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Sometimes an entrepreneur should reinvent the wheel, as Revolution Motors has done with its Dagne electric vehicle, which utilizes a joystick to steer and brake...

Reinvent The Wheel – A Nonstandard Look at Standards

Sometimes an entrepreneur should reinvent the wheel, as Revolution Motors has done with its Dagne electric vehicle, which utilizes a joystick to steer and brake the vehicle. The key to the success of wheel reinvention is knowing when and where to implement such dramatic shifts from past precedent. The car brake pedal originated with stagecoaches, which required the use of the driver’s leg muscle to stop the stage, due to the horses’ “horsepower” and the coach’s weight. Use of the driver’s foot also freed their hands to hold the reigns. The foot brake made sense on stagecoaches, but it is less than optimal on computer-controlled, modern vehicles*. Like the brake, early cars’ steering mechanisms were drawn from legacy modes of transportation.  Cars were initially steered via a tiller device, similar to that used to control a boat’s rudder. Ironically, such tillers were rudimentary approximations of a modern joystick. Steering wheels were co-opted from sailing ships. One of the first uses of an automobile steering wheel was in Alfred Vacheron’s 1893 race car. After winning several high-profile races, Vacheron’s design became widely adopted. In 1898, C.S. Rolls introduced a commercial vehicle which incorporated wheeled steering and by the end of the following decade, tiller steering was a thing of the past. Use of a steering wheel was logical, especially before the advent of power steering, as a large wheel required fewer revolutions to mechanically translate movement to the car’s front axle, whereas a tiller had a limited range of motion. However, the introduction of power-assisted steering eliminated the steering wheels inherent advantage. Studies by DaimlerChrysler have shown that the reaction time between the hand and the foot varies significantly. The hand is approximately twice as responsive, due to the relatively small and nimble wrist muscles which react more quickly than the larger, less agile leg muscles. This difference in reaction rates is minute, but significant. A half-second of enhanced response decreases rear-end collision deaths by 90%, whereas the application of the brake a full second earlier reduces such deaths by 95%. The major cause of front-end collision deaths is the combination of the driver’s compromised response rate and the subsequent impact of the steering wheel. Even with airbags and collapsible steering columns, the International Road Traffic and Accident Database notes that a significant percentage of the 50,000 drivers killed each year on US highways are crushed by the steering wheel. In fact, emergency responders are instructed to inspect the steering wheel at crash sites as a means of estimating the extent of the driver’s internal injuries. If it is safer to eliminate the steering wheel and allow drivers to control the brakes with their hands, why do all mass-produced cars still utilize technologies which arose from stagecoaches and sailing ships?
Philo Farnsworth created a technology which underlies one of the 20th Century’s most ubiquitous products, yet he died a man of modest means and he...

Inventors vs. Innovators

Philo Farnsworth created a technology which underlies one of the 20th Century’s most ubiquitous products, yet he died a man of modest means and he is relatively unknown today. Philo was an inventor, not an innovator. He was primarily motivated by the educational potential of his invention, not the wealth it might generate. He freely shared is ideas and technology with others in the hopes that such openness would advance the science that he loved. No one, except for Philo, was surprised when the innovators with whom he had shared his invention capitalized upon it and created dozens of multi-billion-dollar, self-sustaining enterprises.
During the spring of 1999, John Lusk and Kyle Harrison turned their backs on the traditional path taken by most Wharton MBAs. Instead of accepting...

Driving The Mouse

During the spring of 1999, John Lusk and Kyle Harrison turned their backs on the traditional path taken by most Wharton MBAs. Instead of accepting high-paying positions with an investment bank, consulting firm or Dumb Dot Com, John and Kyle decided to launch a startup based upon a simple, pedestrian product.
During the early part of the 20th century, New York City’s Tin Pan Alley district was the epicenter of American popular music. During its heyday,...

Old Gray Advice

During the early part of the 20th century, New York City’s Tin Pan Alley district was the epicenter of American popular music. During its heyday, Tin Pan Alley musicians devised an inexpensive yet effective method to obtain free, expert advice – they played new songs to elderly doormen and solicited their opinions. If the doormen could hum or whistle the tune after hearing it once or twice, then it was deemed suitably catchy for publication. Ultimately, this simple marketing litmus test became known by the derisive term, the “Old Gray Whistle Test” (OGWT), as many of the doormen and other pro bono musical advisors used by Tin Pan Alley musicians had gray hair. The OGWT is an interesting historical anecdote, but what can modern-day entrepreneurs learn from elderly doormen and hackneyed musicians from nearly one hundred years ago?
“Fight or flight?” Nothing is more elemental to an organism’s survival than knowing when to run and when to defend itself. In which instances should...

To Woo Or To War – When Should An Entrepreneur Fight, Flee or Flirt?

“Fight or flight?” Nothing is more elemental to an organism’s survival than knowing when to run and when to defend itself. In which instances should a creature pick a battle and make a stand, and when should it retreat to fight another day? Entrepreneurs often face a similar quandary, with the added wrinkle that sometimes it makes more sense to “flirt” rather than run or fight. In fact, startups, given their limited ability to effectively fight or flee, often must play nice when threatened. As such, rather than deciding between “fight or flight,” the more appropriate question for an entrepreneur is, “When should I fight, flee or flirt?” As with most business dilemmas, there is no dogmatic response that can be uniformly applied to every situation. Each threatening instance must be evaluated in light of your resources, the criticality of the threat and the probability that you could: survive a fight, escape by flight, or establish an ally by flirting. Fortunately, there are two excellent books that address the yin and the yang of this fundamental issue: Sun Zi’s The Art of War and G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa’s The Art of Woo.
What motivates busy people to make dangerous u-turns on busy streets to patronize a lemonade stand? Is it simply for the opportunity to sip overly...

The Lemonade Principle – What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Eight-Year-Olds

What motivates busy people to make dangerous u-turns on busy streets to patronize a lemonade stand? Is it simply for the opportunity to sip overly sweet drinks made under questionable health conditions? Doubtful. The psychological rewards received from helping childhood entrepreneurs meet their financial goals more than offset any indigestion customers might suffer from consuming a child’s culinary delights. You would be well served to understand how to engender such exuberant consumer behavior.
In his book, The Map of Innovation, DoubleClick Co-founder Kevin O’Connor emphasizes the importance of describing your adVenture in clear and concise terms. When discussing...

Buzz Kill – Entrepreneurs Cannot Afford To Muddle Their Message With Empty Catchphrases

In his book, The Map of Innovation, DoubleClick Co-founder Kevin O’Connor emphasizes the importance of describing your adVenture in clear and concise terms. When discussing his book, Mr. O’Connor often gives the audience a quiz similar to that shown below. Select the description below that describes an actual software product. A. Assimilated, zero-administration, standard database-queuing schema B. Open-architected, workforce-neutral, productivity assimilator C. Modularly reduced Graphical User Interface heuristic D. Profit-focused, fault-tolerant encoding interface If you can select the legitimate product from the list above, you are well on your way to buzz-cutting through the forest of buzzword BS.
Nair was developed during the 1970s as a hair-removal product for the emerging population of busy, professional women. Despite potential side effects such as itching,...

Nair – Remove The Hair From Your AdVenture Before Seeking Funding

Nair was developed during the 1970s as a hair-removal product for the emerging population of busy, professional women. Despite potential side effects such as itching, burning and scarring, Nair continues to help women effectively remove unwanted hair and leave their skin “smooth and shiny, with no nicks or cuts.” Ask any venture investor. They would love to slather their startup investments with Nair. Why? Because every deal has unwanted hair – one or more significant flaws which make the deal imperfect. Savvy entrepreneurs also understand this reality. As a result, they do everything within reason to reduce the hair on their adVenture before they seek investment capital.
Who is this character? Hint: It is not a mouse. The fact that you likely cannot name this creature confirms the reality that ideas are...

Spilling The Beans – When Is It Safe To Talk About Your Entrepreneurial Ideas?

Who is this character? Hint: It is not a mouse. The fact that you likely cannot name this creature confirms the reality that ideas are cheap. All too often, inexperienced entrepreneurs struggle with sharing their ideas with potential investors, Donors and others who might be in a position to help them. The next time you wonder if it is safe to share your ideas, recall the fate of this long-eared, anonymous cartoon character.
Agreements with Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) are like DC Comic’s evil villainess, Poison Ivy. Both are seductive and alluring and both are potentially fatal. As...

Kiss of Death – Contract Provisions Entrepreneurs Should Avoid at All Costs

Agreements with Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) are like DC Comic’s evil villainess, Poison Ivy. Both are seductive and alluring and both are potentially fatal. As a startup, your most meaningful agreements will likely be struck with BDCs. You will no doubt craft agreements with companies of similar or even smaller size compared to your own, but the risk associated with such agreements will be tempered by the fact that you will negotiate such agreements as a relative peer. As such, your greatest risk and greatest opportunity will arise from the deals you cut with larger entities. Fortunately, it is possible to craft lucrative deals with BDCs that do not limit your adVenture’s ability to charter its own destiny. Just as Batman must avoid Poison Ivy’s kiss of death, so too must entrepreneurs avoid the Kiss of Death provisions which BDCs often attempt to include in their agreements.
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