Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in March 2023

The theme for this month’s collection of quotes for entrepreneurs is traveling hopefully.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in March 2023

Theme for this month: Traveling Hopefully

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs on Traveling Hopefully

“I desire to radiate health, cheerfulness, sincerity, calm courage and good-will.

I wish to be simple, honest, natural, frank, clean in mind and clean in body, unaffected–ready to say, “I do not know,” if so it be, to meet all men on an absolute equality–to face any obstacle and meet every difficulty unafraid and unabashed.”

Elbert Hubbard “Life in Abundance

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“If you’re debating whether you should start a startup or not based on the current fundraising environment you should not start a startup.”
Austen Allred (@Austen)

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“Just-in-time inventory results in shutting down entire plants when deliveries are not just in time.”
James Rickards in “Sold Out” (Dec-2022)

More context:

“Supply chain science is integral to every business process, from small retail operations to large-scale enterprise risk management. This applied science has led to stunning breakthroughs such as just-in-time inventory, intermodal  transportation, overnight delivery, cross-docking, radio frequency identification (RFID), GPS tracking, and more. This has all been done with a single-minded focus on efficiency that lowered costs to consumers and improved customer satisfaction. But this efficiency has come at a high and mostly hidden price. Eliminating redundancy reduces resilience. Just-in-time inventory results in shutting down entire plants when deliveries are not just in time.”
James Rickards in “Sold Out” (Dec-2022)

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“Anyone who goes on the sea the year around in a small power boat does not seek danger. You may be absolutely sure that in a year you will have it without seeking, so you try always to avoid it all you can.”
Ernest Hemingway in “On the Blue Water” (Esquire, April 1936)

Bootstrappers are similar to those who “go to sea the year around in a small power boat.” They can find themselves in exciting situations despite their best efforts. Successful ones don’t seek out risk, it will come their way soon enough.

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“We need to learn the telltale signs that an industry is being disrupted. Once technology begins to mature, we can expect consolidation, rent-seeking and regulatory capture to follow. After that, it’s just a matter of how much time—and how big the bubble gets—before everything bursts.”

Greg Satell in “Four Signs Your Industry Might be Disrupted

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Silicon Valley Bank goes boom at the tail end of every tech cycle, and I knew that, and I still somehow managed to not be on the short side of the current imposition. It’s off almost 50% today.
Paul Kedrosky Mar 9 tweet

The next day (Mar-10-2023) Silicon Valley Bank was taken over by Federal regulators. Time to pull out the diary entries for 2001 and 2008 and make a list of what else to expect over the next 6-12 months. Related Arrington’s 2007 lament of “once bitten twice shy” made him look prescient for 2008.

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  • A good individual knowledge worker has information and experience in the domain they’re making decisions about.
  • A great knowledge worker has a solid practice of learning, demonstrably improving in effectiveness over time.
  • The best knowledge workers have a social reflective practice to acquire more diverse input, do a better job of interpretation, and actively find errors in thinking.

Elizabeth Ayer (@ElizAyer) in Meetings Are Work

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“The truth is that customers are consistently not the source of true value creation and innovation.”
Marty CaganCustomer Inspired; Technology Enabled

It’s a strange claim in some respects. His real argument is that you need to empower and support your engineering team as much as you are listening to customers.  He offers five keys to empowering engineers:

  1. Provide business context: what outputs do they need from your software to do their job?
  2. Connect engineers with customer pain: observe customers when they use  their current tools (yours or others) or try to use them or explore your new new prototype. Can your customers figure out how to do what they need to? If they can will they pay for it?
  3. Distinguish between constraints and requirements
  4. Invest time in discovery: don’t focus too much on improving velocity in implementing the backlog of identified features.
  5. Measure product team as a whole

I find myself agreeing with Dorai Thodla:

“While this may be true for the initial product creation, it is not true for product evolution. That will be a co-evolution between customer needs.”
Dorai Thodla (@dorait)

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“A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.”
John Foster Dulles

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“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.”
Mark Twain in “Mark Twain’s Notebook” [Archive.org] (Page 236 entry for Fri Feb 2 1894)

h/t Walter Kirn (@walterkirn) and TwainQuotes. It’s when Twain secures funding for the Paige Compositor typesetting machine.

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“Let the river run
Let all the dreamers wake the nation
Come, the New Jerusalem
Silver cities rise
The morning lights the streets that lead them
And sirens call them on with a song”

Carly Simon “Let The River Run”

This was the theme to the movie “Working Girl.” It evokes such a desire for progress and improvement that it feels like an partial antidote to the Silicon Valley Bank shutdown (and perhaps events elsewhere by the time you read this).

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“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
Mark Twain in “Mark Twain’s Notebook

I have no idea what’s going to happen next. So that I can “travel hopefully” I prepare for a range of possibilities that span risk management and minimizing potential loss to uncovering–if not creating–opportunities and exploiting them.

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“Your users are not in a hurry for you to disappoint them. Telling them you’re taking an agile approach doesn’t change this fact.”
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

Agile seems to favor “building” over “observation” and “conversation with customers.” It may be a case of picking up the software development hammer makes all of your challenges look like pounding in nails with code.

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“The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries. Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries. Our planet is covered by continents and oceans whose origin we cannot explain. Our atmosphere is constantly stirred by poorly understood disturbances that we call weather and climate. The visible matter in the universe is outweighed by a much larger quantity of dark invisible matter that we do not understand at all. The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness. We have no clear idea how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.”
Freeman Dyson in “How we Know” New York Review of Books March 10, 2011.

h/t Freeman Dyson QOTD: On Information, Science and Wikipedia; Dyson was reviewing “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” by James Gleick

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“When experts are trained by machines to be like machines and are assessed by machines for how machine-like they are, much is overlooked.”
Ronald W. Dworkin, M.D.  in “Recovering Real Expertise

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The distinction between a standard and a fixed rule is important in law:

  • A bright-line rule (such as “the speed limit is 65 mph”) is usually easier to understand and enforce. It affords certainty and predictability, both to those to whom it applies and to those who must apply it. And it incurs lower decision costs, understood in terms of the effort required to adjudicate whether given conduct violates the rule.
  • By contrast, a standard (“drive at a reasonable speed”) is more flexible than a rule, and more sensitive to the surrounding circumstances. It leaves more room for discretion and disagreement. It also has lower predictability and higher decision costs, since a decision-maker must expend more resources to determine whether conduct violates the standard.

John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in “The Major Questions Doctrine and the Administrative State

Implications for delegation in startups: fixed rules enable rapid decision-making and are a good model where speed is essential. Standards allow team members to use and develop their judgment, tailoring actions more appropriately–most of the time–to the situation.

When making commitments to customers, bright-line commitments are crisper and less likely to be misunderstood–or subject to future disagreement–but they may reduce your flexibility.

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Buttercup: “We’ll never survive.”
Westley: “Nonsense. You only say that because no one ever has.”

William Goldman “The Princess Bride

I watched this again last night and this exchange stuck with me. It’s hard to do things for the first time. Not every barrier is the same; I blogged about this in “Iron Bars, Plexiglass, and Masking Tape.” I defined three kinds of barriers that entrepreneurs face:

  • iron bars: real barriers that you can see but cannot move beyond.
  • plexiglass: real barriers that you cannot move through but cannot see.
  • masking tape: barriers that we can see but move beyond.

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“The result of Agile’s focus on “feature delivery velocity” has been a world full of features that work as specified but do not create any value for customers.”
Charles Lambdin in “Agile Spaghetti Hurling Velocity

Some suggestions for what to call a feature that works as specified but does not create value for customers:

  • pyrite (Charles Lambdin) for Fool’s Gold.
  • waste (April Mills)
  • a lost bet (John Cutler)

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“You are the first investor in your idea. You may not be investing a lot of money, but you are investing your time, which is more valuable: you can replace money but not regain lost time. So You must be harsher on your idea than a professional investor.”
Ash Maurya

The opportunity cost in time of a decision–and by extension an experiment–argues against the concept of “reversible decisions” that gets bandied about. The arrow of time only moves in one direction and lost time cannot be recovered.  I am not arguing against the value of learning from experiments, especially if you are explicit about what you will learn from each of the outcomes that may result. Also bear in mind that surprises–genuine surprises not the result of not thinking things through clearly–are always have information value. I have blogged about the value you can glean from surprise in

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Miracle Max: “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead..Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

William Goldman “The Princess Bride

If this month’s theme is “traveling hopefully” I should reframe “mostly dead” as “barely alive.” Bootstrappers can spend a lot of time “barely alive.” I think morale and perseverance can make a key difference, losing team spirit can render you “barely dead.” A team can persist in a state of suspended animation and re-awaken as long as they don’t give up hope.

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“Get into the habit of signaling every time you change direction. Signal even when you do not see anyone else around. It is easy to miss someone who needs to know what you are doing.”

Washington Driver Guide (page 4-18)

Making your actions predictable builds trust, demonstrating a willingness to accept input on a course of action beforehand builds teamwork and leads to more effective plans and actions.

h/t Elizabeth Ayer “Radiate Intent” (her rebuttal to “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission“).

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“Between 2019 and 2021, San Francisco’s population fell 7.5% for a loss of 66,348 and San Jose was down 3.7% or 38,306. Over the same period, California’s population fell by 0.75%.”
Mark Calvey “Falling populations could add to economic stress in San Francisco and San Jose” (Mar 24, 2023)

Condensed into one twitter-length quote from

Between 2019 and 2021, the most recent year for which city-specific census data is available, San Francisco’s population fell 7.5% and San Jose’s was down 3.7% Oakland was essentially flat, according to the Census data.

San Francisco had a net loss of 66,348 people for the period and San Jose 38,306, essentially wiping out in both cities a decade’s worth of population growth. Oakland showed a gain of just under 800 residents for the period.

Over the same period, the state’s population as a whole fell, but by far less — 0.75%, according to census data, with a steady outflow of residents to other states partially offset by births and in-migration.

