Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in January 2023

Quotes for entrepreneurs curated in January 2023 on a theme of honesty on the frontier: startups exploring new markets and new technologies.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in January 2023

I curate 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 for this month: honesty on the frontier: startups exploring new markets and new technologies.

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I am ok to go Postcard


“I am OK to go.”
Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) in Contact as she prepared to drop into a glowing ball of energy that was the mouth of an inter-dimensional gateway.

On New Years Day 2023 I feel like Dr. Arroway repeating “I am OK to go.” 2023 starts now and I think it will prove a wild ride.

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“Q: “What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?”
A: “Something that doesn’t have a name yet, but that will build on things I understand now.”
John D. Cook (@JohnDCook)

Good definition of frontier, it’s adjacent to what we know and understand now.

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“In common with all Protestant or Jewish cultures, America was developed on the idea that your word is your bond. Otherwise, the frontier could never have been opened, because it was lawless. A man’s word had to mean something.”
Orson Welles (in a 1983 conversation Henry Jaglom)

The full conversation between is recounted in “From the Time Capsule: Lunch Conversations With Orson Welles” by Peter Biskind

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Smart people do not have a bias to action. They have a bias to impact.
In order to create impact, they act. So that’s why it looks that way.
But what they won’t do is act in ways that are useless or counterproductive, which is exactly what bias to action is.
Evan LaPointe (@evanlapointe)

Some of this may be hair-splitting. You take action hoping for particular effects that will have the impact you desire. But all you control are your actions: competitors, nature, and random chance all get a vote as well. Sometimes the most effective near-term action you can take is to “stand there” to make careful measurements and compare notes. In a rapidly deteriorating situation, inaction carries a much higher penalty, but actions that yield the wrong effects also entail costs.  I looked at this in Planning and Reflection: I quoted some insights from Bob Warfield’s article “Jeff Atwood is Not Quite Getting OODA” in particular his identification of the risk of “cavitation.”

So let’s go back to the essential competitive insight of OODA, and forget about the coarse interpretation that it simply means it is better to iterate fast than to worry about the quality of an iteration. […]

Cavitation is another military-inspired term that has good analogies to business.  When a submarine’s propeller turns too quickly it cavitates, and in the process produces a lot of noise, gives away your position, and becomes less efficient at propulsion.  In the worst case, cavitation will even start to tear chunks out of the propeller.  We’ve all seen cavitation at work on a development cycle, and it’s not a pretty sight, especially the part about making a lot of noise with dramatically less forward progress!
Bob Warfield “Jeff Atwood is Not Quite Getting OODA

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“All that you say is strange, Aragorn. Yet you speak the truth, that is plain: the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived. But you have not told all. Will you not now speak more fully of your errand, so that I may judge what to do?”
J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Two Towers” Eomer to Aragorn in Chapter 2 – The Riders of Rohan

An interesting observation that those committed to telling the truth are not necessarily naive and easily deceived.

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“There’s no such thing as freedom. Don’t let anyone tell you there is. There’s laws, there’s rules, there’s customs, responsibilities everywhere. The more people you cram together, the more rules there will be.”

Margaret Dutton to her daughter Elisa in 1883 episode The Fangs of Freedom written by Taylor Sheridan

I was taught that the belief you could do as you please was “license” and distinct from freedom which was taking responsibility for your actions in an atmosphere of mutual respect. License rejects responsibility and ends in chaos, both in our society as a whole and our personal morality. I used this quote by Peter Marshall in “Independence Day 2022: The Spirit of Liberty” to illustrate the difference.

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”
Peter Marshall

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Litmus test for discovery: How many ideas have you discarded/decided NOT to do?
If discovery isn’t helping you STOP ideas then you’re not getting full value from it.
Ant Murphy (@ant_murphy) [No relation]

A glib formulation that puts “the cart before the horse.” The question is what opportunities have you uncovered. If this has pushed some sacrificial concepts lower in priority that’s less important than getting a clearer picture on needs and constraints. Generating bad ideas only to reject them is masturbation that creates a temporary illusion of progress. The question is how strong is your list of candidates?  Ultimately you have to choose one or a small set of possibilities and ask prospects for feedback and payment.

Validation is a Mirage

“How do you validate if it’s going to work?” You can’t. I mean you can, but not in spirit of the questions being asked.

What people are asking about is certainty ahead of time. But time doesn’t start when you start working on something, or when you have a piece of the whole ready. It starts when the whole thing hits the market.  Real usage on real things on real days during the course of real work is the only way to validate anything. And even then, it’s barely validation since there are so many other variables at play. Timing, marketing, pricing, messaging, etc.

You can’t validate something that doesn’t exist. You can’t validate an idea. You can’t validate someone’s guess. You can’t validate an abstraction. You can’t validate a sketch, or a wireframe, or an MVP that isn’t the actual product.

If you want to see if something works, make the simplest version of the whole thing. Put it out there and learn.

condensed from Jason Fried “Validation is a Mirage

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“I keep asking people if money has changed me, but they assure me that, no, I’m still the same obnoxious asshole I always was. So at least there’s that.”
Jamie Zawinski in “Don Corleone” (closing lines)

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Well-timed, double opt-in, and thoughtful intros with appropriate context are one of the most valuable things you can do.

Blind intros, especially without context, are one of the most value-destructive things you can do.

Never blind intro.
Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)

Brent Beshore is normally pretty sensible but here he falls victim to the VC networking model.

Double opt-in is a fetish of the investment community who want it for their inbound. Most people in real businesses appreciate a thoughtful intro with context when the introducer genuinely believes that both parties will benefit from a conversation–even if a deal does not ensue.

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“Data is not an asset, its a liability.  The big data megatrend has taught companies in general and publishers in particular that user data is hugely valuable.

Here’s a hard truth: regardless of the boilerplate in your privacy policy, none of your users have given informed consent to being tracked. Every tracker and beacon script on your web site increases the privacy cost they pay for transacting with you, chipping away at the trust in the relationship.

Start with the questions you want answered and collect the data you need (and just the data you need) to answer those questions.  Actionable insight is an asset. Data is a liability. And old data is a non-performing loan.”

Marko Karpinnen “Data is not an asset, its a liability”  (Sep-10-2015) [Richie]

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“When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked at as being crazy.”
T. S. Eliot

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Three practices smart engineers must master to become effective entrepreneurs.

  1. Listen to customers to learn their needs and how they view trade-offs.
  2. Adopt an appreciative inquiry mindset: build on what’s working.
  3. Until you learn how to sell, you’re going to struggle.

Sean Murphy

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“The question is not ‘How do we survive until things return to normal?’ Instead it’s ‘How do we build a stronger company in this environment?’ You should be asking, ‘what do we prioritize?’ not ‘What can we cut?'”
Dave Kellogg (@KellBlog) in “Emerging Stronger From The Downturn Than You Went In.

Key suggestions: sharpen your focus on your customer’s operating reality by adjusting your use cases and messaging.

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“I’m not a religious man. But I can’t help noticing that every major religion, particularly the Abrahamic ones, and every major spiritual practice, and frankly, every happy person you’ve ever met. They have one thing in common. They all practice gratitude. We’re all grateful for what they have. We are the luckiest people in the history of the world. And if we’re grateful for that, and if we remember that, then our children and our grandchildren may as well.”
Konstantin Kisin  in “Why The West is Worth Saving

I originally used this in “Memorial Day 2022: Revisiting the Long Telegram” noting that Memorial Day is a time to express gratitude for those who have sacrificed themselves in the defense of our freedom. The challenge is to prepare for war without becoming warlike. Tolkien, who saw combat first hand in the trenches in World War 1 has Faramir make this observation in “The Two Towers.”

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Two Towers

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“In uncertain and evolving situations it’s best to share only what you are certain of. Repeating second hand information only spreads fear and doubt and causes more problems than it solves. As bootstrappers we are attempting to navigate through poorly understood terrain that may contain some dangers. The situation is fluid and evolving and while we have some definite goals there are a lot of rumors and second hand reports.”

Sean Murphy in “Only Share What You Are Certain Of In Uncertain and Evolving Situations

A different reason for honesty on the frontier.

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“If we have been taught to keep our promises….we stay with the body, or have bad dreams. I am talking, of course, about the kind of social code that is sometimes called, usually pejoratively, ‘wagon-train morality.’ In fact that is precisely what it is. My own childhood was illuminated by graphic litanies of the grief awaiting those who failed in their loyalties to each other…in this country so ominous and terrible that to live in it is to live with antimatter.”

Joan Didion in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Here is a longer excerpt for more context:

“I am talking, of course, about the kind of social code that is sometimes called, usually pejoratively, ‘wagon-train morality’. In fact that is precisely what it is. For better or worse, we are what we learned as children : my own childhood was illuminated by graphic litanies of the grief awaiting those who failed in their loyalties to each other. The Donner-Reed Party, starving in the Sierra snows, all the ephemera of civilization gone save that one vestigial taboo, the provision that no one should eat his own blood kin. The Jayhawkers, who quarreled and separated not far from where I am tonight. Some of them died in the Funerals and some of them died down near Badwater and most of them died in the Panamints. A woman who got through gave the Valley its name. Some might say that the Jayhawkers were killed by the desert summer, and the Donner Party by the mountain winter, by circumstances beyond control; we were taught instead that they had somewhere abdicated their responsibilities, somehow breached their primary loyalties, or they would not have found themselves helpless in the mountain winter or the desert summer, would not have given way to acrimony, would not have deserted one another, would not have failed. In brief, we heard such stories as cautionary tales…in this country so ominous and terrible that to live in it is to live with antimatter.”

Joan Didion in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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“If your value depends on making sense out of the collision between the present situation and what has come before you have to manage your understanding of both.”
Jim McGee in “Choosing to Learn New Tricks

To survive 2023 a startup needs 20 years of context to make sense of today.

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“Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”
Henry L. Doherty

I used this in Continuing Education In Entrepreneurship

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“Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The gray perished landscape is shorn of color. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colors are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of color emerges.”

John O’Donohue in “To Bless the Space Between Us

h/t Wisdom Years: John O’Donohue “Thresholds”

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“Life hack: give yourself 8 to 12 hours of alone time in the morning to mentally prepare for the day”
Roshan Patel (@roshanpatel)

h/t Barry Popik

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One of the hardest things I have had to learn is to NOT talk to myself like a jackass whenever I make a mistake. Self-talk should be realistic yet forgiving, not pessimistic without understanding. The world has enough jackasses–don’t be one to yourself.
Kyle Creek, aka The Captain (@sgrstk)

I think entrepreneurs need to be realistic but encouraging with yourself.  Most failures are temporary and specific to a context. You may have contributed to the problem but recognizing where you made a mistake or need to try a different approach approach is the first step to doing better next time. Instead of looking back, fixated on “if only I had” I think you have to say “next time I will do X.”

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“You can’t beat the combination of enthusiasm and common sense.”
William Feather in “As We Were Saying

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“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
June Jordan in “Poem for South African Women” (1978)

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“Trust accumulates drop by drop like sweat from sustained labor, but is lost by the bucket.”
Kevin Plank

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“Invest in preparedness not in prediction. Remember that infinite vigilance is not possible.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in “The Black Swan”

Basing your actions on a consistent set of principles makes you more predictable and more trustworthy. Maintaining common ground and shared understanding with neighbors and community members minimizes the risk of misunderstanding and conflict. Therefore, trust, common ground, and shared situational awareness are a form of preparedness at an organizational and community level. They enable resilience, lower risk, and create opportunities for shared value creation. The same guidelines apply to entrepreneurs working with customers.

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“I don’t like anything here at all,” said Frodo, “step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.”

“Yes, that’s so,” said Sam. “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually–their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on–and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same–like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to. […] Our part will end later–or sooner.”
J. R. R. Tolkein in “The Two Towers” [Archive]

An exchange between Frodo and Sam as they prepare to enter Mordor. The movie changes Sam’s speech and Frodo’s response but I think the book does a better job of representing honesty on the frontier.

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