Past Is Prologue: 13 Startup Lessons From How We Got To Now

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.


In 1862, Charles Darwin predicted that an insect with an extraordinary tongue must exist by observing an orchid which stores its nectar at bottom of long stem.

Darwin surmised the anatomical structure of the phantom insect based on the mechanics required to pollinate the flower. 130-years later, scientists discovered X. morganii praedicta, a moth with a freakishly long tongue which fed on the orchid’s pollen.

Successful entrepreneurs make similarly educated guesses. By observing innovations and existing market conditions, they anticipate emerging technological trends.

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Sorry Professor, The American Dream Is Not Dead


A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

I recently came across a disturbing article entitled, “The American Dream Is An Illusion,” written by a college Economics Professor. The Professor argues that, “… recent evidence suggests that, in reality, social mobility rates are extremely low. Seven to ten generations are required before the descendants of high and low status families achieve average status.”

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Do Not Obsess On Names – Obsess On Delivering Awesome Customer Value


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

“With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Really?

If Smucker’s can annually generate hundreds of millions in sales for a variety of food products, there is little risk that a mediocre company or product name will preclude you from achieving similar success.

The value of an ideal name, attached to a product or company that does not deliver an economically viable value proposition, is zero. Beyond names, the only thing you should spend less time obsessing over is your logo.

Thus, do not obsess during the naming process. Instead, expeditiously pick a reasonable moniker and then get back to work delivering value to your customers.

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American Entrepreneurs – Be Happy You Are Not In Spain


A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

One of my top former students, Fredi Fernandez, recently sent me a compelling email. After studying at UC Santa Barbara’s entrepreneurial program, he returned to Spain, excited to start a venture and make a positive impact on his homeland.

He founded Alpha Origins in 2011. Although he has helped a number of startups gain traction, he is now questioning if he should flee Spain, given the recent passage of the unprecedented Exit Tax, which seeks to tax potential, unrealized wealth.

Fredi’s email is worth reading, as it reinforces how lucky American entrepreneurs truly are. It is difficult to not be moved by his passionate desire for his country to share the entrepreneurial spirit that he experienced during his stay in California.

One could certainly argue that the US government could be more business friendly. However, when compared to the anti-startup environment prevalent in Spain, the relative degree to which entrepreneurship is an indelible aspect of American society is undeniable.

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Startup Pricing: Are You Selling A Giffen Product?


A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

In his premier film appearance in the blaxploitation send-up “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” Chris Rock inadvertently addresses a key pricing challenge faced by most entrepreneurs.

Watch this 93-second clip and see if you can identify the pricing pitfall addressed in this humorous snippet. Caution: contains a bit of profanity (it is Chris Rock, after all).

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Honesty Is An Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon


A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

Standing on the courthouse steps, moments after receiving his permanent residency Green Card, John Lennon was asked if he harbored a grudge against the Nixon Administration for tapping his phone, putting him under surveillance and mounting a multi-year attempt to deport him. Without missing a beat, John smiled and said, “Time wounds all heels.”

Truer words were never spoken.

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Friendship + Mentorship = Friendtorship


A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

It is common sense that entrepreneurs should cultivate friends outside of work. However, too often, entrepreneurs allow their non-work friendships to wither, as they struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with their family while nurturing their startups.

Although difficult, cultivating friendships beyond your office can actually make it easier to deal with the stress of your startup because such friends offer a degree of objectivity that family and co-workers cannot provide.

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The 12 Laws Of Entrepreneurial Power


A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

A number of my UC Santa Barbara entrepreneurial students have asked my opinion of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws Of Power, prompting me to check it out. Given the book’s commercial success, I had high hopes. Sadly, I was disappointed by Greene’s Machiavellian cynicism.

When I later learned that Mr. Greeene wrote the book while struggling to suceed as a Hollywood screenwriter, I wasn’t surprised. A more accurate title for the book is: 48 Ways To Be A Worldclass Douchebag.

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Leadership Lessons Obama and McConnell Should Learn


Imagine what it would be like to run your startup like a divided government. Approximately half the company would fervently execute your plans, even when they obviously made no sense. The other half would obstruct your recommendations, including those clearly in the company’s best interest.

Sound insane? Welcome to the next two years of American politics. A lame duck President and a divided government.

However, it doesn’t have to be two years of rancor and zero results. Divided governments, as well as divided corporations, have historically rallied behind strong leadership that emphasizes problem solving over demagoguery and infighting. For instance, Ronald Reagan’s party never held control of the House of Representatives during his presidency and Bill Clinton only had that luxury for two of his eight years in office.

President Obama, Senate Majority leader-to-be McConnell and House Speaker Boehner would all be well served to internalize the following leadership aphorisms. Although the sources of this wisdom held widely different political opinions, but they all shared the fundamental understanding that a true leader represents all the members of their organization, not just those with whom they agree.

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