The Balancing Act

September 3, 2008

Great article here by Jeff Bussgang at Flybridge, on what it takes to win:

…I have come to realize that the true question corporations need to ask is: “How do I get my employees to think like VCs but act like entrepreneurs?” In other words: What’s the best way to impose the challenge of complex, competing priorities on employees who must, in effect, be adroit at living with split personalities? This new frame of mind requires the corporate manager to extract the best from both worlds—entrepreneurs with a bias for action, and VCs with a bias for analysis. Elements of both are required.

Says easy, does hard.

As I’ve said before, for me the basic tension of a new venture is between the two defining characteristics of most successful startups:

  1. Commitment to a process of iterative refinement, engaging the marketplace open to the truth, and being mercenary about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
  2. A team that executes with conviction, almost unreasonable in its commitment to overcome inertia and do something that hasn’t been done before.

Too much “1” and half-assed execution obscures what would work if done well; too much “2” and you miss the turn that would have made it all work.

I guess “think like a VC / act like an entrepreneur” is another way to put that, if it helps get the concept in more people’s heads all the better.

Which do you think makes the idea more clear?


“Time wounds all heels.”

June 13, 2008

The brilliant pun above (with credit to Mr. Lennon) is only one of the worthwhile things to be gleaned from this great post on the selfishJohn Lennon reasons serial entrepreneurs need to be decent people.

Highlight:

Successful serial entrepreneurs know that each relationship they develop is a potential goldmine. As noted in Your Personal Pitch, in order to be successful, entrepreneurs must enlist the help of numerous Donors – individuals who are in a position to give their adVenture a helping hand. Most employees, investors, customers and suppliers prefer to work with people and organizations which they trust. Thus, as noted in Corporate Creed, dishonesty is a major handicap for an entrepreneur, just as honesty and integrity are significant assets.

Amen. The rest here.


Authenticity & Leadership

May 30, 2008

Great article in the New York Times about how the nature of leadership may be evolving. Leaders themselves are stuggling to integrate their professional and personal lives, just as people within companies are more hungry for authenticity and a personal relationship with those they choose to follow.

This ties very tightly to the twitter / blogging sensibilities I’ve discussed here, about trying to be a real person and sharing your true feelings with others. I’m not sure which way the causality runs (did the blogosphere create this desire for a personal connection, or did the desire for more personal connections create the blogosphere?) but I find the topic pretty fascinating as both a leader and a student of human nature.

What do you think?


A Momentum Milestone

April 9, 2008

rock1In the beginning, starting a business feels like pushing a rock uphill.

The first few months is all about infecting individual people with your vision, and each time you have to start from zero. Nobody knows who you are or what you do, and all you have to get them on board are the track record you start with, a few ideas that make sense to you, and a handful of slides that no one wants to look at.

You build some stuff, hit the road like a standup comic working the kinks out of your act, and slowly add people, one-by-one, to the list of Those Who Believe. The team grows, and your act evolves. Your vision and your pitch come into focus, and if you get lucky before you run out of money, somebody gives you a shot to do what you say you can do.

Desperate to prove them right, you and your posse try to do something you’ve really never done before, and realize how stupid and shallow your thinking was. You listen, learn, and work your ass off to fix problems before the whole thing goes sideways. If the team you’ve built to that point is really good you manage to keep things on track, and you get the first one out the door without pissing off the people who trusted you first.

By then you have something real, something live, so with renewed energy you go back out there to try and sell another one. It’s hard like it always is, but at some point you lift your head up and realize it’s just a little bit easier than it was before. The second one launches, and it gets a little easier. The first round of improvements drop soon after that, then somebody writes something nice about you in a blog someplace. It feels good. You tell your Mom.

One day you realize the rock is the same, but the hill is flat. And even though that day begins and ends pushing a big giant rock from here to there, it is a great day indeed.

By sheer force of will, through heroism and hard work, by being smart enough to see what others could not see or too dumb to recognize a hundred defeats, you will have changed the very curvature of the earth. At least it will feel that way from the narrow perspective of, say, a few smart folks crowded into a little office in Needham, MA.

