitment.
A documentary on entrepreneurship as a calling that I found very compelling was “The Call of the Entrepreneur” produced by the Acton Institute. It addresses both practical and spiritual aspects of entrepreneurship from the point of view of three very different entrepreneurs:
- Brad Morgan, a dairy farmer in Evart, Michigan who transforms a failing farm into a successful dairy and compost company.
- Frank Hanna, a merchant banker in New York City who explains how entrepreneurship transforms the economy into a positive sum game.
- Jimmy Lai who grew up in Communist China and then Hong Kong, emigrating to New York to found retail and media companies.
Busyness won’t build your business, it closes off your creativity and your luck. Anticipate, or at least acknowledge, missed deadlines and commitments: triage or re-negotiate.
I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
Tim Kreider “The Busy Trap“
It’s a terrible feeling when you are behind in your work. What might have been good if delivered early and adequate if on time is now insufficient. So you have to keep raising the bar the later you get. Understanding what is critical to accomplish means making hard choices, and just as when you won’t admit a loss on a stock because you haven’t sold it, you can console yourself that you are still working on that deliverable and it’s just a little late.
“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else–we are the busiest people in the world.”
Hurry creates tunnel vision. It closes off your ability to notice, create, and act upon chance opportunities. It makes you less lucky. It’s always a good idea to maintain focus and finish the critical tasks that are on your list for today or that you have committed to a customer or a partner. But if your list is longer than about six hours of work and you are like most entrepreneurs I know, many won’t get done and you should at least prioritize.
Mark to Market
I have a very long to do list that contains goals for the day, week, month, quarter, year, and next year. Sometimes I have to mark tasks [d] for dropped instead of [x] for done. The sooner I do that so that I can finish the critical ones the less I have hanging over me. I don’t mean to make this sound easy or even straightforward but consider the following to catch up and be creative again:
- Drop tasks that may have been a good idea at one time. Put them on a “good idea” list you can revisit in six months time.
- Explicitly de-commit or re-negotiate a new deadline if you know you are going to miss one or you have already missed it.
- If it’s possible: do a partial job early, send a draft, send an outline, timebox for 20 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour and get a small chunk done and ask for feedback. The worst outcome is to be late and have an incorrect idea of what’s expected or needed.
Related Blog Posts
Don’t waste time painting Tom Sawyer’s fence: proving someone wrong is actually a poor source of motivation. It’s OK to ignore conventional wisdom, but don’t get trapped into doing someone else’s work (or building their platform) just to prove them wrong. Build something instead of trying to win an argument.
Here is some advice from a couple of founders that ran successful crowdfunding campaigns:
Matt Oscamou, CEO of Frontier Bites shared at a recent Bootstrappers Breakfast meeting that he ran a successful kickstarter campaign $30K for pay for new packaging artwork and initial order. He found it useful as a way friend and family could help support his effort but he had little donations from strangers.
Mark Palaima, Distinguished Engineer at Avagent, hit their funding goal in the first 5 hours. Most of their donations came in the first two days and spent a great deal of time on a marketing road trip hanging out at tech bars showing off the product. See more about their campaigns at Avegant Glyph Kickstarter Surpasses Stretch Goals Before They’re Made, Try the Glyph in a City Near You
At a recent SV Hardware Startup to Scale meetup, Noah Dentzel, CEO of Nomad Goods emphasized the importance of getting the word out on your campaign. He offered the tip of writing article for press and bloggers. His goal is to make their job easier for them. He also took advance of holes in press schedules – no shows or other delays. His biggest piece of advise is to go for it, ask, knock on the doors. His biggest surprise was learning all the logistics about shipping and delivering products oversea. He knows that shipping to S and Russia cost $0.90-1.10.
I will be a mentor at the B2B Startup Weekend June 6-8 in San Francisco.
