Brian Norgard Offers Pithy Insights From the Trenches of Entrepreneurship

I am not sure which of these tweets brought Brian Norgard (@BrianNorgard) to my attention; he offers pithy insights from the trenches of entrepreneurship.

Brian Norgard Offers Pithy Insights From the Trenches of Entrepreneurship

Here are 15 tweets from 2019 through mid-2021 that are Brian Norgard at his best on entrepreneurship. The bold statements are from Brian Norgard‘s twitter account: @BrianNorgard

Startups and Entrepreneurs

Brian Norgard Offers Pithy Insights From the Trenches of EntrepreneurshipEntrepreneurship is an endurance sport. The entrepreneurial journey has been described as a marathon–more on that in a minute. I have blogged about the trick to innovation is managing the pain.

Starting a company does not make you an entrepreneur. I think the tests are the ability to create something of value, a product or service, that customers are willing to pay for. Paul Graham has written about “playing house” in “Before the Startup.”

It’s not that important to know a lot about startups. The way to succeed in a startup is not to be an expert on startups, but to be an expert on your users and the problem you’re solving for them. […] Another of the characteristic mistakes of young founders is to go through the motions of starting a startup. They make up some plausible-sounding idea, raise money at a good valuation, rent a cool office, hire a bunch of people. From the outside that seems like what startups do. But the next step after rent a cool office and hire a bunch of people is: gradually realize how completely fouled up they are, because while imitating all the outward forms of a startup they have neglected the one thing that’s actually essential: making something people want. We saw this happen so often that we made up a name for it: playing house. Eventually I realized why it was happening. The reason young founders go through the motions of starting a startup is because that’s what they’ve been trained to do for their whole lives up to that point.

Paul Graham “Before the Startup”

Startups are neither marathons nor sprints. Startups are marathons with intermittent sprints. I think this captures the need for balanced execution with the need to sprint ahead to scout.

A failed startup is not a failed entrepreneur. It does not always feel that way at the time, I know from personal experience no one feels good shutting down a startup. But it does not mean you cannot regroup and try again.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Becket in Worstword Ho (11983)

Building Products

Don’t confuse building a product with building a company. Getting the product into the market and finding early adopters is at least half the battle. But it’s only table stakes for getting your startup to viability.

The first rule of product-market-fit: don’t disrupt whatever alchemy went into creating product-market-fit. The hardest aspect of this is that you don’t always know what made you successful. Luck often plays a significant role and it can be hard to spot.

Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why.
If you have things right in your life but do not know why,
You are just lucky, and you will not move in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

William Edgar Stafford in “The Little Ways that Encourage Good Fortune

The TAM of your product expands or contracts proportional to the amount of courage you have. I think  Winston Churchill said it best, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Courage enables vision and a willingness to engage in conversation with strangers, both are required to see a market that does not exist yet.

Instead of asking customers what they’d like to see in the future, instead ask what they’d like removed. Addition through subtraction works in two ways here:

  1. In a “Blue Ocean” sense of focusing your efforts more narrowly, deleting features to lower the cost and complexity of your product and delivering just what your customers need.
  2. Removing a serious pain or risk from your prospect’s business.


Meditate to innovate. I agree with Jorn Barger’s observation that, “meditation is about detecting self-deception.” I think that meditation allows you to see things as they are, in particular many ordinary things you have taken for granted as fixed that are actually eligible for significant improvement.

Order does not create innovation. Chaos creates innovation. But chaos always comes at a cost.  For society to continue, it needs entrepreneurs who are a little crazy and traditionalists (the steady and reliable) who preserve traditions and do the equally important job of keeping calm and carrying on. Even entrepreneurs bent on changing the status quo need to take care not to break what’s working, preserve the values that foster civil society, and appreciate those that are slower to embrace change as providing a necessary balance.

If you want to help someone create, give them constraints. This is the secret behind time boxing (setting a short 20 or 30 minute time limit to make progress on a task); it forces you to get started and frees you from perfectionism. Few problems are free from constraints, although we sometimes handicap ourselves by imposing restrictions that are not inherent in the situation, only our faulty assumptions or lack of understanding.

A great idea will haunt you. I like this one. If someone tells you–or you tell yourself–I had this great idea, but I did not write it down, and now I cannot remember it, wait a few days. If it does occur to you again, it was unlikely to be a great idea. On the other hand, I carry 3×5 cards with me and have paper and pen by my bed so that if a good idea occurs to me, I capture it–it’s likely to come back, but why take the chance.


Big opportunities don’t feel like big opportunities at first and that’s what makes them big opportunities. Focus on serving a niche at the start.

“A myth about innovation is that it is about big ideas. Of course, in the end you want an idea with the power to transform your core business. No idea ever started out as a billion-dollar one, yet large companies often start out asking for $100 million ideas. But imagine if somebody asked, in month six of e-Bay, “Do you have a $100 million idea here?” Nobody could have told you that. So instead we have to create a lot of low cost experimentation. We need lots of $25,000 and $100,000 experiments.”
Gary Hamel, in an interview with David Kirkpatrick in Fortune Sep-6-2004

Nothing is clear until it’s too late.  It’s only the autopsy that is definitive. You never have all of the data that you would like. Make small bets, explore, and refine your approach as you go.

“You can’t change what you don’t notice and not noticing won’t make it go away.”
Tony Schwartz in “Ten Principles For Living in Fiercely Complex Times

The greatest management tool in history is a focused, leisurely walk and conversation. Provided that you are listening at least as much as you are talking. When things got tense at Cisco, I would take a walk around the building with folks. It was neutral ground and it was relaxing.

Related Blog Posts

Image Credit: “Black and white quill pen and paper icon”  Copyright Hong Li (Licensed via 123RF Image ID : 82069369)

1 thought on “Brian Norgard Offers Pithy Insights From the Trenches of Entrepreneurship”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top