Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why the most important word in my world is "WHY"

This is the single best presentation of any kind, about any topic, that I have ever seen.

I wish I was a smart as this guy.  He somehow codified what the difference between successful and failed leadership and inspiration is, and I find that amazing all by itself.

I have been saying for years that the most important word in my world is "WHY."  "Why" has always been intuitive for me.

  • "Why" challenges the status quo 
  • "Why" is the single most important factor in leadership, while "what" and "how" are only important as management tools.
    • "Why" is to Strategy as "What" and "How" are to Tactics
    • "Why" is the question that always comes before every inspiring idea, invention or movement.
    • "Why" is the setup; "Because..." is the punch-line

    My favorite line from this Ted Talk is  

    "Martin Luther King Junior said 'I have a Dream' NOT 'I have a Plan.' "

    Note to entrepreneurs... If you want to impress me, answer all of the "why" questions.

    I had no idea that I was using this part of my brain (insert your own joke here) but I am glad to have found validation for having done so.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Startups, Focus and Monetization.

    Somebody posted a question on the Startup Weekend Linkedin group about whether a focus on monetization is something that you do more when you have been through the process of building a comany before and how it changes with experience.  The answer to this can't really be addressed until we tackle the broader topic of, "When should you start worrying about monetization?"

    The answer to the first question: "Does this change with experience?" is an emphatic YES.

    As to whether folks with more startup experience tend to consider monetization more or earlier than those starting a company for the first time, it made me reflect back to my first startup, back in June 2000.

    Background: I am now working on my 6th software/web startup; I am fairly non-technical; I have had a couple of successful exits; my company is angel-funded and is about to close an "A" round.  Also, as a consultant, founder, executive-for-hire, contractor or investor-side mercenary, I have worked on, for or with 33 startups since 1999.

    So, back to what has changed since I started...

    Maybe because I can't write my own code, I have always thought that the point of starting a business is to make money. Therefor I have always been focused on how a company would do that, from the very beginning.  However, I have learned over the years to focus on the "why."

    • Why would someone buy it
    • Why would they buy it instead of a competitor's product
    • Why would they buy instead of doing what they have always done
    What it comes down to is a simple physics analogy; specifically Newton's Laws of Motion. (at the risk of sounding pretentious and all esoteric)

    It is really hard to get someone to do something that they have never done (An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.) Based on all of the questions that I have been asked by customers and potential investors over the years about how the company is going to make money; now, whenever I look at an idea, the first thing I do is try to figure out if the founders have considered how they are going to sell it/gain adoption. (an idea is "an object at rest" and the first goal is to provide the unbalanced force which sets it into motion)

    We have seen that it is way more important to get an installed user-base first, than it is to try to figure out how to make money. Getting an installed user-base for your idea is akin to taking an object at rest and putting it in motion. If you were to go out to your driveway, put your car into neutral, turn the wheel all the way to on side then start to push, you would probably find it difficult to get it moving and to make it go where you want it to go. However, if that same car were traveling forward already, even slowly, it gets easier to steer. (an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.)

    Same thing with monetization; If you start off by immediately worrying about pointing your company in the exact direction you think you need to go to make money, you end up focusing on the wrong thing first. However, if you start out knowing where you want to go, but focus all your energy on just getting the damn thing moving, it is WAY easier to steer it toward the money once it gets moving.

    So, I would say, it is important to have a broad idea of where you are headed, otherwise you just end up crashing into things and getting stuck, but don't kill yourself trying to point your business directly toward that goal at the beginning... just get it rolling and worry about how to make make it to your destination later.

    It'll be is easier to maneuver and apply that unbalanced force once you already have momentum.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    This time it is personal

    Yesterday, a friend forwarded this email (see below) to me.  It hit me at a time when I was vulnerable to the message.  I have been trying to figure out how I am going to find enough coders, and operations people to grow my company as fast as it seems to be ready to grow.  Plus, every early stage company CEO in Town seems to be running up against the same dilemma; there just isn't enough talent in town for all of the available jobs that we currently have.

    (addressee deleted)
    You were more prophetic than I gave you credit for. Don't know if you remember saying to the VC on the phone to give me money right away before you lose me to San Francisco. 

    I dismissed it at the time.  Turns out you were right. This town has been amazingly receptive to both my business and my wife's. With our kids grown - and one already living here as of July, it made huge sense for us to move. So we did

    Many thanks for bringing me into Project Skyway. I wish you huge success and I hope RT can come through with some real support.

    When you are in San Francisco, please let me know. It would be great to connect - and if there is any way that Pipeline Manager (the name of his company) can help you or your startups with a properly managed market development process, let me know.


    I am not mad that they chose to leave; I am pissed that we did nothing to try to stop them... and I am even more pissed that people think that there is a better reason to move across the country than there is to stay here and grow their companies.

    Plus, I have tried to talk two other people from going out there, this week! 

    I am serious when I say that I am going to start an all-out assault on this issue.  It is already too damn hard to get funded and to find talent here without all the good companies and awesome people going other places.  We are WAY too damn easy-going about this issue and I am going to personally put an end to it. 

    I am going to plan a damn summit-meeting with all the folks who have told me recently that they might be leaving, to tell us why.

    Then I am going to also invite investors, the people from JumpStart, the governor, the mayors, CEO’s, legislators, the folks from Light Bank, some folks from Madison, and anyone else I can get, to come to help us figure out how we are going to get them to stay.  This is going to kill us if we don’t act right now!

    I am SICK OF THIS.  We need to move on this because it not only directly affects the viability of Project Skyway, but it sucks the entrepreneurial talent out of the Twin Cities.  It doesn’t even matter if they all go out there and fail.  We all know that they probably will fail at their first attempt… but after they have failed, and learned what it takes to succeed, they are no longer here to start a new, better, company …or to come to work for mine, yours or anyone else’s.  Instead, they are 1800 miles away helping some other company build jobs, wealth and an even better, more welcoming, place for our talent to land when they can’t get their company off the ground here.  You know that these folks are going to continue to recruit their friends from Minnesota and the Midwest once they have laid a foundation.

    We are almost at the disaster point;  the point at which all of our resources, coders and entrepreneurs are getting driven out of town by the lack of risk capital and the lack of a concerted organized effort to stop it.

    The “Real Entrepreneurs of Minnesota are about to start kicking some ass and taking some names.

    By the way…from now on, I am ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS NOBODY EVEN MENTIONING THAT PLACE AROUND ME.  I am going to snap the next time someone mentions any city, municipality or region even remotely close to the 101 corridor… DO NOT DOUBT ME!

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Minnesota High Tech Association and Itasca Project Should Coordinate Calendars

    Recently I have been privileged to have been invited to, what I consider, important events that offer fantastic networking and learning opportunities.  these events are all pushing for participation from the same core audience, and they are all doing their own part to move the region toward its goal of returning to its former glory as the preeminent entrepreneurial and economic development hub of the Midwest.  In fact, in the next two weeks, there are three such events on my calendar. (though only two are listed on the Tech.MN calendar... The only event calendar that really matters to me.)

    April 6th is the Start Up America forum(Invite Only), hosted by Medtronic and, ostensibly, sponsored by the Whitehouse.  It was a complete cluster #@%$#, from a planning standpoint, having been slapped together by the local SBA, while (I guess) trying to coordinate with the feds.  Either way, they initially gave local folks about 24 hours to respond with their interest in getting an invite, then told everyone "we'll let you know if you get in."  It was only after some pressure exerted by the Minneapolis mayors office and our friends at the Science and Technology Authority that they extended the deadline a couple of days.  I was lucky enough to snag one of the coveted spots, so I guess I'll have to put on a suit Wednesday morning.

    I am excited to get to be in the room with some pretty powerful folks (or so we were led to believe) from DC, like:

    • Teresa Rae (Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office)
    • Winslow Sargeant (Chief Counsel for Advocacy for the US Small Business Administration)
    • Michael Fitzpatrick (Associate Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs)

    I'm not sure what the point of all this is, other than a big photo opportunity (for us and them.)  and I don't know what can be accomplished other than just talking about issues that everyone already knows about.  However, one thing I will commend them on; at least they picked a day when there wasn't much else going on.

    The same can't be said for the folks at the Itasca Project.  Getting an invite to participate in the Itasca Project's "Minneapolis - St. Paul Regional Economic Development Forum" was, for me, a huge deal.  It represents another step in my ultimate strategy of total regional, (and, eventually, Global) recognition/domination for CaSTT.  I hope to someday have CaSTT be on par with more conspicuous local companies, who's leaders are also the (seemingly secret) leaders of Itasca.

    The Itasca Project's membership list reads like a who's-who list of local CEO's, business leaders and political dignitaries. (that is if you can piece together its membership from old news articles and word-of-mouth accounts of its actions)  It's obvious influence is as unassailable, as its membership-list is closely-guarded.  It is kind of like an exclusive fraternity of prominence and power for which there is no application, no secret handshake and no defined procedure to follow if one wishes to join.  One day, you just get an email saying your are invited to an Itasca Project event, then... (well... I don't know what happens then, but I'll let you know).

    Unfortunately, the invitation that I received from Itasca is for an event on April 14th, the same day as the MHTA is having their Annual Spring Conference; arguably the biggest, most important event that they sponsor each year.  The Minnesota High tech Association represents the preeminent group of companies in the world of technology in our region and many of whom are members of various Itasca Project Task Forces. These folks are the  players in the world of Minnesota business and their influence is undeniable. 

    With this as a backdrop, I wonder how it is even possible that the folks planning the Itasca Project event didn't consult someone at MHTA, or at least check the calendar on Tech.MN to find out if there was anything else going happening on the 14th, that might jeopardize the attendance at their own event.

    So, I am calling on the organizers of the Itasca Project event to at least find out if the MHTA can pull some strings and squeeze the Regional Economic forum into its agenda, or at least into the same building (It's at the Minneapolis Convention Center, so there is probably room). this would enable those of us who would like to attend both events, which seem to have complimentary goals, to do so.

    I am truly appreciative of the opportunity that I have to represent Minnesota Tech Startup Entrepreneurs at important events such as these, but the failure to communicate, and coordinate represents that which is broken in our economic development ecosystem.  It will be awesome if, someday, a group like Launch.MN figures out a way to herd all of these cats and get them to coordinate their efforts under a single umbrella-organization, so we can finally start working together instead of duplicating efforts and wasting opportunities.

    Oh, and Itasca...Update your website.  I know you are important people with busy lives and everything... but the newest info is from three years ago.

    Darren Cox

    Darren Cox
    Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer