A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. Novelist and High School Dropout Louis L'Amour knew the importance of seemingly unimportant people (AP Photo) “Growth hacking” is one of today’s most overused terms, yet despite its trendiness, it predates the Internet by centuries. Entrepreneurs have been seeking clever shortcuts to spur their growth and circumvent their competitors since the dawn of commerce. By looking backward, modern entrepreneurs can co-opt the hacks from a pre-digital age that remain relevant today. These clever ideas often come from unusual sources, including an uneducated carnival operator, an author who dropped out of High School at 15, the owner of a laundry company who ran away from home as a teenager and a restaurateur who left school at the age of 13. That’s right, all of the growth hacks described below were created by High School (and Junior High) dropouts.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. Despite his non-existent education and numerous personal demons, James Brown was a gifted entrepreneur who reveled in proving Conventional Wisdom wrong. In the early 1960’s, it was generally believed that soul music needed to be watered down (think Motown) in order to crossover to white consumers. It was also considered gospel that artists should not produce live albums, as such records would reduce concert attendance. James proved the record industry experts wrong, on both counts.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. L-to-R: John Greathouse, unknown woman about to slap John, Reed Shaffner, Jerry Jao & Ara Mahdessian My venture firm, Rincon Venture Partners recently teamed with Jason Lemkin, Founder of SaaStr, to host the first SaaStrX event. I had the honor of moderating a panel of three SaaS CEOs who have collectively raised nearly $40 million of venture capital and are on their way to breakout success: Reed Shaffner of Workpop, Jerry Jao of Retention Science and Ara Mahdessian from ServiceTitan.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. Kate Hudson, Emma Roberts, Eva Longoria, Jessica Biel and Rihanna began wearing Z Supply's clothing before it could be purchased online. It may seem hard to believe, but even in 2016, there remain a number of successful consumer brands that are not sold online. The reasons companies elect to sell exclusively offline differ, but they often center on managing channel conflict with their retail partners. I thought it would be interesting to understand the challenges and concerns of entrepreneurs who began selling online for the first time in 2016, so I sat down with Heidi Muther, COO at Z Supply, LLC. This is the first of a two part, extensive interview I recently conducted with Ms. Muther.
A version of this article previously appeared in The Wall Street Journal. The reality television show Shark Tank makes for entertaining content but many of its underlying messages are potentially detrimental to tech entrepreneurs. Thus, emerging entrepreneurs should parse fact from fantasy by watching the show with an experienced business pro.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. It happens during nearly every fundraising pitch meeting. The entrepreneur cannot wait to show me their product via a demo. As politely as I can, I dissuade them and explain that there are other ways I prefer to spend our precious time together. Most entrepreneurs seem confused by my reaction and often say something like: “VCs love demos. You’re the first one I’ve met who didn’t want to see our product.” I then explain that I evaluate the veracity of a product by seeking guidance from current, past and prospective users, rather than relying on a product demonstration.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. In 1987, when Rick Astley filmed the video for his hit song Never Gonna Give You Up, he had no idea it would eventually become one of the most viewed videos of all time. By 2016, the video had been watched over 218 million times. Never Gonna Give You Up’s resurgence began in 2007, when a user on an obscure gaming site posted a link to Rick’s video under the heading for a trailer of the not-yet-released Grand Theft Auto IV video game. One year later, the phenomenon had become commonplace and was dubbed “Rickrolling,” a term that is now ubiquitous with any Internet misdirection technique. Many companies unknowingly Rickroll their would-be customers by improperly aligning their products’ capabilities with their marketing messages.
A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes. “How much would you pay to have dinner with a lost loved one?” This was a question that my friend and mentor, Bob Wood and I recently discussed during one of our epic bike rides. We both concluded that we would sacrifice an absurd amount of our wealth to spend a few hours with the dear folks we have lost to old age and illness. This conversation caused me to ponder the obvious reality that busy people, especially entrepreneurs who are building companies, often optimize their time completing short-term operational tasks and lose sight that tomorrow is promised to no one.
A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes. Entrepreneurs create their own jobs, why shouldn’t they also create their own degrees? As described in Should Millennial Entrepreneurs Skip College?, most young entrepreneurs benefit greatly from the college experience. However, off-the-shelf majors are typically not suited to the eclectic skills required to succeed in the startup world. In my role as a Professor of Practice within UC Santa Barbara’s entrepreneurial Technology Management Program (TMP), I have worked with my students, led by Randall Dubois, to craft an Individual Major that accommodates the needs of millennial entrepreneurs. I remind my entrepreneurial students that the TMP was begun by students, who petitioned the Dean to add entrepreneurial subject matter to their engineering coursework.
A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes. Startups, much like ancient tribes, are comprised of a small number of people who band together to battle a cruel, hostile world. Like the tribe, a nascent venture’s survival is precarious and never guaranteed. Success requires everyone applying their specialized skills in concert toward the group’s common good.