Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Convergence of Passion and Reason

I'm reading Managing Humans by Michael Lopp (phenomenal read btw) and it came time to dissect, at least in my own mind anyway, the massive repercussions of the last 8 weeks of the startup life.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not entirely antagonistic to the silver-spoon sort, except when upon interacting with said silver spoon said spooner waves it haphazardly in my face. But there's just some type of FIRE in the belly of a person who has worked their way through the myriad of challenges in startupdom and either made it or didn't make it. I see it in their eyes, on their faces. Even in failure, they still want to storm the castle; even though the war might be over, they can't help but press on...

But it seems to me, at least from a character perspective, that it takes a special type of silver-spooner to have the chutzpa to even "get it on" in this realm. Or maybe (uh, yeah) because of my own extreme situation I'm ever-so-slightly biased... okay, well a lot biased. Having not had anything to fall back on but myself, I don't see things like others might. In my own small world, I've been spoiled -
  • My first car was a Datsun (yes, the company before Nissan) 310GX Hatchback that my Mom had practically beat to death on her paper route (it was a nice faded pink/red/orange color). Special thanks to my uncle for replacing the motor with one they found at an auto yard. I didn't have to pay for the car and ran it pretty much until the wheels fell off.
  • My 2nd car was a used Ford Ranger truck my Grandpa paid for me to get. It was awesome... especially once I spent all my summer work money to put the speaker boxes in.
  • I worked some in college, but it was mostly for spending money (=food). My parents somehow managed to cover the tuition and keep the other kids fed.
But since then, there really haven't been any special gifts, trust funds, or "oops, I made a massive mistake" accounts that I could pull money from when things got tight and we missed mortgage payments because "Chris wants to run his own company".

I have to quote Wil's blog because he states it so plainly: Commitment = Sacrifice.

But for Pete's sake, I'm not Jim Braddock, and most of us aren't. But there's a big difference when it's your ass on the line, your money, your family. Rands in Managing Humans has an interesting model that relates this to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (sheesh, if I'm the billionth blog to mention Maslow someone should give me a prize) that compares it to the startup life cycle. You put everything you have into getting your product to 1.0, hoping that the business and market will follow.

And thus, I call this The Convergence of Passion and Reason.

This is that very point, the penultimate moment, the razor's edge - you're right there between giving it all a heave-ho and "thanks for the lessons" and continuing to deal with the marital issues, late mortgage payments, creditors, and all that miserable self-debasing goodness. There's something powerful in finding yourself the "last man standing"... strangely.

It's at this point you see the limits of your sacrifice. People start saying they're coming to pick up your automobiles and your wife says she's had it up to there. And you check the online banking and you say to yourself, "something has to change", when you have $4.38 to last you until God knows when. You owe more people than you've ever met. And for all intents and purposes, you're bankrupt. You've sold everything you could sell (that wasn't already in hock) and you've leveraged every family member as much as you could possibly deal with (sometimes getting the money from family is worse than not having the money). It's when you're hungry but you don't eat because you figure you're saving that can of soup for the kids. It's when you eat the crumbs out of the bag of chips (and fuss at your wife when she tries to throw them out). (On a strange side note - if you mix the leftover chips with the dip, you can make your own nacho soup.) You're fed up with being fed up. You're just plain done and you wonder how in the world you could continue. This is reason.

It's at this same point, almost ironically, that something in startupdom "twinges". It creaks, it moans, it moves. I mean, you have a product and a client, there are 8 pilots to get started, and your brain has just come up with a way to merge the social graph with SAP in 2 months. You're the only developer left (also the CTO, part-time legal assistant, and demo prop), but somehow, you're still motivated. I mean, hell, you and your partner do own 95% of this thing still and most of your prospects aren't saying "no" - they're taking appointments and committing to next steps. You hit the venture forum and people follow you because you're so damn real they can't help but do it. They call you back. So you still check the online banking and... after an unknown number of tequila shots later (bottle not quite empty), you pick yourself up (wobble a bit), brush yourself off, and head back into the fray. This is passion.

Let's face it: the limit of your sacrifice is the extent of your passion. That is some severe psychobabble, but it's the point. When you can't sacrifice anymore, Maslow says it will be over for you. It's like Rands says, "who cares about falling in love when you can't breathe?"

I know I'm winded and I don't really care, heck, it's my blog. But I gotta get this point out:

There is a big problem with startup founders or executives that won't sacrifice at a level that is commensurate with their position or compensation.

I have a huge problem with "fake commitments". A soldier who wants to call himself a soldier, but won't get in the fray, afraid to be shot at (read: won't change their lifestyle). Everybody wants a piece of the action, but they don't want any risk.

I'm finished ranting here, but wait for a post on "Everybody wants a piece of the pie, without doing any baking".

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Eliminate E-mail?

A path to legitimately eliminate enterprise e-mail with the Social Graph and Unified Communications.

The key is to have a transition strategy that indicates the type of communicates and properly escalates between the modes of interaction:

1) Paper.
2) E-Mail.
3) Instant messaging.
4) Audio/Voice.
5) Video.

Application of context to any of these channels creates "ambient findability" based on the social graph and the level of interaction.

Communicating Less Selfishly

From Myths of Innovation:
"Unless you're developing an innovation that motivates people to communicate more clearly or less selfishly, innovations that accelerate are unlikely to change the world in the way their creators expect. If you have someone good to talk to, and something important to talk about, communication is rarely in need of acceleration. In fact, software that rewards people for slowing down and thinking about what they're reading and writing might be the greatest innovation of our time."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Good Night to Blog...

Chaotic couple weeks is understatement of the century.

Watching old "Family Guy" episodes and trying to unwind.

Certainly amazing posts to come as I recover from recent events. Just a tidbit to tantalize and get you to read the next few:

The Successories: I love success lit, all the way back to Think and Grow Rich... but the recent phenomenon is too much. People sell the idea of success beyond any success they've ever experienced.

Fixed Price Shenanigans: Who wins the risk battle? Whoever has the most to offer. Fixed vs. T&M is a classic battle and intrigues many to this day. Can you win with either? Check out the post to see.

The Convergence of Passion and Reason. A requirement for being in a startup.

Ambient Findability. Thought I'd chime in with my view on this.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Why... is the right business decision sometimes feel like the wrong thing to do?

Why... is there so much disparity between the good times and the bad?

Why... does it often seem that even with the good is the bad? Like if someone asks "how you doin'?" you want to say, "medium"?

Why... are the hard decisions so easily and quickly justifiable, but emotionally trepid?

Why... is sympathy utterly and completely useless?

I heard an interesting idea in a movie recently... and maybe I'll be the only business blog in the world who links to Madea Goes to Jail, but in the movie, Madea talks about people who are with you "for a season" and the people who are meant to be with you "forever". When you recognize that someone is with you for a season, you can logically define the reasons that they were there - maybe it was to strengthen you, to mentor you, possibly through some negative way, press out of you some hidden power or ability that just needed someone to press it out...

The connotation is always that these people are obvious negatives and sure, for Tyler Perry the plot works. But it just ain't always like that. Sometimes, people you like are near you for a season and stuff just happens to cause you to have to part ways. You may very well be the controller of the situation, or just affected by it - but it seems to me to be way more subtle.

And I got to thinking... what is it like for that person? Maybe they invested a large amount of time, money, emotion into the relationship or endeavor, only to recognize that it was "for a season". It just sucks for them, having to deal with the loss, even as it were death in a way; the toughest components of that loss being in emotion and relationship (you can always make more money, but it doesn't heal the heart).

For the sake of cool sounding names, let's call it the Theory of Reciprocating Events. Some negative event drives you to a positive event, which triggers negative events for others, in turn driving them to positive events. (One day, after massive success, I won't dance around the experiences of this story in such a way... but until then, enjoy the music.)

Now, that's seemingly complete idealism, but think on it more and practicality will emerge. Think about Godin's Dip, you can see that a dip I'm going through might be another person's cul de sac, or could likely be their success!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Distributed Tidbits

Just a few tidbits about managing offshore development projects...

  • You must have a champion. You must allocate local/internal time and have someone pushing the project forward. They also can grease the skids for you in dealing with “anal”ysts (no offense) and other internal powers that are scared of people from other countries and would just as well like to crush you and your project.
  • Beware the force to ease your estimates. If you review history, initial estimates are used… maybe never. In most cases, initial estimates are ultimately within a project success range (plus 25%). Tom Petty’s “Don’t Back Down” fits this one.
  • The more complex the domain, the more internal/local effort required, throughout. The more we wish it was a parabola, the more it looks like a straight line. Having more people doesn't give you time back - it takes time. It’s better just to look at local/internal level of effort as flat. If you think you’ll grab time in the middle of the project, you’re probably going to get side-swiped and delays will occur. You should prepare to dedicate this time throughout – requirements discussions/refinements, release deployments, testing.
  • Beware the legacy… if you’ve never had clear requirements… rapid prototyping, or had some refining process to work out requirements issues quickly, don’t even bother. The 25-40% gains you could have gotten will be gone trying to work things out.
  • Don’t micromanage, but sniff where you need to sniff. Don’t kill your team, but do the DD on stuff that you know is complex. Don’t take any slightly complex assumption for granted.
All in all, having a clear vision, good project management, and change control processes are key. You don't have to have documentation for everything - I'm not condoning the mass of paperwork we used to know just as "waterfall", but in working with distributed teams you've got to be a level better than you are with local resources. Better in vision, requirements, management, and delivery - and exponentially better in communicating. It is a critical point to the success of any distributed team development effort.

What is your motivation?

If working a startup is so bad (as Wil points outthen why do we do it?

I mean, yeah, there's that big potential upside and all, but it's not highly unlikely that you won't be massively diluted (like some people at Zantaz) by the time you get there.

I remember a series of points from one of my favorite books, Free Agent Nation, practically a manifesto for independent consultants, that talks about freedom, authenticity, accountability, and defining your own success.

Man, I really want to go Braveheart here, "They may take our lives... but they will never take our FREEDOM!". And alas, this is the impact corporate America has on the heart of mankind. I think it will be interesting the day that the cubicle dwellers unite in a massive revolt against the executive borg collective. Strangely, being a part of a startup actually takes away your freedom, at least in terms of having time available to do anything you want and things you might potentially enjoy. It would seem to me that the "freedom" related to being in a startup rests not so much in the time that you have, but in your perceived ownership of that time. Kiyosaki says it best, at the first stage, you basically "own" your job, ultimately trying to create a business that doesn't require you.

But it's the allure of freedom that keeps us going - our ability at least to own our job does have some value.

Be You. Being at a startup, at least in some fashion, allows you to be yourself. Many people, after years of hiding behind the corporate facade, finally end up imploding through some form of compulsive behavior. That's not to say that the folks at the startup don't implode through some form of compulsive behavior, it's just that the source of that implosion is different. At startups I've been involved in, you actually relish in your differences, in your candor, in how you get things done. To be involved in a part of a story that you're writing... now that's the stuff of startup legend.

I don't know how many of you have ever been there... but there's a weird spot in the world where employees are "trapped". They can't move up, or over, or anywhere - and it's an awful feeling. You begin to feel like you can't get out of the existing circumstances and that any change is dependent completely on someone else. What's worse is when that someone else is a complete imbecile. One major component of startup motivation is accountability - the fact that I can make my future, I'm not dependent on any one else (well, mostly) and I can make it happen. Folks in startups love to bear their own burdens and will often use those burdens to beat non-startuppers over the head: "When's the last time you had to make payroll?"

Define Your Own Success
A major disparity between the entrepreneur and the corporate junkie is that of vision. "There's something better out there" the entrepreneur will say, and there's a very fast way to do it. Likewise, there's a huge difference between a $6M company and a $2B company and people at every level exude that difference. Success for one maybe simply to learn a new programming language, build a blog following, to revenue targets like $10K month in sales, all the way up the value chain. I find it increasingly interesting the comparisons between Wal-Mart and my startup, as one author states we all need to build a "World-Class Company". I don't particularly agree that that is the success notion of everyone who starts their own business - a major reason for starting your own is to define what it will be!

Freedom, Authenticity, Accountability, and then Defining Your Own Success are the foundation of an entrepreneur's motivation. Anything outside of this, at least where founders are concerned, just makes life difficult. For example, at one point in the journey we ran into a rather massive entanglement that brutally exposed all of our collective weaknesses in a matter of minutes. The resultant conversation led us to a "Why are we here?" moment. We came up with the following:
  • To have fun,
  • To serve people,
  • To make money
But what I've noticed over the last 2 years is that these things are great - as long as they don't impact Freedom, Authenticity, Accountability, and Defining Your Own Success. Once you begin to sacrifice some of this core, in one way or another it affects you. You may begin to lose passion, you might begin to just slog through days, weeks, months, years - without really figuring out why you feel empty. Don't fall for it - you need to have those 4 core items. Any decision you make that will impact those items you should consider carefully, because eventually you'll want out or want some dramatic change.

I've found that with different folks there are different levels of the 4 core values. Be cognizant of what yours are and make sure you elevate any constraints around them.