Old school, and still cool, business coach Brain Tracy has an important question we should ask ourselves:
“What type of company, would my company be, if everyone in it, were just like me?”
Now, on the face of it it seems like a simple prose. How hard do we work, what kind of effort do we put in, how do we treat people and would we like others to behave the way we do. Honest answers to this question can be revealing. And it’s a damn good question to ask ourselves frequently.
But it goes one layer deeper. When we bring in new people to our startup, do we really need more people like ourselves? Do we really want another person who thinks like we do, acts like we do, has the same skills that we do and approaches things in the same manner? Or do we really need someone who is juxtaposed to ourselves?
The real challenge here is knowing where the similarities and differences are needed. And while that is a decision that only the startup founder can decide here’s a nice starting point: Alignment of philosophy and attitude is far more important than that of capability and aptitude.
This is a favourite saying of companies pretty much everyone whose ever given advice about anything. But as we know, advice is a form of nostalgia, and while nostalgia can conjure important and worthy emotions, it’s not something to live a life by. Personally I believe that encouraging anyone to not make the same mistake twice is bad advice. Any skill I’ve mastered, which was worth mastering involved me making the same mistake over and over again. Repeating the error until I had got it entirely out of my system.
A better version of this advice is as follows: Making the same mistake is fine, so long as you are making it on purpose.
Had a few ideas in my mind for blog posts. But thought I’ll just soundbite them now and go deep later:
1. Selling Potatoes: Startup ideas are often far too clever. Often they represent what is technically possible, rather than what is technically needed. I keep coming back to the idea of selling potatoes. That is, selling something demand already exists for. If we do this, we can stop wasting resources trying to creating demand. Instead we can just do a better job connecting and serving the existential market. Buy for price X and sell for X2. I’m wondering why a ‘potato’ business is rarely considered by aspiring entrepreneurs. We ought resist the temptation to 3D print ceramic fur balls for imaginary cats.
2. Market Validation: Real market validation must be with strangers, not colleagues. If it’s an online business, then validation can’t be done in person. If it’s a physical business then validation can’t be done on line. We ought match the real world. Real market validation should involve money, and avoid surveys.
3. Size & Attitude: The bigger the company the harder it is to maintain a cool attitude. When companies go public, their DNA changes. It’s just a fact we ought accept. At this point founders don’t care, they’ve already made bank. When our favourite companies get big it is inevitable we will suffer from a little bit of startup nostalgia.
4. Business Model & Problem Solution: I often get pitched startups that have a great business model with no real human problem. Or a solution to a human problem which struggles to find a business model. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we have both. We should work hard on having both of these elements when conceiving our next startup.
5. Quiet Self Esteem: It is what we are doing when no one is actually looking that matters. The actions we take that only we will ever know about. This is what we should focus on.
6. Half Baked Ideas: These are the best ideas to play with in the short term. It means we are in the kitchen experimenting. It doesn’t mean we should try and sell these cookies at the market, but we should always throw a few new recipes in the oven.
7. What VC’s Really Invest In: Justifiable failure. They don’t aim to fail, but before they invest a dime they know they will get it wrong more than 9 times out of ten. They’ll never admit this, but they are only ever investing in what will sound like a good bet to their partners. So that when it does fail (and it will more than 90% of the time) it is justifiable to those who stumped up the money. Hence, when seeking capital all we need be is justifiably worth the risk.
I went for a run today and some ideas popped into my head. Every time I exercise I get new ideas (to me anyway) – they just come from no where. Non blog post micro ideas today, but possible bigger post ideas tomorrow. Rather than lose them, I thought I’d document them. Here they are:
- What goes in and out of our mouth determines how long we live, and how much we earn. The former excludes unintended accidents like being run over by a bus.
- People say that you need to be a go getter to find success. I feel like we need to be go givers. It feels back to front.
- Luxury is in a constant state of evolution. Luxury is both relative to the human condition and relative to our own circumstances. What I find a luxury at a given point in time rarely endures for me. (my current favourite is sleep)
- What we do after 10pm has a bigger impact on our tomorrow than what we do during business hours.
- Evolution is a tactical process, rather than a strategic one. Tactics of trial and error executed quickly or consistently over a long period of time yield better results than arduous planning. Most great strategies are written in hindsight to describe what happened, rather than what was planned.
- The depth and wealth of the eco system has a bigger impact on the well being of the cell, than the make up of the cell itself does.
- When it comes to business management, the hard stuff is soft and the soft stuff is hard.
- Time is the biggest investment we can make, because it’s the only one that can’t be earned back. Hence true wealth is measured in time not dollars.
- Many great inventions (including the wheel in some regions) started as kids toys. So why do many organisations have fun police on staff? I am now wondering if there a list of practical inventions which started as kids toys?
- Why do so many companies who are under threat from the emerging digital landscape forget the first lesson in economics, the law of supply & demand? Eg: Local Australian newspapers seemed to forget that supply of news is now omnipresent. Price is a function of availability, so people wont pay for average and undifferentiated content.
- The two types of investments we can make are time & money, most people never get to the second type because they don’t put in enough of the first type.
- We are all entrepreneurs, but some people only have 1 big and important client (an employer). We’d all do better if we regarded all income as a part of the entrepreneurial process than a wage based one.
There were more, but this is all I can remember.
Since I left school around 20 years ago and in that time I’ve learned some things, that might just be a short cut for you. I’m not going to explain them – just state them. This list is non exhaustive and here they are:
- Taking longer to make decisions rarely improves the final result of said decision.
- Large companies primarily make decisions to protect income, startup companies primarily make decisions to grow income.
- Hard work from an average person invariably has better results than average work from a smart person.
- We remember and revere events much more than we do so for things. We should know which one to accumulate.
- People who have money problems while on low incomes have them on high incomes as well. It’s the habits that matter.
- Spare time is a poor choice to allocate anything important to (read here family, exercise, reading).
- Large companies most often reward people on cultural alignment more than actual results of tasks.
- Passion projects often take a lifetime to bare fruit. The short term favours sacrifice of belief systems.
- Great technocrats always get paid well. Great leaders and influencers always get paid more.
- Being aligned to your partners values is more important than alignment of interests. True for business and love.
- Financial independence is always a function of spending less than your income. Regardless of income size.
- Technology is recalcitrant towards the status quo and history. It forges ahead regardless.
- Informal and self education is of greater value than the formal version. It should also never end.
- Over time, prices for most everything relative to income drop. The only exclusion I know of is land.
- The most valuable things in life cannot be bought or sold, they must be earned. Respect, love, health…
- Secrets kill the soul.
- Ideas should be shared.
- Generosity is rewarded on the long run but may be invisible.
- We all have valuable skills, and these skills can leveraged in many ways once we stretch our imagination.
- The people we spend our days with has a greater impact on happiness than the work we do.
What are some of the philosophical things you’ve learned?
I’m an avid surfer and in the pre-internet days I would video tape television shows featuring surfing and watch them over and over. I have over 20 of these 3 hour video tapes and can still remember every word of the dialogue off by heart. Today I was thinking about one of the tapes. It was from the Coca-cola classic held at Manly beach in Sydney in 1987. At the start they interviewed the top 5 surfers in the world. One of which included Martin Potter and he said this:
“The one thing to do in surfing is win the world title. And until I get it, I’ll be going for it. And when I get it, I’ll be gone.”
This statement is carved into my brain with blood. I’ve never forgotten it. It was just so succinct, said with such confidence, belief and direction. He even sounded cool as a cat when he said it. Two years later he blitzed them and won the world title. Shortly after that he left the circus that was the world surfing tour and went on to other things in the surfing arena. I always felt as though he wanted to prove what he was capable of, but not be a slave to the system once the game was one.
The question for entrepreneurs is what kind of a victory or proof point are we really after, and when is enough, enough? This is something we should know before we start or we may never know when or if to call it a day.
One of the most inspiring Business coaches I listen to is the late Jim Rohn. While he comes from the old school of American Motivation, he does have some very sensible philosophies worth paying attention to. I usually listen to him while jogging. And the other I was doing just that when he said these 3 words. He went on to talk about why they were important, but by this time my mind was already wondering into my own interpretation of what they mean, why they matter and why they are actually in order. And here’s is what I think.
Philosophy: The first thing that has to change is how we view the world. We need to embrace of philosophy of self responsibility. The first thing that must change is our mind. But this on it’s own is not enough. How many smart people have you met who can talk a good game, but never do anything about it?
Attitude: It’s no point knowing about something valuable unless we truly believe it is possible, and that it is possible for us. I actually find the word attitude interesting as it is referred to in aviation. The attitude of an aircraft is its angle of flight, or orientation in reference to the ground. Basically, the direction it is headed… While flying, attitude is something which requires constant attention and maintenance.
Activity: It all means nothing if it is just mental. We’ve got to act on the two above factors, or we’ll just end up as another one of those people know the path, but never actually walk it.
I heard a great new (old?) terminology the other day called “Seagull Management”
Fly in, shit over everything, steal any hot chips or good food and fly away.
Of course all the other seagulls fight over the food that was stolen in the first instance. It’s an intersting idea we see in many corporate scenarios, less often in start ups.
Here’s an alternative idea “Koala Management”
Give birth to new things, put them on your back while you teach them to navigate the world, nurture them until they are strong enough to stand on their own two feet (four claws?).
No wonder seagulls have such a bad name, where Koalas are so loveable.