My July 2019 collection of quotes for entrepreneurs has a focus on the need to take responsibility for the consequences of our beliefs and actions.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2019

I collect these quotes for entrepreneurs from a variety of sources and tweet them on @skmurphy about once a day where you can get them hot off the mojo wire. At the end of each month I curate them in a blog post that adds commentary and may contain a longer passage from the same source for context. Please enter your E-mail address if you would like to have new blog posts sent to you.

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“If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded—or even if it suspects—that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe.”
Irving Kristol in “The Future of American Jewry” (1991)

True for a startup as well, if the founders and early employees don’t believe they are fulfilling a purpose beyond making money they are unlikely to build anything that endures.

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“You will see light in the darkness
You will make some sense of this.”
Gordon Sumner (The Police) “Secret Journey”

As entrepreneurs we are often challenged to proceed with confidence we don’t feel into situations of increasing uncertainty. If we want to prosper we have to build on ideas and strategies that violate prevailing wisdom but turn out to be correct. We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and uncertain and being wrong more often than we are right. The key is to explore and experiment with ideas that pay off enough to cover all of the times that conventional wisdom was right.

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“A negotiation that you’re not prepared to walk away from is not a negotiation: it’s surrender.”
Thibaut (@Kpaxs)

You should always calculate your BATNA–Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement–before you start negotiation. What are your second and third best options if you walk away? A client had a prospect send a purchase order but refuse to sign a license agreement because it was “too much trouble” to run it through legal. We advised them that the license was the controlling document intrinsic to the agreement, it spelled out what they were actually paying for, and we could not accept their purchase order if they would not sign it. Two months later they prospect reached out and asked for a trial license for 30 days so that they could get the license through their legal process, their attorneys asked for some small changes to the license which we accepted along with their purchase order. You get what you settle for.

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“A brilliant idea doesn’t guarantee a successful invention. Real magic comes from a brilliant idea combined with willpower, tenacity, and a willingness to make mistakes.”
Lori Greiner (@LoriGreiner)

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Bat Signal: a stream of announcements that makes it clear that a startup is making progress in an area talented engineers and scientists wanted to work on but could not find as a primary project at an existing company. They talent sees the future taking shape and leaves where they have been sidelined at other firms to join what is now the primary effort. Stone Soup is a similar play. Summarized from:

Oculus’s $75 million Series B was led by Andreessen Horowitz, who interestingly enough had passed on Oculus’s Series A round. Why the change of heart? In part, it was because of a phenomenon that Andreessen Horowitz’s Chris Dixon termed: The Bat Signal Effect. “The way I think about it is like this,” Dixon would later explain. “Let’s just take Elon Musk. There were all these people around the world who wanted to build electric cars. Like [for example] there was some smart MIT grad who was working in the Innovation Group before whose dream was to work on electric cars. And the only place to do it prior to Tesla was to work at a regular car company. In some back room. They don’t really take the project seriously. And then you maybe see this person — Elon Musk — is starting this company and you’re intrigued, but you’re not sure where it’s going. But then maybe you see that they sold some cars, or raise some money, or recruited some talented person, and you realize that this sort of Bat Signal goes out. And they realize: all right, this is going to happen; my dream is going to happen. And then all these people come out of the woodwork and you become this company; and the company becomes kind of the talent magnet for all these people. This sort of latent body of talent out there. It’s not as if SpaceX and Tesla created all these great space engineers and electrical engineers; they were just sidelined. They just weren’t the protagonists, right? It took these entrepreneurs to come and unlock that, right? I think that’s a lot of what happened with Oculus.”

Blake Harris in “History of the Future

See excerpts in “When Facebook met Oculus: What went down, and what went wrong” (spoiler alert: don’t get acquired by a firm run by high function sociopaths).

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“I have a great deal of company in the house, especially early in the morning when nobody calls.”

Neatly captures the rich interior landscape of the introvert.

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“You need to understand that you have not successfully closed your first true customer until you have sold to a complete stranger.”
Bruce McNaughton quoted in “First Customers: Targeting The Right Customers To Build And Sustain Your Business”

More context:

“Everyone knows that your first customers are usually your friends and family, so you are not fooling anyone. You need to understand that you have not successfully closed your first true customer until you have sold to a complete stranger. Your first customer is important because they will help you figure out which features are important and which they do not need. We often see people startups build products with too many features. They have a solution for everything. This really means they have a solution for nothing.”
Bruce McNaughton quoted in “First Customers: Targeting The Right Customers To Build And Sustain Your Business”

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“Much is not dared because it seems hard;
much seems hard only because it is not dared.”
Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz-Rietberg

I liked this one so much from last month’s collection of quotes for entrepreneurs that I have added a picture.

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“Silicon Valley is responsible for some of the most revolutionary inventions in modern history.

From the first oscillator built in the Hewlett-Packard garage to the iPhones that I know you’re holding in your hands.

Social media, shareable video, snaps and stories that connect half the people on Earth. They all trace their roots to Stanford’s backyard.

But lately, it seems, this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility.

We see it every day now, with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech. Fake news poisoning our national conversation. The false promise of miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood. Too many seem to think that good intentions excuse away harmful outcomes.

But whether you like it or not, what you build and what you create define who you are.

It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this. But if you’ve built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos. Taking responsibility means having the courage to think things through.

And there are few areas where this is more important than privacy.

If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data.

We lose the freedom to be human.”

Tim Cook in his June 16, 2019 Commencement Address at Stanford University

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“Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.”
George Santayana in “Dominations and Powers” at the beginning Chapter 1: Chaos and Order”

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“If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then nine times out of ten it will.”
Paul Harvey

I think this is the optimists version of Murphy’s Law.

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“Some people can stay longer in an hour than others can in a week.”
William Dean Howells

An effective sales conversation is driven by mutual curiosity. If you are doing most of the talking you may have overstayed your welcome. Sometimes an hour long conversation can feel like it’s only been ten minutes, with prospects interested in moving forward, the same hour can exhaust any further interest if you are not careful. Conference calls and web meetings increase the risk this because you lose a lot of the subtle cues inherent in a face to face conversation (like the listener’s eyes glazing over).

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“If digital health startups are going to create the long-term change we’re seeking, we must move carefully and prove things. We touch people’s lives, often when they are at their most vulnerable: we cannot let the pursuit of growth put the patient second.”
Chris Hogg (@cwhogg) CCO at Propeller Health, in “Digital Health is growing fast but at what cost

Summary of his heartfelt plea for mindfulness and a focus on the impact digital health can have on people’s lives. Here are some longer excerpts for context.

“Digital health startups touch people’s lives, often when they are at their most vulnerable. The healthcare startups in the news recently — Theranos, uBiome, Nurx, eClinicalWorks, Practice Fusion — seem to have lost sight of that crucial standard. We’ll never know every detail of what happened in these organizations, but one thing seems clear: In the pursuit of growth, they have put the patient second, and suffered as a result.


Digital health startup founders have to be patient with themselves. I’ve been in the trenches of digital health; I know how hard it can be. But when things are tough and it’s easy to lose focus, you have to think to yourself, “Do I want to be in the headlines for astonishing growth now, and accusations of cutting corners in two years? Or am I okay with sacrificing temporary stardom for a product that actually helps people?”

This is not an easy choice to make. But if digital health is going to survive and scale, it’s one we have to make on a daily basis. Move slowly, and prove things: it’s the only way to create the kind of long-term change we’re seeking.”

Chris Hogg (CCO at Propeller Health) in “Digital Health is growing fast but at what cost

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“Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelettes.”
C. S. Lewis in “Letters to Malcolm” [Gutenberg]

In one of those strange juxtapositions I came across this quote the day after I read Chris Hogg’s “Digital Health is growing fast but at what cost” summarized in the previous entry and thought it was an equally apt rejoinder to the “move fast and break things.” A sentiment that I don’t think is part of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.” I think Schumpeter is observing that when you create new items of value, sometimes existing ones are obsoleted. But the focus remains on creating value and the destruction is the result of decisions by buyers / consumers.

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“Therefore we should not try to alter circumstances but to adapt ourselves to them as they really are, just as sailors do. They don’t try to change the winds or the sea but ensure that they are always ready to adapt themselves to conditions. In a flat calm they use the oars; with a following breeze they hoist full sail; in a head wind they shorten sail or heave to. Adapt yourself to circumstances in the same way.”
Bion of Borysthenes (c. 325 – c. 250)

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“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
Sidney Harris

Congruent Innovations (Form/Fit/Function Compatible) are much easier to sell than Discontinuous Innovations.

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“We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.”
William HazlittOn Prejudice” [ also in “Collected Works” at Internet Archive]

This sounds like a description of “unconscious competence.” More context:

“In learning any art or exercise, we are obliged to take lessons, to watch others, to proceed step by step, to attend to the details and means employed; but when we are masters of it, we take all this for granted, and do it without labor and without thought, by a kind of habitual instinct – that is, by the trains of our ideas and volitions having been directed uniformly, and at last flowing of themselves into the proper channel.

We never do anything well till we cease to think about the matter of doing it. This is the reason why it is so difficult for any but natives to speak a language correctly or idiomatically. They do not succeed in this from knowledge or reflection, but from inveterate custom, which is a cord that cannot be loosed.”
William HazlittOn Prejudice” [ also in “Collected Works” at Internet Archive]

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“The merely ‘different’ is not always better, but the better is always different.”
David Rowland

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“Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.”
Burt Rutan

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“Every time I see an inferior product winning in the marketplace, I’m reminded that products don’t compete, companies do.”
Florent Civello (@altimor)

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“Appreciate what lots of smart people, loosely coordinating their actions with each other, are capable of accomplishing. It’s the power of horizontal, as opposed to vertical knowledge.”
Glenn Harlan Reynolds “Horizontal Knowledge” (2005)

He included this in his book “Army of Davids” (2007)

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“Societies that encourage open communication, quick thinking, decentralization, and broad dispersal of skills–along with a sense of individual responsibility–have an enormous structural advantage.”
Glenn Harlan Reynolds “Learning Faster” (2004)

Another one he included in “Army of Davids” (2007).  This is true for companies–including startups–as well.

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“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.”
Benjamin Brewster

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“There is one difference between theory and practice. Practice won’t let you forget anything or leave anything out. In theory problems are easily solved because you can leave something out.”
Charles F. Kettering

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“Sales people sell to meet quota, entrepreneurs sell to meet payroll.”
Sean Murphy

A clearer formulation of  “To a first order sales people worry about making quota, entrepreneurs worry about making payroll. It’s a different mindset.” from our May/June 2016 newsletter on “Early Sales” Here is full introduction for more context:

“Selling for entrepreneurs is about establishing rapport, project management, and acting as a change agent. The need to listen, communicate clearly, and build trust over time  has not changed. I think the most difficult challenge in sales is maintaining an appropriate perspective and emotional distance from deals: balancing fear, greed, and frustration to maintain empathy and a clear understanding of business objectives. To a first order sales people worry about making quota, entrepreneurs worry about making payroll. It’s a different mindset.”
Sean Murphy in “Early Sales

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“Be a scout: see what’s there as honestly and accurately as you can–even if it’s not pretty, convenient or pleasant. The scout’s role is to explore, to map the terrain, and to identify assets and obstacles.”
Julia Galef (@JuliaGalef ) condensed from “Why You Think You’re Right Even When You’re Wrong

The “scout mindset” is critical to the sales process for startups. It helps you avoid premature elaboration, prescribing before you diagnose, and winning the argument but losing the sale. It makes a demo a conversation driven by mutual curiosity and not soliloquy listing features. I used this in “Austin Kleon’s ‘Keep Going’ Offers Practical Advice on Perseverance.”

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“Reflect upon your present blessings–of which every man has many–not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens

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“Mere parsimony is not economy…it may, or it may not, be a part of economy, according to circumstances. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy. […] Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.”
Edmund Burke in “Letter to a Noble Lord

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“A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.”
Kenneth Tynan

Listen for what’s not said. Notice what’s not happening. Suggest what’s missing in a critique, not just what’s wrong. I explored these ideas in “See What’s Missing: Careful Observation Key To Success.

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“Progress happens too slowly for people to notice; setbacks happen too fast for people to ignore.”
Morgan Housel “Five Lessons From History”

Some mistakes have a long lag time before their full effects are realized, in fact they may bring short term gain before long term pain. That’s what makes them so hard to detect and correct. Some quick examples: starting to smoke, running up large credit card balances and only paying minimum,  making promises you have little chance of keeping to avoid a difficult conversation in the short run.

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“Success and profit comes from implementation, they don’t come from agreement. You have to reach and agreement and then you have to implement it. If the other party feels screwed on the deal then implementation will suffer.”
Chris Voss in “Essential Negotiation Skills for Entrepreneurs (audio)

Voss is the author of “Never Split the Difference” which primarily recounts his experiences working as  hostage negotiator and some business negotiations where he had a clear advantage. In the book he does not express this sentiment at all which made his remarks on the podcast more notable to me.

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