The Road Ahead

I have often said being an entrepreneur feels like you are a circus clown on a unicycle, riding on a tightrope and juggling 5 different things at the same time.

Yep, that’s pretty much what I am doing right about now and it feels a bit crazy.  My hope is that it settles down a bit as we get these things in motion.

Below is a glimpse into the road(s) I am looking down right now and if all goes as planned it will be most of my career focus.  They might be general – on purpose – but they are the trends of the next 20 years and industries I am both interested in and feel are at inflection points historically.

Payments – mobile and otherwise

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Most of you know I have been in the mobile payment space for a few years now.  Our first try with Seconds payments didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.  BUT, we learned something really valuable – remote mobile payment/billing is going to be huge.

We learned this from realizing the act of forcing someone to make a payment with their mobile device while standing in line at a coffee shop/target/local market/etc actually takes more time and is more complicated than giving cash or card.  The end solution just has to save all parties valuable time.  It will be years before this becomes commonplace and who knows how much it will take (billions invested) to make it happen.

But, you know all those letters you received (or still receive) from utility companies, munipalities and other entities basically telling you 1) here’s the total you owe and 2) here’s where you send the check or 3) log in at this url to pay?  Well, we can save people a lot of time and hassle with a new direct mobile billing experience.  That can all be achieved by a simple notification on your mobile device informing you of a balance due, should you opt into receiving it.  And with your payment credentials already in the system all you need to do is simply respond with “pay” and it’s all taken care of.   Business gets paid, consumers account is cleared, no re-entering payment credentials… Simple.

Yep, we got that in the pipeline.

Cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin

Since I am in the payment/financial space I have been watching the rise of Bitcoin for some time now.  It’s very interesting to say the least and everyone has an opinion.

Here’s mine: the world needs a new mechanism for payments to flow around the world and Bitcoin feels like it’s the one.  As both a currency and a technology, it will not only transform money as we know it is but also its place within this new digital/mobile/worldwide economy.  As a speculative commodity, no one knows if the value will hold ($500), massively increase ($100k) or completely tank ($1).  We’ll have to see, but my guess is that its value will not be the greatest impact Bitcoin will have on our world.  As for regulation, the government will have to figure out how to play nice and guide it towards positive impact on our country and world.  I don’t see it completely taking the role of the U.S. dollar so I think that argument is flawed and used politically to take a side, similar to the silly spat between Republicans and Democrats in this country.

So please remember today’s incarnation of Bitcoin will not be tomorrow’s…  merely turning your head and shushing the noise is the wrong answer.  Just as there were many naysayers in 1994 and 1995 about the web, we are seeing something truly transformative take shape and I don’t want to look back in 10-20 years and kick myself for not getting involved in the movement.

That being said, yep…. the road also includes some things around Bitcoin.  It should be an interesting year.

Internet of Things – API’s of life

Another interesting phenomenon starting to take shape is the so-called Internet of Things.  I am not sure I like that term but we’ll agree it means a world where everything is “smart” and “connected” to everything else via the web and sensors.  Just imagine what can be automated or programmed when devices and objects – previously “dumb” and non-economic actors in our world (tables, chairs, driveways, houses, bikes, cars, etc…) are brought online and provided an identity.  Then include an economic identity (hhmm like using something like bitcoin…. now are you are starting to get it?) and allow humans to communicate with and pay and be paid by machines.  The possibilities are endless.

Even more basic is the ability to start automating things in your life.  If you have heard of IFTTT (If This, Than That) you know what I am talking about.  Basically, it means you can set triggers in the world, that when activated, will result in an action you previously determined.   These triggers are offered by various web based components in the form of API’s (Application Programming Interface) which allows you to tap into and easily integrate with other technologies.  For example, if I leave the house (known because my GPS on my mobile) then lower the temperature in my house by 5 degrees.   If Bitcoin falls below a certain price ($300), purchase X more for me.  You get the picture.

Yep, something like that’s in the works as well.

Health Technology – Wearable devices

An amazing area for innovation using connected and wearable technologies is health care.  We are wondering what is possible once people wear something(s) that are able to monitor and collect up to the second data regarding our vital heath?

Given my background in health I am immensely interested in the future of preventative health tracking, and we are in the process of laying out our first attempt at it.  Imagine wearing a small device that, when it senses a certain vital sign has fallen out of the standard deviation for this specific individual, sends a notification to family and medial team with actionable instructions?  Imagine how many heart attacks could be prevented if we knew the second someone was “about to go there”?  Now, I know this vision could collide with the scary notion of Big Brother NSA, but I have a feeling the pendulum will swing back toward a better equilibrium of personal safety and information security.

Yes, although it might be a bit on the horizon this is down the road for me as well.

Content Creation – Founders RAW

The last one is video.  We are starting to see more online video created and watched each day, month and year.   And it’s easier than ever to create and distribute video, especially through social media.  I intent on continuing my work on Founders RAW and experimenting with online media.   Founders RAW is a great playground, since it falls inline with entrepreneurship and founding of technology companies.  My goal is to continue to talk to founders and put out high quality content for all of us to enjoy and benefit from.  It will be interesting to see how content and video grows from here, how we all can take part in it.

So there you have it.

If you are tired from simply reading it, how do you think I feel?  My mind is spinning with all these possibilities and opportunities.  While it may seem like I have some random form of ADD (might be true) it’s more like all these opportunities came to me in the last few months.  Some are being built as we speak.  Some are on their way.  Some are in brainstorming and prototyping stages.  Some might not make it into production, but all are well thought out and well positioned to become something great in the future.  I hope to be a part of them all.

It’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.

Image by Flickr user oatsy40.

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A Vacation From Writing

After almost 3 years of consistently posting 3-4 times per week, I am taking a break.

You may have noticed I have been less frequent in my writing lately, and that is indeed true.  I have quite a bit of things going on in my life and business(es) and it seems like I cannot find the time and mental clarity to get a post together.    

photo (4)I recently noticed myself getting anxious as I realized I had not been writing as frequently, and I don’t like to get anxious.  I would think of great topics for posts and then wouldn’t get around to putting pen to paper (er.. fingers to keyboard?)

I finally sat back and thought to myself “why not just make it official and take a break so you don’t feel like you are struggling to write?”

So I am taking a vacation from writing.

I have no idea how long this break will last. It could be weeks.  It could be months…

But have no fear, I will continue to post/update videos on Founders RAW each day since those don’t require much time each day, so you can head on over there and get your Nick fix.

Mahalo.

Chop Wood; Carry Water

I recently sat down for a great lunch conversation with Nick Soman, a founder friend of mine here in Seattle.  Nick is the founder and CEO of LikeBright and a TechStars graduate.

As we were reminiscing about the founder life he said something quite profound.

Chop Wood; Carry Water.

It’s obviously a nod to early times in society where life depended on staying warm and keeping hydrated.  People couldn’t just hide in their cave if something went wrong, they would eventually die.  Or if successful, they couldn’t just rest on their laurels when something went right.  Simply put, life goes on. They needed to keep chopping wood and carrying water no matter what.

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I believe that thinking applies today.  Actually, the principle applies even more today than ever since we have so many distractions in the palm of our hands and right in front of our faces.

If you have experienced something exhilarating, exciting and greatly advantageous for you or your business, the question is what do you do next?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

If you are down and out, struggling with life and fighting the feelings of disappointment the question is what are you going to do tomorrow?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

The point is you need to stay alive.  You need to keep working.  You need to keep doing what got you that advantageous opportunity in the first place.  And if you have hit a negative streak you need to just keep going, things will come back if you get back into the game and work on the basics.

Successful people make it a habit to be steadfast in their ways – they don’t get too high when things go well and they don’t get too low when things get challenging.  They stay even keel.

They keep chopping their wood and carrying their water no matter what happens to them.

I like that.  And it’s what I have been telling myself lately as I have been enduring some exciting times.

I hope you do as well.

What’s Your Story?

Have you ever thought about this question?

“What’s my story?”

I attended an event last night where the speaker talked about startups and creating a story around them as you build.  He then had a slide that simply said “what’s your story?” meaning what’s the company’s story you will be telling others, such as future employees, investors, and customers.   His whole point was a major differentiator between your company and all the others is the story behind it.  I liked where he was going with it but I think it can be taken to a much deeper level.

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What’s your story?

Do you know the meaning of the life you are living right now?

Why are you doing what you are doing?

Does company you are starting or the job your are current in have a strong story and purpose behind it?

Why does the company exist?

Does it connect with people on an emotional level and add value to their life?

Are you doing something just to make money or are you also creating value in the world?

Yes, these are deeper and more serious thoughts than revenue models and exit strategies but they need to considered or one day you’ll wake up wondering what the hell you have been doing for the last decade or two.

I don’t know about you but I don’t ever want to have that feeling.  I’m not perfect and nowhere near where I want to be in this department but I am glad I am reflecting on thoughts like these.  They are definitely influencing my next moves.  I hope they help you as well.

If you need some help in this area, listen to Scott Harrison tell his story about Charity: Water.

Who Inspires Me?

You might wonder who inspires me as an entrepreneur and a writer.

There are many, but one person is Mark Suster.  He is a previous two time entrepreneur – sold his last company to Salesforce – and is now an investor and has been with with Upfront Ventures for about 6 or 7 years.

He’s great because he views startups from both the investor AND the founder perspectives, hence he writes at Both Sides Of The Table.   His straightforward tone and no BS attitude is something I have taken to my own words.  Like him I feel truth, honesty and controversial topics should be embraced by an influencer.  Ya’ll deserve it.

To get an idea of who Mark is, here’s a recent interview with Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily.

If you are an entrepreneur I suggest sitting back and taking some notes.  It’s long, but chock full of gems.

5 Tough Questions To Ask When Starting Your Company

So, you want to start a company?

Awesome.  That’s a very exciting decision but first you must make sure it’s the right decision.

Startups are hard and have been referred to as “a full contact sport” by others so deciding to be a founder is only the right decision if you are ready and willing to except what comes with founding a startup.

Coincidently I am going through this same thinking process right now.  Even though I have started a few companies before, I find myself at the starting line once again evaluating a new “dent in the universe” idea with a fellow co-founder.  Here are five questions I am asking myself right now to help determine if it’s the right decision.  I believe they can that help you too along your path to starting your next company.

thinking-manAm I really an Entrepreneur?

Risk is the heart of entrepreneurship — which is defined as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Your relationship with risk is the sole determinant whether you will succeed or fail as an entrepreneur.

Are you ready to take a risk?  I encourage you to think of yourself as an entrepreneur in the adjective form, not a verb.  What do I mean?  Well, during my first startup I struggled – a lot, and for a long time – and it really bothered me because I didn’t really know why I was struggling.

Then it finally hit me.

It all changed when I re-thought what the dream actually was.  I realized my dream wasn’t about what I was working on at the time, but more about the person I was becoming in the process.  The dream is about being an entrepreneur – the adjective – not the noun.

Entrepreneur – noun.  A proprietor who owns their own business.  A title.

Entrepreneur – adjective.  A person who embodies the qualities of being Courageous. Risk Taker.  Innovative.  Persistent.  Agile.  Intelligent.  Savvy. Strong.  Personable.  Creative.  Excellent. Fighter.  Winner. 

Once I realized all I needed to do is change me perspective of who I was, everything changed.  Also, I realize being an entrepreneur was all about how I viewed and embraced the world of risk.

Fellow entrepreneur and billionaire Sir Richard Branson follows a principle called “protecting the downside,” which means that by looking at any situation and determining all options before making a decision, one can identify the worst case scenario and work backwards from there to find the optimal route forward. Protecting the downside is really just identifying and understanding risk.

So your first step is all about asking if you can handle a world full of risk.

Am I ready?

Once you determine you are cut from the entrepreneurial cloth, you must ask yourself if you are actually ready.  Is it the right time to embrace a life of high risk and high reward?

Question yourself on things like: Do I have more important responsibilities, such as family obligations, debt to repay, volunteer work, coaching youth sports, or things that require your time and energy?

The reality is startups take pretty much all of your time and energy.  They are like rockets going to space – it takes A LOT of energy to take off but based on physics it takes less energy to keep going as it gets higher and farther away from earth.

Step 2:  sideline some of these major responsibilities if you are to start a high growth company, and  then pick them back up once things really get going.

Am I passionate about the idea?

Once the commitment has been made and you believe you are ready to take the plunge, you should ask if this is something you are really interested in, passionate about, and willing to give it 5-10 years of your life.

This is somewhat of a controversial topic.  Some say founders need not be passionate about a startup, simply because only possessing passion for a subject does not guarantee success.  And I agree.  Just being fanatic and uber-excited about something is not a shoe-in for startup success.  But consider the opposite: if a person is not particularly interested in a subject and not emotionally driven to solve a particular problem in the world, will they be able to make it through the trough of sorrow?

I think not.

Step 3 requires asking yourself if you posses energy, curiosity and passion about what you are doing so you can withstand the inevitable challenges and be able to push through the hardships you will face.

Is it a big and growing market?

Startup fact: Investors are looking for home runs, not singles.

One of the biggest mistakes first time founders make is not evaluating markets correctly and picking a market with low potential for growth.  Most investors and potential acquirers evaluate startups on the recipe of future potential.  A founder who desires a successful outcome for their company should look for solutions to problems in growing markets.

What is a growing market?

Growing markets are ones with an accelerating rate of competitors, users, revenue potential, and aligned with emerging technologies/platforms.   Founders should build their solution with forward thinking perspectives on technology and societal norms.  (ie: mobile usage vs desktop usage,  network platforms vs non viral sites, portable vs non portable tech, etc…)

Even if a founder is not planning to accept outside investment and wants grow from a bootstrapped position, it still makes sense to look for market that is big and growing.

Step 4 requires one to ask themselves, “no matter the size of my ambition, am I building for tomorrow, not just today?

What are my unique gifts?

Startups are difficult and require one to utilize their unique talents and gift in ways they may have never imagined before.  When a founder starts their company, it’s important they take some time and take into account their naturally gifts.  Are you uniquely technical and have the ability to quickly whip together a simple prototype?  Or are you more social, amazing with people, a natural salesman and can easily work a room full of investors?  Are you a visionary or an operations person?

This is probably the hardest question of the bunch, but the most important because the answer to these questions will point to your next phase of the company – recruiting others.  If you are non-technical and (most likely) better with leading people, you will need to find a technical person to balance your founding team out and help you build products.   If you are highly technical and can easily hack together websites and mobile apps, you will need to find someone who is less technical but more gifted in the business and people operations.

The last step pulls you inward to understand yourself, what your talents are, and who you should look to bring on and join you in your new venture.

Asking yourself these 5 tough questions should not only help determine if this decision is a good one, but if it is the right one for you at this time.

Who Are You?

“The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one.”

What a great thought.  I ran across this the other day and felt it hits on exactly what I have been thinking lately.

If you want to be thought of as a solid, reliable pillar of your community when you’re fifty, you can’t be an irresponsible, corner-cutting exploiter at twenty-five. . . . The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one. You determine your reputation by deciding who and what you are and by keeping that lofty vision of yourself in mind, even when you’re having a rip-roaring good time.

These thoughts /words might make you uncomfortable but if you don’t pay attention to them they just might hinder progress in your life..  Thinking about your personal reputation is not selfish or self-serving, since in reality it’s all about how you come off to others.  In the end, your reputation is centered around how others perceive you.

Although not frequently talked about, people tend to want to be around – and trust- others they like.  The reason people “like” others is because that person puts them at ease and makes them feel better (safe) when they are around them.  The easiest way to get others to like you is to be honest, authentic and caring.  Simple enough, right?

So who are you?

What function or place do you hold in your greater community?

Can people count on you?

Do people actually like you?

Do your stories line up when talking to others?

How do you treat people?

Are you honest with people?

Do you really care about them?

Do you look them in the eye when you talk with them, and listen intently?

Would they call you on the phone (not just text) when they need some advice?

Would they want to work with you or approach you about a new project?

I have recently become more aware that treating people with honest, authentic respect goes a long way to gain new friends and acquaintances – and success in business.  The secret to people liking you is to simply like them first.  Re-reading those last few sentences at face value,  it seems blasphemous.  But unfortunately I have come to realize lots of people don’t actually go about life interacting with others with these principles in mind.  I hope that changes.

Just a few things to consider over the weekend as you go about your life.