Archive for July, 2013

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–July 2013

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these hot off the mojo wire or wait until these quotes for entrepreneurs are collected in a blog post at the end of each month. Enter your E-mail address if you would like have new blog posts sent to you.

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“There is no distance on this Earth as far away as yesterday.”
Robert Nathan

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“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

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“The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion–these are the most valuable coin of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is associated somehow with laziness.”
Jerome S. Bruner

I used this as the closing quote for “Early Markets Offer Fluid Opportunities

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“Good design successfully manages the tensions between user needs, technology feasibility, and business viability.”
Tim Brown

From an interview in “Imagine Design Create

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“The secret to success is constancy of purpose”
Benjamin Disraeli

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“The right way to build a company is to experiment in lots of small ways, so that you have plenty of room to make mistakes and change strategies.”
Vinod Khosla quoted in “What Does Vinod Khosla Know About Web 2.0 That Others Don’t?” (2005)

Used as closing quote in “Making Our Business More Credible in 2006

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“A reputation for good judgment, for fair dealing, for truth, and for rectitude, is itself a fortune.”
Henry Ward Beecher

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“Don’t save the canary. Fix the coal mine.”
Seth Godin in “Canaries and Coal Mines

This is not the best line in the blog post, it’s “My own little Potemkin Village” which highlights Godin’s insight into the perils of celebrity.

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“Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before.”
Margaret J. Wheatley

h/t Valeria Maltoni
Used as closing quote in “Byron Wien’s Lessons Learned in 80 Years: Seven for Entrepreneurs.”

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“Before you can score you must have a goal.”
Greek proverb

Used as the title for “Before you can score you must have a goal.

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The days you work are the best days.
Georgia O’Keeffe

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“Nothing happens to you that has not happened to someone else.”
William Feather

I really liked William Feather’s 1949 book, “The Business of Life.” It’s a collection of short notes, letters, newspaper columns magazine articles. Very insightful, and something like reading a blog from the 1930?s and 40?s. I used it as the basis for four blog posts:

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“If you were were really crushing it,
you’d be too busy crushing it
to tell people how much you’re crushing it.”
Griffin Caprio (@gcaprio)

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“I like breakfast-time better than any other moment in the day,” said Mr. Irwine. “No dust has settled on one’s mind then, and it presents a clear mirror to the rays of things”.
George Eliot in Adam Bede (1859)

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“When you struggle to reach for something you don’t know, that’s where most of the interesting stuff is.”
Herbie Hancock

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“Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
Alice Walker

Added as part of a July 2013 postscript to “Good Fortune.

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“Look around. Find the stories that are the ones that one day, you’re going to wish somebody had told sooner. Tell them.
Scott Rosenberg (@scottros)  in Missed stories: About that Horace Mann School article in the Times

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“That’s the scary thing about hope, if you let it go too long it turns into faith.”
Christopher Moore in “Coyote Blue

Used as the closing quote for “Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.”

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“Sometimes when you start losing detail, whether it’s in music or in life, something as small as failing to be polite, you start to lose substance.”
Benny Goodman

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“To select well among old things is almost equal to inventing new ones.”
Nicolas Charles Joseph Trublet

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“What is the quality of your intent? Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us to the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words.”
Thurgood Marshall

Used as the opening quote for “Advising Entrepreneurs

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“It is too late now for earlier ways;
now there are only some other ways,
and only one way to find them–fail.”
William Stafford excerpt from “Level Light”

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“The point of a notebook is to jumpstart the mind.”
John Gregory Dunne

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“One startup’s earlyvangelist is another enterprise’s intrapreneur.”
Sean Murphy

It’s taken me a while to recognize this duality. I think “change agent” is an equally useful term for intrapreneur.

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“There is a difference between knowing a thing and understanding it.
You can know a lot about something and not really understand it.”
Charles Kettering

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“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may be just little things, but they usually make the difference between winning and losing.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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“Marry for love, stay married, and raise happy children who are quick to laugh and slow to judge.”
Christopher Moore in “Coyote Blue

Great advice. I used this quote in “Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.”

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“True deception goes unnoticed.”
Les Coleman

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“‘Fortune favors the bold,’ but only if they are playing a game they thoroughly know.”
Lois Grafe

I think Grafe adds a useful qualification to Virgil‘s “Fortune favors the bold.” (line 284 of Book 10 of the Aeneid: “Audentes fortuna juvat.”)

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The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas.”
Edward de Bono

h/t Jabe Bloom (@cyetain)

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“Try to be one on whom nothing is lost.”
Henry James

From his essay “The Art of Fiction” James advises:

The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it–this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience. […]I should certainly say to a novice, “Write from experience and experience only” […] and “Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost.”

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Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, skmurphy

Christopher Moore’sChristopher Moore's Coyote Blue novel “Coyote Blue.” is full of personal observations and asides that I found very applicable to the entrepreneurial roller coaster.

In his author’s note he writes:

Do you ever get the feeling that forces unseen are messing with your life? Yeah, me too. And there is little doubt that those forces are driven by the greatest force in the universe — irony, right? Right?

So imagine my surprise when, some years ago, while I was researching a book on demons, I kept running across references to tricksters, and one trickster in particular, the trickster god Coyote. I thought, Heres a god whose main function seems to be acting as an agent of irony — the special prosecutor of Murphy’s Law, if you will. And, I figured, if ever there was a time during which the god of irony seemed to be testing his powers that time would be now.

What entrepreneur has not been at least indicted by the “special prosecutor for Murphy’s Law?”

Here are a few excerpts

“When everything is right with you, but you are so worried that something might go wrong that it ruins your balance, then you are Coyote Blue.”

Those of us with a firm grasp of contingencies are familiar with the uneasy feeling that “things are going too well, I must have overlooked something.” Startups are often well served by having at least one member of the team with this attitude, although–like cayenne pepper or wasabe–a pinch or two is often enough to season an elephant’s worth of stew.

“There are those who, deprived of physical beauty, develop a sincerity and beauty of spirit that seems to eclipse their appearance. They marry for love, stay married, and raise happy children who are quick to laugh and slow to judge.”

Good advice for many technical entrepreneurs and–in hindsight–my plan of record as well.

“Before the television arrived Samson did not know he was poor. Now he spent every evening piled in the front room with his family watching people he did not know do things he did not understand in places he could not fathom, while the commercials told him he could be just like those people.”

I gave up my television a few years ago and was surprised at how much more time that I had. Last month I spent two days in bed in a room with a television and after I finished the book I had brought with me, “No Way In” by Richard Fernandez, I spent an hour or two getting re-acquainted with how Samson feels in this passage. Many firms appear to be hard at work to port this same experience to the web. More’s the pity.

“The ostentation of the casinos did not create a desire for money; it made money meaningless. There were no mortgages in a casino, no children needing food, no car needing repairs, no work, no time, no day, no night; those things–the context of money–were someplace else. A place where people returned before they realized that a turd rolled in rhinestones is a turd nonetheless.”

Other web firms are hard at work to bring this experience to the web. Please apply your talents to another problem.

“He followed the signs down the surface streets lined with pawnshops, convenience stores, and low-slung cinder-block buildings under neon signs that proclaimed, CASH FOR YOUR CAR, CHECKS CASHED HERE, MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES–TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR DRIVE-THRU WINDOW.

Coyote said, “What are these places?”

Sam tried to think of a quick explanation, but was too weary from lack of sleep to tackle the concept of Las Vegas in twenty-five words or less. Finally he said, “These are places where you go if you want to fuck up your life and you don’t have a lot of time to do it in.”

“Are we going to stop?”

“No, I seem to be fucking up at a fine rate of speed, thank you.”

Bootstrappers often feel this conflicted when they  think about reaching out to a venture capital firm.

“That’s the scary thing about hope, if you let it go too long it turns into faith.”

In the end making the leap to an entrepreneurial venture is hope that persists into a leap to faith.

Mission Often Matters More Than Monetization In An Early Market

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

Q: I am a newly minted entrepreneur who has been developing a technology product for an emerging market (state-legalized marijuana) that is proving especially hard to crack. I am a long-standing business strategist who understands and appreciates the imperatives of customer development, however have been very unsuccessful in getting business owners and consumers to open up about their issues regarding this stigmatized product and market. Would love to talk to you all about a potential engagement.

I have to apologize but we don’t really have any expertise that would be relevant to the business  that you are contemplating. I would not even know who to recommend that you talk to. I am sorry I cannot be more of more assistance, I wish you the best of luck in your entrepreneurial endeavors.

Q:  Thanks so much for your quick reply, it means a lot to me. I will beg a simple answer to one question however:  Did you pass based on what you described above truly, or was it really just that it was marijuana related and therefore risky and controversial? The reason I ask is that I'm running into brick walls at this point in generating founder support from what I used to believe was a strong network and personal brand, and wonder if it's even feasible to imagine a technology service for this market given it's baggage and the resistance I'm encountering.

It’s a consumer product with some regulatory issues: my answer would be the same whether it was a new alcoholic drink, a new cigarette, a new porn site, a new OTC medication (all of which we have been approached for in the last decade).

The physics of consumer markets is very different from the B2B markets that we normally help firms introduce new products into. And the regulatory uncertainty adds an additional overlay of complications. It’s beyond my skill and experience to help you and we don’t have any partners that do the kind of consumer marketing you would need.

My free advice would be to focus on one or more verticals where there was strong medical evidence of benefit (e.g. help folks on chemotherapy maintain appetite and manage nausea, help folks with HIV maintain appetite, etc…) where you can recruit based on a mission to help people. That may be a much smaller market than the recreational use but if I were trying to enter the market (with all of my B2B niche market biases) that is how I would approach it.

If I am not reasonably confident of being able to help a startup (e.g. two to one odds or better of offering at least useful insights if not helping them to land early paying customers) I don’t like to take their money. I am sorry I cannot be more helpful but we really only have expertise in a few market types and I try and focus on where I am confident of providing a good outcome.

Even For Demanding Markets, An MVP That’s a 70% Solution is Often Good Enough

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

Today’s “Murphy’s Law” column (no relation) “Save The 70 Percent Solution” offers some lessons learned from combat for startups in considering how to craft and introduce and MVP into demanding markets.

July 23, 2013: When wars end there is a search for lessons. One of the most important lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan is that the same lessons tend to be relearned in war after war. Perhaps the most important lesson learned this time around was that a lot (usually most) wisdom and innovations begins at the bottom, not at the top. In Iraq and Afghanistan the military, especially the army, was quick to take advice from the troops actually doing the fighting. That was recognized even before Iraq and led to the RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative). Established in 2002, RFI recognized that the American army did not always have the best weapons and equipment available and that the troops and low-level commanders had a better idea of what was needed than the senior generals and politicians. RFI was intended to do something about that and do it quickly.

Instead of always trying to “go to the top” it’s often better to look for an individual knowledge worker or first level manager who has a problem you can address.

During the next nine years the army approved the purchase of 409 items immediately, which is what RFI was all about. Last year the army began deciding which of these RFI items to make standard equipment (about a quarter of them) and which to discard (the rest, although many were obsolete and improved replacements were being sought). The marines went through this process and found that 63 percent of their RFI items were worth keeping, and only 17 percent were to be discarded. The rest are still being watched or being further developed.

These rates of failure are probably much better than the regular procurement process, especially when you factor in that the long acquisition times of ten to fifteen years leave older technology in the field longer.

Engineers often point out that they can deliver much more quickly if they are allowed to use the old “70 percent solution” rule. This bit of engineering wisdom is based on the fact that some capabilities of a weapon or other item are not essential but take an inordinate amount of effort to create. Thus a “good enough” item can be produced very quickly, if you are willing to sacrifice 30 percent of the capabilities you thought you needed (but probably don’t). Despite official opposition, the 70 percent solution has become all the rage over the last decade because the troops have found that this is frequently good enough and a real lifesaver in combat.

Even a 20% solution can address the core problem(s) that cause 80% of the pain.

You could see RFI coming. There were three existing trends pushing it. First, there was a lot more new technology coming on the market that troops could use. Some of it came from the companies that created equipment for the hiking and camping market (boots, rucksacks, all manner of outdoor clothing). Other stuff came from hunting and police suppliers (new gun sights and other accessories). There was a flood of new electronic gear, like lighter and more reliable GPS receivers and computer gear, plus new kinds of flashlights and, eventually, smart phones.

I think what’s called the “Consumerization of IT” is driven by the civilian version of these three trends. Consumer applications were easier to adopt and use than traditional IT solutions, especially for personal and small group productivity, and evolved more rapidly.

The second trend was that the troops were all on the Internet and, like never before, were in touch with each other via military related message boards, listservs, Facebook pages, and chat rooms. Troops have always been coming up with new ideas about how to use civilian gear for military purposes. But before the Internet each soldier’s discovery spread slowly. Now, information about new discoveries gets spread army-wide, and world-wide, within hours.

I think there is where the commercial sector has been less well served by trade press and startup blogs that tend to recycle funding and product announcements and do less to report real user experiences.

Finally, there was SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which had long possessed its own RFI-like powers and budget to go with it. SOCOM could buy neat new weapons, as well as equipment. SOCOM could also afford to buy expensive stuff (the first night vision gear and satellite phones). SOCOM personnel were on the Internet as well. By 2001, thousands of soldiers were speculating, via the Internet, how much more effective they could be if they had SOCOM’s freedom to quickly get new stuff that allowed them to do their job better.

I remember attending a talk on this at a Churchill Club event in the early 2000’s and someone at our table mentioned that you had to be very careful making promises to SOCOM because they would field immediately and ask you to support your claims. I think this is something that startups can lose sight off: early adopters are willing to invest time in a new technology because they can see long term but are normally looking for immediately application and a small payback. Y0ur offering has to provide a small amount of value quickly so that it can spread internally to provide more value.

Key take-aways for your first viable product:

  • Sell low not high.
  • Focus on the 20% of the problem that’s causing 80% of the pain.
  • Be wary of long feature requirement lists unless most of these are available in the status quo: an MVP normally needs one or two differentiating features but may need other features (“the ante”) just to be viewed as a viable product compared to alternatives.
  • Be candid about shortcomings and problems – let early adopters self-qualify.
  • Provide immediate value or some value as quickly as possible.

Time Capsule: ValencePoint Executive Summary July 19, 2004

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story, skmurphy

valencepoint logoThis is a time capsule from 2004. We worked part time on a side project we called ValencePoint from late 2003 until mid 2005. We used the technology internally with clients and at one point acted on a suggestion to make a funding presentation which led to the creation of this executive summary. I think many of the problems that we were working one have only been partially addressed and that significant opportunities remain in the collaboration space.

Byron Wien’s Lessons Learned in 80 Years: Seven for Entrepreneurs

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

See “Blackstone’s Byron Wien Discusses Lessons Learned in His First 80 Years” for the full list of twenty items. The numbering here is preserved from the original list.

2.  Network intensely.  Luck plays a big role in life and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible.  Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them.  Organize discussion groups to bring your thoughtful friends together.

There are several ideas in this item that are worth unpacking. We also need better applications to support this approach, not to substitute for conversation but for memory.

  • Curating a stream of information requires that you keep careful track of the needs and objectives of the folks you are reaching out to. A short e-mail with one or two sentences of comment and an obscure link sent to an individual or small group is more effective than re-broadcasting a popular article to a large list.
  • I find that organizing a dinner for two to five other folks every two to four months is often an effective group size and interval to allow for a lively and thought provoking discussion.
  • If you find yourself sending the same article and analysis to multiple different people it may also be worth a blog post.

4.  Read all the time.  Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively.  Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author.  If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

I think short topical or practical articles are useful but it’s as helpful to read as much fiction, biography, and historical analysis to reset your mind from running in the same grooves.

5.  Get enough sleep.

Historically I have honored this advice more in the breach but believe that it’s worth keeping track of, along with:

  • Bedtime: the decision to get enough sleep typically means you have to go to bed early enough.
  • Wake-up time : if you are having trouble getting out of bed for more than a two or three days in a row you need to make changes in how you are spending your time and energy.
  • Exercise: here I think workout buddies or small group activities can do a lot to help maintain discipline in this area.
  • Weight and diet: any significant weight (say 5 pounds outside of your normal range) has to be managed immediately, not once the project is done or the product ships or your startup gets acquired.
  • Meditation / prayer, / a regular time set aside where you can relax and reflect

12.  When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail.  Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.

If your handwriting is terrible then print. The act of counting your blessings and taking the time to thank folks in writing, in person, or in public is never a wasted effort.

13.  At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before.  Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.

At the end of every project or significant deliver you should solicit suggestions from everyone involved: co-workers, partners, and customers. It’s as important to understand what worked while and what was valued as what needs improvement so that in addressing one problem you don’t break something else. Explicit checklists can also be helpful for raising your game.

14.  The hard way is always the right way. Never take shortcuts.

I interpret shortcuts to mean actions that cross an ethical boundary or that you would not want friends, co-workers, partners, customers, or family to know that you did. Finding smarter ways of doing things or skipping the truly unnecessary is always a good idea, but if you are contemplating something and conclude “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” it’s worth re-thinking.

15.  Don’t try to be better than your competitors, try to be different.  There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more imaginative.

This is very hard. Breaking your own trail in many ways feels riskier than coming in second (or seventh or 199th) but I think it’s essential for bootstrappers. It’s also OK to tie or even not be as good in areas where your customers–versus their customers–care less then in the area or areas you are innovating.

Tips for Choosing a Logo

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, checklist, Startups

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

I have used TheLogoCompany and LogoWorks and were very pleased with the results. My favorite is TheLogoCompany, they have a good article about colors. Others have been very happy with 99Designs.

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