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November 25, 2004

If you are reading this,

If you are reading this, you CAN read, and you probably have food and shelter. This alone makes us fortunate. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2004

Carrots or New Products

In an earlier posting I warned you to Beware of Carrots.  I'm not a big fan of vegetables unless they are in a big bowl of Burgoo, but the carrots to be most wary of are the kind that come in the door looking like new product ideas.  It goes like this - out of the blue you get a call and the person on the other ends says "If you build this product I know I could sell/buy hundreds off them!"  You ask about their budget and they say "Uh no, I don't have any budget to fund the effort, so you build it and THEN I'll sell/buy them."

It's like the little boy riding his donkey who gets the donkey to go wherever he wants by holding a carrot dangling from a stick in front of the donkey's nose.  The donkey catches on that he's not getting any closer to the carrot so he just doubles his efforts hoping to catch it.  It's so easy to be a donkey when a new product opportunity shows up unannounced.  So how do you avoid it?

Don't be the Donkey

Herb Morreale talks about products being Strategic or Opportunistic.  I like to say "we act like the company we want to become" so over the years we've been getting better and better at planning and communicating our strategies and plans for the future.  You have to have a strategic plan if you are going to have strategic products.  Does the product idea really move the company closer to your vision?  Is the idea one of the obvious choices given your strategy and your company's capabilities?  My industry is just beginning to shift from pure custom applications to more packaged products, so our Vonetix product was clearly strategic when we had the idea for it years ago.  It helped move Gold Systems from being a pure custom applications company to one that now gets much of its revenue from products and it is driving new growth.

An Opportunistic product opportunity can be great for a company, but it is much more likely to turn out to be a carrot.  It starts with someone saying, "I know this wasn't on the product roadmap, but it is a GREAT opportunity!"  Start warming up the carrot radar, but don't stomp on the idea yet.  It might truely be a great opportunity.  If your Big Partner comes to you and is serious (as in they put real money and effort in) about a new product line that only you can build, then assuming it at least supports your strategy, then it might be worth going for it. 

But back to the carrots.  Another sign of a carrot is that there is Big Money involved, but you won't see it until the product is done.  A sales person says "I have Big Corp, Monster Corp, and Huge Corp ready to sign so you need to commit, build a demo and agree to a (ridiculously) short development plan."  Now MY sales people don't do this because we've perfectly communicated our strategy to them.  (OK, we're still working on it but they really are good about this.)  Carrots usually come from someone else's sales people in my experience.  The worst partnerships are the ones that generate more carrots than revenue which is why we try to keep our partnerships to a minimum.  Remember during the bubble when everybody partnered with everybody?  It was a great time for carrots.

Opportunities and new ideas are exciting.  That's one reason you are in business.  I try hard not to be a wet blanket when a new idea is presented that looks more like a carrot than a new product.  (OK, I'm still working on it) Maybe what we need is a checklist for identifying carrots.  Here's my start at it:

  1. Does the product idea fit your strategy?  Really?
  2. Did the idea for the product come in suddenly over the transom or did it bubble up from a lot of thoughtful consideration and customer contact?
  3. Is the person bringing the new product idea to you carrying a bag of cash or at least a plan to meaningfully partner on the effort?  Or are they asking you to take all of the financial risk?
  4. Does it sound too good to be true?
  5. Is there a Massive Sense of Urgency?  Sometimes the fastest people are going in circles.  Or as my friend Marty says "Their hind legs go faster than their front legs."
  6. Is the idea coming from an established partner (inside or outside your company) or did you meet the person when they called to tell you What a Great Idea they have for you?

This list is incomplete, and good product ideas can still violate one or more items on the list, but I haven't yet had a successful idea that failed every one of the tests.  I have seen plenty of carrots that failed every one of the tests.

Years ago a doctor got me to spend a lot of time on a "self-diagnosis" system using AI to let people call in and diagnose their own medical problems using only their touch-tone phone.  It violated every test on the list.  I just realized there is another test to add to the list:

    7.  Does the idea sound ridiculous when you talk about it later?

On the other hand, sometimes what looks like a carrot turns out to be a real opportunity.  In the early nineties I flew to Salt Lake City to talk to a small group of people in an office that looked like any other bootstrapping start up.  There were boxes of stuff everywhere and it looked like the place was in chaos.  Their business plan was to enter an established market and be Better, Faster, Cheaper.  (Don't you have to choose two of the three?)  They were going up against companies with lots of money and established names where others had tried and failed.  It sure looked like a carrot to me.  If I'd done my homework better I would have realized that David Neeleman and his team had a very good chance of getting JetBlue off the ground.  David, I apologize for ever mistaking JetBlue for a carrot!

November 20, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 13, 2004

That's enough for now

I've just finished moving most of the content from my personal website to this blog.  I think I like the way it is working, so next I'll work on figuring out how domain mapping works and commit completely to the blogging format.

November 13, 2004 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Frequently Asked Questions

This is a list of frequently asked questions about entrepreneurship that I've collected over the past few years.  See the questions and my attempt at answering the questions next . . .

Frequently Asked Questions

Was it scary to quit your job and start a company?

Yes, but it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I was a contract software developer, so I didn't feel like I was giving up a lot of job security. I thought there was a chance I could go back to AT&T since I'd already left once and returned. Even if AT&T wouldn't take me back I figured I could find a job somewhere else. Someone told me once that "Job security is your ability to find your next job - it's not something a company can give you."

While planning the company I had saved enough cash to go without a pay check for awhile. My business partner and I bootstrapped the company, meaning we started without much cash and we had no outside investors. It really wasn't a choice we made because as far as we knew no one would invest in our idea, and we were probably right. The company was started in my apartment in 1991 with $10,000 in cash and some donated office furniture.

I figured the worst case scenario was that I'd lose all my money, go in debt and have to work a couple years to recover. Best case was I'd end up with a successful business. It really wasn't that hard of a decision.

After planning for nearly a year, I decided to go for it when a person at AT&T said he could "send me a lead a week. We really need someone to help us." I gave my two week's notice a few days later and my last day at AT&T was July 3rd, 1991. I thought it was a great omen that my first day at Gold Systems was Independence Day. I should have also seen the irony that my first real day at work was a holiday for everyone else. The AT&T person who was going to send us all the business - he never sent us a single lead.

The real fear doesn't come from starting your company. It comes later when you are running your company.

At what point did you feel like your company was going to make it?

It took about a year and a half, maybe two years, before I really started feeling like we were going to make it. I had heard all of the statistics about how unlikely it is for a business to succeed. If you haven't heard them yet, tell your friends and family that you are thinking about quitting your job at the biggest company in the world to start a business. They'll start sending you newspaper clippings, studies and all sorts of other evidence for why you are doomed to fail. Don't freak out and don't blame them because the common wisdom is that it is nearly impossible to create a successful company.

Starting a business isn't rocket science, unless of course your business is building rockets. The statistics that support the notion that you are unlikely to succeed are flawed for several reasons. Some studies I've seen are too simplistic because they take a list of new companies for a given year, and then check a few years later to see how many are still in business. Any business that doesn't show up is assumed to have failed. That doesn't count businesses that change their name, businesses that are acquired or businesses that are closed because the owner wants to move on to an even better business.

There is another reason that the odds of failing are overstated. Some businesses shouldn't be started in the first place and are doomed to fail almost from the beginning. (My assumption is you won't do this!) How many times have you seen a restaurant that is starting up on a shoestring in a poor location with a hand-made sign out front and you said to yourself "they won't last." How about the pottery shop that really is just a hobby out of control that lasts as long as it takes the owner to realize they don't enjoy their hobby now that they are depending on it to pay the bills?

Of course even the best planned business in the greatest market can fail, but the odds of your success increase every day you don't quit. In my first few years of business the only thing that kept me going at times was my unwillingness to quit. When I did want to quit, and there were plenty of times, I was lucky to have my wife, my business partner or one of my other friends talk me out of it.

Should I have a partner?

I think so. My business partner, Jim Fudge, was (and still is) a good friend who I trust completely. Neither of us had much business experience but we both wanted to be entrepreneurs. It was fun sharing the experience with him and we kept each other going when times were tough. Make sure you work out ownership issues and responsibilities right at the start. Having a business partner is like being married and if you go into the venture with unrealistic or incompatible expectations you are headed for trouble.

In my case my partner and I are completely different in a lot of ways. He enjoys the details and I enjoy moving from one idea to another. I like getting up in front of people and talking about our service and our company while he'd rather deal with people one on one. I like technology because it is new and exciting and he just wants it to work properly.

Until we understood that we thought differently it sometimes made it difficult for us to understand each other but I think our differences are important because we compliment each other so well. Some of the most successful partnerships I've seen are between people who are very different.

Should I bootstrap or get venture capital?

I'm happy that we bootstrapped but there were certainly times I wished we had a bank account full of someone else's money. There are some businesses that need so much capital to get started that you have no other choice than to try to get venture capital or angel money. I think an advantage to bootstrapping though is that you have to prove your idea can generate revenue to survive. You find out sooner what works and what doesn't before you've lost a lot of money and maybe even ownership of your company. If you are bootstrapping and you decide you need to change your strategy you can do it easier than if someone has invested in your original strategy. They may not be so quick to support the new strategy after seeing the old strategy fail.

Bootstrapping forces you to think about revenue and you learn how to budget your capital fast. Taking VC or angel money probably lets you spend more time thinking about growing the business and less about how you're going to meet payroll next month, at least for a while. A friend of mine who started out bootstrapping and then took venture money looks back and wishes they had taken VC money sooner though because he believes he ultimately would have been farther ahead and had a stronger company.

(Update - I answered the question above before Gold Systems took VC money.  Brad Feld of Mobius Venture Capital invested in Gold Systems in 2001.  Brad's been a great supporter and my experience has been wonderful.  It does change things though, and I'll write about that in a future post.)

How much money do I need to start?

The simple answer to the question "How much money do I need to start" is "Enough to keep going until your business can generate enough cash to sustain itself." That seems like a silly answer, so here's another one. "More than you think." Seriously - Rule Number One is Never Run Out of Cash.   

You can lose money for years as long as you don't run out of cash. You can be profitable but run out of cash and go down the tubes. Take your best guess at when you'll start generating revenue and when you'll become profitable. Estimate your expenses. Estimate how fast people will pay you. From these estimates you can figure out how much cash you will burn through before you are self-sustaining. That is how much money you need to start, assuming everything goes as planned. Since it almost never does in the beginning add in a safety factor. One thing in your favor is that the closer you get to running out of cash, the easier it gets to pick up the phone and try to sell something.

The following table is a very simple view of how cash flows through a company. Periods may be days, weeks, months or even years. The numbers are totally made up. I assume that you get paid for a period's worth of work in the next period. Don't underestimate how long it can take to get paid after you do the work or build the product! Remember this accounting rule No parentheses good, parentheses bad.


Period 1

Period 2

Period 3

Period 4

Period 5

Period 6

Period 7



















Profit (Loss)








Cash Received








Extra Cash Required in Period








You have an extra $400

Total Cash Required








Note that in period 5, you broke even, but because in the delay between doing the work and getting paid, you still had to come up with an extra $600 from somewhere. You turn the corner in period 7, having used a total of $4,700. If you started out the company with $5,000 in the bank you did fine. If you started out with $4,000 in the bank you run out of money in period 5, just when you are getting profitable. Wouldn't that suck - you run out of money just as things are starting to work and you go out of business. Repeat again Rule Number One: Never Run Out of Cash.

Can I start a company in my spare time?

I think you can plan a company in your spare time and maybe get it started but until you commit to the venture I don't think you're going to be able to create the momentum you need to create a successful company. I've had the following quote by Goethe up on my wall off and on for the past nine years. I first found it the week I quit my job. He says it better than I can.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is an elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. -Goethe

Update:  Great quote, right?  Alan Baron, a friend and local entrepreneur sent me a link that indicates that Goethe didn't really say it at all.  Oh well, it is still a great quote.

I have seen this at work. When you are focused and committed to making something happen it is as if you become a magnet to the things you need to achieve your goal. This isn't just Boulder New Age Magic Baloney either - something changes when you commit.

Are all entrepreneurs crazy?

Yes. Every one I've met is obsessive and compulsive. They have bouts of unwarranted optimism. They are all trying to prove something to themselves, their friends or neighbors or the 4th grade teacher who said "you'll never amount to anything if you don't learn to spell." If you think you are normal, reconsider becoming an entrepreneur unless you also think that everyone else in the world isn't normal. I mean this all in a nice way.

Have you found it hard to go from being a techie to an administrator?

I still love technology and I read about it and play with it several hours a day. I can hack out a small Java application Microsoft Visual Studio application if I have to and I could probably still knock out some C code but I'm not a programmer anymore.  The hardest part is realizing that a skill that I worked very hard to develop is now almost gone from lack of use.  Maybe 40 year-old gymnasts feel this way too when they look back and realize they will never be able to perform the routines they once could do so easily as a young athlete.

A CEO needs to be much more than an administrator.  You have to be a sales person, an accountant, a guidance counselor, communicator,  performer, mediator, motivator, negotiator, planner, publicist and leader.  You have to be the person to ultimately take responsibility for anything your company does wrong while spreading credit for good things around your team.  You have to be a teacher and a student.  Learning how to take on these different roles is what keeps the job interesting to me.
Most of my friends are technical people who took an idea and turned it in to a business, so techies can learn how to be business people, but you first have to understand that you will have to change and grow to be successful.  Update: A book has finally been written about the changes that an entrepreneur will go through as their company grows.  Check out Leading at the Speed of Growth by Jana Mathews and Katherine Catlin

November 13, 2004 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

One of my hobbies outside of work is photography, particularly night photography.

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I'm currently using a Canon Digital Rebel and a Nokia 33650 Camera Phone.  The Canon makes taking good photos easy, but the Nokia makes me work for it and learn in the process.

November 13, 2004 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A few tips

Tips for Entrepreneurs

This is a random collection of tips for entrepreneurs.  Join a peer group, get an advisory board, buy a Pocket PC and read more.

Tips for Entrepreneurs

Join a peer group  Find a group of people going through the same experience as you and commit to helping each other. The Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) is a great group but there are many other organizations that support entrepreneurs. If there isn't a chapter in your area, start one. Being able to sit down once or twice a month and talk openly with people who are facing the same challenges you are is really helpful.  (Since I wrote this essay a few years ago I've "aged out" of YEO and now I'm a member of The Young Presidents Organization (YPO) - also a great organization)

Get an advisory board  (Bill, this is even above getting a PDA!)  Having a good outside advisory board can really help.  A good board will bring you experience that you can't afford to hire, they will sanity check your ideas, they will help you make contacts and might even help you raise money.  My board has helped me in so many ways and my company is farther along than we'd ever be without them.  A great board cares as much about you the CEO as they do about the company.  I'll expand on this topic later and cover areas such as board compensation, how to avoid legal liability for your board and other topics that will make creating your own board easier.  Email me if you can't wait.

Get a Palm Pilot or Pocket PC  I've used a Palm Pilot since they were first made by U.S. Robotics, but last year I switched to the Pocket PC. If you like Windows, you'll like the Pocket PC.   Now I keep a great to-do list, my calendar is always with me and I have access to a lot of information that I wouldn't otherwise usually have with me.  I use the memo pad to keep everything from our company financials and historical performance to the names of restaurants in the different cities I visit. 

Read an extra magazine a month  I read a lot where ever I can.  I've got articles and web sites on my Pocket PC for the times where I get stuck somewhere without anything to read.  Lately I've discovered a way to read an extra magazine a month.  I bought a cookbook holder at one of the chain cooking supply stores.  It is a piece of clear plastic designed to hold a cookbook up while protecting it from splashes.  I use it to keep a magazine next to the bathroom sink where I can read while I get ready to go to work in the morning.  It sounds silly but I've read some good articles that I would otherwise not have found time to read.

November 13, 2004 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


This essay on management was originally published on my website


It would be a good idea to plan your management team from the day you start your company, but if you're like a lot of entrepreneurs you wait until you are overwhelmed and going crazy to start dividing responsibilities.  If you are on your own you might be able to manage six to ten people yourself.  If you have a partner you can a go little longer but not twice as long because you will find you start contradicting each other and confusing the people working with you if you don't lay out clearly how responsibility is divided.

Read more . . .


The best place to find managers are within your company.  They understand the culture you are building and they understand the history of the company.  Some positions just can't be filled from within though so you have to hire from the outside.  Hiring a manager from the outside is difficult because it is hard to get a sense of a candidate's values and ethics in a few interviews.  Don't even think about bringing in a manager who might not live up to your company values.  No amount of technical or management experience will overcome a poor fit in the values department.

If you are the CEO, President, founder or whatever,  you probably believe that you set the tone and the example for everyone below you. (You do.) Your culture is for the most part going to mirror your values, work ethic and sense of fun. As your company grows there is going to be more distance between you and new people in the organization, so the cultural tone will still be influenced by you but new people will look more towards their managers for their cues. As I look back on all of my managers, I could have made my decisions easier if I had asked "would I want ten more people acting like this manager?" I believe that you will get people somewhat like your managers because the manager can't help but hire people like them and the people will view the manager as an example of how to get ahead. I realize now that when I promote someone I might as well put a sign on their back that says "Management thinks this person is doing really good and wants to reward them and put them in a position to do even more good things."  If you wouldn't feel comfortable signing that sign, you've got the wrong person in the position.

I had a conversation with a manager once that went something like "you know, its not that what you are doing is bugging me so much but I'm concerned that other people are going to pick up on this and cross the line because you are setting an example of how people should behave here. Because you are a manager I have to hold you to an even higher standard."

Herb Morreale, the founder of XOR made these comments about hiring managers.  Herb is also a fan of Built to Last  (Update - Herb has joined me at Gold Systems!)

"Hire from within. That means everyone needs to be looked at as the next CEO. GE/Jack Welch did a great job with this. If she isn't your next CEO you need to get her ready to be one, or move someone else into her position. Obviously, it's not practical to build an ebusiness from the bottom (not enough time), but it's something to keep in mind. Winning cultures have groomed the leaders, not inserted them. Ask yourself everyday who's the next CEO."

November 13, 2004 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Don't worry, it's normal

(This essay was originally published on my website a few years ago)

Don't Worry, It's Normal

I've started a list of things no one tells you when you start a business.  Topics include: Am I doing enough? That you will feel so overwhelmed that you can't move.  That Being an entrepreneur is like being on a roller coaster 24 hours a day.  When you start a company it is consuming and on your mind most of the time.  And my favorite, Lessons will be repeated until learned.  All this and more next . . .

You will ask yourself Am I doing enough? You may find yourself wondering if taking the weekend off is going to be the difference between success and failure.  You'll probably spend some sleepless nights reviewing the day thinking you could have made one more call or done something (anything!) to tip the odds a little more in your favor.

There will be times when you have so much to do, and everything seems critical, that you will feel so overwhelmed that you can't move. - (da) 

Being an entrepreneur is like being on a roller coaster 24 hours a day.  Every entrepreneur I've talked to relates to this.  The highs and lows will come fast and furious in the beginning and no one I've met believes that you ever really get off the roller coaster.  The best you can do is expect the highs and lows, try to keep things in perspective, hang on and enjoy the ride.  I keep a backgammon piece in my pocket these days to remind me that life is a game that should be enjoyed and not taken too seriously.

When you start a company it is consuming and on your mind most of the time.  No one told me that being an entrepreneur would take over most of my waking moments.  For a long time I would wake up in the morning and realize that I'd been thinking about my business in my sleep.  I've found ways to have a life outside of business but it is still on my mind most of the time.  When you wake up in the morning and realize you have been thinking about the business before you even woke up - my friend Tim Miller calls this "Sleepworking."

Sometimes you just can't go any faster.   I believe it takes a certain amount of time to make anything happen, and there is a limit to how fast you can go.  A sense of urgency is what sets entrepreneurs off from bureaucrats but sometimes you really can't go any faster.

Some people can't stay.  As a company grows, it changes. If a company doesn't change it won't grow.  Since a company is basically a group of people it means that the people have to change as the company grows but our human nature is to resist change, particularly change that is forced on us and different from the changes we would like to see.  A small growing company starts out (hopefully!) with the founders all agreeing on the direction of the company and most of the change is created by the founders.  It feels good because change means progress early on.  As the company grows and more people are involved it is unlikely and even undesirable for everyone to agree completely.  Eventually though every company is faced with the prospect of losing someone because they just don't agree anymore with where the company is going.

It must be tough for an employee who feels like they helped get the company this far but must leave because they don't like the changes they see happening.  I know it is tough for the entrepreneur because when someone is willing to leave their job because they no longer believe in the direction the company is going it is easy to take it personally or question the direction.  The thing to realize is that it is normal for people to leave for opportunities that they believe will be better for them - and many times they are right - they do find opportunities that are better for them.   It may also be better for the company though because you can't succeed if too much of your energy is going into debating or rethinking the company direction.

You have to be up when you don't feel like it.  Any good roller coaster is exciting because the high points and low points are combined quickly and in ways you don't anticipate.  The entrepreneurial roller coaster can make the best wooden coaster seem like a kiddy ride.  One of the rules of the entrepreneurial roller coaster though is that you have to look like you're having fun even when you're about ready to lose your lunch.

