Posts tagged "Entrepreneurship"

Negative Capability..

I was recently asked “what is the most fascinating thing you’ve learned in the past month?”

Last week, I finished Mastery by Robert Greene. In it he discusses the concept of Negative Capability. This idea, combined with Greene’s explanation of it’s importance, is the most fascinating thing I’ve learned in the past month.

Wikipedia defines Negative Capability as the “ability of [an] individual to perceive, think, and operate beyond any presupposition of a predetermined capacity of the human being.” It amplifies the power of Positive Thinking, as discussed in books like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist – and illustrates a critical hurdle in the pursuit of greatness. Greene explains how important Negative Capability is to “Awaken The Dimensional Mind” and embrace the full potential of our creativity – his last step before Mastery.

Many times, what holds us back from achieving what seems impossible is that we conform our beliefs and ideas to fit into a world that others have defined for us. Avoiding this trap is never easy, but doing so – as Dr. Ben Carson points out – is the key to excellence. When we pursue our passions without allowing outside reasoning to influence us: possibilities become limitless.

The ability to “operate” from a mindset not bounded by predetermined capabilities is the most important differentiator between doing work and doing exceptional work. Dimensional Thinking, achieved through a state of Negative Capability, encompasses abilities that I aspire to. These ideas certainly represents the most fascinating thing(s) I’ve learned in the past month and will continue to work on understanding further.

A World Consumed..

Every company is in the software business.

Marc Andreessen famously explained Why Software Is Eating The World. Of course he’s referring to web-enabled “smart” software or “smartware.” Skeptics might counter that Andreessen is being obnoxious, but his instincts have helped start multiple billion dollar companies, making him difficult to bet against.

The power of the Internet and today’s exponential rate of innovation, make things feel more like “smartware is devouring the world.” It’s intimidating. Companies not only face the proverbial – ‘how do we grow?’ But now are challenged with – ‘how do we survive being eaten?’ The reality is a world where Every Company Is A Software Company.

Developers are in the driver’s seat.

The only way to survive this brave new world is to play without fear, to create within the smartware arena. As smartware devours the world, the successful will be those who are best at building smartware. Therefore, in a world consumed – power rests with developers.

It’s frustrating to hear for non-developers. It required time, money, and many failures before I realized it was true. Some take comfort in different sources of counter logic. But ask yourself, what happens when the best developers work for your competitors? Or when everyone else is a developer, except you? I agree with Douglas Rushkoff. The answer is pretty straightforward.

Does your company have advantages? Are you poised to win?

Did you embrace the digital shift early, or are you just keeping up, still waiting to feel threatened? Has your organization built a culture and team ready to capitalize on the shift controlled by The Rise of Developeronomics?

Bill Ford says “he used to worry about making more cars.” Now he worries – “what if we only made more cars?” Venkatesh Prasad, Ford’s senior technical leader, describes Ford as “a maker of sophisticated computers-on-wheels.”

You can become the best in your industry at building smartware, or you can wait until your competitors do and put you out of business. The window of opportunity is closing and the war for resources has begun. The following are three strategies that any company can use to win.

1. Be magnetic.

The first step in winning at Developeronomics is to attract top developers. Talent needs to aspire to work at/with your company. Smartware builders migrate to companies for a variety of reasons. The physical environment (free food, sexy office). The intellectual environment (brilliant co-workers, freedom to explore). Most of all – it’s a badge of honor. Toting your alma mater might yield respect. Saying you’re a Square developer means someone might ask for your autograph. Companies like Google don’t offer jobs, they accept applicants. Be magnetic.

2. Have skin in the game.

To participate in investment upside, one must first take on risk. An example of how to do this successfully in the developer economy is Y Combinator. Deliver cash, connections, advice in exchange for stock, goodwill, and brand equity within the developer community. Done right, this can produce cash returns. It also builds a reserve of talent that can immediately be mobilized.

Google provides another example. They didn’t invest in Python because they calculated a cash ROI. They saw a community of enthusiastic developers. It was an opportunity to invest in that community, the future of it’s contributors, and to pull that talent into Google’s platform.

Investing in platforms or entrepreneurs leverages existing resources and expertise to help developers create, explore, and grow. It makes your company’s HQs a place to be, a place to seek support, a place to contribute. Have skin in the game.

3. Build smartware.

Developers want to develop. And as with anyone, they want their work to see the light of day. They want to contribute to something that “matters.” Thinking of them as a commodity is a drastic mistake. Doing so makes it almost impossible to build “smartware sweat equity.” Combining purpose with camaraderie, dedication, and vision can produce 10x development results. If you’re not at this level, you’re someone else’s lunch. Build smartware.

The time is now..

Smartware will indeed eat the world. The trick is to realize it already has. Building it allows your company to attract smart people, stockpile value in the developer economy, and potentially gain millions of customers in the process. Growing a consulting business for example is no harder than building successful smartware, however the economies of scale are significantly limited in comparison. Even McKinsey is a software company. Your company is capable of winning the war. But you must start now.



I’m almost done with Robert Greene’s latest book, Mastery. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it, along with his other work.

Without giving too much away, Greene explains that the right apprenticeship – i.e. observing an expert – studying an expert – working for an expert – is critical to developing Mastery.

Before schools and universities, people learned through apprenticeships. At a certain age, you decided what profession you wanted to pursue, then applied to train under an “expert” in that field. That didn’t mean you needed a famous teacher or the top person in the field from day one (although that’s certainly ideal). It meant you developed your talents by seeking out and working with those who knew significantly more than you. You’d repeat this process with more advanced teachers until you were learning directly from the greatest people in the country. Finally, you’d branch off and pursue your own creative genius. Within this system, you were responsible for your own education. Greene provides plenty of examples of how this cycle played out and impacted folks like Da Vinci, Darwin, and Mozart.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of this strategy to achieving excellence and the result is our modern, “industrial” education system. We’ve decided to align our efforts behind standardized tests and curriculum, while acquiring degrees and certificates. Very little of our system today gives much consideration of practical knowledge, hands-on experience, or any of the rich learning opportunities that can only happen in an organic environment. In the process, we dismiss the idea of taking more control of our own educations. What’s more concerning than that is the fact that our system manages to actually stifle creativity. Through excruciating repetition and often times dogmatic philosophy, we manage to extinguish or oppress the light that is “true talent” or one’s “true self” at an extremely early age.

After our educational check-boxes are complete and our fear of pursuing our passions is well entrenched, we proceed to choose salaries and perks over environments where we interact with excellence. We let our egos and pride dictate our career decisions, instead of letting our hearts and aspirations guide us and inspire us to strive to be great at what we love.

As Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in his now famous TED talk, “we don’t need education evolution, we need a revolution”. Robinson goes on to strongly recommend that we move away from the “industrial model” of education, focusing less on the people and more on “linearity” and “conformity”, and adopt an “agricultural model” of education, focusing less on predicting outcomes and more on supporting individual growth. He elaborates by saying we cannot prescribe a single formula for individual human development, rather we must create an environment that nurtures individuals, helps them grow, encourages them to try, fail, find their true talent, and allows human development to flourish.

I’m not saying school does nothing good. People fought long and hard in this country to have the opportunity to attent school and I am in no way suggesting that anyone shouldn’t feel very fortunate to be able to go to high school, college or graduate school. It’s a privilege and honor to have that opportunity. My experience at college changed my life for the better, no doubt. What I’m saying is that we need to take control of our educational journey, stop following single-file lines into our careers, and stop relying on the “mechanical machine” that is our system to walk us through everything we’ll “need”. The first step of the revolution is not rejecting the current system completely and losing sight of the value it does provide. It’s simply re-claiming the confidence and discipline to create our own learning path and not relying on the system to know everything that’s right for us.

This is all much easier said than done. I didn’t come by these thoughts on my own. A combination of ideas from others, plus my own apprenticeships and advice from experts I ladmire has helped me start to wrap my head around the changes that I’m observing in our economy.

I believe we each have talents that it is our distinct honor and responsibility to find and develop. Skills and interests that fill us with joy and that we have the ability to master. These talents are all very intricate, complex, and unique. And I can’t believe that a system rooted in conformity has all the nutrients necessary for the type of growth we want to strive for.


We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot. – Abraham Lincoln

As we accelerate our path towards open source, transparency, and ubiquitous connectivity – entrepreneurs and businesses will succeed or fail depending on whether they keep their promises or not. That means we need to put as much thought into what’s worth promising as we put into anything else.

It’s very tempting to describe what we are working on as being “perfect for that” or “the X for Y” or to respond to customer feedback by saying “well that’s what feature X will do for you”. But that’s all messy and confusing. We can’t be everything for everyone and by trying to do so – we’ll never be able to make a clear promise to anyone.

Yes, iteration is critical, ideas incrementally improve, and we may not nail our promise from day one. But let’s think less about how to tweak our promise to match what we are working on and more about what promise is worth making and exactly what it’ll take to deliver on it.

Companies Are Making Big Money Doing Annoying Things..

This weekend I saw the new Spiderman movie on IMAX 3D. It’s not that the movie was bad. It’s just that, other than swaping out a few actors and actrices, there was barely an ounce of imagination applied to the same story and cinematic style that very recently went through a 3-movie series.

I’m a big Spiderman fan. In fact, it’s no coincidence that as I type this post, I’m drinking from my favorite Spiderman coffee mug. But, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Hollywood packaged up and spit out basically the exact same movie that came out in 2002.

The reality is that this new movie is making a ton of money. That’s because we all went and saw the first three and now we are all paying big bucks to go see this new one. It made me think about some of the industries making big bucks with annoying products or services or strategies. Hey entrepreneurs out there, doesn’t that last sentence seem wrong to you?!

For example, take the cable television industry. If I want to (legally) watch my favorite sporting events, I have to pay $30 a month for a package of TV channels – 98% of which I will never watch. [Sorry Kardashians.]

What about when I visit a website that I like, but after clicking on every single link on the page, I’m forced to watch a 10 second promo for the next show on TBS or told that now’s the time to buy a new Toyota. [We don’t need cars in NYC].

Sooner or later, Hollywood is going to regret all the unimaginative, regurgitated movies they throw at us, I’ll be able to watch TV a-la-carte, and companies with massive TV and Internet media buys will lose to competitors who treat their brands more like personalities than digital billboards. That’s because creative people will get so tired of these things the way they are that they’ll do something about it.

But as long as these culprits keep making money, they’ll continue to do what they’re doing. So really, it’s my fault that the new Spiderman is what it is. I went to the first Spiderman movie twice in the theater and was there opening weekend for all the rest of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Hollywood exec has a picture of me in the office for everyone to laugh at on their way to the bank.

Anyhow, I hear entrepreneurs (including myself) talk a lot about “finding the right idea”.  Instead of wracking our brains, there are big opportunities all around us. Just look at some of the industries making big money doing annoying things – and set out on a mission to disrupt them. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be huge.  Boxee’s doing it.  Soundcloud and Spotify did it.  GoChime and many others are working on it.  Why not you too!?




Open-Minded Process..

We are often very closed-minded when it comes to process. What I mean by process is the rules for getting things done, the procedure, the flow. In terms of business – it’s how the organization works.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re being closed-minded. Logically it makes sense to think “well it worked before, so it should work now” – or – “it’s not working because you’re not doing it right”. But just as everything around us is constantly changing or evolving, our processes need to change and evolve too and it’s a mistake to not be open-minded to that fact.

I came across a recent interview with Dennis Crowley the other day, where he talked a bit about this topic and how he manages it at foursquare. He explained that sometimes things at foursquare “break” and that many times this is a function of the company’s growth rate – i.e. – growing from a 25 to 50 to now 130 person company in a short period of time. I thought it was very insightful and interesting to here Crowley say honestly (watch the video for his direct quote) – sometimes things just stop working and we have to realize that, figure out why, and change things so that they work again.

Thinking through this has been a reminder to myself that it’s important to stay open-minded to process changes and that just because something worked before or it’s been written down in a book – doesn’t mean it’s always going to work or be the right solution. The goal shouldn’t always be find something that works sufficiently and repeat indefinitely.  It should be find something that works and improve on it as many times as possible.



The Right Way vs. The Wrong Way..

If you’re building something, you probably won’t find any shortage of people telling you what’s the “right” way and the “wrong” way of doing it.

Web-development as a great example. If there’s one thing that the Internet has plenty of, it’s opinions about the right way and wrong way to develop web apps.

Don’t get me wrong, there are endless examples of times when the right way of doing things is absolutely important. Building a bridge, or performing surgery, to name a couple.

But in other situations, like pursuing new business ideas, writing code to test an idea, creating our artwork, making things, sometimes progress is more important than potentially doing something “wrong”.

The fear of failure is the hurdle that stops us from taking action.  But even after we do take action, our inclination to over-analyze and  “do things right”, is what holds us back from actually getting anywhere.

We should accept that we’ll probably break stuff. We might even have to fix it all and start from scratch completely.  But if we get to that point, at least it means we found something worth re-building, something worth fixing. What a blessing that would be.

Art Not Science..

Each time through the build/show/adapt cycle (made famous by The Lean Startup methodology) has helped me generate invaluable information.

However, I find myself questioning how much about creativity and startup success can be attributed to science as opposed to art. My gut always cautions me away from formulaic startup science and pushes me towards the art of navigating the unknown. But what do I know? I’m learning all this stuff as I go too.

There needs to be a combination of both science and art for sure, but sometimes an entrepreneur will need to push an idea forward – an idea they believe in wholeheartedly – even when all the feedback says it will wind up in failure.

So how do we know when an idea deserves our bullheaded pursuit and doesn’t require a drastic change (i.e. require us to heed the supposed “tell-tail” signs of failure)?  This book helped me understand the answer to that question much better.  Maybe it will help you too.


Today was a great day.

When I look back on 2012, I hope to remember the excitement I felt today.  So, I’m archiving it with this short little note to myself.

One step at a time.


There are definite themes and commonalities between the successful startups. But we shouldn’t let that fact convince us that there’s a “formula” we can apply to building a product or company. Sure, there are things we can learn from others and apply to our projects, but sometimes I feel like we actually believe there’s a guaranteed formula for success.

Although problems/challenges may be (at a high level) exactly the same (i.e. “we need to recruit great people”) – the solutions to these problems can’t and shouldn’t always be solved by turning to the conventional wisdom.

One example of this is the concept of “scale”. I hear/read comments like – “that doesn’t scale well” or “we can’t implement that solution, there’s no way to scale it” – all the time. However, I can think of several examples of things that by themselves – didn’t scale well – but that ultimately wound up saving companies or catapulting ideas to the mainstream.

No doubt, it’s difficult to know when to throw out the conventional wisdom. I think, as long as we truly believe implementing something will improve the product or service – (even if in the beginning only for a subset of customers) – we can’t go wrong. Sometimes that means doing things or implementing solutions that aren’t in the “startup textbook”.

Two Videos Worth Watching..

Yesterday, Fred Wilson posted a “Sunday Debate” and linked to a Le Web talk from George Colony – where George discusses approaching “thunderstormes” in tech.

I thought his presentation was very interesting, particularly his prediction that the Web is ending and the “App Internet” is emerging.  It’s worth your time to check it out (as well as the debate/comments from Fred’s post).

In the comments, someone linked to the presentation below from Bill Gross – Founder and CEO of IdeaLab – which I found to be very interesting as well.  My favorite question to ask people I look up to or admire is: “What do you know today, that you wish you knew when you started?”  That’s basically the exact topic of Gross’ presentation.  Also, well worth your time to check out.

When People Say Yes..

It’s tough to inspire people to believe in our ideas. Especially when we can’t yet prove they will be a success. 

We all need help when we set out to pursue our passions and implement our ideas. When people say ‘yes’ and agree to help – it’s our job to prove them right.

I don’t mean our ideas always need to be right.  Or that we can’t make mistakes, fail. What I do mean is that our passion and effort always needs to be there.

We need to show that when we do make mistakes – we can admit them, learn from them, and try again. We need to show that their effort to help us was worth it and put to the best possible use. It can’t be wasted.

It’s hard enough to get people to say yes once.  If they feel like their help is wasted, we’ll have no chance at them saying yes again.

Contemplating Business Ideas? Think Extreme..

I commented to a friend recently that “since technology is evolving so rapidly, it is becoming more difficult to identify business opportunities”.  My friend responded by saying that “it’s actually easy to find opportunities if you realize that the future is already here”.  When I asked what he meant, he explained that by considering existing technology at an extreme, we can stop guessing about the future, and start focusing on obvious trends and fundamental needs.  I think this point is incredibly insightful. 

For example, consider that only 30% of the global population can afford access to and uses the Internet.  Also, consider that Moore’s Law seems very likely to hold true for years to come, which means infrastructure costs will continue to drop.  In light of these facts, what opportunities would exist if everyone on the planet had and used an Internet connection?  What do people who currently don’t have access to the web need?  If these people did have access, how could you use the Internet to address their needs?

Sarah Lacey’s latest book showcases entrepreneurs who predicted that cell phones with SMS service would eventually be cheap enough that they would reach even the most remote villages in India.  By leveraging simple SMS technology to solve problems in some of the poorest villages in the world, these entrepreneurs planned and executed very successful businesses.  If opportunities exist from more people gaining access to SMS, imagine what’s possible as more people gain access to the web.

I find many entrepreneurs (including myself) pitching ideas as the “next social network” or “Groupon with game mechanics”.  These descriptions remind me that we are often too focused on what is currently the most “trendy” or successful, not necessarily what has the greatest potential.  With the speed of today’s technology, it’s difficult to leap-frog the cutting edge products and services.  By the time you jump, your competitors have taken an evolutionary step forward.  It’s natural to be mesmerized by what’s cutting-edge, but focusing on it exclusively is not the only way to be innovative.

Bottom Line:  Consider existing technology and try to “think extreme”.  I believe doing so will help you identify first principles and compelling opportunities.