Quotes for Entrepreneurs – June 2009

Every few days I post a quotation on www.twitter.com/skmurphy that I think will be useful or thought provoking for entrepreneurs. On the last day of the month I collect these quotes for entrepreneurs into a blog post and add some context. For a list of all my blog posts that are related to quotations see https://www.skmurphy.com/blog/category/quotes/ Here is the roundup for June. Enter your E-mail if you would like new blog posts to your inbox.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs – June 2009

“There are certain things that can be communicated in a moment or two, eyeball to eyeball or palm to palm.”
Michael Bowen

Full quote (hat tip http://space4commerce.blogspot.com/2009/05/cache-flush.html)

“Just the other day I’m working a conference and the gent I’m working with is shooting the breeze with an old fellow in a cap that says Ketchikan Alaska on it. Already I like him. And there are certain things that can be communicated in a moment or two, eyeball to eyeball or palm to palm. Yes, there are still good men left. But we’re quiet, and that’s the tragedy.”
Michael Bowen

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“Your money or your life.” We know what to do when a burglar makes this demand on us, but not when God does.”
Mignon McLaughlin

I really like Mignon McLaughlin and have quoted her several times already:

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“Discussing deal terms principal to principal is so much easier than working through lawyers. I’ve gotten way more done this way.”
Fred Wilson in “Term Sheet Manners

Longer excerpt:

…compile a list of the big changes you are looking for and call the recipient and walk them through the things you need changed. It’s even better if you can do that face to face…a live discussion is the best way to suggest changes to a deal:

  1. It shows respect for the other side. Instructing a lawyer to mark up a document and send it back is a slap in the face and most people get very upset by it if the changes are material.
  2. Discussing deal terms principal to principal is so much easier than working through lawyers. I’ve gotten way more done this way.
  3. Many times, there is a misunderstanding of the deal terms being discussed that documents and lawyers can’t break through. A conversation can usually resolve these kinds of misunderstandings quickly.

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“How can I know what I think till I see what I say?”
Graham Wallas


“The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said: ‘How can I know what I think till I see what I say?'”
Graham Wallas, The Art of Thought, 1926

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“I consider some team members glue: they motivate and improve the morale, they bring the team together tighter and tighter.”
Will Wright in “On Will Wright’s Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue?

Longer excerpt:

“How good is this person times their teamwork factor. You can have a great person who doesn’t really work well on the team, and they’re a net loss. You can have somebody who is not that great, but they are really very good glue, so that could be a net gain.

A lot of team members I consider glue within the team in that they disseminate things effectively, they motivate and improve the morale of people around them. They basically bring the team tighter and tighter.

Other ones are solvents and, it’s just their kind of personal nature that they might be disagreeable. They rub people the wrong way. They’re always caught in conflicts. This is at least as important as their competence in their role.

Occasionally I will get somebody who is more of a prima donna, who is just incredibly good, but not great on the team and so, in some ways you can find a role where you can kind of isolate and quarantine them and allow them to go off and do their great work without having to interact with the rest of the team a lot. Those people are fairly few and far between.”

Will Wright in “On Will Wright’s Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue?

I used this longer excerpt for a section in “Embrace Parkinson’s Law As A Constraint.”

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“Potential founders look for ideas to implement when they should look for problems to solve. Customers pay for solutions.”
Martin Zwilling in “Startups: Start with a Problem Not an Idea


“Potential startup founders are always looking for ideas to implement, when they should be looking for problems to solve. Customers pay for solutions, and there is no market for ideas. I’m often approached by people with a “million dollar idea,” but I haven’t seen anyone pay for one of these yet.

Equally often, I see startups who are on the road to implementing an idea, but haven’t figured out what problem it solves – the business plan waxes on eloquently for 20 pages about how great this product and technology is, but never gets around to defining the problem (investors call it the ‘solution looking for a problem’ syndrome).”

I posted this article on Hacker News at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=661440 and Peter Christensen pointed out a number of similarities to Paul Graham’s 2005 essay “Ideas for Startups” which Mr. Zwilling ultimately credited in his post.

Update April 25: Mr. Zwilling deleted the post at the original URL and and reposted the same content at Five Problem Solutions to Motivate Your Startup” with a credit to Paul Graham’s “Ideas for Startups” A number of his posts are a good source of quotes for entrepreneurs, the problem is that you have to run down the original source because he rarely credits them.

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“To walk we lean forward, lose our balance, and begin to fall. We trust that we will find new stability with each step.”
Robin Skynner

Condensed for twitter from:

“To walk we have to lean forward, lose our balance, and begin to fall.  We let go, constantly, of the previous stability, falling, all the time, trusting that we will find a succession of new stabilities with each step.  The fullest living is a constant dying of the past, enjoying the present fully, but holding it lightly; letting go without clinging and moving freely into new experiences.  Our experience of the past and of those dear to us is not lost at all, but remains richly within us.”
Robin Skynner

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“Condense fact from the vapor of nuance.”
Neal Stephenson in “Snow Crash”

Condensed from page 60 Snow Crash:

“Anyway, my grandmother came to visit, I avoided her until we all sat down for dinner. And then she figured out the whole situation in, maybe, ten minutes, just by watching my face across the dinner table. I didn’t say more than ten words–‘Pass the tortillas.’ I don’t how my face conveyed that information, or what kind of internal wiring in my grandmother’s mind enabled her to accomplish this incredible feat. To condense fact from the vapor of nuance.”

“My God, the human mind can absorb and process an incredible amount if information–if it comes in the right format. The right interface. If you put the right face on it.”

Also occurs on page 64 of Snow Crash:

“Just ask the businessmen in the Nipponese Quadrant. They come here to talk turkey with suits from around the world, and they consider it just as good as a face-to-face. They more or less ignore what is being said–a lot gets lost in translation, after all. They pay attention to the facial expressions and body language of the people they are talking to. And that’s how they know what’s going on inside a person’s head–by condensing fact from vapor of nuance.

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“Without profit you can’t change anything on a sustained basis.”
Sean Murphy

I sent this as a one line E-mail this to myself Christmas Day 2008 in the afternoon. I was thinking about government programs and when Diane Feinstein visited Cisco in the early 90’s. John Morgridge had remarked afterward that politicians viewed solving a problem as spending money on it.

Since this was also a tweet Brad Pierce replied “@skmurphy A self-supporting nonprofit cannot change anything on a sustained basis? Why is increasing the wealth of investors so key?”

My intent was not that investors necessarily made a profit, but that enough profit from results gets fed back into the change activity/organization.

In hindsight I realize that I was re-working Peter Drucker‘s observation:

“Managers must convert society’s needs into opportunities for profitable business. That, too, is a definition of innovation.”
Peter Drucker

See “Drucker on Profit and Business Purpose” for more.

Brad’s blog is definitely worth reading, I particularly enjoyed “You are Never Going to Get Caught up.” and “Doing What You Must to Get What you Want“.

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“Google is not search, It’s instant search. Instant search does not let you find stuff faster, it lets you ITERATE faster.”
Michael Schrage in “Interview with Michael Schrage on Ubiquity

Longer excerpt:

“That’s the central value of Google for me. I would wager that when you look at how you actually interact when you search, it’s not just a matter of finding the needle in the haystack, it’s a matter of deciding what haystack makes the most sense to investigate. That’s not possible without the iteration. You know, when people say that Google is a search company, I think they grossly misunderstand what Google is, because Google is not really a search company: Google is an INSTANT search company. The little gedanken experiment I offer is, if I made you the following value proposition case, that Google would give you a 10 X – an order of magnitude – improvement in the quality of search, but that you have to wait 6 minutes for that result – Do you think that Google’s value to you would go up or down? Overwhelmingly people say, down. It’s the INSTANTANEOUS nature of Google’s search that provides its main value. So the Google that wins in the marketplace is not a search company. It’s an instant search company. The value of instant search is not that you find stuff faster, it’s that you can ITERATE faster.”

See also “Michael Schrage on Innovation, Collaboration, Tools, and Incentives

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“A startup takes 100% of your performance, not 100% of your time: optimizing performance means spending time on maintenance.”
Paul Graham replying to “Sacrifice Your Health For Your Startup

Longer excerpt:

“It’s a net win to exercise. You’re repaid for the couple hours a week you lose with greater productivity during the remaining hours. This is the crucial mistake: ‘How much time does a bootstrapped company take? All of it.’

That’s not true. What a startup (bootstrapped or not) takes is 100% of your performance, not 100% of your time. And optimizing for performance means spending some time on maintenance.
For the same reason, it’s not good to live on junk food. It makes you less productive.
Paul Graham

See also

2 thoughts on “Quotes for Entrepreneurs – June 2009”

  1. Sean,

    Good spin on “Your money or your life.” That phrase also was used to famous effect by the
    Jack Benny radio show.

    Regarding not sacrificing your health for your startup, here I likened depriving your brain of sleep to taking out a payday loan. And here I argued that “you’re your most valuable capital asset”.

    Regarding “Without profit you can’t change anything on a sustained basis.”, I think you’d like an article from Forbes about F.K.Day and his bicycles, where he says “You can have all the goodwill in the world, but if what you’re doing isn’t driven by the invisible hand of Adam Smith, you’re doomed to fail.”

  2. Pingback: SKMurphy, Inc. Quotes For Entrepreneurs--February 2015

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