Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in April 2024

Quotes for entrepreneurs curated in April 2024 on a theme of discovering, nurturing, and evaluating ideas for a new product or a new business.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in April 2024

My theme for this month’s “Quotes for Entrepreneurs” is discovering, nurturing, and evaluating ideas for a new product or a new business.

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“Curiosity is more sustainable than passion”
Morgan Housel

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“Replace Email: Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Whatever you build, make it fast. People will pay for this. Considering how much time I spend in email, it’s kind of scary to think how much I’d be justified in paying. If I spend several hours a day reading and writing email, that would be a cheap way to make my life better.”
Paul Graham in “Ambitious Startup Ideas” (2012)

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“It’s often better to begin in confusion and let the words come tumbling out, rather than hoping for a flash of enlightenment in solitude. You can use the interaction and your efforts to form a coherent narrative to create clarity at the cost of some embarrassment.”
Sean Murphy

This is an excerpt from an email I recently sent to a consultant I am working with to help SKMurphy craft some new service offerings.

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Choose Your Customer, Choose Your Future. --Seth Godin

“Choose your customers, choose your future.”
Seth Godin in “Market Pressure

Godin presents two lists and suggests that customers in a particular market–often defined by industry, segment, geography– value one column or the other.

“Choose your customers, choose your future.”
Values Quality Race to the Bottom
  • Durability
  • Difficult
  • Elegant Design
  • Resilience
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Higher Performance
  • Efficiency
  • Patience
  • Cheaper
  • Simpler
  • Dumber
  • More short term
  • Easier
  • Coarse
  • More convenient
  • Hyped

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“It is so much cheaper to do simulations than real experiments, so much more flexible in testing, we can even do things which cannot be done in any lab, that it is inevitable this trend will continue for some time. […] There is clearly a risk we will go too far occasionally–and I expect this will happen frequently in the future. We must not forget, in all the enthusiasm for computer simulations, occasionally we must look at Nature as She is.”
Richard Hamming, “The Art of Doing Science and Engineering.”

The need to look at “Nature as She is” includes human nature and acts as a rate-limiting constraint on how fast simulation-based learning can proceed when you must act in the real world or interact with people instead of idealized domains like Chess or Go. More context from the same passage shows how prescient Hamming was in the 1950’s.

“In the mid-to-late 1950s I said, “At present we are doing 1 out of 10 experiments on the computers and 9 in the labs, but before I leave it will be 9 out of 10 on the machines”. They did not believe me then, but we now do between 90% to 99% of our experiments on the machines and the rest in the labs. And this trend will go on! It is so much cheaper to do simulations than real experiments, so much more flexible in testing, and we can even do things which cannot be done in any lab, that it is inevitable the trend will continue for some time. […] There is clearly a risk we will go too far occasionally–and I expect this will happen frequently in the future. We must not forget, in all the enthusiasm for computer simulations, occasionally we must look at Nature as She is.”
Richard Hamming, “The Art of Doing Science and Engineering.”

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5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.
Ideally you want to make large numbers of users love you, but you can’t expect to hit that right away. Initially you have to choose between satisfying all the needs of a subset of potential users, or satisfying a subset of the needs of all potential users. Take the first. It’s easier to expand userwise than satisfactionwise. And perhaps more importantly, it’s harder to lie to yourself. If you think you’re 85% of the way to a great product, how do you know it’s not 70%? Or 10%? Whereas it’s easy to know how many users you have.
Paul Graham in “Startups in 13 Sentences

This is even more true for customers. The “users” formulation is a heritage of freemium and media models. As I tell people from time to time at a Bootstrappers Breakfast, “We are old fashioned at the Bootstrappers Breakfast and define ‘customer’ as the person who pays you.” The “lie to yourself” insight is one I try to keep in mind. It’s a recurring source of error that I fall victim to and one that I see other entrepreneurs tripped up by as well.

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“Anyone who is able to pay attention cannot be a fool.”
Piero Buscioni in “The New Italian Aphorists” (curated by Fabrizio Caramagna)

To “Pay Attention” is to listen carefully, observe thoughtfully, take notes to complement your memory, and reflect periodically on your experiences. These are simple practices that minimize basic foolishness. Advanced foolproofing is left as an exercise for the reader, according to your particular needs. It’s also helpful to remember that while it’s tough to make things foolproof because fools are so damned ingenious, it’s easy to outsmart yourself.

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“Future medical research trials will increasingly need to study not doing things that we used to do.”
John Mandrola in “A New Approach to Evidence in Cardiology

Mandrola embeds this 15 minutes review of the Reduce AMI Trial by Vinay Prasad  “Beta blockers after heart attacks don’t work: a failed quality metric,” where Prasad endorses the trial and mentions an earlier paper “Should Evidence Come with an Expiration Date? that opens with this paragraph:

“It is not unusual for accepted therapies to be abandoned in the face of new evidence. Usually, this occurs as a medical reversal, when a therapy adopted without strong evidence is later shown to be ineffective in a well-designed randomized trial. Sometimes, however, therapies once supported by robust evidence are proven to no longer work. The basis of this declining efficacy is diverse but includes changing population risk, newly adopted adjunctive medical therapy, and, for screening interventions, more effective treatments, which obviate the gains from early detection.[…] We propose an “evidentiary statute of limitations” as a core principle of evidence-based medicine, wherein consideration is given to factors that may require the efficacy of accepted therapies to be reevaluated.”
Should Evidence Come with an Expiration Date?” by Greene, Prasad, Cifu (May-6-2019)

Startups are familiar with the concept that “product-market fit” can be undone by the new competitors, changes in customer needs or requirements, and changes in the overall market or technology landscape. I found it interesting that the same applies to medical treatments where the population can change due to introduction of other interventions, changes in diet or other habits,  and elimination of other co-factors that affected the natural history of the disease. When the ecosystem changes you have to re-evaluate your methods. Some blogs related to Product-Market Fit:

And last but not least,  Two Take-Aways from Survival to Thrival

  1. B2B Product Market Fit requires customers who use the product, pay for it, and recommend it to peers.
  2. Product Market Fit is not enough, you need Go to Market Fit (GTM Fit). You have GTM fit when you feel customers pulling you in and you have a one page playbook that creates repeatable wins.

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The Technology is Nothing Without the Team
Ad from technology magazine in mid-to-late 90s

I have found this to be a very useful rule of thumb. I remember cutting an ad with the title “The Technology is Nothing Without the Team” out of a technology magazine, I think it was ComputerWorld, in the mid to late 90’s. From about 92 to 98 I got into the habit of cutting out headlines, ad copy, insets from articles, interesting diagrams, custom printouts of quotes, and posting them either inside my cubicle or on the walls of my office or outside my office. I did this at Cisco (cube and outside cube walls), Full Circle Connections (office), Escalade (office and hallway outside), MMC Networks (office), and back at Cisco (cube). Now I blog.

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“He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”
Dag Hammarskjold in “Markings” (1964)

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“Sometimes, to pursue a new idea, an artist must forfeit the deposit on an old one.”
Robert Brault in “Round Up the Usual Subjects: Thoughts on Just About Everything

This quote is true for entrepreneurs as well and captures the “sunk cost fallacy” very nicely. Brault is a prolific aphorist and thoughtful observer of the human condition.

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I picked up the legal pad where she had jotted down her notes. “Do you see this?” I pointed to where she had written down “Robert Kiyosaki, best-selling author.”

“It says best-selling author, not best-writing author,” I said quietly. “I am a terrible writer. You are a great writer. I went to sales school. You have a master’s degree. Put them together and you get a ‘best-selling author’ and a ‘best-writing author.'”

Robert Kiyosaki in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”

It’s taken me longer than it should have to realize that researching, writing, editing a book, and doing the audio version is only 50% of the work. You have to spend the other 50% of your effort promoting it. I knew that about hardware and software products, but books were in a different category in my mind. Which reminds me: here are two good books for entrepreneurs about taking stock of your assets–know-how, cash flow, and social capital–in planning and launching your business and assembling your team:

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“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.”
Kurt Lewin

Entrepreneurs learn a lot about customers’ perceptions of problems and needs when they try to get them to adopt their new products.

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“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
Frank Kapra

I think a “feeling of warmth” or “getter closer” is different mental processes re-synchronizing, your slower analytic processes verifying an intuitive leap before letting you act on it.  Of course, not every hunch is accurate.

“I always follow my instincts, except when I get a funny feeling maybe I shouldn’t”
Gregg Eisenberg in “Letting Go is All We Have to Hold Onto

This is one of the funniest book of quotations / aphorisms / Zen koans I have read in the last decade. Highly recommended if you like paradoxes, oxymorons, and the juxtaposition of incongruities for insight (and humor).

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“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care–with no one there to see and cheer. This is the world.”
David Foster Wallace in “The Pale King

h/t Ted Goia “What’s Really Inside the Briefcase in Pulp Fiction” See “David Foster Wallace: The Only Choice We Get is What to Worship” for Wallace’s “This is Water” commencements speech at Kenyon College.

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“Without appearing to work as hard, the highly creative person appears to learn as much as, if not more than, the one with a high IQ. My guess is that these highly creative people are learning and thinking when they appear to be playing around.”

Emma Birkmaier in “The meaning of creativity in foreign language teaching.”

I think  effective entrepreneurs (and product managers) take a playful “what-if” approach to product and service design that complements research based on interviews and observation.

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“A mistake is irrecoverable only if you are betting everything on that wrong decision, with no Plan B and resources to pivot.

Bad choice if major is far less likely to ruin your life if you’re getting two of them at the same time, and have a wide scope of classes in your curriculum (which is what differentiates universities from trade schools).

One bad relationship isn’t ruining your life if you have many relationships of many kinds.

A bad investment isn’t going to ruin you if you aren’t putting everything into that basket.

There is always a second chance if you’re not planning to get it right on the first try.

Learn how to fall, and your falls are far less likely to be irrecoverable.

And failureis an opportunity — if you plan for it.”

Roman Kogan (HN: romwell ) in a comment on HN in response to a article suggesting one mistake can ruin your life.

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“A study made a number of years ago said the more education a man has, the less likely he is to be an inventor. Now, the reason for that is quite simple. From the time the boy, or girl, starts in school, he is examined three or four times a year, and, of course, it is a very, very disastrous thing if he fails.

An inventor fails all the time, and it is a triumph if he succeeds once. Consequently, if education is an inhibition to invention, it is due entirely to the form by which we rate things and not because of any intellectual differential.

I can take any group of young people, any place, and teach them to be inventors if I can get them to throw off the hazard  of being afraid to fail. You fail because your ideas aren’t right.  You shouldn’t be afraid to fail, but you should learn to fail intelligently. By that, I mean that when you fail, find out why you failed, and each time you fail, it will bring you nearer to the goal.”

Charles Kettering in an address to Board of Regents, University of the State of New York, October 20, 1950

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“Anytime I see something meaningful and sustainable get built, it’s almost exclusively by a team that doesn’t care who gets the credit.

Humility is outrageously profitable.”

Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)

In my experience they want the team to get credit–along with whoever else contributed. They don’t want someone uninvolved taking credit, but they are less obsessed with allocating credit below the team level.

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“When one door closes another one opens.”
Author Unknown

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“I did not know. I went and looked. Everything else was vanity.”
Ethical Skeptic (@EthicalSkeptic)

You are not a victim of the foreseable consequences of a decion. A deliberate indifference or a lack of curiosity about the risks inherent in the current situation and courses of action you are contemplating is not a viable risk strategy.


“There’s only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”
P. J. O’Rourke

Entrepreneurs understand this implicitly but it’s more broadly applicable in adult life.

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In “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life” Eric Greitens says that there are three primary forms of happiness: the happiness of pleasure, the happiness of grace, and the happiness of excellence.

  • The happiness of pleasure is largely sensory. It’s a good meal when you’re hungry, the smell of air after it rains, waking up warm and cozy in your bed.
  • The happiness of grace is gratitude. It’s looking over to see the love of your life sleeping next to you and whispering, “thank you.” It’s taking inventory of what you do have. It’s when you speak to something greater than yourself, expressing humility and awe.
  • The happiness of excellence comes from the pursuit of something great. Not the moment you arrive at the top of the mountain and raise your fists in victory, but the process of falling in love with the hike. It is meaningful work. It is flow. It is the purpose that sears identity and builds character and channels our energy toward something greater

Brianna Wiest in “The Happiness of Excellence” Essay #11 in “101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think

Arthur Brooks outlines the intelligent pursuit of happiness in the key choices that under our control: faith, family, community, and work.

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“Creativity requires the freedom to consider ‘unthinkable’ alternatives, to doubt the worth of cherished practices. Every organization, every society is under the spell of assumptions so familiar that they are never questioned, least of all by those most intimately involved.”
John W. Gardner in “No Easy Victories” (Chapter 15: “Reflection and Action”)

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Roses Thorns Buds

Rose, Thorn, Bud
Reflect on a recent project and consider:

  • Rose: what are the successes? What’s gone well?
  • Thorn: what are the challenges? What could we do better?
  • Bud: what are opportunities with potential? What could we explore or try?

Jono Hey in “Rose, Thorn, Bud

I also liked the Start, Stop, Continue, and Lessons Learned phrasing.

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“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge available to us: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of the combination. Our observation of nature must be diligent, our reflection profound, and our experiments exact. We rarely see these three means combined, and for this reason creative geniuses are not common.”

Denis Diderot in “Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature” (1753)

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“The important person in a free economy is not the manager but the entrepreneur–the one who takes risks and meets the cost of them.”
Roger Scruton in “The Meaning of Margaret Thatcher

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Kairos vs. Chronos or Ripe vs. Faster

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton in “When I consider how my light is spent

I think it’s also critical to avoid this blind spot when you evaluate other’s contributions. A fireman asleep in the fire station can appear lazy until you see him in action an hour later. Especially easy miscalculation to make regarding those who prevent problems. This quote also triggered this observation:

Emily (@Sobhglove66): “Patience can be as powerful an act as action itself.”

The Greeks captured this insight in their distinction between Chronos and Kairos: measured time versus “the right moment.” Watchful waiting that allows opportunities to ripen preserves optionality–provided the best move is not an immediate response to a steadily worsening situation.

One rule of thumb for initiating change is to “pick the low hanging fruit.” But it’s more complicated than that. Starting with “small wins” wins is a viable strategy, provided that you gain the respect, critical mass, and momentum to work on the fundamental challenges at the core of a problem. The other aspect of “low hanging fruit” is that it’s the last to ripen; it’s the fruit on top of the tree–that’s harder to reach–which gets more sunlight and ripens first. The low-hanging fruit is easier to spot and less effort to pick, but you risk the trap of “we need to do something and this is something.” You run the risk of exhausting your budget and support without having a significant impact unless you have a strategy for converting easy-to-achieve results into a sustained effort.

I blogged about a common misunderstanding of the OODA loop–valuing fast response over effective action–in “Planning and Reflection: The OODA Loop is More Than Speed.

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