The Fundamental Entrepreneurship Challenge

entrepreneurship zen general

Thrashing n. To expend a disproportionately high amount of energy relative to the quality of output you receive

When I was younger and looked at successful companies, I simply could not for the life of me understand how they ever went from NOTHING to what they were today. The modern equivalent would be like asking “How did Jamba Juice launch hundreds of stores across the country? How did that start?” It made sense to me that if you raised a massive amount of money and then immediately bought all the capital equipment and hired all the people you needed then you’d at least be capable of serving all the customers, and that the massive revenue from the customers would balance out your massive expenses…but how did it all come to be from NOTHING? It seemed like magic to me.

And from this line of thought I embarked on what I believe is the fundamental fallacy of entrepreneurial thinking: asking the question “what does a company need to do to succeed?”

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The Technical Founder Strengths and Weaknesses

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“We are hugely in favor of the technical founder. We will generally focus on companies started by strong technologists who know exactly what they want to build and how they are going to build it.” – Marc Andreessen

I’ve always prided myself on being a “technical founder.” Basically, it means that if I were hired as a dedicated software engineer I could make a pretty meaningful contribution to a software product, but that my primary role is to guide the growth of the company as CEO. I used to think that being a technical founder was an absolute advantage over non-technical founders since not only could I do the business thing, but I could really understand at a deep technical level how viable something is, and I also know what’s possible, which enables me to come up with product ideas and visions that non-technical founders might not be able to.

But life has this funny thing where our biggest strength can also be our biggest weakness. The trick is being honest with yourself about what they are.

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Lead Like the Great Conductors

entrepreneurship general

This is a beautiful exposition (and metaphor) on the role of a leader. I’ve often wondered if it’s better to set forth clear guidelines so that everyone knows exactly what to do, or better to provide people a framework within which to “tell their own story” (to use the words of Mr. Talgam in the video below).

Ultimately, I’ve found that different people respond to different styles. But if there is a “default style,” I believe the conductor who empowers the musicians to perform the music in their own style while providing subtle yet meaningful guidance on context, feeling, and intent produces the most beautiful music.

Zappos Offers New Hires $3,000 to Quit After 4 Weeks

entrepreneurship zen

This article was posted two years ago, but it’s still a pretty cool concept. Basically, Zappos (the online shoe site that Amazon recently bought) will train new hires for 4 weeks, and then offers them $3,000 to quit. Check it out for yourself.

I feel these kinds of counterintuitive moves have a deeper wisdom in them. Conventional wisdom says “why would ever induce someone who we just spent 4 weeks training to quit?” A more zen approach says “we only want to work with people who really want to work with us, and we believe if they take ‘the offer’ we all saved ourselves the heartache of what would have been inevitable.”

The offer above isn’t perfect and does have its drawbacks, but it’s certainly a concept worth pondering.

Eliminating Distractions

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When man’s primary job was to find a way to eat each day, distractions were probably not a big deal. Primitive man had no facebook, no twitter, no IM, no cell phone. He just had a rumbling in his stomach and the grim realization that either he found some food or he and possibly his family wouldn’t make it past winter.

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The Starbucks Paradox

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I would say in the past month I had been going to Starbucks an average of 4 times per week. One visit of $4.25 is easy enough to swallow, but when I started running the numbers, I was surprised to learn that $4.25 x 4 days per week x 52 weeks per year = are you telling me I spend almost $900/year sipping a latte?

I long ago realized that the value proposition of Starbucks is much more than just coffee. Howard Schultz’s original vision was not to “make premium coffee and earn a profit,” but to transport the community-ness of espresso cafes he saw in Italy to the USA, where he felt our society had only grown more isolated over time.

Abstract as it may be, I think the stores do ultimately deliver on that concept. I don’t go to Starbucks solely because I like the taste of my drink. I go with a colleague, we know the baristas, we see people we know, it’s close by, it takes about 15 minutes…and so on. Basically, it’s just kind of a nice way to take a break!

Nevertheless, I needed to cut down the frequency. So here’s the strange part.

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A Series of Stresses or A Series of Adventures

entrepreneurship zen

Although I love what I do, one of the more frustrating aspects of running a business is that YOU are always the bottleneck for everything. The reason we don’t produce sites faster is because I, personally, have to review them. The reason sales are at X but not Y is because I personally have not yet hired the right salesperson and because I personally am too busy to proactively follow up with every single lead. The reason we haven’t developed our new products faster is because I personally have to do some user interface designs but have been busy with other things.

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Honesty

general zen

Whew, it’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog. Nearly 4 months!

I feel like I have so many things I’d like to write about, but one thing in particular seems to keep popping up these days: the idea of being honest with people.

Maybe it’s my nature, maybe it’s my upbringing, but I just really feel uncomfortable when I’m not being forthright with someone. If I feel like I’m withholding something or not disclosing something it makes me feel manipulative and uneasy. I feel like I have to just come out with the truth, all of it.

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Connecting with Your True Purpose

general zen

Okay, so watch this video for just a little bit before you continue reading:

One of the things I really love about music is that when we hear great music performed, we aren’t just hearing great music, we’re also hearing an individual who has risen to his or her full potential.

The guy in the video is of course Bono, U2’s lead singer. The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” As you watch Bono singing to thousands of people, you can just tell that Bono has 150% embraced his role. You don’t get the feeling that he’s thinking “Gosh, am I enjoying singing this song? Is this really what I want to be doing with myself?” You can just tell that he is totally congruent with what he’s doing, and is expressing himself to his full potential. Sure enough, thousands of people came out to hear it.

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Using Your Computer for Actual Work

general

Paul Graham is one of my favorite essayists. He is incredibly smart, but all his essays are written in a totally straightforward style. My latest favorite is about how society is always scheming to help us procrastinate by giving us distractions, and that while we might feel bad spending 2 hours watching soap operas in front of the TV, somehow we don’t feel quite so bad wasting that same time browsing around on the Internet.

I’ve been guilty of this, and it’s something I’m actively working to change.

Read the article for yourself!