The following is a time capsule [Ed: more of a “tiny time pill” than a full capsule] from August 7, 2000. This was part of my personal home page in August of 2000 at Cisco. It was the height of the dotcom boom and bringing order out of chaos was a challenge.
Startups are hard work. Many fail in the first year and more than half within five years. Planning allows you to prevent problems, perseverance to overcome them.
Between 1993 and 1998 Richard A. Moran authored four books of business advice–similar in tone and size to H. Jackson Brown’s 1991 “Life’s Little Instruction Book“–that were collections between three and four hundred bullet points of pithy advice:
- Never Confuse A Memo with Reality (1993)
- Beware Those Who Ask For Feedback (1994)
- Cancel the Meeting, Keep the Doughnuts (1995)
- Fear No Yellow Stickies (1998)
Moran has put all four books in a blender and created a synthesis with “Nuts, Bolts,and Jolts: Fundamental Business Lessons You Must Know,” retaining most of the bullets from all four books but organizing them into chapters with a couple of pages of expository perspective to frame and counterpoint their epigrammatic style.
What follows is my selection of his seven best observations for entrepreneurs.
“Easy projects, easy sales, or hot new business opportunities
are like children’s soccer; everyone clusters around the ball.”
As a startup you are better served to be far from the crowd at least initially so that you can learn in (and own a niche) of your own.
“Learn the difference between running a meeting and leading a group.”
Lead (and sell) with your ears. Focus on objectives and results, not methods and facilitation. Even when it’s your initiative, if you are the leader you are better served to have someone else present it (after appropriate shared rehearsal) so that you can better gauge reactions and be more alert to feedback.
“Ask for input only if you plan to do something with it or about it.”
This is especially true in customer service and product marketing roles (and any management role). Don’t raise expectations that you will take action on the information you ask for if you have no plans (or ability or resources) to follow through.
“Being good is important. Being trusted is essential.”
Trust is essential to any early relationship that a startup forms. It can be especially tempting with prospects (and even customers) to violate their expectations and unilaterally amend an agreement (e.g. when features are going to be ready or a particular bug will be fixed) to give them something “better.” The challenge, as Gerald Weinberg observed in “Secrets of Consulting” is that “People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.”
“When told you don’t understand the big picture, ask to see that big picture.”
I think the opposite is even more true: don’t tell someone that they don’t understand the Big Picture, offer them a rich enough context for your advice or direction so that they gain a better appreciation for your perspective. Bob Lewis offers a similar prescription in his 3/11/2002 Tip (registration required) on “Context: make sure you provide lots of information about it. Whether an employee is writing a program, designing a network, or deciding whether a course of action is worthwhile, it’s the context that determines the answer. So don’t let employees just ‘do their job.’ Their job, after all, ought to be doing what makes the most sense, which means that they need to understand how it fits into the bigger picture.”
“Technology eventually evens out. Compete on service and talented people.”
A technology advantage can allow you to seize a niche, but for staying power you need excellent service and a commitment to hiring folks with the appropriate talents and helping them to continue to develop them.
“Great ideas and solutions to problems often occur right before you fall asleep at night. Get up and write them down or they will be lost in the morning.”
This is excellent advice. I carry 3×5 cards during the day and keep a pen and pad of paper on my nightstand. More than once it’s happened that I have been wrestling with challenging project or problem and either awakened in the middle of the night or a few minutes before the morning alarm went off with a solution clear in my mind. It’s amazing how fast an insight or solution can dissipate if you don’t get at least a fragment of it written down.
I was doing some background research on Julian Fellowes after listening to his screenwriter’s commentary on the Gosford Park DVD and came across three quotes that you may find useful as an entrepreneur.
The first two are in response to Leilah Farrah’s questions in an interview in the Wednesday June 25, 2003 edition of the Scotsman.
Q: What do you wish you had learned at school but were not taught?
A: […] the real gap in my education was not a failing of my school, but of my period. The 1960s pretended that everyone had years and years to decide what to do with their lives and they should go off round the world and find themselves and all that. As a result, an enormous number came to their chosen professions too late to make a mark in them. You still see them wandering around Chelsea in leather jackets with long, thinning hair, casualties of the lie that there was plenty of time.
This echoes Thomas Szasz’s observation that “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” I think the best way to prepare for an entrepreneurial career is to start or take part in a new business.
Q: What is the single most important lesson you have learned outside of formal education?
A: That the key ingredient of success is persistence. And luck, of course. I am happy to help people these days, if I can, but I try to help only those who are persistent and determined. I know the others will not make it no matter how much help they are given.
The ability to persist and maintain your focus is one of the key ingredients of a successful entrepreneur’s approach to a new business. The ability to understand, anticipate, and accept the consequences (and the risks) of a decision are the key to prudent risk taking, another requirement for success in a startup. Bella Stander interviewed Fellowes in the Book Reporter on February 18, 2005 and asked him
Q: Americans believe in second chances, in starting over. Miss Manners recently wrote, “This country was founded by people who weren’t doing well at home.”
A: The notion that you can get a facelift and be 33 again is a false one. You have to take the consequences of your choices: That’s the one you married; that’s the mother or father of your children; this is the career you chose; you have to make this career work for you. You can’t spend the rest of your life regretting that you didn’t go to med school. You have to have the strength to realize and accept when there isn’t still time. I’m all for doing something for yourself and not allowing other people’s expectations to steamroll you, but you should choose something where you have a reasonable expectation of fulfillment.
The concept of accepting the consequences of your decisions is echoed by Thomas Huxley and Robert Ingersoll:
“Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.” Thomas Huxley
An excerpt from Soren Kierkegaard writing on helping others to understand. The key is to start from a deep understanding of the other person’s world view. This echoes Steven Covey’s fifth habit: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
In “Perseverance Rewarded” William Feather offers some good advice for getting started. Many folks succeed because they don’t realize how hard it is to accomplish what they have set out to do (of course several orders of magnitude more fail).
Uneasy lies the head that ignores a telephone call late at night.
It is a fine compliment to be able to say of a man that he quickens the pulse of any group that he joins. Some men are like that. They are alive. Through charm, intellectual capacity, physical fitness, manners, or some other quality, they command respect and attention. They compel the rest of us to appear at our best.
To make fairly sure that an unpleasant job won’t be done, plan to do it yourself.
Some people have the art of compelling others to be pleasant.
Feather observes in “The Jolt” something that many entrepreneurs discover in their first startup, that most of their credibility flowed from their employer.
In my early twenties this idea was impressed upon me. I had been doing newspaper work, and as a reporter for a leading daily I was usually received promptly and affably by mayors, bankers, manufacturers, actors, United States Senators, and even presidents of the United States.
I quit my newspaper work and called on a few friends of my newspaper days. I was not insulted when I presented myself, but I was not offered cigars with quite the same alacrity as in my newspaper days.
[…] most of us in our working hours are like actors. The power and dignity and age and good repute of the corporations for which we work clothes us, and adds to our effectiveness and acceptance by those whom we serve and who serve us.
The only way to be rid of worry about the things we have not done is to do them.
Some quotes from William Feather’s 1949 book, “The Business of Life.” It’s a collection of short notes, letters, newspaper columns magazine articles. Very insightful, and something like reading a blog from the 1930’s and 40’s.
The way to get things done is to have a good assistant.
In closing a deal, what you don’t say may be more helpful than what you do say.
…every job has two salaries. One is the pay you get. The other is the mental satisfaction you derive from working for the company.
Business is scheming ways by which you can help your customers make an extra dollar in the hope that they will let you keep ten cents for yourself.
Business is showing a prospect how a job should be done and then having him give it to a competitor.
If you do not have the capacity for happiness with a little money, great wealth will not bring it to you.
Many people are thwarted by excessive ambition. They want a hundred thousand dollars but are unwilling to save a hundred dollars. They want a big house, but do not accumulate enough money to make the down payment on on a small house. They want to write a book, but will not learn to write a letter. Most men become successful and famous, not through ambition, but through ability and character.
Paul Saffo had the lead quote in my October 18 post on Quotes on Foresight (Understanding the Future) “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” He has so many more trenchant observations on foresight and understanding what has already happened that I am following up with a post devoted to his quotes and observations. Those of you taking part in the “ruthless reinvention” of Silicon Valley may find some food for thought.
“Best strategy used to be ready, aim, fire. Now the best strategy is ready, fire, steer. Put supplies where you might need them on the journey. Just get into the right neighborhood and you will find the address.”
recounted in How To Mobilize The New Players on the Field by Richard Edelman (note: emphasis added, does not appear in original text).
“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance”
Paul offers an elaboration of this one on his website: technologies take time–as much as twenty years–to move from invention to arrival in our lives. Because we assume the adoption will be more rapid, we inevitably over-estimate the short-term and under-estimate the long-term impact of new technologies.
War is no longer chess; it’s Go.”
He explains to Maryann Lawlor in “Collaborative Technologies Demand Deep Change”
In chess, the center of the board is the important real estate to control; in the game of Go, the edges are critical to winning. While chess pieces are hierarchical, each stone in Go is equally powerful.
Cheap sensors are shaping this decade, and the poster child is going to be robots.
from “The Ten Coolest Technologies You’ve Never Heard of: The Robot Revolution” (July 7, 2006 in PC Magazine).
The secret to Silicon Valley’s success is that it’s constantly reinventing itself. The secret to it continuing to be a high-tech center is that it is a place that continues to ruthlessly reinvent itself, to ruthlessly drive old companies out of business, start new companies. That turnover is, I think, the secret to our success. We always think about being a success, but there are vastly more failures in the valley than there are successes. And the valley is not really built on the spires of earlier companies, but on their rubble.
From April 1997 interview for the Tech Museum The Revolutionaries: Paul Saffo
There are no regular people. There are people we tend to remember the names of, and we seem to have this fascination with deifying certain individuals. At some level, how do I say it? Look at any Silicon Valley company, and people instantly say, this company, oh! The head of that company; they are so smart. But the company isn’t one person; the company is a team of people and for everyone who conventional wisdom says a genius business leader or a successful entrepreneur or whatever, there are hundreds of other people who are just as extraordinary whose names we don’t know.
From a 2006 SF Chronicle Interview “Institute for the Future / On the Record”
I don’t think information overload is a function of the volume of information. It’s a derivative of the volume of information plus the sense-making tools you have. Think about the rise of info-graphics in newspapers. Those were sense-making tools to help people (absorb information). You can bookmark your Web pages. Now we have things like (the Web site) Del.icio.us that allow you to create tags to share and organize Web pages. In my class, we are using a wiki (a Web page that is like an open bulletin board). The rise of Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia)—that is a sense-making tool. These are tools that help us make sense of information. I think it was Samuel Johnson who said, “There are two kinds of information in this world: that what you know and that what you know where to get.” The tools help the latter, and that is what keeps us from going nuts. The sense of overload comes from the gap between that sudden jump in volume (of information) and the tools we have to make sense of it.
Jon Winokur has published a number of good books, including “The Portable Curmudgeon” and “Advice to Writers,” and was interviewed September 2006 by Guy Kawasaki, which prompted me to add his most recent, “Encyclopedia Neurotica” to my Amazon cart (where books can linger for months or years). I was frankly a little disappointed, but found a half dozen nuggets–one for each of my readers–that founding teams might find thought provoking.
Virus of affluence that psychotherapist Jessie H. O’Neill defines as “the collective addictions, character flaws, psychological wounds, neuroses, and behavioral disorders caused or exacerbated by the presence of, or desire for, wealth.” Affluenza victims, regardless of their socioeconomic level, falsely believe that money can solve all their problems.
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
E. B. White
“Mid-life crisis is what happens when you get to the top of the ladder and discover that it’s against the wrong wall.”
Michael Sippey’s original title for his August 2, 2006 talk at SVPMA was “Iterating Towards Bethlehem” was changed to a less cryptic Making the Shift From Being a Packaged Software Person to Being a Hosted Services Person. The original title was a riff on Yeats’ Slouching Towards Bethlehem (not the Joan Didion book or the Angel episode).
I was interviewed in June 2006 by Barbara Cass, Volunteer Director for the SDForum, the final text appeared in the July/August 2006 newsletter (see page 15 of the PDF version). I have updated it here to add links for many of the referenced works and the quotes. KV Rao and I did a one year term as co-chairs of the Marketing Special Interest Group (SIG), our term ended in December 2006. Filomena U and Ed Buckingham took over, and are now the ones answering the firstname.lastname@example.org alias.
Interview with Sean Murphy, Co-Chair of the Marketing SIG
Q: Sean, you are a long-time member of SDForum. What helped you to decide to volunteer as chair of the Marketing SIG?
I had attended a number of the programs over the years and found them useful not only for the information that the speaker offered but also for what I would learn from other attendees. SIG meetings are a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of Silicon Valley. William Gibson observed that “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” The SDForum SIGs are one place that’s certainly true. And I wanted to show my support for what the SDForum offers.
Q: What has been your experience in organizing these meetings thus far?
I am fortunate to have KV Rao as a co-chair. He is bright, articulate, and deeply thoughtful. He was early at WebEx in marketing and business development and has an appreciation for both startup and established company marketing issues. He has pulled together our two best programs so far: the “DotCom to DotBust to Web 2.0” talk by Dave Thompson that was our January kickoff and our May panel on “Making The Leap From An Application To A Platform Business.”
I have enjoyed pulling together an eclectic mix of topics: “Guerrilla Marketing for Startups“, “Internal Marketing–Fostering Technology Adoption“, “Building Strategy and Driving Consensus through Shared Mapping“, and “You Named it What?” We have attracted a diverse and thoughtful audience. Bill Grosso, who runs the Emerging Technologies SIG has been an invaluable advisor to me to get this year’s programs off to a running start.
Q: What have you learned from the first six months of putting on programs?
I think we have run informative programs on a broad range of topics, often because the audience has contributed as much as the speaker or speakers have. It’s very important to get a good title and to explain early in the description the speaker’s key experiences that will equip them address the topic as an expert. We are the Marketing SIG for the Software Development Forum so we tend to get a very technical audience: the key to successful programs is adequately preparing the speakers.
Q: What is the focus of your own business and have you seen value to your business since meeting with this group each month?
Our firm, SKMurphy, Inc. offers business development consulting to early stage software startups with a focus on early customers and early revenue. I think the value for me is the insights I get from the people I have met, either because I invited them to speak, or they were attracted to the topic for that night’s program. The SIG has given me a good reason to reach out to some individuals and have conversations that I otherwise might have missed out on. I would encourage folks to get involved, but I believe that it’s more about creating a community that we would all like to live in, and listening to and learning from strangers.
Q: Have you seen changes in the ways companies market or should be marketing their products in today’s world?
My firm’s focus is on strategy and business development for software startups. We work with early stage startups who sell to businesses. I personally have an interest in new technologies for collaboration–things like wikis, blogs, IM that are “new” in the sense that they are only a little over a decade old–and knowledge management methodologies like the “community of practice” model. So I look at the marketing issues from perspective that’s distinct from the consumer-oriented “get big fast” model that seems to be coming back into vogue: 2006 feels a lot like 1996 to me, with all of the various “pitch events” that are going on every month now. And I tend to work with teams that are bootstrapping both because it’s a mindset I find easier to relate to–I prefer pitching to prospects rather than VC’s–and because they tend to be more innovative than the VC-backed folks, who are normally channeled into a handful of predictable trajectories.
So, what I tend to see are startup teams who have a firm grasp on technology and product development issues but are less clear on one or more of the key concepts for successful new product introduction. Bill Davidow’s “whole product” paradigm from his “Marketing High Technology” book is fundamental to understanding the different between selling an invention and marketing an innovation. Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” framework, best expressed in his “Inside the Tornado” book is the solid explanation of the evolution of technology markets. Clayton Christensen’s “sustaining vs. disruptive innovation” model in his “Innovator’s Dilemma” book is the best “anatomy lesson for a karate student,” explaining to startups how and where to attack an established firm. Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” is filled with detailed checklists for how a startup team must distinguish between product development and customer development as they explore a new market.
Postscript: I think answering this question started me down the path to the December 2006 Marketing SIG Program: Twelve Business Books in One Hour for the Busy CEO. I wish I could claim “anatomy lecture for the karate student” as mine but it’s based on a line from Chapter 18 of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris: “The others listened like karate students at an anatomy lecture.”
Q: What are some of your aspirations for the Marketing SIG in the near future?
We want to continue to fulfill our promise to provide practical tips and techniques for anticipating, identifying, and satisfying customers needs for emerging technologies profitably. We have several exciting programs in the hopper for the second half of 2006 but are always looking for good speakers on interesting topics. Contact us at email@example.com with suggestions or to volunteer.
Theresa heard a radio interview with Barry Moltz in 2003 and suggested that I get his book. In December 2003 I purchased a copy of You Need to Be a Little Crazy and when it arrived from Amazon I put it on my to-be-read pile where it languished until early this morning when I read it in one setting, making notes in the margin and jotting down page numbers for quotes I was going to harvest for later re-use on a 3×5 card as I read.
I had lunch today at El Cerrito with an old friend from college who has done a number of successful startups. We talked of old classmates, children, the energy we had in our twenties, his new son, and my new granddaughter. And we talked about what it was like to do a startup. He left me with two words pictures that I have transcribed below, because I think they capture two different aspects of startups.
The first is the startup experience as a hurdles race:
Doing a startup is like running a high hurdles race early in the morning before the fog has burned off and before the setup crew has all of the hurdles positioned correctly.
The starting gun goes off and you can see perhaps a dozen feet in front of you. You can hear the grunts of the other racers and the scuff of shoes on the track. You take off running and the first hurdle appears out of the fog. You clear it easily and then realize that you are slowing down slightly, expecting the next one, but the setup crew has not put it out.
Then suddenly it’s in front of you and you barely clear up. You can hear some of the other runners stumbling but ahead you hear others racing ahead of you.
You have to set a pace to catch them but you cannot just put your head down and run because you have to keep a lookout for another hurdle to appear at the limit of your fogbound vision.
The second was based on several experiences he had working with VC’s. An avid cyclist, he thought of the entrepreneurial journey with a VC as having two distinct phases: in the pack and near the finish line.
Working with VC’s is like a bicycle race. At first you are all in the pack and everyone works together, alternating position to draft and move faster together than the solo leaders.
But as the finish line appears the pack breaks up as each cyclist tries to cross it first. Even if the VC’s have been good partners for most of the journey, they can’t resist the temptation to break away and gain the advantage at the finish line.
- “Your twenties are always an apprenticeship, but you don’t always know what for.” Jan Houtema
- A great quote that I used again in April 2008 but couldn’t source it. Paul Graham has it in his quote list. But while Houtema is a legitimate surname, I can’t find the one named Jan. I suspect, like Tara Ploughman, this is another pseudonym Graham has adopted.
- Steve Blank offers a framework for evaluating startup leadership requirements in “I‘ve seen the Promised Land and I might not get here with you” that addresses all of situations my friend describe: hurdles, the pack, and the end of the bicycle race.
I got Guidelines to Creativity by K. Bradford Brown as a gift and was impressed by these ten quotes. Some are clever re-statements of more famous observations but all have a certain poetry.
- Creativity will take me as far as my imagined limits.
- The building blocks of our creativity are quarried from the space between what is, and what might be.
- Some discoveries change the world. All discoveries change their discoverer.
- An attempt may be a failure. A person never is.
- To create, we must learn to stand on other people’s shoulders humbly.
- Whenever a group shares a common vision, a spark of creativity is ignited.
- When surfacing from the depths of creative effort, take the time to decompress.
- Age does not limit creativity. But having experience helps. As does not having it. Anyway, it’s not our choice.
- They said, “try, try again.” I said, “let’s stop and try something different.”
- It starts in the imagination. It ends in sweat.
Just For Today
I Will Feel Grateful For My Customers. I Worked Hard To Get Them.
Without Them I Would Not Have A Business.
I Will Be as Friendly as Can Be to Everyone That I Work With; I Will
Treat Them as If They Are Responsible For Keeping Me in Business.
If I Have To Correct Someone, I Will Do It With the Same Good Humor
and Self-restraint as If I Were The One Being Corrected.
I Will Not Assume That Everything I Do Has To Be Perfect. I Am Going
To Do Well Enough To Get Through The Day Competently.
I Am Not Going To Try And Break Any Speed Records In What I Do. I Will
Get Done What’s In Front Of Me Without Trying To Put Myself Into A
Position Of Painful Compulsion.
When I Leave Work, I Will Not Think About How Much I Got Done Or Did
Not Get Done. Instead, I Will Look Forward To The Evening, And Be
Thankful That I Did Whatever I Did.
“Victory belongs to the most persevering.”
“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.”
“Your brand is the promise that you keep.”
Here are a set of quotes for Thanksgiving to reflect on over the holidays.