These quotes for entrepreneurs were collected in July 2020. This month most relate to bootstrapping. Either bootstrapping a startup, converting small wins into larger wins, or evolving a successful simple systems into a more complex one.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2020

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.

Theme: bootstrapping, whether bootstrapping a startup, converting small wins into larger wins, or evolving successful simple systems into more complex ones that provide more value.

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“Anticipation is the heart of wisdom. If you are going to cross a desert, you anticipate that you will be thirsty, and you take water.”
Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

I used this as opening quote for “Keep On Keeping On: July 2020 Events for Bootstrappers” at

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“Keep where you are because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime. ”
Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities

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“It’s much harder to sell a well-subsidized bad idea, than a poorly funded good idea.”
Gaby Joseph

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“One of the best things you can do is call someone else facing a similar problem and talk them through it. When you talk other people through their problems, you come up with wiser perspectives and solutions for yourself.”
Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take”

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“Behavioral traits such as curiosity about the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually rapidly lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans. Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
Tom Robbins in “Still Life With Woodpecker

More context:

“Neoteny” is “remaining young,” and it may be ironic that it is so little known, because human evolution has been dominated by it. Humans have evolved to their relatively high state by retaining the immature characteristics of their ancestors. Humans are the most advanced of mammals – although a case could be made for the dolphins – because they seldom grow up. Behavioral traits such as curiosity about the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually rapidly lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans. Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
Tom Robbins in “Still Life With Woodpecker

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“You need the willingness to fail all the time. You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don’t work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work.”
John Backus (inventor of FORTRAN)

h/t Ellen Ullman  “How to Be a Woman Programmer” (2013)

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“Paradoxically the best response to new circumstances may be a return to old ways of thinking.”
Stephen Poole in “Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas

This reminds me of Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s concept fo “half-invented ” from “Teaching Birds to Fly” in “AntiFragile”

Implementation does not necessarily proceed from invention. It too requires luck and circumstances, and the wisdom to realize what you have on your hands

The Half-Invented. For there is a category of things that we can call half-invented, and taking the half-invented into the invented is often the real breakthrough. […] The simpler and more obvious the discovery, the less equipped we are to figure it out by complicated methods. The key is that the significant can only be revealed through practice. How many of these simple, trivially simple heuristics are currently looking and laughing at us. Medical researchers call such lag the “translational gap,” the time difference between formal discovery and first implementation,

Random Tinkering (antifragile) ->
Heuristics (technology) ->
Practice and Apprenticeship ->
Random Tinkering (antifragile) -> etc.”

Nicholas Nassim Taleb in “AntiFragile”

Half-invented means that invention exists but has not been applied in a high impact context: the innovation–the reduction to practice of an idea in a culture–has yet to happen. Eric Waltmire explores this idea further in”Overcoming the Difficulty of Good Ideas” and I covered Peter Drucker’s perspective on a different aspect of the same blind spot in “Peter Drucker on Why Entrepreneurs Reject Unexpected Success.”

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“Some suggestions for networking

  • Consume a lot of information.
  • Read, think, and write a lot, but don’t make it a chore.
  • Reach out to your heroes, but also to people who produce great but less recognized work.
  • Don’t belittle yourself. Write emails you’d want to receive.
  • Start helping other people in small ways right away.
  • Really listen to people and think about who you know that could help them do what they’re trying to do.
  • Try to be warm and gentle: nearly everyone is full of pain and managing it to varying degrees of success.

Mason Hartman (@webdevMason) condensed edited from a longer tweet stream

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“A model is a lens on the past to help you understand the present and predict the future. A good model enables you to anticipate events while there is still time to influence them.”
Sean Murphy

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“Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees of intelligence occur in people, many animals and some machines.”
John McCarthy in “What is AI?

The Oxford Dictionary defines intelligence as “the ability to develop and apply knowledge and skills in the world.” I like both definitions

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“The value of information decays and the most urgently needed information decays the fastest.”
John Gall “The Systems Bible

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“Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes it to be. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow.”
Louis L’Amour

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“Whenever two good people argue over principles, they are both right.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

This is the essence of a dilemma.

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“Planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers.”
Daniel Boorstin

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“We can talk about spending now and cutting later, or filling the reserves and continue our spending right along. This is about steady-as-you-go, or exuberance followed by regret—-and pain. The next governor is gonna be on the cliff And that big red line, that’s what I’ve had. What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline, and recession.”
Jerry Brown at Jan 2018 CA budget unveiling see “”Once More, With Feeling: Brown Again Urges Fiscal Prudence In Final Budget Proposal” [with audio]

The “big red line was a a chart showing that California’s economic recovery was nearing the longest ever since World War II.

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“But do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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Kanban Change Management

  1. Start with what you do now, understanding current processes, as actually practiced, and respecting existing roles, responsibilities and job titles.
  2. Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change. Evolutionary change is little-by-little in response to need and is never done.
  3. Encourage acts of leadership at every level, from individual contributor to senior management

There are two key reasons that “starting from here” is a good idea. The first is that minimizing resistance to change by respecting cur-rent practice and practitioners is crucial to engaging everyone in meeting the challenges of the future. The second is that the current processes, along with their obvious deficiencies, contain wisdom and resilience that even those working with them may not fully appreciate.

David Anderson and Andy Carmichal in “Essential Kanban Condensed

h/t Matt Phillip For clarity I added “evolutionary change is little-by-little in response to need and is never done” from David Anderson’s “Kanban’s Change Management Principles.

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quotes for entrepreneurs: I was a cattle rancher for 17 years, during which there was no discernible division between my life and my work. It was cold, arduous, and involved constant contact with actual bullshit, but I loved it. --John Perry Barlow

“I was a cattle rancher for 17 years, during which there was no discernible division between my life and my work. It was cold, arduous, and involved constant contact with actual bullshit, but I loved it.”
John Perry Barlow in “The Pursuit of Emptiness.” (2001) [also at EFF]

I used this in “Learning from John Perry Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior.” I think bootstrappers can relate to a calling that blends life and work and regular contact with bullshit

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“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes (no source and not clear if it’s Sr. or Jr.)

A paradigm shift can collapse a complex but flawed understanding into a much simpler explanation. One example: Copernicus’ heliocentric model of Solar System coupled with Kepler’s laws of planetary motion vs. Ptolemy’s geocentric one.

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“Beware of dissipating your powers strive; constantly to concentrate them. Had I known, thirty years ago, what I do now on this subject, I would have done very differently. Genius thinks it can do whatever it sees others doing, but it will be sure to repent of every ill-judged outlay.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in “Conversations with Goethe


“He who is wise will put aside all claims which may dissipate his attention, and determine to excel in some one branch.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in “Conversations with Goethe

Bootstrappers face the same challenge in establishing themselves in a niche: there are so many to choose from.

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“All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of you first”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

To succeed, it’s not enough just to start, you have to continue, learning from your mistakes and building on what works.

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“If I look out at the parking lot at 5 p.m, it’s probably 25% full. That’s one of the big differences, between the Bay Area and Utah. I don’t want you to get divorced because you work at Podium.”
Eric Rea, CEO of Podium

Quoted in Adam Bluestein’s “How Mormons Built the Next Silicon Valley While No One Was Looking

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“Talk about it only enough to do it. Dream about it only enough to feel it. Think about it only enough to understand it. Contemplate it only enough to be it.”
Jean Toomer

Entrepreneurship is a practice. You must not only plan and prepare but act and reflect. What I notice about effective entrepreneurs is that the balance planning with action–which is often experimentation–with reflection and refinement of approach.

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Let me propose an alternative set of criteria for any attempt to strengthen local community:

  1. There has to be a place for people to go.
  2. It has to be safe.
  3. There preferably needs to be bathrooms and water available there.

Spotted Toad (@Toad_Spotted) in Places Not Programs

This is a good rubric. It allows people to congregate and share a meal together. There is something about sharing a meal together that creates community. It’s part of our approach to Bootstrapper Breakfast.

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“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Thomas Paine

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“Deflectors say there is something there. Sensors say there isn’t.”
Spock in “Where No Man has Gone Before”

“Sensors show something’s there. Deflectors indicate no solid substance.”
Spock in “Charlie X”

Sensors detect opportunities, deflectors detect threats. Often new situations presents a mix of risks and potential benefits. Bootstrappers have to apply both lenses to determine the best path forward. It’s rare that a new development is a pure opportunity or a pure risk.

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“Even with a dull axe, you can blaze a trail.”
Robert Powers

I like the say this inverts the common proverb that you should sharpen your axe before chopping down a tree (based I believe on Ecclesiastes 10:10 which advises sharpening your axe instead of using your strength: “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.”). But I take Powers to mean that entrepreneurs need to balance a focus on optimization and execution with an exploration mindset from time to time. In particular, Bootstrappers should observe and explore first to provide a richer context for their improvement effort priorities.

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“Great work requires great and persistent effort for a long time. […] Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles.”

True for building a business and your brand promise. I am reminded of two other quotes:

  • Soren Kierkegaard “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself.”
  • Thomas Edison: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

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“Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack Up

Bootstrapping requires you not only to stand up after you fall but to revisit basic assumptions and take a different approach or a new path. Easy to say, hard to do.
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“Why do people adopt new technologies? People change habits when the pain of their current situation exceeds their perceived pain of adopting a possible solution. I call that the “change function.” It may seem simplistic. It’s supposed to be.”

Change = f (level of current crisis, perceived pain of adoption)

Pip Coburn in “The Change Function” (Fast Company May 2006)

Coburn expanded this model into a book: “The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn

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“For the thistle and the maple leaf
Are the emblems of the free”
Spirit of the West “The Old Sod”

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“Chess is not a game. Chess is a well-defined form of computation. You may not be able to work out the answers, but in theory there must be a solution, a right procedure in any position.  Now real games are not like that at all. Real life is not like that. Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.”
John Von Neumann (As recounted in “The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski)