The book is a light read, I finished it between two short airplane flights to/fro Philly. Lots of this stuff is intuitive if you read startup rags all the time, but I like that Randy’s book is written from the perspective of a VC talking to an entrepreneur about his million dollar idea, “funerals.com”. Anyway, there are some great reminders for startuppers in there. Most business books make me yawn but this one is way more than a business book.
My favorite parts, painfully typed out for your benefit.
I have never seen a company fail for having too much money. Dilution is nominal, but running out of money is terminal. Set reasonable expectations among your investors, don’t gouge them, and then out-perform expectations. Future rounds will be much easier if you are seen as having positive momentum
p52 — A brief explanation of Rocket Ship Models of startup investments vs Brave New World startups (that proceed more gingerly, without the precedents to guide them).
I have to share this one with my (sometimes) Marxist design friends
Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage and cope with change. The Church is in decline in the developed world, ceding leadership to a materialism of unprecedented proportions. City hall is subservient to the economic interest of its constituencies. That leaves business. Business, however, has a tendency to become tainted with the greed and aggressiveness that at its best it channels into productivity. Left to its single minded pseudo Darwinian devices, it may never deliver the social benefits that the other fading institutions once promised. But, rather than give up on business, I look to it as a way, indirectly, of improving things for many, not just a lucky few. I accept its limitations and look for opportunities to use it positively. In the US, the rules of business are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil, to be applied as you may. You decide whether your business is constructive or destructive. H help people understand this and express themselves in what they do, trying to make a difference through business.
The Deferred Life Plan: Step One: Do what you have to do. Then, eventually — Step Two: Do what you want to do. The Deferred Life Plan dominates Silicon Valley. Most people think getting rich fast provides the quickest way to get past the first step — and where can you get rich faster than Silicon Valley?
Here was a talent and a pleasure, I began to realize — the ability to put a blank piece of paper on the table and to create something in the context of work and business. I enjoyed sitting down, analyzing a problem, and then concocting a bunch of free-form solutions. I might have simply reinvented the wheel, made a hexagon instead of a circle, but I could get it rolling and I wasn’t afraid of venturing outside my realm of comfort and experience.
The distinction between drive and passion is crucial. I had asked Lenny about his passion. He thought I was questioning his drive and commitment. Passion and drive are not the same at all. Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do. If you know nothing about yourself, you can’t tell the difference. Once you gain a modicum of self-knowledge, you can express your passion.
I had begun to find aspects of the startup game increasingly disturbing. Expedience ruled. Sometimes I wondered if, rather than developing tomorrow’s business leaders and talent, we weren’t merely cloning speculators, hack businessmen and women, who arbitraged their drive for a quick hit and who believed that if you’re rich, you’re right. Heaven help us if these businesses actually have to be operated on a bottom line basis for the long run.
TiVo had a chance to change the status quo for the better, with a potential we could only guess at. Sure, the market and business model were not yet proven, the incumbents could stonewall, and competitors large and small might hijack the opportunity, but Mike and Jim were up for the challenge: smart, experienced, flexible, capable of learning on the fly, and willing to do what it would take to win. They did not waste time talking to me about exit strategies. Personalized television would be their legacy.
(on acquisition of Claris by Apple)… But it was a Pyrrhic victory. With our spouses, we all gathered at the home of one of the founders to celebrate our good fortune. Together we drank the celebration into a wake. We were proud of the price we’d gotten from Apple.. there was reason to celebrate — but when we looked around the room at each other, the deal’s downside hit us: it was unlikely we would ever work together again.
… I later realized what a rare privilege it had been to work with this group of people, in a place of our own making that gave us the opportunity to reach and stretch, to have impact, and to be great. Building a $90M a year, market leading business was a hard thing to do. Claris gave us, as a team and as individuals, a platform for growing and a chance to build a legacy and a culture that would contain our DNA in its values for decades to come. You couldn’t put a price on it, and I didn’t realize that until our company was dead and buried.
This may sound cheesy, but I feel like I’m incredibly excited to build a team, culture, and company at BettrAt like Randy experienced at Claris. Building a Bettr, sustaining business is so much more satisfying in the long run than a quick hit + sellout — at least from every one I’ve ever read about or talked to who’s built one.
For me, the moral of the story of Steve Perlman and WebTV is the need to emphasize visionary leadership over management acumen in the formative stage of a startup. If you turn a visionary startup into an operating company too early, you throw out its birthright. It will never be as big, as grand, or as influential as it might otherwise be. It will be much harder, perhaps impossible, to expand the vision later, when performance is being measured quarter to quarter against operating plans, because then there’s too much at stake. Steve was the right leader, the only leader, to take WebTV through its formative years.
Work hard, work passionately, but apply your most precious asset -time- to what is most meaningful to you. What are you willing to do for the rest of your life? does not mean, literally, what will you do for the rest of your life? That question would be absurd, given the inevitability of change. No, what the question really asks is, if your life were to end suddenly and unexpectedly tomorrow, would you be able to say you’ve been doing what you truly care about today? What would you be willing to do for the rest of your life? What would it take to do it right now?
This is the creative edge of business – startups, working with a blank canvas to challenge the status quo and make change happen. I work with brilliant entrepreneurs who have a vision for how things can be better (Bettr? and who can’t resist doing the next great thing. I am their consigliere.
This is truly an awesome book (in this case, it was worth blogging about). If you want to change the world with your ideas, read it. I’ll let you open it rather than talk about “the riddle” here.
Yesterday, I was helping a friend and colleague at ID work on an exciting new platform for eBooks delivered on a backlit display and was shocked and pleased with how easily I was able to provide feedback, give and receive ideas and inspiration. Not only was this (hopefully) helpful to Dan, but also to myself and my work with BettrAt and other little projects I’ve got going on.
I saw this article by Chip and Dan Heath and thought about cross-inspiration and finding analogs. Well said:
Most of us don’t solve problems this way. We start by tapping the local knowledge, and if it’s insufficient, we go looking for specialists. But what if we’re following the wrong protocol? We should stop looking for experts and start looking for analogues. It’s a big world: Chances are someone has solved your problem already. And she might be an anteater.
Why is it counterintuitive to look outside our own turf for answers? “If you’ve spent five or six years getting a PhD, or 5 to 10 years in the field itself, you’re a domain expert,” says Karim Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who studies innovation. “You can’t imagine that someone else may have a different perspective. But problems that are difficult in one domain may be trivial to solve from the perspective of a different domain.”
I don’t think it’s just about being cross-disciplinary. It really comes down to the individual, because people with similar backgrounds, training, and education, can still have really different perspectives.
It’s going to be fun to be an EIR at a VC firm someday. Until then, the march continues.
I loved the zefrank show (zefrank is where i got that black shirt i have with the small fuzzy black duck that people always think is a stain) I’ve now referenced this video in conversation at least 3 times so I thought I might as well post it.
I saw this while I was in Foundation at ID and thought how relevant it was to design and innovation. It just made the twitter rounds again thanks to hackernews, so here it is.
If you’re gonna watch this at work, take heed: there’s a song zefrank sings that drops the f-word in its main refrain — “Where the F do ideas come from?”
Here’s some great snippets from the video. Watch it, with the song, for full effect.
If you don’t want to run out of ideas the best thing to do is not to execute them. You can tell yourself you don’t have the time or resources to do them right. Then they stay around in your head like brain crack.
And the longer they wait, the more they convince themselves of how perfectly that idea should be executed. And they imagine it on a beautiful platter with glitter and rose petals. And everyone’s clapping for them.
The bummer is, that most ideas kinda suck when you do them
And no matter how much you plan you still have to do something for the first time. And you’re almost guaranteed the first time you do something it’ll blow. But somebody who does something bad three times still has three times the experience of that other person who’s still dreaming of all the applause. When I get an idea, even a bad one, I try to get it out into the world as fast as possible, ’cause I certainly don’t want to be addicted to brain crack.
In the article, the importance of direct observation, and ethnographic inquiry, standard design staples are covered. Design thinking is defined as being “inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential”.
Most of the stuff in the article is old hat to those with a multidisciplinary design background, but it’s the first time I’ve read about “positive deviance” and started exploring it a bit more.
Positive Deviance (PD) is an approach to personal, organizational and cultural change based on the idea that every community or group of people performing a similar function has certain individuals (the “Positive Deviants”) whose special attitudes, practices/ strategies/ behaviors enable them to function more effectively than others with the exact same resources and conditions. The premise of PD is that the superior practices of the Positive Deviants enable them to improve outcomes, and if those practices (also attitudes, thinking and behaviors) can be isolated then they can be used to improve the outcomes of others as well. An essential process in PD is the identification of ‘comps or peers.
Reading this reminds me of my consulting days and talking to clients about identifying and learning “best practices” and setting forth the plans to achieve them. It also occurs to me that the notion of searching for these positive deviants is akin to looking for “extreme” users. We often try to seek extreme users to understand where mainstream users could potentially evolve to in the future.
The more I thought about this for a while, I’m not so sure that it’s just as easy and extrapolating optimal behaviors from positive deviants. To corroborate this, I started poking around and found this: Positive Deviance and Extraordinary Organizing. Reading the paragraph about Tom from Tom’s of Maine (consequently, the toothpaste I use) was enlightening. It starts with the desire for meaning. Meaning isn’t fungible, and transferrable only by the positive deviant. Rarely by some other agent, and almost assuredly not by some change management consultant.
Getting back to the article, it’s exciting that Design is being used in the third sector to solve large problems. What a change from just a few years ago where the methodologies we use, while speaking with clients, were considered esoteric and shrouded in a veil of design “mystery”.
But there was something unsettling about his article – particularly the point about becoming a “sales-force” driven company. Immediately my startup-terrible-idea-radar went up.
Then I stumbled on this more accurate post by David@37sigs that is sort of a retort to the Joel Spolsky article.
Upon deeper reflection, I agree with David.
Fear is insidious and causes us to do weird things. I know, because I’ve made silly mistakes in the past because of fear and the perceived need for speed. Speed is good, and necessary, but making poor decisions due to obsession with speed is painful and sometimes irrevocable.
Make sure that there are significant network effects involved if there’s a business that you’re trying to capture the market share of.
David brings up the sales-force driven company up again in his post and puts it in a little more colored language:
Become a sales force-driven company: Hire a bunch of sales people and make them convince people to buy our software. This is even more enterprisey thinking. Side step the actual users, the developers, and go straight to management with steak and strippers. I’ve worked at sales force-driven software companies and they suck. The sales people will invariably promise more than you have and drive you even deeper into “build everything for everyone”.
The only problem is: On first blush, we’re almost certainly in a business that probably has network-effects. So I should probably hurry up and get back to work instead of sitting here and blogging about this.
You start to lose track of days when you are trying polyphasic sleeping. Remember when I was talking about all of the social norms you’re up against when trying non circadian sleeping habits? Well, they’re a lot more pervasive than I thought.
I think I finally got into a groove, but I’m not sure how I can hold this up for very much longer. Here are some initial thoughts about the experiment in alternative sleeping styles:
I’m not a recluse (okay, sometimes I am). But it’s REALLY nice to be able to be awake or alone and focused on your stuff with no distractions from other people. I only wish that this was during the day. Most of the time that I am distraction free, it’s late at night when everyone else is sleeping. Night isn’t conducive to work. At least, not creative work, I’ve found. Try listening to tunes while you’re awake and no one else is awake — Trance and Bollywood dance remixes always wake you up and help you have a nice steady cadence.
Optimal sleeping time is about 24 minutes. If you go past about that long, you’re essentially screwed. You will absolutely not wake up. Don’t even try.
Invest in two helpful devices, a yoga eye pillow, and get one of those eye masks that strap to your face that they give out in business class at most airlines. Use the eye mask when you have to take a nap sitting up, the yoga pillow is really nice when you can lie down.
You will probably lose track of days. Which could be terrible depending on what your job is.
This one is particularly insidious because you don’t really notice it at first: I feel much less creative and more groggy. I guess that doesn’t work so well for our profession. Rats.
I fell asleep while doing work / chatting with Jeff last night. Sorry Jeff! He reminded me of the story of Max Levchin of Paypal fame from Founders at Work. See, I’m committed, dangit.
Probably the worst part of all of it is that it ruins your ability to exert physical effort. I lost almost all concentration at Bikram Yoga for about 2 days in a row. I think this might be the reason I give up the experiment.
I’ll update you again if I continue with this experiment.
Today begins the 3rd attempt in my life to switch to a polyphasic sleeping schedule. I’ve tried twice in the past, unsuccessfully. Both of those were in college.
For a while I just thought that it would be amazingly awesome to sleep just… less. Be insanely more productive and contribute to seventy five different projects, all while training to climb Everest or something. That would be pretty awesome. Impossible? No impossible is the opposite of possible (thanks to Scott Mio and of course, Aleksey for that).
The only problem is, societal norms, functions, classes, work obligations have always impeded my progress. I also received a great deal of inspiration to try polyphasic sleeping from the spate of articles on the interwebs about how it may actually be healthier (that’s highly suspect) and a GSI I knew from undergrad (Tom Begey) that had like 17 degrees by the time he left.
I realize now that it just might be the case that polyphasic sleeping is a necessity for some people. It might actually be healthier. I clearly can’t seem to stick to a normal circadian sleep cycle. Particularly during the fall months.
So, maybe I should just embrace the insomnia and give in to it? And take my yoga “eye pillow” with me and take a nap during the afternoon.
Anyway, I’m trying this experiment. I’ll let you know how long I can go for this time with some details.
For now, I gotta take a quick nap. Good Nigh-morn (I made that word up). Ok its late and I’m tired. I make dumb jokes.
Last week, Chris Dixon posted this comment from Caterina Fake (of Flickr fame) that really got me thinking:
“Flickr is a wonderful place to be a photograph“.
Makes a lot of sense. If you were a photograph, where else would you want to be? On Flickr, lots of people would look at you, you’d be in slideshows, you’d be discussed, you could even be a part of the great liberation of media that’s happened this decade with Creative Commons.
What a splendid thought. In design school (and at BettrAt) We’re always thinking about how to be so intently user focused, because we care.. and we do stuff like “artifact analysis” while we’re doing ethno’s and contextual inquiry, but often times after listening to the whole mantra around “the experience IS the product” we forget to think about the by-products of our experiences.
For me, this was a great reminder to think about the stuff that sits on the shelves of the platform you create. To truly think about the things that people would create on your site and cherish for time immemorial. Flickr has photographs. Youtube has videos (though most of the stuff on there is terrible anymore). BettrAt will be a wonderful place to be a dream.
Isn’t the ultimate win for someone to elicit their dream.. their goal.. the thing they’re trying to really accomplish in the world and have the people they know support them?
That’s our vision for BettrAt.
I look forward to the day I’ll see someone tweeting the title of this post.
Oh great. Here we go. My post yesterday about realtime couldn’t have been more timely.
Now that Google and Bing are getting the firehose, it could have a big impact on search results. For the search engines, the firehose is much more valuable than any single Tweet. They can index it and sift it, looking for patterns and spikes in keywords and shared links to get a better sense of what people across the Web are paying attention to at any given moment. This data can then be folded back into regular search results, even if the top result isn’t a Tweet.
Many startups are tackling this problem, as is Twitter itself. And now Google and Bing can try their hand at finding the most important bits of data in the firehose. The results should be a more relevant, faster feedback loop between data appearing on the Internet and the search engines finding it.
Unless someone figures out this “StreamRank” idea mentioned by Schonfeld, I want to have a big ol’ button that says “TURN OFF REALTIME SEARCH” on almost any search engine I use.
I’m going to take a stand and call utter BS on the article and all these so-called pundits vaunting the realtime web. Google’s mission was to unlock the world’s information. It’s done a pretty good job at doing that, and has earned the hearts and mindshare of many. It’s come a long way in accomplishing this mission and has a long way to go, but is on the right trajectory.
Most of the realtime tools are a way to surface understanding, determine sentiment (often times, I don’t care all that much about sentiment, I want to judge facts. If I wanted sentiment, I’d pay attention to people talking on the CTA instead of listening to a podcast or something). But they are not the solution to unlocking information. Maybe recent information, but that’s about it. The facts still have to come from somewhere.
Some of these experts claim that this “4th wave” of the internet, the real time web, will slowly encroach and obviate the “incumbent” web. Completely false. Maybe for news, but news isn’t everything. Edo Segal, a “pioneer in realtime search” according to the article, says “Google organized our memory. Real-time search organizes our consciousness.”
Ummh. Okay? For the vast majority of people who either 1) Don’t care to share with the world explicit details about their consciousness or, even more importantly, 2) Don’t care to know the inner details of others’ consciousness, organizing it is vastly complex and of trivial importance.
My favorite comments from the wired article:
“Bye bye, facts. Hello, gossip and misinformation”
“I am a bit bored of reading yet another “google killer”, and “google is so old fashioned they totally don’t get the latest hipness”. Yeah. Once the new hipness is pulling down a few billion a quarter with their model, then they’ll be something to talk about.”
There’s a place for realtime but it isn’t going to nom nom nom the entire web. Maybe I should start a slow information movement that’s focused on deeper reflection, processing, and learning, kind of like what “slow food” was to fast food.