If Sam Phillips Had Acted Like Today’s VCs, Elvis Would Have Had A Great Career As A Tuck Driver

 

A version of this article previously appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

What can the tech community learn about expanding diversity within its ranks from the man who helped launched the careers of Elvis Presley, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash and Ike Turner?

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Are You A Cynic Or Skeptic? Your Answer Could Doom Your Business

 

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”  L. Mencken, American Satirist

During a recent conversation with a close friend about a high-profile politician’s motivations, my friend said, “You’re a cynic.” I corrected him and said, “No, I’m a skeptic.” It turns out, neither of us were quite right. When it comes to politicians, I am very much a cynic, but in most other regards, I’m a skeptic.

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8 Top Reasons People Want To Be An Entrepreneur

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

Marketing automation company HubSpot performed a non-scientific survey of its users, asking them a variety of entrepreneurial questions. In Which Of These 7 Fears Are Keeping You From Being An Entrepreneur?, I reviewed the survey results related to why some would-be entrepreneurs never take the plunge.

Digging deeper into the data, I found that most of the reasons people cited for wanting to be an entrepreneur made sense, though several were sadly off base.

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OK, So Maybe Not ALL MBA Entrepreneurs Are Oxymorons

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

“As much as possible, avoid hiring MBA’s. MBA programs don’t teach people how to create companies … our position is that we hire someone in spite of an MBA, not because of one.” – Elon Musk, Founder Tesla Motors and SpaceX

MBA’s are an easy target for entrepreneurs’ scorn. As Peter Thiel, Co-founder of PayPal and Palantir once put it, MBA’s are “high extrovert/low conviction people.” A nice way of saying they can be arrogant mercenaries.

I too have taken shots at MBA’s, describing why they are not typically well suited for startup life in Why Entrepreneurs Hate (Most) MBAs.

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Guerilla Marketing: An Empty UPS Envelope Doubled This Company’s Sales

A version of this article previously appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

What would you do if you opened a UPS envelope and there was nothing inside?

A scrappy startup inadvertently answered this question when they accidentally mailed several hundred empty UPS envelopes. Note: the company has asked to remain anonymous, as they don’t want to alert their competitors to the success of their Stealth Campaign.

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After Completing This TechStars Exercise, Everyone On Your Team Will Pitch Like A Founder

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

I was invited to lead a Techstars LA workshop, focused on honing their elevator pitches. In my UCSB classes, my students practice their Personal Pitch in front of their peers, who give them constructive feedback. I decided to tweak this exercise for the Techstars entrepreneurs, using the format described below.

John Greathouse, listening to Lauren Tracy, Co-founder of Blue Fever, pitch her startup

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How Trying To Assassinate Hitler Led To The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

I recently enjoyed John Covach’s History Of Rock Coursera course. In an early lecture, he explains how the Nazis’ desire to protect Hitler from assignation led to the invention of recording technology that was ultimately used by musicians to create multi-track recordings, such as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

This story of technology diffusion is illustrative of the Hummingbird Effect, in which a technological innovation results in unintended, non-obvious outcomes. Entrepreneurs who study historical Hummingbird Effects are better positioned to anticipate the unintended, non-obvious consequences spawned by today’s technologies.

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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Comanche’s Tech Absorption Curve

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

In an astonishingly short time period, the Comanche Native Americans progressed from a technologically primitive tribe (nomadic, little use of textiles, basketry or pottery), to becoming the most powerful society of the Southern Plains, controlling the Comecheria, a territory encompassing parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Historians such as S.C. Gwynne cited the tribe’s adoption of horse husbandry as one of the most rapid societal transformations in recorded history.

As Geoffrey Moore points out in his classic book, Crossing The Chasm, identifying early adopters is critical to a startup’s ultimate success. Inherent in the breathtaking rate at which the Comanche people became the “Lords of the Planes” are some lessons for entrepreneurs searching for their early adopters.

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Who’s In Your Club For Your Mutual Improvement?

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

One of my former students, Sieva Kozinsky, Co-Founder & CEO of StudySoup recently shared his startup insights with my UC Santa Barbara students.

He offered my students a litany of compelling suggestions. However, the one that stood out to me was the importance of curating their peer groups in advance of graduating and starting an entrepreneurial career. By way of example, he described the Junto Club, a Bay Area group he co-founded, whose goal is the professional and personal advancement of its members. Sieva’s club is based on a similar group created by Benjamin Franklin.

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Change The Way You Negotiate

A version of this article previously appeared Forbes.

Entrepreneurs have to be wily in all of their transactions, especially long-term commitments, such as property leases. In speaking with Steve Bermudez, former senior executive at Citrix, I was surprised that he was able to make money on some of his leases, by baking into his agreements the ability for Citrix to share in the upside realized by its landlord upon a sale of the property.

Steve and his team augmented this deca-million dollar windfall by wisely negotiating tax credits with local municipalities early in the process, which strengthened his hand with potential landlords and resulted in an additional multi-million dollar impact to the company’s bottom line.

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