For example, you start out the morning ready to go, thinking about how you're going to close a deal in the afternoon.  Waiting for you is a voice mail from a customer.  Great, you called them yesterday to see when they expected to pay the invoice you sent them last month.  They say they never received the invoice so your hopes of having the cash in hand this week disappear.  The next voice mail is from a partner saying they want you to go with them to meet a customer who could give you a lot of work.  You go from annoyed or even a little afraid to hopeful within thirty seconds.  Your day continues to go up and down right up until the big customer meeting.  Just before walking in to try to close the deal, you check voicemail and find out that something terrible has happened back at the office - a key person has quit, an expensive piece of hardware needs to be replaced or some other important customer is now thinking about canceling the work they gave you last month.  Whatever the problem is, you have to shake it off and go into the business at hand with a great attitude.  If you don't, you run the risk of not getting the deal and making your problems even worse.

You have to be able to compartmentalize your problems.  Even the great things that happen to you need to be compartmentalized to some extent so that you don't slack off and neglect other things that need your attention.  It is difficult but possible to manage emotions so that you are able to flip a switch in your brain that says "I can't think about this problem right now or let it get me down because I have an opportunity that demands that I be enthusiastic and optimistic."

Some of your decisions will be critical to the life of the company, but you won't know which ones are critical until after you make them.


Everyone can't be happy all of the time.  Even single person companies don't have 100% employee satisfaction all of the time.  It is normal for some people to be unhappy and the best managed company will always have some dissatisfaction.  Don't let it get you down and especially don't let it cause you to try to manage to 100% satisfaction.  You can't win that game.  It helps to remember that progress is usually caused by dissatisfaction with the current situation.  The challenge is to know when you have a real problem with the morale and attitude within the company.  (Editor's note:  Insert answer to the question "So how do I know if I have a real problem?" here when discovered.)

You'll have more opportunity than you can handle.  You'll never have more profit than you can handle, but opportunity is usually not in short supply.  It was a surprise to me that there were so many opportunities for possible business when I started my company.  There were more product ideas than we knew how to explore and there were a lot of people wanting to tell us about some new opportunity we could pursue.  It is the resources to exploit opportunity that are in short supply.  No matter how much money you start out with, if you go after every opportunity that presents itself, you'll never get up enough momentum in any one direction to really be successful.  Check out Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It, by Al Ries.

Beware of carrots. You've heard of holding a carrot on a string in front of a donkey to get him to move?  People love to do the same thing to entrepreneurs and it works about as well for the entrepreneur as it does for the donkey.  If you hear the words "We won't be able to pay you but it is a great opportunity that will bring you a lot of business" BEWARE!

People think differently.  Really - not everyone thinks like you do.  Get used to the idea because if you assume that everyone thinks like you do you will misread a lot of situations.  Once you realize that people think differently you have to then understand that they can think differently without being wrong.  Some people love details and if you don't give them to them they may think you haven't really thought through your idea.  Other people can't stand the details and may think you are boring if you don't stay at a high enough level.  Until you really understand that people's brains are wired differently you are are going to be frustrated and frustrating in your communications.

You'll question your judgment.  Every entrepreneur I know questions their judgement at times.  It's normal, so don't think you don't have what it takes just because you sometimes wonder if you made the right decision.  A bad case of this will have you wondering if you are even capable of making the right decision.  It's normal - don't let it shake you.

Non-founders will never be founders.  It isn't reasonable to expect an employee to act like a founder.

Don't confuse investment with revenue.  So you've got a great idea and you've convinced someone to give you $(some meaningful amount of money) for your new venture.  That's wonderful but you don't have a sustainable business until you are generating revenue and profits.  Don't let money in the bank and a brand new executive chair make you comfortable.

Working hard is the easy part. Deborah gave me this one.  Anyone can work 12 or 15 hour days but that's really not the hard part about being an entrepreneur.  It's making the decisions that have real effects on peoples lives, it's believing you'll make it in the face of evidence that maybe you won't, it's trying to learn everything you need to make it work.  That's the hard part.

There are rarely any clear answers.  Until time machines are invented and you can go back and try different decisions under the same circumstances, don't expect to have clear answers to your problems.  Deal with the fact that you have to make the best decision you can without spending too much time second guessing yourself.  It's normal to not be 100% sure of every decision you make.  There's no time in business to try to gather enough information to be 100% certain about every decision you make.

