Odysseus could not help himself. He knew the risks, but he had to hear the alluring sound of the Sirens’ song. In Greek mythology, the Sirens were a combination of birds and women who sang to passing sailors, enticing them to approach the shore and crash on its hidden shoals. To avoid wrecking his ship, Odysseus instructed his crew to plug their ears and ignore his orders, no matter how much he implored them to approach the Sirens’ island. Many entrepreneurs encounter a similar dilemma. They often identify expeditious ways to make money in the early days of their adVentures, which allow them to reduce the amount of capital they must raise from outside investors. Unfortunately, such initially alluring business models can ultimately result in their ruin. Thus, entrepreneurs must decide when to stop listening to the Sirens’ song of a quick buck and position their company to take advantage of long-term, sustainable business models.
As I noted in Why Most Business Books (Still) Suck, I am generally not a fan of business books. Although many are entertaining, most fail to provide entrepreneurs with a sufficient return on their time investment. If you are a leader at a startup and you are reading a business book, you are not closing customers, raising capital, improving your product, or spending time with your loved ones. Unfortunately, most business books do not offer entrepreneurs an adequate payoff. However, Guy Kawasaki’s latest book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions (Enchantment) is an exception. The short version of my review is: “Enchanting? Yes.” If you are curious as to why a serial entrepreneur who does not generally appreciate business books gives Enchantment a thumbs-up, read on…
Note: This is part II of a two part series. Click HERE for part I. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” George S. Patton, US Army General Part I of this series describes the 360-review that I conducted at a growing, dynamic SaaS business which has recently graduated from the startup stage and entered the early-growth phase. One of the most compelling conclusions I drew from the reviews is that both Founders need to delegate more of their day-to-day tasks. The Founders are in the midst of a classic shift from a bottle-washer mentality in which they oversee every initiative, to one in which they only focus their efforts on tasks that have the biggest impact, while delegating urgent but less important duties. Fortunately, the Founders are comfortable delegating tasks to their highly talented Core Team. The challenge was to identify which tasks to retain and which were best suited for delegation. Following the 360-review, we devised an effective way to help the Founders expand their strategic effectiveness while ensuring that all of their prior responsibilities are appropriately fulfilled.
Note: This is part I of a two part series. Click here for Part II. “He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” Lao Tzu, Ancient Chinese Philosopher Ever wonder why most people are dissatisfied with photos of themselves? The reason is more than false modesty. We know our appearance by the image we see in a mirror. However, the image seen by everyone else, including a camera, is our actual image, rather than our reversed, mirrored reflection. Remember all those terrible MySpace self-portraits? The MySpace teens liked the photos, in part, because they showed the mirror image of themselves which matched the adolescents’ self-images. Studies have confirmed this phenomenon. People prefer photographs of themselves in which the negative has been reversed and thus depicts the familiar view they see when they admire themselves in a mirror. Even though we are most comfortable with this inverted image, it is not how we are perceived by others. Our self-perceptions are similar to our reflections in a mirror. We see a portion of who we are, but not our entire being. The lens by which we evaluate our strengths, weaknesses, and priorities is limited. The only way to obtain a complete understanding of ourselves and determine how we can improve our performance is to seek and act upon the observations and critiques of those we trust.
As a young boy, Bruce Wayne watched his parents die in an alley after they were shot by a mugger. This event was pivotal in his life and became the basis of his future career as Batman, Gotham City’s crime fighting hero. It is a powerful Origin Story because it informs the reader of the protagonist’s motivation throughout the remainder of his career to, “swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” A startup’s Origin Story can be equally powerful. Every employee should know why their startup was founded in order to appreciate how their Origin Story impacts their company’s Core Values and Creed.
Marc Bolan, lead singer of T. Rex, was a modestly talented glam rocker during the early 1970s who lyrically never had much to say. However, when he sang, “Bang a Gong, Get It On,” he hit upon a key entrepreneurial principle without even realizing it.
At one of my early ventures, the Chairman of the Board orchestrated the companywide meetings. He was a disciple of famed motivational speaker Tony Robbins and he accordingly ran our “all-hands” company meetings like revival sessions. I remember one meeting that was particularly ineffectual. We were running out of cash, our primary competitor was overtaking us and our latest products were stalled by significant regulatory hurdles. Despite our sobering circumstances, we entered this particular meeting to Tina Turner shouting, “Simply The Best” at us over and over and over. I was not alone in wondering, “If we really are ‘simply the best,’ why do we need to be told so by an aging diva?” The meeting went downhill from this rousing opening, ending with our Chairman telling us, “You need to create our own reality,” quickly followed by an encore of Tina’s rousing chant. I trudged out of the meeting thinking I was, “simply the screwed,” if I hung around much longer. Shortly thereafter I left the company and its over-the-top, out-of-touch company meetings.
Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start, addresses a number of valuable startup issues, including fundraising, partnering, branding and beyond. In addition to these foundational startup issues, Guy also briefly discusses how to properly design a corporate T-shirt. When I evaluated Guy’s book for its potential use in my UCSB entrepreneurial classes, I was impressed overall, but I thought his comments on T-shirt designs were gratuitous. My initial thought was, “Guy, are you really telling me how to design a corporate T-shirt?” Then I took a moment to consider a couple T-shirts we developed at Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix). Upon reflection, I realized that we would have been well served if we had applied Guy’s T-shirt suggestions.
I recently had lunch with Mark Suster, General Partner at GRP Partners, blogger extraordinaire and overall cool dude. I am writing this entry at 4:00 AM. Mark’s kindness and insights moved me to roll out of bed, fire up my laptop and share my thoughts while they are still fresh. Mark recently wrote a blog entry titled “Whom Should You Hire At A Startup” that was forwarded to me by about a dozen people, including several of my former students. If you have not read it, please take a quick moment to check it out. Reading it will provide you with a good frame of reference for the remainder of this post.