Archive for April, 2007

Rule #12 – You are not building the next Google. Deal with it.
April 20, 2007

Not to sound snide, but you are not building the next Google. Heck, the guys that built the first Google didn’t know they were building the first Google. Nevermind Yahoo!, Microsoft, IBM, Dell, etc. Neither you nor anyone else is doing themselves a favor launching a new business with the intention of becoming a company of thousands of employees and a 12 digit (or more) market cap.

Just so you know I’m not trying to pour acid on your dreams, let me clarify my point: quit thinking about how big and mighty and special and amazing the company may become. Quit thinking about your imminent riches and what NFL team you’re going to buy or how many super-models you’ll date or how many houses you’ll own or how many times you’ll land on the cover of “Wired.” Quit thinking of these things because at this stage you have virtually ZERO control over them ever happening, which is a good thing. Your focus should be to take your product’s core competency and build it, deploy it, and market it to the best of your ability.

In a recent business endeavor, I found myself stung by the, “we’re going to be as big as [fill in the blank]”. Founders, investors, employees, and contractors all found themselves being sold on the notion that the product could profit in the mid 7 figures each year. Cut up among those involved and everyone would have a nice little chunk of change to play with. The problem with this thinking was that illusions of grandeur prevented us from focusing on the success at hand. Instead of saying, “the money and size will come, but for now I’m making a pretty good living working with people I like doing something I love” we found ourselves constantly updating investors (and ourselves) about when the big pot of gold was going to show up. By the time things had really gone to hell, no one was happy with having created a viable company out of thin air; what we had created was much smaller then what we had imagined and promised, and there was no way to un-imagine such success.

Dreaming big is a great idea. Take some time every once in a while to imagine what it would be like to achieve a level of success like those mentioned above. But don’t set it as a benchmark. Guy Kawasaki wrote that everyone knows about Michael Jordan and Google because they are rare and come along once in a lifetime. Work hard, do the best you can, and remember to recognize and be proud of even the smallest successes you achieve. From experience I can tell you that there are far worse things then enjoying your work and having a role in your future. If you measure your worth on how fast you can get to an IPO, you’ll likely find yourself more miserable then you’ve ever been in your life.

Rule # 11 – You are your first customer
April 4, 2007

I came across this fantastic quote on the Firewheel Design blog.

“There are two personal qualities you need to make a killer product on the web: Talent and Determination… In fact, an excess of cash may simply be masking a lack of those two qualities. I’m not saying cash doesn’t play a part. It’s just highly overrated.”

I think I may have spoken about these things before, but that little dash of wisdom sums it up great.  You need talent and you need drive.  Expanding a little further:  Nothing out there – not money, not lots of founders, not tons of board members, not a huge database of potential customers, not a front-page story on the New York Times – is going to save you if you don’t have the talent to create and execute your vision, and it won’t save you if you don’t have the drive and persistence to dig in and not let go.

There are lots of “idea people” out there, me included.  I have countless notebooks with ideas jotted down.  Some are just one sentence snippets.  Some have mocked-up logo sketches.  Some have design elements written out, pricing strategies detailed, competitive advantages listed.  Each week I have at least one new idea and each week I fall madly in love with a different idea then the week before, certain that it is my “best idea yet.”  However, most of my hesitation in starting a new project comes from a self-examination on which of these countless ideas, if any, would I TRULY dig in to and push with all of my might?  Would it be my idea for a customized news service based on regional, not individual, preferences?  What about the idea of building mini-networks for people in specific professions so that they could interact in a space that wasn’t just a small sliver of a bigger community?  Or perhaps the idea about….

The point I’m trying to make is that having an idea that is useful and interesting and could be adopted by a large audience and generate revenue using a real business model is not enough.  Frankly,  it’s not NEAR enough.  Because at the end of the day, someone has to make it happen, and that someone is you.  Just because you can see the A to Z of your great idea in your head doesn’t mean it will be successful.  Having a great knowledge of what you are trying to accomplish and how you will get there will help a great deal, but at some juncture soon, someone (you) is going to have do the hard work to get it there.

As a result, you need to view yourself as your first customer.  And, not surprisingly, the first customer is always the hardest to sell.  If your idea doesn’t excite you enough that you will have the drive to see it through, what in the world makes you think anyone else is going to care enough to give it a chance, much less pay for it?  If the person most familiar with how wonderful this idea is can’t find the drive to take it from seed to shady tree, why would anyone consider it as being useful and worthy of their regard?

As you design, build, and deploy, things will not go exactly as you envisioned.  What’s important is that whatever path you end up on and whatever challenge you face, you wake up in the morning with the energy to overcome and the excitement to do it with a big cheesy grin on your face because you know when you lay back down that night, you’ll be that much closer to whatever it is you are chasing.

That’s called determination.  You will need lots of it.  On the chance that this idea isn’t inspiring you enough to see in your mind’s eye exactly what I’m talking about, perhaps you should wait until the next idea comes along.  Because if you’re not buying it, no one else is going to either.  (Don’t worry.  Ideas are lack trains…wait a few minutes and you can catch the next one.)