Sometimes the most painful problems aren't the most important problems.  When pain was invented the idea was to use it to motivate the animal to avoid whatever was causing the pain.  If we were able to think perfectly logically though we would have no need for pain so we might have the following thought process:  Ah, my nerve endings in my scalp are detecting an abnormal increase in temperature.  I must take remedial action.  With our less than logical brains, pain is used and the thought process goes like this:  OH CRAP MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!!!!  AHHHHHH!!!!  It works.

In business most times the level of pain is not a good indicator of the seriousness of a problem and some of the worst problems are not accompanied by any pain at all.


Not Painful

email is down again A customer  begins thinking about using your competitor
Page breaks in your business plan won't come out where you want them Your potential investor decides you're not interested in their money since they haven't heard from you in a month
An angry customer calls to tell you what you're doing wrong An angry customer doesn't call to tell you what you're doing wrong, they just silently go away
You miss dinner again trying to get a customer proposal out on time You knock off early because customers haven't been asking for much lately
Customers are calling so often that if you don't hire some one to answer the phones you're going to lose your mind Customers don't bother trying to call because they're tired of being put on hold

Get used to worrying about getting new business.  No one tells you when you start a business that you probably won't ever be able to just kick back and relax.  I've never met an entrepreneur who didn't worry about getting new business in the door.  It's part of the job.

Get people who've done it before and verify that they've really done it. Art gave me this one.  Some jobs really do require experience.  Sometimes you can't afford on the job training.

Am I really cut out to be an entrepreneur?  Yes Scott, I think you are.  It's normal to wonder about this.  There are great rewards but there are great pressures too.  If you never question your ability and sanity, you're probably a no-good crazy person.  Or as G. B. Burgin said "I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and not know it than to be sane and have one's doubts."

There are more than 136 million people in the workforce in the United States alone and most of them have not started a business, therefore, normal people don't start businesses.

Accept that this is the way it is.  There are some things you just can't do anything about and some things may not get any better.  Beating your head against the wall doesn't help much.

Lessons will be repeated until learned.  I have not learned all of these lessons myself and sharing them here only means that I'm starting to recognize a pattern, not that I'm always able to take my own advice.  I still hate having to be up when I don't feel like it, I still don't communicate enough and I still wish for clear answers to my problems.

November 13, 2004 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Doing the Right Thing

This essay was originally published a few years ago on my website,  At my company Gold Systems we often talk about doing the right thing.  I've tried to explain what doing the right thing means to me in this essay.  After being in business for almost fourteen years, I'm sure there are people who don't believe I've always followed this principle.  I've done my best though.

Doing the Right Thing

Don't get the wrong idea.  All of my talk about "doing the right thing" isn't leading up to some religious pitch and I'm not about to start talking about liberal or conservative politics.  Doing the right thing means to me that you try to treat people well and that you always act with the highest integrity.  Simple to say but hard to do.  As my friend Jim Fudge says "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

I believe that life is better if you treat people with respect and you always tell the truth.  I believe business is easier when you try to maintain a set of values about how people will treat each other.  I wish I could say that all my life I've lived this way, but I can't.  Treating people with respect, so that they always feel respected, is tough.  Telling the truth is hard too because it isn't good enough to just not lie, you have to avoid misleading people intentionally or unintentionally.

If you think that the way to succeed in business is to be cut-throat, to tell people whatever they want to hear to get their cooperation, to stretch the truth . . . I'm probably not going to change your mind, but I can say positively that it isn't the only way to do business.  My business and many others have been successful while insisting that the people always try to "do the right thing."  I can't prove it, but I believe that your odds of success even increase if you always try to do the right thing.

If you are an entrepreneur who is trying to do the right thing but you're wondering if it is possible to be successful and be true to your values at the same time I want to encourage you.  You're not alone.  There really are a lot of people in business who think the way you do.  Don't let the dishonest, stab-you-in-the-back, reputation-less weasels make you think you won't succeed if you don't cut corners.

Thanks to Bob Levin who shared a story about his Grandpa, David S. Levin, I now have a very simple measure for my actions to see if I'm doing the right thing.  Bob says his Grandpa lived his life trying to treat people right.  He didn't make a show of it though.  Near the end of his life he summarized his life in business by saying, "No man can look me in the eye and tell me that I done him wrong."  Imagine what it means to have lived a long life and at the end of it to be able to look back and say that.  Mr. Levin, I would have liked to have known you.

November 13, 2004 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Seattle space needle

Seattle space needle - I used the mobile posting capabilities of typepad to send this photo from my Nokia 3650.  Pretty cool!

November 12, 2004 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack