As the new year starts we all set goals and have ambitions to make it a year to remember – as we should. But sometimes we need simple philosophical shifts too. Small shifts that can have a dramatic impact. One of mine is to ‘value myself appropriately’. As startup entrepreneurs an important part of the process is to be a bootstrapper, to maximise the limited resources we have to gain the momentum we need. This often leads us to doing it all ourselves. To be our own courier, printer, door knocker, community manager, clerk, mail room assistant…. anything and everything which is possible to do ourselves. And this is one of the greatest false economies in startup land. A simple rule to circumvent such folly is this:
Never do a task which can be outsourced at a lower hourly rate than what the open market would pay you for that hour.
While it’s easy to argue that we aren’t actually paying ourselves the market rate, it is certainly true that we should be creating the value of our market rate. And this is usually at least double the pay rate. Hence a person earning $100 per hour, should be generating at least $200 per hour for their organisation. Every hour wasted doing a menial task, has more impact than we actually think. Let’s take this simple example:
If we work 60 hours a week for 50 weeks for 2 years and end up with an equity stake valued at $3 million our hourly rate comes out at $500.
Which doesn’t leave many tasks that are worth doing ourselves. Startup blog says value yourself in 2013!
I came across 3 really good pieces in the past week that I really think are worth sharing.
- The first of the these was a blog post from Jason Calcanis on the topic of how moderate success is the enemy of breakout success. Something I spoke about earlier this year. But this post is totally insightful and potentially direction changing. While we all espouse staying the course – maybe the course isn’t to stick to a particular idea, but to stick to being in startup land. Instead we should pivot quickly and frequently until we find the right path. His contention being that when we are on the right track, we’ll know within a few short months. Read it here.
- The second is two important pieces from Seth Godin. This first is a video where he is very candid about his previous failures, which for me was important because he talks so often about the power of failure and for once we hear more about it – some of his past ventures where pretty out there. It was a great video interview – watch it here. Another post of his stood out to me as his best of the year. It was about confusing being good with being lucky. The post explains itself very clearly – the lesson to take is not to be alarmed if you haven’t been lucky ‘yet’. While others, even revered Silicon Valley wiz kids may well have just been lucky. In fact, some get so lucky we may never find out if they are actually any good. Read it here.
- The last is a story about startups by Sriram Krishnan that were told they couldn’t succeed and were ‘Not Fundable‘. What I love about this post is how convincing the negative arguments are. They are indisputable – but you’ll know what happened to these ideas… More proof that anything can happen during a technology revolution. Read it here.
I’d be keen to hear about any links you’ve happened upon which provide some poignant end of year lessons for us to consider over the holidays.
I was in a business pitch which I thought went particularly well. My colleague and I were both quietly seeing this thing come to fruition after many months of development. After the meeting I was clearly excited and pointed out that I thought we’d nailed it and the deal would get done… He then pulled me up and said.
“Over my entrepreneurial and corporate career I’ve been in at least 150 of these meetings when it’s easy to think that it’s a done deal, and until it’s signed or the money is in the bank I don’t get too excited.”
This got me thinking. Of course, he was right. In most cases, the large majority in fact, the deal just doesn’t happen. That’s life in the pitching game. But if we don’t get excited by the possibility, and live in the moment, we are robbing ourselves of the journey. We are taking away 50% of the joy that goes with the unknown. Not just the result of winning, but the joy of anticipating the win before it happens. And if we fail, then it was all for nothing, and we miss out on all the pre-decision positive emotion.
The feeling that goes with a future which looks bright, is just as valuable as the reality of making it so. We ought embrace it.
We can can choose to invent demand for what we make, or or fill supply for what is desirable. The former takes a certain type of creativity and endeavour, it’s been the bellwether of many large industrial stalwarts. Sure they incrementally change the offer – but only to justify making noise as part of the demand generation process.
The alternative is to make something people really want. To anticipate genuine needs and fill them, no matter how difficult it seems for our supply chain. While this has the benefit of a natural peer to peer sharing, it also ensures we are serving others, and not just the short term needs our organisation.
Being involved in the startup scene, or any business environment, there is a constant pull between the forces of production. A pull for power and control. The desire for one party to feel as though they are the input that matters, the major resource of creating something cool, desired and valuable. The idea creator, versus the coder, versus the salesman, versus the marketer, versus the capital provider… they all have a unique and special relationship with the output that makes them rightly feel as though they are the input that really matters. The input that makes it all possible.
But here’s an allegory worth considering.
We plant the seed of a lemon tree. We place it in the soil. We ensure it’s in a place that will receive enough sunlight. We water it frequently. We give it mulch and fertilizer. We stake it for stability to avoid the strong winds from breaking it. We attend to it daily. We are patient. We hope it bears fruit… Actually, we are certain it will bear fruit. For this belief enables us to find the energy to keep attending to our investment.
So what is more important? The seed, the soil, the nutrients, the sun, the water or the attention? None of them.
Without all of it, there will be none of it.
Instead of making claims to being the catalyst of creation, we should be thankful that we are part of a rich eco-system. A system from which he output we can all benefit from.
When the personal computing era started to thrive in the mid 1970′s it was juxtaposed against a strong anti-corporate counter culture. Many hippies saw computers as tools of oppression designed, built and used by large corporations. But there was another angle, another truth about the invention of this technology, and pretty much every other technology. If the technology has enough utility and importance it will eventually end up in the hands of the people. And if we are luck the invention will eventually be used to disrupt the bad parts of the world that invented it. And so crossover groups and communities like the Homebrew Computer Club emerged to fill that void. It happened with the PC and most forms of digital technology, where the people are now the major beneficiary as major legacy corporations scramble to survive.
For this type of thing to happen we don’t need more inventors, what we need is more innovators. Innovation is about taking an idea or concept and executing it. Making it usable. Introducing it in a way that makes it both accessible and desirable. Technology only really becomes valuable when it is distributed and omnipresent. If we want to create value through a startup or any business for that matter our focus should be on allowing people to easily ride on our vehicle, not the vehicle itself.
If we get up early when nobody is looking.
If we go to the gym when nobody is looking.
If we read the books when nobody is looking.
If we attend the night classes and seminars when nobody is looking.
If we tend the garden when nobody is looking.
If we save our income when nobody is looking.
If we build our prototype when nobody is looking.
If we knock on doors when nobody is looking
If we work hard when nobody is looking…
So long as ‘we’ are looking, is all that matters. If we do it for long enough, eventually the yield from silent and lonely work appears for others to see, and most often, they wonder ‘when’ we did it.
Advice is an interesting thing to give because by it is opinionated in nature. It is influenced more by the previous experience of the giver, more than it is by the taker. Because advice we give is usually one of many possible courses of action, there will always be doubt in the recommendation. The only way of really knowing what advice to take, only becomes evident after it has been taken.
Where doubt is an omnipresent reality, the best advice we can give is definitive advice. Advice which is acted upon quickly and fervently. When advice increases self belief in the receiver, it is often more valuable than the advice itself.
With great change, comes great tension. This tension often leads to a split between the opposing forces from which re-alignment may never occur. A favourite past time of many of us is predicting a winner – the eventual pattern that we’ll all follow.
No category is less pervasive in this arena than technology. But in reality it is becoming less and less about winners and losers, and much more about choice, fragmentation and tribes. An old axiom by Stewart Brand we’ll all remember is the one about “information wanting to be free”…. but it turns out that this story has an oft left out post script: He immediately added after this that “information also wants to be expensive”, which was a far less quoted caveat.
In a world were control is dissipating, and startups are changing everything, we ought remember that both directions can be equally valid.