Mark Calvey “Falling populations could add to economic stress in San Francisco and San Jose” (Mar 24, 2023)

Related Silicon Valley Index for 2023 (PDF); from page 14: “Silicon Valley’s population has only declined during six of the past 76 years (2002, 2003, and the past four years, 2018-2022) based on official mid-year population estimates.”

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“Economies are always based on scarcity (hence the term ‘economize’). So, in the abundant digital world, what’s scarce? Where is the economy? It’s in connection:

  • Who trusts you?
  • Who wants to hear from you?
  • Who will collaborate and support and engage with you?

These are things that don’t scale to infinity. These are precious resources.

Seth Godin Scarcity and Abundance in the Digital Age

These sound like the four currencies of entrepreneurship that complement money: Trust, Attention, Collaboration, and Support. Or at least four kinds of social capital entrepreneurs need to thrive.

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“The most dangerous thing isn’t the details of the model, the most dangerous thing is the demo. If you go and demonstrate “I built a system on these broad principles and it produced these amazing capabilities” then you’ve cut the entire feedback loop for everyone else. They know what’s possible, and so will immediately kick their investment into high gear.”
Dynomight (@Dynomight7) in “Why didn’t we get GPT-2 in 2005?

Just as a self-check, the next time you tell yourself “no one else can do what we’ve done” realize that the fact that you have solved the problem will change a potential competitor’s perception of what’s possibleThe bigger risk is not having a plan for exploiting your breakthrough and building rapidly on your initial successes. The more that you can  be seen to be continually raising the bar, the more uncertainty you introduce into potential competitors’ plans as to what the target is that they have to meet or exceed.

Instead of announcing far and wide you are aiming at a significant market, focus on getting the word out just to your customers about what you have accomplished and how it can help their business. Think about how to use a dog whistle to get the word out, not a bull horn.

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“Generally speaking (and in my humble opinion) there are four types of failures when launching a rocket or rocketship.

  1. A new, untested tested technology or group of technologies fail.
  2. An incorrectly tested technology or group of technologies fail.
  3. Humans in the loop ignore rules or design criteria from their own plans or cut corners, usually for financial, performance or political reasons.
  4. Having had one of the three types of failures above, no learning has occurred, or learning did occur and was ignored, and they happen again.

While any “rapid unscheduled disassembly” (RUD as some engineers jokingly call a rocket explosion) is a problem, number 1 in my list is an expected part of the development of any new complex system. Sadly, and by far, it is the second, third and fourth failure categories that most often result in tragedy.
Rick Tumlinson in When it comes to space, failure isn’t just an option — it’s a requirement (24 March 2023)

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“In the America of the first third of the 19th century—the one out of which the young Lincoln emerged—the conditions of those streaming into its Western edge were overwhelmingly rural, and their prospects were severely limited. Then, and for some time to come, the life of a pioneer was truly solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Like so many others who pulled up their stakes and trekked westward, Lincoln’s ancestors had tried, failed, and tried once again to secure the prosperity and independence they saw glittering on the horizon. They were not easily dismayed by their disappointments, however. Far from feeling shame over their failures, they transmuted defeat into evidence of personal persistence. What mattered most was not how many times a man might fall, but that he succeed at last in pulling himself up out of the dust.”

Ralph Lerner in “Re-Imagining the Great Emancipator

Getting back to this month’s theme of traveling hopefully–despite numerous setbacks.

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“Stop treating teams like they work in a factory. They are not making plastic cutlery. The same rules do not apply. You are not running the same tried-and-true recipe, you’re designing recipes. If you haven’t figured it out, that’s discovery work, not just delivery. A neglect of discovery generates massive waste: Unused features and other work that doesn’t achieve outcomes. ”
Charles Lambdin in “The Agile Trap” (Jan 2020)

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“You say, “When I talk with Mr. X he always stimulates me.” Now it may not be true that Mr. X stimulates everyone; it may be that something in you has called forth something in him. […] In the very process of meeting, by the very process of meeting, we both become something different. It begins even before we meet, in the anticipation of meeting.”

Mary Parker Follett in “Creative Experience” (1924)

This is taken taken from the chapter on “Circular Response.” A concept we would include in systems theory today.

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“We must all decline together.”

“Remember that President Carter said that we Americans may have to get used to a lower standard of living. Well, the Postal Service could take the lead in lowering our standards. We must all decline together. (I’m doing my bit by wearing old clothes, eating worse, and eliminating every other haircut.)”

Randy Cohen in “Modest Proposals; Official Correspondence of Randy Cohen” [also at Archive.org

This is from a letter Cohen sent to William P. Bolger, Postmaster General, on April 25, 1980. It opens, “You certainly are getting a lot of criticism for suggesting an increase in postal rates and the possible elimination of Saturday delivery.”

I think “declining together” is a sound strategy for sharing an unavoidable hardship. But make sure it’s not a failure of vision or an excuse to impose hardship on others to avoid your own pain. Startups will face a severe stress test over the next two years. So find ways to maintain morale by keeping the team together and sharing the burdens as you cross the valley to reach the next peak.

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Photo Credit boscorelli licensed from 123RF.

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