Are you a startup founder who wants to make an objective assessment of your new product idea? Schedule a no-cost, no-obligation MVP Readiness Review. You can also use the session to prepare for customer discovery interviews or to debrief on interviews you have conducted to glean further insights.
Peter Cohan from Second Derivative offers some of the best sales demo/pitch training and hands-on learning that we have seen. So we are honored to offer these interactive workshops to startups.
Here is the upcoming schedule:
|March 5&6, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
We get a number of questions about logos, here are three tips for designing or choosing a logo when you are bootstrapping or just getting started:
- Text Treatments: text logos are simple, the company name is always right there. Most high tech logos are text treatments, they are clear and simple. With text logos you have instant impact, customers don’t need to decipher anything. Another benefit of text treatments are logo aspect ratio comes naturally with words. They always seem to work whether you are shrinking or stretching them. Examples are Google, IBM, Intel, and eBay.
- Icons: symbol logos can be recognized faster, our brains process images quickly than words alone. But they require more work and $$$ on branding and presence before people have the connection between symbol and company. Examples are Nike‘s swoosh, Apple‘s apple and Linux‘s penguin. Notice these logos have nothing to do with the companies product: they are about being different and being memorable. They are also very simple designs.
- Keep it Simple: like many other types of design, the best logo designs are elegantly simple. They shrink, stretch, or twist without losing their intangible emotional resonance. Color may add to the design, but they still look great in black and white. In fact, most logo designers use grayscales to do the initial design, then move it to color. They have to look good on your business card, on literature, and on your website.
If you missed SKMurphy and SalesQualia at Lean Startup Conference’s workshop, Sean Murphy and Scott Sambucci led an interactive workshop on developing and debugging your repeatable and scalable B2B sales process. In the workshop, we worked a number of sales issues that the attendees from lean startups had:
- Can’t get potential customers to call back
- Won’t make a decision
- Prospects like the beta, but they will not buy
- Deals stall
Engineering Your Sales Process workshop will help you learn from common sales problems by using conscious planning and experimentation. Traditional sales training stresses “every no moves you closer to a yes.” Our approach to engineering your sales process says instead, “What looks like noise is often actually data.” Designing and debugging a repeatable sales process is key to a sustainable business, and we’ll address how to diagnose common problems to determine likely root causes. You will leave with a scientific approach to understanding your customers’ needs and their buying process so that you can scale your business in harmony with it.
You can view the slides at http://www.slideshare.net/SalesQualia/engineering-your-sales-process.
Also here is the link to a readable version of the sales map in mindomo http://www.mindomo.com/view?m=e18b84e308994b1d95a032583f3885bcces
- “@MichalAntkiew: @leanstartup @scottsambucci @skmurphy Great workshop! Now I see how all pieces fit together.” Glad you could join us
- @leanstartup @scottsambucci @skmurphy Great workshop! Now I see how all pieces fit together.
- “This was pretty comprehensive and very useful workshop”
- “Very good”
- “The basics was so helpful. I liked the format”
- “Sales is a conversation. If you’re not getting questions, there’s probably not interest. Let it go.” @scottsambucci @skmurphy @LeanStartup
- More things that drive you crazy? “Lean startup being used by entrepreneurs as an excuse to not take sales/mkg seriously” @a16z #LeanStartup
If you missed our “Working for Equity” panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2012, Theresa Shafer and the four CEO’s on the panel had a lively conversation about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners.
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
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 evenues.com 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.
MyPermissions: Checks for third party application access to your Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Instagram, and Flickr accounts.
SocialMention: Allows you to do keyword and phrase search across more than one hundred social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google, etc…
Here are the slides from today’s “Working for Equity” panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp. It was a standing room only crowd of over 70 that made for a very interactive session with the panel.
Entrepreneurs feel a calling to improve the world by creating an exchange of value. They are motivated by a dissatisfaction with the status quo and blessed with the energy and gumption to change it. People who are content or phlegmatic rarely try to change things.