This is that day for matchmine. I am first overwhelmingly grateful to Fuzz and FilmCrave for giving us a shot when we needed it. I am second hyper-actively excited to add the incredibly smart people at Odeo, Blogdigger, Blogged, MediaMelon and IODA to the list of Those Who Believe. And I am finally chest-burstingly proud to be standing at the top of this hill with the team of talented, committed people who got this rock to where it is now.

We’re going to get this rock rolling now, and in the not too distant future we’re going to feel it start to roll on its own. I’m sure looking forward to that, and I hope you are too.


Making A 60º Turn

March 31, 2008

steering-wheelToday we’re announcing a whole bunch of product changes and the launch of our first two partners, technically on schedule in Q1. What it’s taken to get here has been anything but according to plan, though, in a way I think sheds some real light on what it takes to build a successful startup.

Starting a company is like setting off on a journey, headed true North in the direction of your vision. You map a path to get there, called your strategy. Along the way you encounter obstacles, new lands, people and opportunities, all of which change you as a person. Your understanding of yourself and your goal changes. Sometimes you find your way around these things to get back on your original course, other times your destination itself changes.

One of the hardest thing about running a startup is separating the “signal” – feedback that indicates the need for a change in your path or your destination, your strategy or your vision – from the “noise.” Noise is the friction that any new idea needs to overcome, the inertia of the status quo and the way things work today. Signal and noise are streaming in constantly… from employees, partners, investors, competitors, the press, your family, everywhere. Follow the noise and you’ll be lost. Miss the signal and you’ll march resolutely in the direction of nothing.

The volume of signal/noise amped up for us significantly at DEMO, and we’ve spent the time since then trying to determine what we needed to change and where we just needed to improve the quality of our execution. We’ve made a bunch of 30º course corrections since then, which startups need to be able to do with relative ease. We can improve our internal communication on this stuff, but on balance we’re pretty nimble within that 60º arc.

By late in Q4 it was obvious, though, that the calls to make a couple of 60º turns – disruptive, dis-continuous changes in our product roadmap – were signal, not noise. It hurt, but we did it, and it feels like we’ve grown up a little bit as a result.

Anyway when you look at our new release, one which features:

  • Focus on origination within a single partner application,
  • “One-Click Key Creation” if that partner already knows what you like,
  • The elmination of the need to download anything, ever,

Know that it’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of smart people to get here so quickly, and that the signal is coming though loud and clear.


Thoughts on Twitter

March 21, 2008

Monthly column on Adotas, reflections on Twitter coming off the SXSW experience:

Twitter is for real people.

Twitter is hard to understand for normal people. The service – approaching 1 million users in the neighborhood of its first birthday – is among the most rapidly adopted applications ever. Without hyperbole, I would say that every marketing exec should be on Twitter, for reasons I’ll get to later.

So what is Twitter? Well, you basically create an account, and use it to send little updates (“tweets”) online as you go through your day:

“Long morning, feel like crap, hydrating.”
“Getting hungry, sushi maybe???”
“Fight with Joan last night, I’m a putz.”

Wow. Exciting.

So what accounts for the service’s geometric growth? Why are the digerati so enamored with Twitter, to the point that NOT being there is like missing out on a conversation with the cool kids? And finally, what’s the lesson for marketers in the phenomenon that Twitter has become? more…


SXSW

March 7, 2008

Sparse blogging lately, this is an intense time in the ‘mine. Team is heads down getting our first couple of partners polished up for launch, meanwhile I’ve been out on the road talking with prospective partners coast to coast. We’ll announce a few more with the launch of the first round, I’m pretty excited about the reception we’re getting and how the partner network is about to expand.

Next stop on the World Tour is SXSW in beautiful and still weird Austin, Texas. Hope to squeeze some fun in among the pitch-fest… If you’ve never been to SXSW, here’s a little taste from last year’s show.