ifindkarma. elegance is refusal.

June 20, 2011

11 Reasons Why Starting a Company is Hard …

In books we find we are not alone.
       ~ Carl Sagan
 

In stories we find we are not alone.
     ~ Jonathan Nelson

 

I’m giving a pariSoma talk to the Hackers and Founders Co-op Startup Class of 2011 tonight. And like Paul Graham, I found it helpful to write down what I’m going to say.

Like Evan Williams’ startup advice, I want to say something positive and useful.

My main message is that it’s important to have a network, because you can trade notes with other people who are doing similar things. This is why we started 106 Miles — so that any founder, engineer, or friend who joins us at our meetups will have a network to exchange knowledge and connections, and listen and learn.

That said, if I could tell entrepreneurs one more thing, I would say:

Being a first-time entrepreneur is hard.

Come to think of it, actually…

It’s hard starting a company even if you’ve done it before.

I’ve done it three times, and it’s still hard.

Off the top of my head here are 11 reasons why.

1. Having a great idea at the right time is hard. Big ideas are hard, and timing of ideas is hard. Being excellent is really hard but truly important, since nobody can steal an idea.

2. Designing an excellent and simple product is hard. User experience is hard to make excellent, and user interfaces are hard to make simple. Product-market fit is extremely hard.

3. Developing something people want is hard. Prototyping is hard, and iterating is hard. Minimum viable product definition is hard, and figuring out what people want is hard.

4. Getting traction is hard. Users are hard to satisfy. Attracting and retaining great users is hard, and attracting great content and quelling bad content is hard. Network effects are hard.

5. Keeping the damn thing up and running is hard. Technical operations are hard. “The Cloud” means some computer somewhere out there that you don’t control is going to go down at the worst possible moment.

6. Implementing a scalable business model is hard. Revenues are hard. Not all advice comes in three words. Although there is a lot of three-word startup advice, that matters not. Revenues require continual improvement of sales knowledge and the market, and that takes time, patience, and unbelievable tenaciousness.

7. Building a great team is hard. Finding a great co-founder is hard, and hiring is hard. Even if you read a lot about hiring, it’s hard. And sweet sassy molassy, managing people is hard. And being tough is very hard.

8. Raising seed money is hard. Angels are hard to understand. And finding a great fit between investor and entrepreneur is hard, very hard.

9. Raising venture capital is hard. Venture capitalists are hard to understand. Once upon a time you could
raise money with just a great idea. Then you needed a great idea and a great team. Then you needed a great idea, great team, and great prototype. Then you needed all those things and great traction. Now you also need a great business model, great revenues, great press, and if it’s not too much trouble, make the world a better place, too.

10. Turning away all the free advice is hard. People are unpredictable, and making decisions is hard. But it’s better to make any decision than no decision. Furthermore, the right people make all the difference in the world.

11. Managing your emotions is really fucking hard…      
Ben Horowitz said it best. Also, not quitting is quite hard.

If it were easy to start a company, everyone would do it.

But it’s not easy. And not everyone does it.

It’s hard. Really, really hard.

There’s a great analogy here: starting a company is like you’re 106 miles from Chicago, you have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and you’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

Here are 11 things you can learn to navigate those rough waters, ripped lovingly from a long Quora answer I once wrote about mistakes entrepreneurs make. 

  1. Learn the difference between important and urgent.
  2. Learn the difference between working smart and working long.
  3. Learn the difference between an opportunity and a problem.
  4. Learn the difference between lucky and smart.
  5. Learn the difference between focus and activity.
  6. Learn the difference between publicity and reality.
  7. Learn the difference between prepared and over-prepared.
  8. Learn the difference between output and throughput.
  9. Learn the difference between managing up and managing down.
  10. Learn the difference between managing expectations and just riding the roller coaster unmanaged.
  11. Learn the difference between knowing the path and walking the path.


Remember, you can do it. But it’s hard:

Keep your eye on the ball,
Your head above the clouds,
Your ear to the ground,
Your shoulder to the wheel,
Your nose to the grindstone,
Your finger on the pulse,
Your feet on the ground, and
Your head on your shoulders.

Now… try to get something done. 

 

In summary: Activate your network, work smart, work hard, open yourself to opportunities, close off some opportunities, overcommunicate, underspend, hang in there, stop things that aren’t working, collaborate, and listen.

 

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June 12, 2011

Be excellent.

I want to be truly great.

I want to do something great.

So the question is, how do we become excellent?

 

You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process. ~ xkcd 896

 

Interconnectedness takes me from that illustration, to a place that makes me want to watch a Tony Robbins video.

Tony says being great depends on tiny differences that put a person in a state of certainty, confidence, and flow.

 

To be excellent, we train ourselves emotionally. Get rituals.


Incantations, not affirmations, embody what we want.

Incantations help us navigate MUSTs vs SHOULDs.

 

As we move from within our own minds out to interactions with others, influence is essential.

Because when two people are having a conversation, the one who is more certain is going to influence the one who is less certain. Always.

 

This is why I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations lately.

And conversations are the foundation of 106 Miles.

106miles3

 

106 Miles recently had a conversation of greatness, which inspired me to find 11 great quotes…

11) “Greatness doesn’t take two months, or even a year. It takes years of focused practice to achieve even an ounce of it.” ~ Trizle

10) “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” ~ Albert Einstein

9) “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

8) “Success is moving from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

7) “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Will Durant, not Aristotle

6) “Excellence is not a skill; it is an attitude.” ~ Ralph Marston

5) “You do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don’t exist. (Sorry, Warren Buffett.) You are not a born CEO or investor or chess grandmaster. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years. And not just any hard work, but work of a particular type that’s demanding and painful.” ~ Geoffrey Colvin

4) “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

3) “Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” ~ Swami Sivananda

2) “It’s not what you take but what you leave behind that defines greatness.” ~ Edward Gardner

1) “It’s not where you take things from; it’s where you take them to.” ~ Jim Jarmusch

Now, I am incanting to take excellence to me.

 

Be_awesome

 

I want PandaWhale to be excellent.

I want 106 Miles to be excellent.

I want my favorite pizza place to be excellent, too. (This will take time. Right now, people hate us on Yelp.)

People_hate_us_on_yelp

And in my state of incantation, I include greatness.

As if I’m climbing the Ron Swanson pyramid of greatness.

Pyramid-jumbo

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.

Don’t just be excellent. Be excellent to each other.

Be excellent. Go beyond a limit.

This takes my mind to an epic night. A really epic night.

190k_receipt_perezsolomon

After a party like that, it’s difficult to focus.

I want to hear Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory“!!!

Sing it, Gaga!!!

I’m on the edge… of glory…
And I’m hanging on a moment of truth… 

And I’m dancing like no one’s watching!!!

Did YouTube invent Lady Gaga or vice versa?

No worries. Hakuna matata!! Or is that…

Hasa diga eebowai!!

Um.

Where was I?

Oh, right, dividing my attention.

Unlike attention, happiness is something that multiplies when it is divided. (Thank you, @aaker @padmasree @paulocoehlo!)

 

Now, where does motivation come from again?

Tony Robbins says understanding motivation is the key to happiness.

 

Daniel Pink says we are happiest and most motivated in our work when we have the opportunity for mastery.

Now, I’ve been told it takes 10,000 hours to master something.

That said, being good at something makes us like it more.

And there is much power in perseverance aka “grit”.

Thinking about all of this puts my mind into a state of flow.

Challenge_vs_skill

 

Which brings us back to where we started: xkcd 896.

Repeat after me: Do something so hard that you become great in the process.

 

July 17, 2010

Cell 13 and The Thinking Machine.

To whoever finds this,

I am writing this on toilet paper from a dungeon that I’m guessing is located in Google’s nether regions.

The sign on the door says “Cell 13“.

All I’ve had to eat the past few days were a couple of bamboo shoots and leaves accompanied by a lovingly handwritten note inscribed, “Who’s the master baiter now, Lobster Boy?”

“Lobster Boy”?! Is my semblance to a panda not obvious??

How did I get here? Last thing I remember was emailing Pandas and Lobsters to Posterous 96 hours ago, then leaving the SayNow office with my intrepid sidekick Troutgirl. Next thing I knew, I was dragged off the street with a bag over my head as I yelled, “Help me, intrepid sidekick Troutgirl!” She angrily rifled back, “Who are you calling sidekick?! YOU are MY sidekick…” as I got pushed into a van and carried away…

And now I wonder. Was it my message — that Google applications are for people who want to hit-it-and-quit-it, but social applications are for people who’d rather stay-and-play — that landed me in incarceration? Or did I offend them with style, not substance?

In any case, here I sit in a dark prison cell. On one wall is Orkut, hanging in shackles.

Also sitting in the dungeon is the Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa. I guess that’s how they got him to do all those videos for YouTube this week. If they can get him to make one for every person on Facebook — what’s that, just 500 million more videos? — perhaps they can build a compelling social network out of nothing but sweat, tears, and Old Spice…

In a comfy chair in the middle of the dungeon, Paul Adams furiously scribbles notes whenever I talk with Orkut or Isaiah. Orkut hasn’t said a thing to me, and frankly I’m intimidated by Isaiah. I offered him some of my bamboo but apparently he won’t eat carbs.

Paul won’t talk with me directly. He’s shy. I keep telling him to read jwz’s “Groupware Bad” rant but all he does is scribble it down in his notebook. Since he’s writing anyway, I make sure to speak in lots of metaphors and new-age speak, like these words of Stephen Covey: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” Whenever I say something like that he looks at me like a side dish he didn’t order.

Since he’s writing furiously, I try to talk more slowly. “Do you think Google has become much too insular? When muskoxen feel threatened, they face outward in a ring. Google is a circle of yaks, facing inward. Which is understandable, given the $30 billion pile of gold buried beneath the campus, which itself explains why rainbows always end at the Googleplex. No rainbow can compare with the dozen years Google has spent developing The Thinking Machine, which is why Google believes nothing is impossible when you apply Google’s Glorious Hive Mind to it. Not even… social applications!” He raises an eyebrow.

I go on. “You could ask The Thinking Machine anything in the world. Why is the sky blue? What is the twelfth dimension that Foursquare has somehow magically tapped into? Wtf is a Quora, and why should Google care?? What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything???” He raises the other eyebrow.

I go on. “I’m guessing you care about social networks because they are drawing the attention of advertisers. Seven years ago Google was processing 200 million searches a day, but now Twitter is processing 800 million searches a day on less money than Google spends on food (and fewer total employees than Google hired last month!). Since April, Facebook has jumped from 100 million mobile users to 150 million mobile users, led by Xoogler Erick Tseng…”

This finally incents Paul to speak. “You know we put a microchip implant in all Xooglers before they leave so we can track their progress in the wild…” And then he stops himself because he knows that I can do the math that on the Facebook side, Sheryl, Elliott, and Bret & Paul are Xooglers, and on the Twitter side, so are Ev, Biz, Dick, and Jason. I chuckle to myself thinking that Dennis might have hatched his Foursquare scheme while sitting in this very prison cell.

I goad Paul, “This is good, Paul. Let it out. I know you want the answer to something, so let me anticipate that and tell you that whales are the answer.”

This is more than he can stand. He screams at me, “You speak only in maddening metaphors!!! Well you’re a prisoner, and WHERE ARE YOUR WEAK LINKS NOW??? And by the way, we’re working on an algorithm to crack your metaphorical codes, so don’t be too smug… We do, after all, have The Thinking Machine.”

At that moment, who should peer at me from a dark corner that I thought was unoccupied? None other than the very first Facebook friend himself, Mark Zuckerberg.

“Google wants to be my friend,” says Mark. I give an astonished look to Paul.

Paul admits, “We actually perfected the Zuckerbot last year. No one inside Facebook actually knows that it’s not the real Mark running their company anymore.”

That wipes the smile off my face, so I try to reason with Paul to let Mark go. “Look, I know that Google is worried because Facebook is shrinking the good part of the Web. But you’re going about this all wrong. Instead of taking a defensive posture like muskoxen, or trying to make bad Facebook copies like Buzz, you should give up on lobster traps and put your faith in the strengths of the Web itself.

I don’t think Paul was listening to me because at this point he’s writing furiously… “Google — and everyone else — needs to stop letting Facebook set the terms of social, because social has never actually been about the power of STRONG ties, nor about a FIXED identity. One of the reasons Buzz tweaks people out so badly is that they attached it to the very very most fixed part of your online identity, which is your actual email account. The number of non-Googlers I know who use Buzz rounds to zero.”

Paul’s hand was cramping but I can’t stop yakking…

“Paul, I know you’re biased against Facebook. About the anecdote that begins your 200+ slide deck… There’s a woman with some homosexual friends in LA, and she comments on their pictures in the bars they go to together. Meanwhile, she’s teaching 10-year-olds how to swim. And the 10-year-olds somehow have access to her Facebook account. But she doesn’t realize until she’s talking with the anthropologist that the 10-year-olds who shouldn’t be using Facebook can see the comments she made on the pictures of her friends at the gay clubs.

“THIS IS THE SCENARIO YOU’RE IS CONCERNED ABOUT!?!?!?!?

“Skeptic Geek looks at those 200 slides and concludes, If Google Me were indeed under development, looks like it will be a network designed for close ties — family and close friends — which is how Facebook initially started.

“WRONG!

It is SUCH a misconception that Facebook initially started for family and close friends.

WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!

It started for schoolmates to MEET each other. LITERALLY THE FACE BOOK: 

  • Cute girl or dude in my dorm, who are you?
  • Who has notes to that math class I slept thru?
  • I’m selling a futon on campus, who wants it?
  • I wanna join the college glee club; who else is in it?

“It was all about people in that magical liminal moment of American life: the first year of college. Where you could change your identity in a summer. Go from Kitty to Karen, trade your MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron….

“I remember reading something about Soledad O’Brien… She’s from Long Island. Last day of high school, she’s a cheerleader rocking massive feathered hair. By the third day of college, she’s calling herself Soledad and has stick-straight hair and no makeup.

“When Facebook was cool, it was all about establishing your public identity, without anyone from your past to set it in stone.

“Now you gotta be the same you whose cheeks were pinched by your aunt when you were 6 and chubby. You gotta haul around all those “friends” from junior high who saw you with zits and glasses, and braces on your teeth. You gotta live with the legacy of your Young Republicans phase or your Social Democrats phase or your French existentialist phase, or your drunk slut phase…”

I was rolling. “The best Web applications became big because the earliest adopters embraced them passionately. Like Danny DeVito’s penguins-with-bombs in Batman Returns, the earliest adopters are an army of penguins who like to declare, fuck off bear cavalry!

 

Penguin_army_bear_cavalry

 

I continued. “The army-of-penguins love to put a Web application through stress tests, and make sure it’s ready to be spread. One of the differences between a startup and a big company is that a startup has the luxury of being cool at first. NOT having to design for the entire world on day one. Getting to revel in the penguins-with-bombs phase. And then the millionth user phase. And then the 10 millionth user phase. The better Google apps had that kind of rollout… Gmail, Reader. Mind you, Reader has never, ever gotten anyone laid. So you can’t use it as a model. Instead, repeat after me: USER GOOD.”

I was ready to finish. “Google — and everyone else — needs to stop letting Facebook set the terms of social applications, because social has never actually been about the power of STRONG ties, nor about a FIXED identity. Look to the WEAK TIES. Look to IDENTITIES IN CONTEXT.
There’s still so much to be done in helping people meet, have conversations, and hook up. You can do it!!! You do, after all, have The Thinking Machine…

And with that, Paul tidied up his notes and left the dungeon, and I haven’t seen him since. Mark is taking a power nap, Isaiah is getting his beauty rest, and Orkut still hasn’t said anything. So I’m sending out this beacon.

And so, I tie this note around a rat’s neck so that when it escapes to freedom, it will bring my message to someone who can kiss my Posterous…

Hopefully,
Adam


P.S. — Pandas poop 40 times a day, and I’m all out of toilet paper… 

July 13, 2010

Pandas and Lobsters: Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications…

After researching what pandas do all day, I was struck by how panda-like we are when we use the Internet.

Roaming a massive world wide web of forests, most of our time is spent searching for delicious bamboo and consuming it. 40 times a day we’ll poop something out — an email, a text message, a status update, maybe even a blog post — and then go back to searching-and-consuming.

For a decade, Google has trained us to optimize our pandic selves:

The kind of application that Google knows how to make well are the kind that embody a panda’s “eats, shoots, and leaves” model of Internet behavior. Pandas spend every waking hour foraging — aka searching — and consuming. The most successful Google applications serve such a utilitarian mandate, too: they encourage users to search for something, consume, and move onto the next thing. Get in, do your business, get out. Do a Google search, slurp down information, move on. Pull up Google maps or Gmail or Google news, do something, leave. Where Google does not excel is in making applications that are by their nature for lingering and luxuriating — the so-called social applications.

What’s the main difference between successful Google applications (search, maps, news, email) and a successful social applications? With Google applications we return to the app to do something specific and then go on to something else, whereas great social applications are designed to lure us back and make us never want to leave.

Consider this example: Google Answers focused on answers and failed; Yahoo! Answers focused on social and succeeded. The primary purpose of a social application is connecting with others, seeing what they’re up to, and maybe even having some small, fun interactions that though not utilitarian are entertaining and help us connect with our own humanity. Google apps are for working and getting things done; social apps are for interacting and having fun.

Put another way, Google designing social apps is like Microsoft designing iPod packaging.

Now, consider the Four Horsemen of Hotness in 2010: Facebook, Quora, Foursquare, and Twitter. Think deeply about why none of these four could have been developed inside Google.

Facebook is a lobster trap and your friends are the bait. On social networks we are all lobsters, and lobsters just wanna have fun. Every time a friend shares a status, a link, a like, a comment, or a photo, Facebook has more bait to lure me back. Facebook is literally filled with master baiters: Whenever I return to Facebook I am barraged with information about many friends, to encourage me to stick around and click around. Every time I react with a like or comment, or put a piece of content in, I’m serving as Facebook bait myself. Facebook keeps our friends as hostages, so although we can check out of Hotel Facebook any time we like, we can never leave. So we linger. And we lurk. And we luxuriate. The illogical extreme of content-as-bait are the Facebook games where the content is virtual bullshit. Social apps are lobster traps; Google apps do not bait users with their friends.

Quora is restaurant that serves huge quantities of bacn and toast. Quora is a dozen people running dozens of experiments in how to optimally use bacn to get people to return to Quora, and how to use toast to keep them there. Bacn is email you want but not right now, and Quora has 40 flavors of it that you can order. Quora’s main use of Bacn is to sizzle with something delicious (a new answer to a question you follow, a new Facebook friend has been caught in the Quora lobster trap, etc.) to entice you to come back to Quora. Then, once you’re there, the toast starts popping. Quora shifts the content to things you care about and hides things you don’t care about in real-time, and subtly pops up notifications while you’re playing, to entice you to keep sticking around and clicking around. Some toast is so subtle it doesn’t even look like a pop-up notification — it just looks like a link embedded in the page with some breadcrumbs that appear in real-time to take you to some place on Quora it knows you’ll find irresistible. For every user’s action, bacn’s and toast’s fly out to others in search of reactions. (Aside: if I were Twitter, I would be worried. Real-time user interfaces are more addictive than pseudo-real-time interfaces; what if Quora took all of its technology and decided to use it to build a better Twitter?) Social apps are action-reaction interaction loops; Google apps are designed just for action.

Foursquare exists in a dozen dimensions. That statement is ridiculous on its surface; after all, even String Theory has only 11 dimensions. (Technically, it’s 10 dimensions, beca
use they start numbering at zero.) Whatever higher-than-the-highest reality Foursquare thinks it’s building, one thing is clear: this company is more about chemistry than physics. Foursquare has studied the works of David A. Kessler, who studied hyper-palatable foods that had various combinations of salts, fats, and sugars that stimulate the diner’s brain to crave more, rather than satisfy their hunger. The more a person uses Foursquare, the more a person wants to use Foursquare: the points are salts, the badges are fats, and sweet sweet mayorships are sugars that we fight over like we’re
 Sneetches. Ok, so Foursquare’s leadership thinks they’re only 10% of the way there — I guess they have 11 other combinations of salts, fats, and sugars to perfect so that all we do all day, every day, is check into Foursquare. Social apps offer a steady diet of junk food to keep us addicted; Google apps offer mostly bamboo.

Twitter is a giant blue ball machine. Even the New York Times says not enough people understand what the heck Twitter is, for them to be willing to use the word tweet in polite company. But that doesn’t stop lots of people from using Twitter. Perhaps they are enamored by a word that sounds ornithological in nature. I tried to explain it to my brother like this: tweets are little blue balls, and they get bounced around by a giant machine so others can enjoy them. Those people can react by copying the balls (retweets), swinging at the balls (at-replies), or beaning the originator in the head (direct messages). There are also lots of whales on Twitter — celebrity whales to attract us, and fail whales to repel us. As opposed to Facebook, which hates whales because whales distract the lobsters from the traps. At this point, my brother gives me a blank stare and says he’s going back to Facebook. Which goes to show that a social app doesn’t need lobster traps, bacn and toast, or 12 dimensions to be successful; it just needs balls. Social apps are whimsical and fun; Google apps are whittled and functional.

So why can’t Google build social apps? Because Google’s core values (“be useful”, “do good by users”) reject the very notion of lobster traps, bacn and toast, a dozen dimensions of junk food, and giant blue ball machines. Understanding those concepts is not easy. It takes lots of practice, and lots of patience, and lots of learning.

2010’s leadership of Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter struggled for YEARS learning from FriendFeed, Dodgeball, and Odeo, respectively. The main mythical man month mega mantra — “build one to throw away” — isn’t just a clever way to gracefully fail on the first iteration; it’s the way we learn. I believe those collective experiences have given them the humility to know that most things don’t work; the confidence to know that simplicity is more important than features; and the stamina to see their visions through the good, the bad, and the ugly that accompany startups.

Does Google have the patience to launch social apps that aren’t widely used so they can learn from them? Not Lively.

Does Google have the ability to launch social apps that aren’t utilitarian? Repeat after me: “A Buzz is a high-frequency Wave.” And neither pandas nor lobsters know what those are, other than wacky experiments gone awry.

Has Google’s culture-of-facts ever learned from Orkut? Good question for the triumvirate. A humbler panda than me once tweeted:

So, to summarize: Google is responsible for Orkut, Wave, and Buzz. Ex-Googlers are responsible for Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter. Discuss.

Ok, I’ll discuss. I have three main points:
  1. Google cannot hire a Head of Social because no individual can change Google’s DNA of building applications for pandas, not lobsters. Googlers who wanted to develop great social applications had to leave Google to do so.
  2. Google cannot buy Twitter or LinkedIn or Quora (or all three!) because Google’s culture has no respect for successful social applications. YouTube’s office is still far from the Google campus to avoid the toxic attitude described by a former Orkut employee, “[Google has] an environment that viewed social networking as a frivolous form of entertainment rather than a real utility, and I’m pretty sure this viewpoint was shared all the way up the chain of command to the founders.
  3. Google cannot focus group its way to successful social applications. Henry Ford opined, If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
And three reasons why Google should be concerned:
  1. Facebook serves 3 billion LIKE buttons a day, serves one-sixth of all U.S. ads, has more traffic than Google or the next 99 sites combined, has 100 million mobile users and five times as many web users, and when it launches a Facebook search engine, it will be the second biggest search engine in the world right out of the gate.
  2. Twitter’s search engine is bigger than Bing and Yahoo combined. Not only is Twitter doing 800 million searches a day, but apparently they’re the fastest growing search engine in the U.S.
  3. Bing actually seems to have a better relationship with Facebook and Twitter, and in addition, Bing has gone out of its way to partner with Amazon as well as Apple and its soon-to-be-100-million iPhone OS devices.
So… Now would be a good time for a bold move from Google. YouTube is the only social application Google has ever bought that was and remains #1 in its category. What can we learn from that?
  1. Google FAILED going head-to-head against YouTube. Buying YouTube in retrospect was a great idea, and keeping YouTube separate from Google HQ was a great idea.
  2. Google FAILED in acquiring and integrating other social products. Blogger, Picasa, JotSpot, Dodgeball, Jaiku. None are their category leaders now. Some are dead. Why?
  3. Google FAILED to create Google Contacts that are easy to edit and integrated with Facebook and Twitter. Why then should we believe Google can do something simple, entertaining,  and interesting with Google Profiles?
Google is filled with adrenaline now that Facebook and Twitter are juggernauts in social advertising and searching. Google is ready to fight, but social applications are about loving not fighting. Google is from Mars, and social applications are from Venus. Anyone know someone who can build a rocket ship so Google can ride to the world of social applications?

My advice for Google’s Trinity is to put on your thinking caps about social apps. Think really carefully about what you need, and why. Look to the glorious words of jwz:

“Social software” is about making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.

And for all us lobsters, I just have one thing to say: “Yeah, you’re all gonna be okay.

July 6, 2010

How to run effective startup Board meetings.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — ifindkarma @ 11:31 pm

These are my thoughts on running a Board meeting for an early-stage startup:

  1. No surprises! That means:
  2. Send out agenda and materials (days) in advance.*
  3. Talk with every Board member (days) before the Board meeting.
  4. Focus on the strategic, not tactical operations.
  5. Keep the Board meeting focused on the agenda you set.
  6. Focus on discussions, not monologues.
  7. Talk with every Board member (days) after the Board meeting.
I put an asterisk by point #2 because materials should be as simple as possible (but no simpler!). A one page dashboard, a handful of important metrics, and fewer slides / more discussion, make for much better Board meetings.
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For background reading, I recommend the following posts:

How you actually run the meeting depends on??what kind of founder you are??primarily:??a planner, a seller, or an executor. Play to your strengths.
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I repeat: Board meetings should focus on the strategic, not the tactical.
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The best structure for a Board meeting I’ve found comes from Bijan Sabet; by all means tweak this as appropriate for your business:
  1. Overview and metrics
  2. Product update and roadmap
  3. Staffing
  4. Objectives for the year and progress against those goals
  5. Challenges, problems, and issues
  6. Financial update (major points)
  7. Assignments and help*
  8. Feedback and open issues
I emphasize and put an asterisk by #7 because it’s very, very important to give your Board members assignments and hold them accountable.
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Never forget the strategic responsibilities of a venture-backed tech company’s board:

  1. To meet their fiduciary responsibility to protect and serve the interests of ALL the shareholders of the company.
  2. To guide the company to the fairest and most lucrative exit possible under the circumstances.
  3. To hire and fire the best CEO for the company.
  4. To recruit those board members who serve based on criteria other than stock ownership.
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Do NOT allow your board to get into everyday product or management issues. ??That is not their job as a board, and your meetings will be long and hellacious if you allow them to go down this rathole.
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What is the distinction? ??This is a proper statement for a Board member to make:
??
“John, we feel that as a nontechnical CEO your job #1 should be looking for an experienced VP of eng. ??If you do not manage to close a great VP eng candidate within 6 months — or even fail to close one but learn why you failed –??we will be concerned.”
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By contrast, this is not a proper statement to make in a Board meeting:

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“John, your homepage looks crappy on my iPhone. Fix it by the next Board meeting.”
??
That’s all I have to say on the subject. Please do ask questions if you have any.
??
And by the way, no matter how fun it might sound, do NOT go around the table fishing for ideas. You’ll only get bad ideas.
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On a more serious note, it’s okay to call a break during the meeting if you need to breathe and clear your head. For such intermissions, I recommend Timbaland’s “Board Meeting“…
??
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Dancing is optional. But highly recommended.

June 8, 2010

We believe in the interconnectedness of all things.

“We are feedback loops; we are the stories we tell ourselves…”
~ Doc Jensen on LOST  

“He who wonders discovers that this in itself is wonder…”
~ M.C. Escher

In the beginning, there was nothing but darkness. We all were one.

And then we said, “Oh haiLet there be light.

Cieling_cat_creates

And then we LOOK closer and more carefully. We could see that there was nothing. Which is a funny thing to say because sometimes words are inadequate, and sometimes words have two meanings.

And then expansion started… Wait!

And we added things. And the universe expanded. And we added more things. And the universe kept expanding to accommodate adding more things. And everything was awesome. Fundamentally.

It might seem like everything was added randomly. And perhaps that is the case. But that’s not what we believe.

We believe in the interconnectedness of all things.

This idea was kept in the dark for billions of years. Instead, the reigning belief was detachment: “I don’t really want to know how your garden grows, ’cause I just want to fly.” And so, we lived forever…

…and life was but a dream. Edgar Allan Poe waxed poetic, “All that we see or seem… is but a dream within a dream.” (Thanks Ankita!)

And we thought about the words of Rumi…

We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

The face of the unknown, hidden beyond the universe would appear on the mirror of your
perception.

They say there is a doorway from heart to heart, but what is the use of a door when there are no walls?

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

And the Primitive Radio Gods whispered quietly in the corner…

Am I alive, or thoughts that drift away?
Does summer come for everyone?
Can humans do what prophets say?
If I die before I learn to speak,
can money pay for all the days
I lived awake but half-asleep?

Suddenly we woke up with a kick. And we were no longer detached when we woke up with the idea. Not to spoil Inception, but merely to praise Inception:

What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.

For our idea, Douglas Adams offered enlightenmentSpecifically, Dirk Gently illuminated us.

I’m very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term `holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson. Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson? No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out. A pleasure talking to you, Mrs Rawlinson. Goodbye. 
    — Douglas Adams, Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency

And then Tim Berners-Lee — or was it Dan Connolly? — distilled the words to their essence:

We believe in the interconnectedness of all things.

And then Jamie Zawinski reflected on the Vannevar Bush-influenced words of Ted Nelson:

Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged —
people keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.

Everything is deeply intertwingled.

And then the Internet developed its own connective tissue. Which itself is unsearchable.

And then I couldn’t believe what happened next. Free association. Say what? We’ll see.

…continuing. LOOKWe didn’t start the fire. America, fuck yeah. Freedom isn’t freeTerrible Disney lessons. The virus of faith2000″ TVYou’re the man now, dawgBlue ball machine. Facebook is a lobster trap, and your friends are the baitTrue happiness comes from within. It comes back to you, you’re gonna get what you deserve… lovin’ is what I got, remember thatThe ride does not require an explanation, just occupants. Imitation of lifeNoah’s photosI’m expressin’ with my full capabilities, now I’m living in correctional facilities. Now let me welcome everybody to the wild wild west… California love… Regulators!!! I want it all: brand new socks and drawers. Why do I live this way? Heeeey, must be the moneyAlright stop, collaborate and listen. How can I find a woman like that? Guitar: impossibleFrench bulldogs. OMG pwnies. Ready, set, bagSpeak with meMeditate. Mediate. Kick. Things that make you go hmmmShow me how to dance. Alejandro. Ra ra ra ah ah ah roma ro ma ma gaga ooh la la. Cameron Diaz dancesStephen Hawking rocks. Time travel is horrifyingOuter space sucksCrumbling cities. Pink housesIconic bras. Mad menAh, l’amourDisney perversionsEpisode 200. And 201. FreedomUnconscious trumps free will. Disney deathsSerial killers. Corporate slogans. At-atCanned unicorn meatWhat if you’re wrong? The purpose of purposeThe empathetic civilizationEmma BatesQualia. Reid HoffmanHegel’s philosophy of history. The unexplainable. Time-traveling brandy thievesLife on Mars. LOST. The Little Prince.

I love The Little Prince. Whi
ch reminds me of some of my favorite words that Robbye Bentley has posted recently

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” ~ Og Mandino

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Life and Jah are one in the same. Jah is the gift of existence. I am in some way eternal, I will never be duplicated. The singularity of every man and woman is Jah’s gift. What we struggle to make of it is our sole gift to Jah. The process of what that struggle becomes, in time, the Truth.” ~ Bob Marley

“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” ~ Stephen Covey

Thank you, Robbye. I have some favorites of my own, too.

The words of Rumi echo in eternity, “The face of the unknown, hidden beyond the universe would appear on the mirror of your perception.”

Which takes me full circle…

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for” ~ Bob Marley

I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right. You believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

If success or failure of the planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… How would I be? What would I do?” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

We are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends. How high can the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know…” ~ Colors of the Wind

And Scott Adams said, “The best you can hope for in this life is that your delusions are benign and your compulsions have utility.”

So it goes…

 

And then a lot of peoples’ brains exploded. Such is rock n roll.

And then we rested. Or at least, we tried to relax and breathe and reflect

And appreciate that nothing can ever be truly, fully understood. Seriously.

Still, three fundamental questions remain:
  1. If everything is everythang, are being and becoming just limited beings’ perspective of the oneness?
  2. If happiness is part of the oneness, why is it so difficult to be here now and connect to that happiness?
  3. If lessons are repeated until they are learned, is learning just finding the right connection to the oneness?

And are there things we can never learn? We’ll see.

If some connections cannot be made, perhaps there is no spoon at all.

If Internet is the substrate for interconnectedness of all things, perhaps The Architect knows.

And are there things that cannot be taught? Richard Feynman refuses to explain how magnets work. Feynman concludesI really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Breathing is neither learned nor taught. It just is. And yet sometimes we must remember to breathe. And to be here now. And to be grateful for every breath.

And then when that gratitude gets us reflecting about the meaning of life, we learn to let it go; this too shall pass

It’s one who won’t be taken, that cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live, sang Bette Midler.

So it goes.

Savor every second; enjoy every sandwich, as the dying Warren Zevon put it.

So it goes.

You need to live before you die, said Steve Jobs…

You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have
to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

So it goes…

It is through death, too, that we make a connection with Randy PauschCon te partiro.

In the end, there is no greater job than enabling the childhood dreams of others.

And in the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

And in the end, only kindness matters.

So we dance. And LOOK. And simplify. And reflect. And breathe.

Which takes us back to the beginning.

And then… Bazinga!

June 7, 2010

People are very bad at predicting what will make us happy.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — ifindkarma @ 6:36 pm

This is why the way to happiness is a choice.


Tony Hsieh of Zappos has a new book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

In it, he talks about Zappos’ issues that had nothing to do with the underlying performance of our business, but that increased tensions on their board of directors:

Some board members had always viewed our company culture as a pet project — “Tony’s social experiments,” they called it. I disagreed. I believe that getting the culture right is the most important thing a company can do. But the board took the conventional view — namely, that a business should focus on profitability first and then use the profits to do nice things for its employees. The board’s attitude was that my “social experiments” might make for good PR but that they didn’t move the overall business forward. The board wanted me, or whoever was CEO, to spend less time on worrying about employee happiness and more time selling shoes.

On some level, I was sympathetic to the board’s position. The truth was that if we pulled back on the culture stuff, the immediate effect on our financials would probably have been positive. It would have reduced our expenses in the short term, and I don’t think our sales would have suffered much at first. But I was pretty sure that in the long term, it would have ruined everything we had created.

By early 2009, we were at a stalemate. Because of a complicated legal structure, I effectively controlled the majority of the common shares, so that the board couldn’t force a sale of the company. But on the five-person board, only two of us — Alfred Lin, our CFO and COO, and myself — were completely committed to Zappos’s culture. This made it likely that if the economy didn’t improve, the board would fire me and hire a new CEO who was concerned only with maximizing profits. The threat was never made overtly, but I could tell that was the direction things were going.

It was a stressful time for me and Alfred. But we’d gotten through much tougher times before, and this seemed like just another challenge we needed to figure out. We began brainstorming ways that we could get out from under the board. We certainly didn’t want to sell the company and move on to something else. To us, Zappos wasn’t just a job — it was a calling.

In April, I flew to Seattle for an hourlong meeting with Jeff Bezos. I gave him my standard presentation on Zappos, which is mostly about our culture. Toward the end of the presentation, I started talking about the science of happiness — and how we try to use it to serve our customers and employees better.

Out of nowhere, Jeff said, “Did you know that people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy?” Those were the exact words on my next slide. I put it up and said, “Yes, but apparently you are very good at predicting PowerPoint slides.” After that moment, things got comfortable. It seemed clear that Amazon had come to appreciate our company culture as well as our strong sales.

If Daniel Gilbert is right, it’s harder to find good predictors of happiness than we realize. Still, happiness is worth the pursuit… and the struggles.

I applaud Tony Hsieh’s emphasis on happiness in corporate culture, and like Tony I believe that happy employees lead to happy customers.

There’s a good reason why Happiness is the #1 book on Amazon right now.

 

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