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September 21, 2006

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

If you are an NPR listener, you might recognize the name Ewing Marion Kauffman.  If you are a sports fan, you might know that Mr. Kauffman brought major league baseball back to Kansas City by buying the Royals in 1968.  You might also know that he was a great entrepreneur, starting Marion Labs in his basement.  The company began with $36,000 in revenue the first year, and was doing almost a billion a year in revenue when it was acquired by Merrell Dow thirty-nine years later.  Mr. Kauffman believed that the best way to improve the world was to educate people and create jobs, and he felt an obligation to do just that.  I imagine he would rather I mention that the company employed over 3,400 people and touched the lives of countless others, than to reduce it to stock-market terms of revenue and return on investment.  Long before his death in 1993, Mr. Kauffman planned for the foundation that would survive him and continue the work of educating people and encouraging enterprise (to create jobs) through entrepreneurship.  Today that foundation is the 26th largest foundation in the U.S. with an asset base of approximately $2 billion dollars.

Every entrepreneur should read this article that Mr. Kauffman wrote about his inspiration for starting his company, and the beliefs he held that made it great.  I first became aware of the Kauffman Foundation as a struggling entrepreneur when I met Katherine Catlin, Jana Matthews and Bill Payne.  Katherine was the first person to talk to me about culture and values and how they fit in a business, Jana helped me understand growth and leadership, and Bill has helped me in so many ways that I can't describe.  They are all great supporters of entrepreneurs, especially struggling entrepreneurs, and they are all connected to the Kauffman Foundation.

And now I get the chance to pass on some of the support that I've received directly and indirectly from the Kauffman Foundation.  I've been asked to contribute on a regular basis to the Kauffman eVenturing website.  I'll be giving the "working entrepreneur" perspective on a variety of topics, and I have to say that it is an honor, it is exciting, but it is also very scary.  I expect to do my first post within the next week or two and I'm already nervous about it.  Maybe I'll start just by telling some of the great stories I've heard about Mr. Kauffman and about how his foundation is carrying on the good work to help make the world a better place.  I expect to be cross-posting most articles here, so stay tuned and wish me luck.

September 21, 2006 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 20, 2006

An introduction to my new friend and Editor at Large

I can't quite reconstruct when I first met her, and to be totally accurate, I haven't met her yet, but some months ago Verna Wilder left her first comment on my blog.  In July, she left another comment and I found her blog for the first time.  Wow.  <---  I put that link in with full knowledge that you might not get back to this post.  That's fine, it happens to me all the time.  Tonight I found myself reading about Zen Koans for 20 minutes thanks to Verna's latest post.)

I admire Verna's writing ability, but I especially admire her honesty and willingness to say what she's thinking.  I find now that I save her posts for when I have the time to appreciate the work that goes into them.  (I assume she works at it, but then maybe she just dashes it off and the words just fall perfectly into place.)  Verna loves writing and it shows.

Verna has a new business as a copy-editor that's doing well, even though she's agreed to be my Editor At Large, for . . . well . . . free.  Or at least I haven't received a bill yet.  The deal is that she reads my posts when she gets a chance, and then points out the most obvious errors.  If you read one of my posts right after I write it, and you find a mistake, then it is mine, not hers.  Thank you Verna - I'm not a good enough writer myself to describe your writing, but I enjoy it very much and I appreciate that you are putting it out in public for others to enjoy.

September 20, 2006 in Blogging | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 15, 2006

Help me, help you

Here is a good rule for entrepreneurs, sales people, and really just about anybody.  Make it easy for other people to help you.

There is a salesperson at my company who is particularly good at this.  He wants me to call one of his prospects and help assure them that the Gold Systems Password Reset product is the best choice for their company.

I've replace any identifying names with CAPITAL LETTERS.  Here is the email request:

Hello Terry,

I’d like to ask a favor of you.  Please contact MR CUSTOMER at BIG COMPANY in SOME CITY.  MR CUSTOMER is a Decision Maker on a BIG COMPANY Password Reset opportunity.  He is on the SOME DIVISION side of the house.  Your message to MR CUSTOMER would be:

“Hello CUSTOMER, my name is Terry Gold and I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Gold Systems.  I understand you have been working with ONE OF OUR PARTNERS and my team here on our voice based password reset product to eliminate a business issue of resetting passwords.  I just wanted to give you a call and open up another line of communication for you.  I understand OUR PARTNER and OUR REGIONAL SALES MANAGER and OUR PRODUCT MANAGER here at Gold have been assisting your team, but, I just would like to offer up my phone number to you if you should have any questions surrounding our technology or our company.  BIG COMPANY is a very important customer to us and you actually have another one of our products, the V-Dialer running.  Thanks again CUSTOMER.  We use it ourselves, so feel free to call me and say "Terry Gold on his mobile."

Terry, this opportunity is at 70%.  Just as a side note, we do have professional services built in to the bid to reset OTHER PASSWORDs in case, in the odd chance, that comes up if you happen to catch him live.  THE GOLD SYSTEMS DEVELOPER WHO HAD A MOHAWK IN COLLEGE worked with their folks, mainly THEIR TECHNICAL GURU, to prove out this model a while back.  Please let me know if you should have any questions before you call.

Many thanks,


So, there are a couple of lessons here.  As an entrepreneur, don't underestimate the importance of your title whether it is CEO, President or whatever.  Big companies work with little companies all the time, and for the most part they like the idea that they have the attention of the CEO/President/Founder.  (They may worry if you are also taking the support calls, but hey, you've got to do what you've got to do in the early days.)

The other lesson is that SALESGUY made it really, really easy for me to help him.  He emailed it so he didn't have to try to catch me in the office, so if I was traveling, I could still help him.  He copied my assistant too, and she knows that CUSTOMER is the magic word at Gold Systems, so even if I didn't see it, she would track me down and make sure I made the call.  He anticipated the questions I might ask and gave me the answers, so I didn't have to go back and dig for more information.

If he had just stopped me in the hall and said "Would you call MR. PROSPECT?" I would have, but I would have had to look up the person's number in our CRM system, I would have to review our history with BIG COMPANY and then maybe go back to SALESGUY to make sure that I was hitting the important points.  I would have done all that, but I wouldn't have made the call as quickly.  By the way, I don't really use scripts but if you listened to the actual call that I made, you would hear that I did hit all the points that SALESGUY asked me to hit and then I threw in some of my personal touches.

Make it easy for people to help you.  Be clear about what you want, give them the details they need, anticipate their questions and be concise and respectful of their time.  SALESGUY is a master at this.

September 15, 2006 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

Live from the FJ

I made a lot of progress on the FJ Car Computer project over the weekend, and I learned something about a hot topic in my industry - Presence.  Imagine you are reading this article (OK, I guess you really are), but imagine that you just really want to talk to me about this post.  Presence would give you the ability (assuming I give you permission) to see if I am available to talk via the telephone, my cell phone, one of my IM clients or by some other means.  It's one of those things that may not seem important until you experience it first hand.

As I said, I made a lot of progress this weekend.  The FJ now has full-time wireless Internet thanks to the Kyocera KR1 Broadband EVDO Router with WiFi.  Actually it is thanks to Ron Brumfield from Intel who convinced me that it would be easy to install.  He was right - I plugged it in, connected to it via Ethernet with my laptop, did a little admin and within 10 minutes I had wireless high-speed connectivity.  I then plugged it into the FJ, turned on the car computer and it magically started providing Internet access.  (If you see a Blue FJ Cruiser driving by, try plugging in an SSID of fjcruiser to your wireless device.  I'm happy to share.)

Once you connect a computer to the world via the Internet, all things are possible.  I installed Windows Live Messenger on the computer in the FJ, and then discovered that it would automatically login every time I started the FJ and the computer came on line.  Then I discovered that I could have different photos associated with my laptop and the car computer.  So now if you have me in your contacts list in Live Messenger, and you click on my name, you can tell if I'm in my office, in my car, or on line via my mobile phone.

Yesterday someone was about to call me to see if I was going to be back from lunch in time to attend a meeting, but just before they picked up the phone, they noticed that my picture in Live Messenger had just changed to the FJ, so they knew that I was on my way.  Now if only it would report my exact location, or even connect to my calendar and figure out if I was going to make it back in time based on my current route and speed . . .

Now, I feel like I have to say this.  I do not screw around with this stuff while I'm driving.  If you see that I am in the car, and you IM me, I will not answer you or probably even notice.  Part of this experiment is to improve safety on the road and I'm practicing safe car computing.  Feel free to check up on me via the new sometimes-live FJ Webcam

September 14, 2006 in Car Computer | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 07, 2006

The Office of the Future

You've probably heard of the Home of the Future, but I've decided to build the Office of the Future.  Only it isn't going to be a fake room in a lab, it is going to be Gold Systems.  And not just my office - everyone's office.  Yes, everyone has an office at Gold Systems except for Lori, who has her own skylight.  Joel Spolsky aka Joel On Software just wrote about why he thinks offices are important, so I'll resist the urge to drag out THAT soapbox.

So what does this mean?  I'm asking for your help and your ideas.  I figure the Office of the Future will be a lot like the office of today, which means we don't have an unlimited budget to just buy a bunch of shiny things for show.  And unless someone brought something in from home, there is nothing here made of Mahogany.

I would expect that communications would be better in the future, and since Gold Systems's 100 year purpose is "To build a great institution that helps people communicate", we're going to start there.  We've actually made a lot of progress already but I'll write about that another time.  My day-to-day communications is already much better than it was six months ago.

I expect this will be a year-long project as we upgrade equipment, install new software and generally figure out how to make everything work well together.  Like most companies, we have equipment and software from a lot of different sources and I don't expect that to change.  If your company would like to be a part of this, feel free to email me and I'll tell you where to ship the loaner/free equipment and/or software if it fits with our plans.  (I'm not kidding - a nice contribution to the effort was just made this afternoon) If you contribute equipment or just ideas, and they work well, I'll make sure people hear about it and you'll get an invitation to our next screening of Office Space.  One lucky contributor will even get to drive the Car of the Future.  :-)

Please leave a comment below with your ideas.  Thanks --terry

September 7, 2006 in Office of the Future | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 06, 2006

w3w3 at the Applied Trust Party

Larry Nelson from w3w3.com. checkout his website!  And Appliedtrust.com - thanks everyone for a great event!

September 6, 2006 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 05, 2006

Starting a new company and installing a car computer

No, I'm not starting a new company, much less one that installs car computers.  But as I was installing my new computer in the FJ this weekend I couldn't help but think about how it was a lot like starting a new company.  With this post, I'll give an update on the FJ Car Computer project and hopefully shed some light on what it is like to be an entrepreneur in the early stages of an idea for a company.

It all begins with a vision.  For the FJ project it was something like, it would be fun to install a computer in my car.  There might even be benefits to my company because someday all cars are going to have computers, they will play a big role in how we communicate, and I need to understand how that all might play out.

For my company, it was something like, It would be fun to work at a company that doesn't treat developers like cogs in a wheel - one that understands how important customers and new technologies are to the success of a company.  There might be benefits like financial security, flexible hours and a freedom from bureaucracy.

In both cases it started with a dream, and then I began justifying acting on the dream by figuring out what the benefits would be if I could achieve the dream.  I figured out if I could handle the worst case scenario.

Once the dream takes hold, the research and feedback phase begins.  For the FJ project, I looked for sources of information from people who had done it before.  There were a few books available on installing car computers and there are many hobbyists who share their knowledge publicly and offer help to the newbies.

It is easy to get information on starting a business, especially now that we have the web.  There must be thousands of books written a year on the subject and entrepreneurs are generally helpful to newbie entrepreneurs, if approached correctly.  And because entrepreneurship is seen as an economic driver (we create jobs), there are a lot of organizations such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that provide support to anyone wanting to start a business.

The feedback phase is different.  For the FJ project, the near universal reaction from people I talked to early on in the project was Cool, can't wait to see it.  The Person Who Prefers Not To Be Blogged About said Why would you want a computer in your car?  And a few others just politely changed the subject, but generally I got a lot of support from people who thought it would be interesting to watch me hack a brand new car - that wasn't their car - to see if something interesting would come of it.

The feedback phase for starting a new company though is much less supportive, in my experience, especially for first-time entrepreneurs.  Family, friends and total strangers will tell you that 90% of all new companies fail.  (Not true) They will tell you about their cousin on their ex-wife's side of the family who started a company, lost everything and ended up killing himself.  Occasionally you will hear a positive story about someone who got a company going and was happy in the end, but it is usually told with the same tone as you would tell a story about a person on the edge who wins the lottery and lives happily ever after.  It happens, but it ain't likely is what you hear in their voice.

As a first-time entrepreneur, you are probably not connected to the community of entrepreneurs who have been through the fire and can tell you that it can be done.  Better yet, they can and will share their experiences.  Most entrepreneurs that I know are good people who are happy to give a hand, so seek them out.

So . . . the big day comes.  You order the car computer/quit your job.  (I'm still trying to tie these stories together)  It feels great!  After months/years of planning and dreaming, you are on your way.  That feeling lasts a couple of days and then the reality of what you've committed to sinks in.  In the case of the car computer, the box arrived and I excitedly opened it.  Whoa, no installation guide and no one available at the moment to tell me what to do next.  What have I done, and what am I going to do to keep this from being a big mess?  Send it back?  No, the vision is still strong and besides I've told too many people that I'm going to do it. 

It was the same when Jim and I started the company.  Once we realized what we'd got ourselves into, we were too proud and stubborn to quit.

So you keep the vision in mind, do some more research and then charge ahead. And now back to the car computer project update.  I snapped some photos during the install, mostly so I could figure out how to put it all back together again.

I can remove the dash in 2 minutes flat now.

The Pioneer is going on eBay . . .

Now just unplug the old wires . . .

Make a minor adjustment to the mounting bracket . . .

And then figure out where all these wires go.

Everything's wired up, hopefully correctly.  I had to guess on a couple of the wires.

Ready to test.  Having a backup plan is always good.

Test early and often . . .

Button everything up, and then put the power to it one more time . . .

Success!  The FJ is now running Vista!  Like starting a company, this project will be a roller coaster.  You've got to have the attitude that roller coasters are fun, and that ups almost always follow downs.  I've got a lot more to do (at my company and with the FJ Car Computer Project) but I'm making progress and enjoying the roller coaster.

September 5, 2006 in Car Computer, Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack