Is It Possible To Be An Entrepreneur And Not Be Selfish?

Going through a recent state of self reflection a few things became clearer to me.   One of them is how much being an entrepreneur brings out the selfish side of human beings.  Recent experiences have held a mirror to my face to illustrate this in my own life so I am genuinely asking the question, “is it possible to be an entrepreneur and not be selfish?”

It’s an interesting and possibly shocking question, I know.  Pardon me while I think out loud on the subject.

Breaking it down further one sees where two worlds collide – personal and professional – blurring into 0ne and the same, resulting in the entrepreneurial individual acting very selfish.  They instinctually strive to get what they want both in business and in their personal life. Most early stage founders are scrappy, shrewd and manipulating. Why? Because that is how you end up getting what you want.  The fact is you have to be scrappy and find any opportunity you can to move your interests forward against a world suggesting otherwise.   If not, people will doze you over with their own agenda and force you into a life you don’t want to live.

That angst for being dozed over, for those uninitiated, is the root reason entrepreneurs exist.  The problem lies in when one cannot turn it off once they leave the office.  I think the reason why they can’t is because “leaving the office” just doesn’t happen as an early stage entrepreneur.

An unfortunate reality can be found in the tension created between the good hearted and the driven. Through my self reflection I started to evaluate both those stances and realized it can be very difficult to be good hearted; giving-in and acquiescing to everybody in your life while at the same time driving headstrong to give up everything for your dream as an entrepreneur.  The math just doesn’t work.

After all, selflessness can be defined as putting yourself last, which taken at face value runs counter to what entrepreneurship means to each individual. People start businesses to feed their own needs first. More specifically, Bill Gates didn’t set out  at 19 years old with the vision to donate all his wealth to the less fortunate and cure the world of disease. He set out to become one of the greatest technologist and capitalists the world has ever seen, all the while serving his self interests (and his company) earning massive wealth in the process. Based on stories from co-funders and early employees he was quite selfish in his ways. It was only after he made his billions and conquered the world (figuratively) that he decided to give it back, maybe realizing how selfish he had been during his early years in business.  It’s quite easy to be selfless when you already have everything you want.

The same selfish description has been reported with the late Steve Jobs.

The Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

-Head strong
-narrowly focused
-determined
-hard working
-persuasive
-self absorbed
-obsessed
-delusional

Notice that if all you did was replace the title of list above with “The Characteristics of a Selfish Person” it would still make sense. This is when I realized I am not only an entrepreneur but I am a selfish person. For someone who prides himself on being a “good hearted person” this is a tough pill to swallow.

It may not be good news for everyone involved but I think its important to understand it and possibly unravel how to work/live with someone who suffers the entrepreneurial disease.

Founders
Newly minted entrepreneurs, or people considering starting their own journey as a founder need to take note of the inherent flaws. You may already posses those characteristics and believe you were born to be an entrepreneur but if you don’t take account and ownership of your DNA, it will be a rough go.  Starting a new venture is very difficult and not for the faint of heart.  It also is not for the selfless, since the ability to overcome the massive inertia requires A LOT of inward focus – which means less time spent focusing on others in your life. You will self evaluate. You will self doubt. You will self organize and self determine. A lot goes on inside the mind of an entrepreneur focusing on their “personal” situation and thus replaces thoughts involving others.

You need to know this, anticipate it and determine how you will live with it.  Others suggest work life balance and the like (which to an extent I do agree with) but at some point you will need to pick which direction you will lean.  Thinking you will be able to lean both directions at the same time is futile.  Be prepared to make A LOT of sacrifices for a period of time in your life.

Family
Family members of an entrepreneur need to understand Entrepreneurship is a disease, and the symptoms are all listed above. Given that, practice a healthy balance of both understanding these inherent flaws in the person you love and firmness in your own principles.  This will help you navigate the unknown road ahead. You need to be ready for challenging circumstances, tough conversations and compromises from both sides.

You also should know that yes, most of time you are right and we are wrong.   But we are actually seeing it from a skewed perspective – similar to how a schizophrenic might argue something you have no idea what they are talking about.  So rather than fighting about right or wrong, gray or grey, work with us in how we can move forward with the least amount of collateral damage possible.  You should also read this book by Brad Feld – Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

Friends
Close friends of entrepreneurs should know that although we try our best we are going to drop the ball, especially during the early stages.  We will not be able to hang all the time, go on trips with you to cool places or grab drinks on a regular basis.  Trust me when I tell you your founder friends really do want to grab drinks but they feel inferior if they need to depend on you to pick up the tab.  We also work crazier hours than your 8-5 job so don’t be surprised when you text at 8 or 9pm and we’re still hacking away in the office.  Most importantly, we just need your support and secretly we dream of hanging out as if nothing has changed from the “back in the day”.

After all this you may be wondering why entrepreneurs give up so much and risk their livelihood?  We do it because we love the challenge and firmly believe we were supposed to do it, whatever that means…

You may also think I am off base with all this selfish talk, maybe even saying to yourself “not true… I’m an entrepreneur and I’m not selfish”.  As with all things, this topic is not black or white but probably a smearing of grey (or gray).

I am curious of your perspective.

Entrepreneur, You Must Realize It’s Best To Live With Your Doubt

We all have doubts.  Knowing this truth, it’s better to come to grips and embrace it rather than run away from those doubts.  All they will do is haunt you.

I recently read an interesting post written by Franscisco Dao touching on the concept of living with doubt.  It’s very much worth the read.  This paragraph in particualar really struck me.

The truth is most entrepreneurs never overcome their doubt. In fact, the day you overcome all doubt is likely the day you become blinded by your delusions of control and perhaps even greatness. What entrepreneurs really learn to do is live with doubt. And learning to live with doubt, being able to accept doubt, is a much more powerful thing because it allows you to continue questioning assumptions while still moving forward in the face of uncertainty.

Living with doubt.

What does that mean?

I take it as instruction to embrace your fears and doubts; leaning into the pain of challenge instead of running away from it.  This mentality allows you to become truly authentic in your ways with yourself and other people.  It allows you to be fully human, to accept that you are not superman and you have troubles, challenges, struggles just like everyone else.  I hope you realize you can talk about your worries and fears with others.  It’s ok, it’s human.

Just this week I met with another entrepreneur looking for some direction and advice since he is going through the same “stuff” as I have been recently.  Namely, his startup is taking a bit longer to get off the ground and attaining a sustainable operation, so in the mean time he is seeing the end of his financial runway approaching – fast.  “What do I do?!” he was asking me.

No doubt, I am in the same boat.

Here’s what I told him:

To tell you the truth, more startup founders are in that boat than not.  Most founders are struggling with massive pressure from every angle of their life – business, family, friends, financial, social, etc – and are scared as to what will happen in the coming weeks, even if they don’t tell you.  You are not alone, you just have to navigate it.

The point I grabbed on to most from Francisco’s post is the fact that a majority of founders feel like frauds when the reflexively respond to people’s question of “how are things going?”  Inevitably, they say “Great!” “Crushing it” or something else that eludes BS confidence and fakery just so they can move on to a different topic.

But it’s ok.

It’s ok to be humble.  It’s ok to let your guard down.  It’s fine to say things like “things are tough dude!”and ask what they did when they found themselves in that situation.

Because you know what?  The truth is life is hard, especially as an entrepreneur.

Anything else is BS.

ZappBug Dissected: The Crazy Story About Turning Bed Bugs Into A ‘Killer’ Business

bugDid you know there are 110,000 unique searches a month on Google for “how to get rid of bed bugs”?

I didn’t either.  No one wants to talk about the fact that there’s a Bed Bug problem in our world.

No one but Cameron Wheeler, founder of ZappBug. He has no problem talking about how he can rid people of one of the worst and most traumatic infestations – Bed Bugs.

I met Cameron more than a year ago at a startup event here in Seattle and, to be honest, my first reaction when he told me what he was working on was “uh what was that again, I thought you said bed bugs!”

Turns out that’s exactly what he said.  I quickly found Cameron to be a smart dude and Bed Bugs to be a killer business.  But this story isn’t all about how to get rid of Bed Bugs (although you can find the link below).   Intrigued as an entrepreneur I wanted to learn more about how he was approaching this massive problem and how he built a physical product company in a web dominated startup world.  This is a story of how three normal guys started a product company that actually generates revenue without seeing a single bug.

Do You Have Bed Bugs?

First off, if you have the misfortune of Bed Bugs, you have to check out their solution.  ZappBug is meant to be a one-stop resource for how to get rid of bed bugs and their main products are multi-sized oven heaters to place clothing, luggage and other stuff meant to kill 100% of the bugs.  Basically, you can throw all your stuff in there and “heat em” just like a washing machine washes clothes.

Brilliant!

They’ve also designed a set of free tutorials that gives you all of the information you need to completely get rid of bed bugs in 8 steps. You don’t need to purchase the ZappBug Oven to use these steps, although it looks like oven is an extremely clever and helpful tool in getting rid of an infestation.

Check out ZappBug.

Starting A Company

“Looking back, I never saw myself as the leader of a startup with the sole purpose of killing bed bugs” says Cameron.   In 2009 he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and entered the big world. “But my definition of failure at that time included “working for a large, impersonal behemoth so….”

So naturally, starting a company was his only logical choice.

Cameron knew startups are quite different than large behemoth companies – they are smaller, more agile and generally more fun to work at.   I chimed in and said “But they are also cash strapped!”   Being low on capital they have a harder time building businesses around physical products, which was a problem in Cameron’s case.

So the question he had to figure out was: Is there a way to apply Lean Startup principles to physical products?  Could you actually produce and sell a physical product without a huge amount of capital and actually make a profit?

Turns out…there is. And this is exactly what they are doing at ZappBug.

Solving A Big Problem – Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are a real problem and many of us know someone who has encountered them (even though your friends might not tell you).  It all started when a neighbor of one of the company’s co-founders had bed bugs and they spread through the electrical outlets into units across the building into his apartment.  [Gross.]  Having to deal with this “fun” experience searched and searched and finally found out how to get rid of the bugs.

During the initial research process they learned that there was a real need for better solutions and more information. They found out the market is huge but fragmented. Pest control companies want to come to your home and sell. Bloggers spew tons of words with little actionable advice and sellers want to throw products at you.  They realized there weren’t really any great resources or solutions in market and thus, ZappBug was born.

To Cameron the bed bug market is unique for several reasons.  First, it’s new and a surprisingly large niche.  With approximately 110k unique searches for “How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs” a month, its obvious people are continually looking for a better solution.  According to goggle, that number rose by more than 400% in 2010 – so apparently  it’s becoming an even bigger problem – and bigger opportunity!

Also, the subject is Taboo… so there’s less competition that you would see in niches of a similar size.  There are virtually no comprehensive resources online for how to deal with bed bugs from start to finish.  By helping people get rid of bed bugs in their belongings, you are also helping them save thousands of dollars.  A lot of people panic and unwillingly throw away everything they own.

This further intrigued Wheeler and his team.

zappbug-oven-furniture

After some research, they found the elusive hole in the market – no one was providing high quality products at affordable prices so they decided they would develop a physical product and sell it directly to customers.  The idea was to develop a bed bug oven that could use heat to kill bed bugs in luggage and other personal belongings, saving peoples belongings in the end. “We chose to begin with this product because we had the technical competency to do it. Heat treatment is a proven way to kill bed bugs. The product could be used for both prevention and extermination and would be a great revenue generator.”

The Challenge With Physical Products

Apparently, ZappBug is not Wheeler’s first rodeo.  “Ecowell was my first major startup, coincidentally around physical products as well” says Cameron. “We made environmentally friendly, extremely expensive, vending machines. Yes, that’s right, we made a physical sheet metal box with an electromechanical mess of PLCs, solenoids, pumps, valves, filters, and syrups.  But, of course, we ran out of cash in 2010. I learned a lot from this including the fact that cash really is king.”

Through previously failed startups, he learned the importance of applying lean principles to product development and market testing.  Also, as a product manager responsible for overseas manufacturing at Direct Global Sales, he learned how easy it was to get things made in China.  “When my cofounders and I talked about the opportunity, things began to move quickly. I soon developed a strategy for low volume overseas manufacturing and developing an MVP to bring us into the market.”  

Although the “Lean Startup” phenomenon wasn’t out yet, Cameron had intuitively learned the basic concepts of product validation and cash flow and determined to build ZappBug with those in mind.

This is why I have been so interested in Cameron’s approach to ZappBug, and why I wanted to dive deeper into the mechanics of his business.  It can be very expensive to start a company that makes physical products. Testing and manufacturing alone can require more time/money than software products. And there is the fact that each unit costs money. You need working capital up front to buy inventory. Also, you need to make enough units in each production run to meet the minimum order quantities required by factories producing your product. There is no Amazon Web Services for physical products, just Chinese factories…which are a far cry from the affordable but flexible services we are used to in web services.

But there are also advantages!

“The biggest being that people actually pay money for physical products.  I don’t know about you but I spend about $20 a week on coffee and maybe only about $20 a year on apps,” says Wheeler.

So it was obvious they had some good ideas.  But first, they needed something to manufacture.

We Need A Prototype!

The team had the idea, but they needed a prototype.  “I went to home depot and got a heater, some insulation and a storage container. Then I brought all of my nerd tools home and pulled out my Arduino. By the end of the day, I had a working prototype.”

He basically built an oven from scratch.  The goal of the simple bed bug oven was to heat items and hold them lethal temperatures for a period of time.  After a few days of testing they had a really good idea of the max size and how the product was going to operate.  “We then found a guy on craigslist who used to design clothes for Nordstrom and was willing to sew up some samples for us. After a couple of revisions and a lot of testing, we already had a design that was ready to manufacture.”

About that little issue of manufacturing…?

Producing textiles like their “insulated folding box” (aka bed bug oven) is not feasible in the U.S. because of labor costs and minimum order sizes.  Most People don’t really understand how you can go from a prototype in your garage to a factory sample and then a production run.  Cameron, remembering what he learned at his previous job, started looking for a small factory in China to make their stuff.

So how did they find one?

“We took some pictures of the prototype and sent an email to the factories! We sent out hundreds of emails to manufacturers across China and got replies from most and then just started negotiating from there.”

And before he knew it, Cameron was off to China!

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 4.59.19 PM

Once things in China were in the works they spent some time developing the website and by June of 2012, everything was done. The product was loaded into a shipping container bound for Seattle. Before the container arrived, they rented out two storage units near the port to store the products.

Everything was ready!

The Cosco Seattle arrived with the goods on June 28, 2012. They started selling the product on Amazon immediately and sales went well.  So well they quickly sold out of the first shipment.  Needing more, they made another manufacturing run and landed their first full shipping container of product in December of 2012.  Cameron passed on the opportunity to talk specific revenue numbers but he did mention they are driving margins “double the wholesale average” and their sales are solid and growing with the latest (and larger) run of heaters.

Lessons Learned

Major lesson # 1: “Chinese manufacturers have a much different concept of what “next week” means.  We had a lot of difficulty getting samples and product out of factories in a timely manner.  Next time I will press harder and be less friendly.  Those guys are tough and everything is a negotiation.  You cannot let your guard down.”

Major Lesson #2: “Get it right the first time.  We had to go though several prototype iterations with the factory. Each one took about a month and it was a painful process.  But we could not afford to do a manufacturing run on a product that we couldn’t sell.  Looking back, this process would have been a lot smoother if we had spent more time perfecting the design ‘state side’ where the iterations would have taken less time.”  

Author’s Lesson:  Cameron is solving a big problem and thus has a nice growing revenue curve to support his business.  With ZappBug, people simply search and find a solution to a nasty problem.  And not too mention, when people have a pressing issue they will not hesitate to spend money on an easy to find solution.  Huge lesson for entrepreneurs out there – solve an urgent problem for people and money will follow.

What’s Next?

ZappBug now has a validated product and the cash to design much more sophisticated products. It’s open road ahead.  “Our goal is to be a one-stop resource to help people get rid of bed bugs.  Anyone coming to our site will find free informational videos and tutorials as well as products that will help them get rid of bed bugs.”  Already, they are looking ahead to larger and more value generating products.  The next will be called The ZappBug Room and will be large enough for a couch or a mattress meant for professionals and consumers.

“I really don’t think this could have been possible just a few years ago” notes Cameron.  Using (mostly free) tools from the modern world allowed a small team in Seattle to quickly build an international operation with very little capital.  “We used google translate, craigslist, wordpress, amazon.com, Alibaba and several other amazing resources.  At the end of the day, our lean approach to ZappBug allowed three normal guys to start a company that now generates enough revenue to pay each of us and grow the company.”

Who knew Bed Bugs could be such a killer business?

Why Do We Hurry Up And Wait?

Life always seems to be like this, doesn’t it?  There’s something you want to go accomplish, do, buy, write, build, etc…. yet turns out it’s “not yet time.”

The question I struggle with is why are we presented with an opportunity for something we want and then ultimately have to wait much longer than we expected to finally get it.

Is it so we appreciate it that much more when it finally does happen?  So we don’t just take it for granted and toss it aside like a child does with a new toy?

Is it a matter of maturity?  Are we initially presented with the thought or opportunity to test our maturity and patience?  Or if we don’t ultimately get it, is it that we actually didn’t take advantage of the opportunity when it was presented to us?  Is it that we didn’t do the right thing at the right time?  Did it just slip through our hands without us even knowing it?

Was it that we were never really “qualified” for the opportunity and we were just wishful thinking we could live and operate on such a high level.

Is someone playing an awful trick on us, kind of like what has happened to Manti Te’o recently?  (To which I must add – doing something like that to someone else is really messed up, and how the rest of the world reacted to it is even more messed up.  I want to write about it but would end up using a lot of 4-letter words.   Not sure I want to go there…)

I believe there is proper “timing” for everything and sometimes it just “not the right time.”   I also believe hard work, dedication, patience and diligence is the path towards success so timing is inherent to success.

But dammit, it really gets old telling yourself, “Just keep waiting… it must not be the right time yet.”

Some days, it’s just hard.

Some days, you want someone to walk over to you, point a direction and say, “go that way, you’ll find it over there.”

Some days you want God to grab you by the head, look you in the eyes and tell you the truth, telling you how it will end and if it everything will be ok.

Some days the goal feels as far away as the mountain I see looking out the window from the ferry I ride into Seattle.  The crazy thing is the goal feels to never get much closer or any more clear than the view below.  I struggle with the juxtaposition of being a go-getter and making things happen vs being a farmer, planting seeds that will grow into future opportunities down the road.  Being a farmer is fine when last year’s crop is nicely feeding you and your family, allowing you to plan for your future patiently and wisely.  When it doesn’t, patience will be tested and wisdom can be challenged.

I hope today brings more than the normal “not yet” I seem to keep running into.

photo 4

Ask The Right Question At The Right Time

There are certain moments, typically in business development conversations, when you sense the entire future of your company is resting on that exact moment in time.  You realize what you say next will either result in an affirmative commitment to your company or a “thanks but no thanks” response.

I just had one of those and boy and I glad I knew it was happening.

The conversation was with a self-identified skeptic for which they were asking why they should consider working with Seconds.  This individual was very cordial and nice, yet opened the conversation with an obvious “you’re behind the 8-ball” tone.  It was up to me to unravel where they were coming from, identify where we fill the gaps and bring them to a point where they wanted to work with us.

I learned (or maybe realized) a few lessons as we were working our way through the conversation towards an agreement.

1.  No is easier than yes

People are naturally programmed to say no.  You must work towards the yes, which requires taking that person on a journey through why they are better off with your solution than not.  Saying yes requires one to actually commit to something.  Saying no requires no commitment, thus it is the easier option.  Remember, most people are commitment phobes and would rather say no than have to stick to a commitment.

2.  Conversations turn with one question

As we worked through our conversation and they received answers to all their questions, it became apparent to me I needed to take control of the conversation if I was going to get a satisfactory outcome.  At one point they mentioned they were already working with a “somewhat similar” company, and asked why they should consider working with Seconds?  My response… “how’s that working out?” and then waited for the answer.  I followed up with “are they rolling out nationwide with your organization being the only organization involved, meaning your organization will be highlighted and singled out?”

At that moment, the conversation changed.  It became clear there was no logical reason for this person to say no and we started down a very positive brainstorm on how to make our partnership even better.

3.  People need to be led

What this really comes down to is the fact that most people just need to be led to a decision.  Since people are programmed to say no – even when yes is the better answer – they need to be led to understand why yes is the better answer.  This takes courage for sure, because going out on a limb and calling someone out can be risky, they might get upset and you might even lose the opportunity.  Yet, it may be the only way you earn a new customer or distribution partnership.

You can learn a lot from one conversation, next time pay attention to how you are handling the questions you are being asked.  You might just help them help you.

What Every Entrepreneur Thinks Before They Even Lift Their Head Off The Pillow

“No way, You Can’t Quit Now”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this founder thing is damn tough.  Not a day goes by do I not think about how much easier life would be if I just quit and went back to a measly job trading hours for dollars.

It sounds so nice, doesn’t it… get a job where I have no real responsibility, just show up, go through the motions and every two weeks have money automatically deposited into my bank account.  Clock-in/clock-out and then go hang with friends and family, gleefully spending the money I didn’t work very hard to earn.

If that was the case, the basis of my employment would be how close to the status quo I could lie, just making sure I don’t screw anything up.

Oppose this to the radical idea of pursing excellence in myself and the things I create.

Yes, it’s tempting to go take the easy road like so many others do… so many whom most likely are way more in touch with reality than am I.

The thing is I am not wired that way.  As crazy as it seems to be, entrepreneurship is so much more than status quo, hours for dollars and not screwing up.  Entrepreneurship is about embracing the unknown and challenging yourself to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, all this with little or no support and resources.  Basically, an entrepreneur is a magician creating something from nothing.  And trust me, most challenges we face seem insurmountable.  These aren’t just “where’s that piece of paper again?” or “I wonder if my boss will let me go on that vacation I have been thinking about?

That’s child’s play.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the consequences of my decision to forgo income (in my own company or with another job opportunity) for the opportunity to do something most people are afraid to do.    Think about what would happen to you and your life if one day your paycheck just stopped showing up in your bank account.  It takes courage, vision, strategy and a bit of stubbornness to make it as an entrepreneur.  And because of those requirements, most don’t.

Also, quitting is the worst possible option at this time.  Quitting not only validates all who doubted but it also flushes everything I’ve worked for and have equity in.  It flushes it right down the drain.  Not only would I be broke but I would have nothing to show for it.  I can’t let that happen.  I won’t let it happen.

All this goes through my head before I even raise it off the pillow each day.  Although things are tough at times, I count my blessings –  family, friends, business partners, God and all other greatness in my life – allowing me this opportunity.   Not everyone has what I have around me.

The amazing thing is how great of position Seconds is sitting in right now.

  • We just experienced our 8th month of continuous growth, month over month.  We have never seen a down month and don’t intend to.
  • We are just about to release a new version of Seconds, one where it will be much easier for you and I to use and experience the value.   It’s gonna blow your socks off.
  • We are throwing a big charity party at the end of the month involving a number of area startups as well as donations (via Seconds) to local non-profit Vittana in an effort to fight world poverty.
  • We are attending DEMO Conference at the beginning of October, a conference which will be full of founders, executives, investors and media.  This is the event we won a trip to earlier this year at the SURF Incubator pitch competition.
  • We have been asked to go back down to San Francisco mid-Oct to be a part of a select group of startups in attendance the TwilioCon, a conference put on by one of the tech platforms in which we have built our system.  They want us to demo Seconds and showcase what we have built with their communications technology.
  • In conjunction with our release, we will be rolling out across local colleges and universities for Seconds to be used to easily collect payments in students’ college and greek life.  First one starts at the end of September and we’ll be systematically spreading across numerous campuses throughout the year.

Given all that is good about where Seconds is heading, a few bad days/weeks/months personally will not be enough to push me over the cliff.  I suppose someone or something is trying its best to persuade me to give-in and give up.  If that’s the case, they are going to have to do much better than they are now.

No way, you can’t quit now… you gotta get up and go make it happen.

Living With Doubt And Uncertainty As An Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurial doubt can creep up on you like little critters in the night. One day you are on top of the world, thinking there’s nothing between you and 1 billion people touching your product. The next day you don’t know if you are still leading an actual company. Life can be pretty tough sometimes.

I have had my share of creeping doubt as of late, some worthy of mindshare and some not. But the biggest thing I have realized lately is that no matter what, shit hit fans. So it’s not a matter of when or how much hits the fan but more about how you deal with it. And you HAVE to figure out how to deal with it so you can continue on living and working towards your goals.

I have found 3 things really help me when times get rough:

Get Back to the Drawing Board

For a while there I was feeling very exhausted, lacking creativity and innovation at all points of the day. Seconds, as a company, has come to the point where we are growing (we’ve grown each and every month) but has obviously not found proper product/market fit necessary to take things to the next level. Not surprisingly, this was a very difficult feeling to experience. Results were not clear enough to shut down the business but it was also too foggy to continue the current plan. We had to make adjustments or risk losing the war.

So I finally had to force myself to break out of the rut, grab the marker and get back on the whiteboard. For those unaware, magical things happen at a whiteboard. Most products you are using today were wire framed on a board. Most of the successful companies you read about on Techcrunch and Mashable were conceived on one of those boards. It’s truly amazing what can be created when you place pen to board and allow it to lead you. Now, As a team or even just a few of us, we now regularly jump into sessions of brainstorm and idea generation. I will even lock myself in a room alone and just allow the entire board to engulf my thoughts… I will tell you some great new stuff is set to be released at the end of September and it’s all due to our energetic whiteboard sessions of this summer.

Get Back to Friends and Family

I recently have had the opportunity to spend more time with my family and it’s been a great. Long story short, as an interim roof I am staying with my sister and her 3 kids as I look for my next place. There was simply too much going on… I couldn’t deal with looking for another apartment and she kindly suggested I grab the spare room for a while. I though it was going to be a burden but it’s been a blessing. It’s amazing what is presented to you once you are in need of a miracle.

Also, looking back over the last few months I have been able to break away and spend some quality time with my friends. As a founder and dedicated entrepreneur, it’s quite easy to become so engulfed in pursuits I forget about the special people in my life. I am also blessed to have a solid group of friends from my youth and college years. These moments of getaway and relaxation are very re-energizing. I believe we will be lifelong friends so I feel the time with them is more of an investment rather than a expense on my life.

Get Back in Shape

My previous career was oriented around health and wellness, so health is a biggie for me. To be quite honest, I have really never been out of shape so my thoughts are more about the commitment and consistency of exercise over being overweight or out of shape. Though recently I noticed myself slacking on training and exercise. One day a week here… two days a week there. No patterns or schedule to depend on was really taking its toll on my physically as well as psychologically. And I started seeing and feeling the result.

So I determined to make a change. More importantly, i found a closer focus on running and working out more often and earlier (relatively) in the morning is keeping me aligned as my life is becoming more random and out of whack by the week. Even more interesting, the harder I push myself physically the more I push myself psychologically and mentally. Physical exercise is definitely the healthiest weapon against stress and I hope it stays that way throughout the rest of my life.

Creativity, Exercise and Friends and Family. These are all you need to stay aligned and deal with the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.

Sharpening The Entrepreneurial Arrow

It’s been tough go lately.  I managed to find a new place to live, move most of my stuff into storage, re-align the business, loose a few team members, all the while keeping the dream alive.

I want to talk about the last one for a little bit: keeping the dream alive.  At Seconds, we recently discovered a few things.

First, we indeed have built a kick ass mobile payment system.   The thing just works, and it works ridiculously fast.  People are very excited and using it repeatedly each month.  We have grown each and every month we’ve been in operation.

Next, after a number of meetings with investors it became clear we were onto something but not yet fully baked.  I kept hearing “but what market are you targeting?  Seconds is helping which market become more efficient again?”  This is the main reason we struggled to raised a seed round, we weren’t ready no matter how much I told my self otherwise.

Lastly, it’s tough to quit.  Once you have a working product and have daily usage, it’s extremely difficult to walk away.  Maybe I am programmed differently but I simply cannot quit something I have started just because it’s taking a bit longer than I originally thought.

Put all these together and what do you get?   A kick ass product, not yet fully baked but its too early in the game to quit.

It then became clear if I was to keep the dream alive it was time to sharpen the arrow and get back in the game.

1. Redefine the vision

Seconds had to look in the mirror and ask itself “what type of payments system did it wanted to be?”  We couldn’t be all things to all people so we are now choosing what specific market to zero in on and focus our energy, marketing and branding.  Invert the arrow above and that is what your market focus should be.  Extremely narrow at first, and only when you have nailed it with the first market do you extend your product to other markets and new customers to grow your business.  It took me a while to figure out how sharp our arrowhead needed to be.

2. Re-engage the team

Anytime a team goes through challenges there will be falloffs.  When sharpening the arrow a leader must revisit the commitment with each team member and determine if it’s still “go time”, or “time to go”.   There’s no right answer here.  All you are looking for is the maintained commitment of each member of the team.  If it’s still there then re-engagement on the new direction is a refreshing feeling of excitement.  If it’s time to go, all parties involved will feel better for parting ways respectfully.  With Seconds, I have actually tightened the team and sharpened the edges to form a team that better fits our current development requirements.

3. Redesign the product 

A new direction and tighter focus will result in needed product changes.  We have been hard at work redesigning the features and functions of Seconds, focusing on the speedy payment functionality and clean user interface.  Fred Wilson has a great post on determining “the atomic unit” of your product and doubling down on the specific functionality that makes up your unique product.  In fact, focusing on that one function and stripping out all other frivolous features will lighten your product and create a better overall user experience.

As an entrepreneur you should always be sharpening your arrows.

Playing The Field Vs. Sitting On The Sidelines

I had a few great conversations this morning and although they both happened independently there was a similar theme to the conversation.

I found myself thinking “I would rather be a player on the field than sitting on the sidelines.”

We were talking about how its such an awesome time in our society and such a great time to build a technology company, and the thought just hit me.   I don’t want to be 50 yrs old siting there reminiscing about how back when I was 20 people started walking around with these things called cell phones.

“Son, back in my day them people used to dial a number and actually talk to someone through that there handset” I imagine I would be saying to my kids.  “now look at all the things you kids do on those damn things.  If I would’ve just been a little smarter and started something of my own I would been a millionaire… “

NO.  I would rather tell my kids “…. and you know what, I chose to jump into the game and ride the wave of innovation rather than watch it go by.  And It’s the been the best decision I ever made!”

 

 

 

 

  The Player

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fan

 

 

 

 

Being a player means actually getting your butt off the sidelines and into the game.  It takes a lot more energy for an athlete to play in the game than for a fan to sit a watch.  And you wonder why athletes are paid so much money?  Ever try to get out in front of millions of people and catch that touchdown pass before it flies by your head in a split second… its tougher than you think.

It also takes courage to put yourself out there and compete in the game of business.  Yes, you might fail.  Yes, you will probably screw up the play.

Yet, it’s 100 times better than being a monday morning quarterback like all media outlets tend to do.   And at least you are out there making something of yourself and hopefully adding value to the world.

It seems funny to me how crazy excited and into professional sports some fans get.  What do they actually gain when their team actually wins?  Besides beating the Vegas odds, not much.

Being a player is tough but it’s also way more exciting.  Have you ever thought about what happens if you actually succeed?  Who knows… but indeed it will be more than the satisfaction of your team beating the other team on any given Sunday.

Look at those two images and ask yourself which one you want to be.

Entrepreneur = No Idea Where You Will Be Or What You’ll be Doing In A Month

I sit at a crossroads of sorts.  Let me just review what I have in front of me, the pressures lurking over my shoulder and nudging me to get on with it already.

Moving – due to a previous group decision with my current roommates it’s time we all moved on and need to find another roof – by end of JULY.

Company – Seconds, the company I started last fall with some friends is starting to take off but requiring more from me every day.  This is both uber exciting and uber challenging.

Community – Recent events have elevated me and my company in the startup community.  Along with the attention comes pressure to succeed.  I both fully embrace it and yet fear it (for obvious reasons).

Investors – still fuzzy on this one.  Unfortunately it leads to…

Bills – Bills, bills and more bills.  They are starting to pile up and bother me.  Is this what we were put on earth to do?  Pay f-ing bills??

Girlfriend – not even a chance right now.

Friends – not enough time…

Family – again, where does the time go…?

You see, being an “up and coming” entrepreneur is pretty damn hard.  It can be summed up by the following equation:

Entrepreneur = No Idea Where You Will Be Or What You’ll be Doing In A Month.

I am not joking.  I have no idea where I will be living in just 30 short days.  And I have no idea what I will be working on… I hope it’s Seconds, we have some pretty sweet things coming down the pipe and I can’t wait to roll em out.  But, there are no guarantees and a brotha’s gotta feed himself.  Until someone (or a few) step up, look me in the eye and tell me they believe both in my vision and that I am the leader who can make it happen, the odds are REALLY not in our favor.

I suppose once things do take hold – once I cross the chasm and actually make it – life will get a little easier.  Although I imagine my petty issues will get replaced with other, more important ones like dating, marriage, kids, house, school, corporate, etc..

The image in this post is from the last scene of one of my favorite movies, Castaway.  In it, Tom Hanks plays a character named Chuck who’s plane crashes in the ocean and he is the lone survivor, left on a deserted island to fend for himself.  Amazingly, he continues on living for about 4 years until he musters up enough energy to actually build a raft and set sail for whatever the sea has in store for him.  Strange as it is, you sense as the movie progresses he feels he has nothing left to live for.  He decides launching the boat and seeing what happens is better than life alone on the island. Ultimately he is found and brought back to reality – a reality where everyone else from hist past has moved on with their life, including his fiancé Kelly.

So back to the image from the end of the movie.  There he stands, at a crossroads in his life with no real pull any which way.

Actually, that is not exactly the whole story.  The plane he was on at the time of the crash was a FedEx cargo jet carrying many different packages from one continent to another.  After the crash and as he initially washed up to shore, he saw some packages on the beach.  When he picked this one up he noticed some Angels wings nicely drawn on it.  Believing there was more to this package, he kept is a guiding icon for his survival and also committed to return it to the sender once he got back.

That is why he was standing at the intersection of those 4 roads that day.  He had dropped off the package and then pulled over to decide what direction he should go next when up pulled a truck with a beautiful woman asking if he was ok.  As she drove off he noticed (once again) the wings drawn on the back of her truck.  The camera pans his face… and then the movie ends.

One can only speculate where he decided to go next, but pretty good bet he was pulled the direction of the woman and the angel.

And that is where I find myself currently.  I stare at quite a daunting crossroads but feel deep down my intuition is pointing me the right direction.  My gut tells me I haven’t been wrong these last years as I have been diligently working towards the opportunities just now opening up and taking shape.  Sometimes you just have to withstand unbelievable challenges to get to unbelievable outcomes.

As the movie ends and you see Chuck’s face, you get the feeling he knows he wasn’t wrong believing his survival of over 4 years alone on that island wasn’t all for naught.

More Impressive Is The Successful Founder Who Took The Road Less Traveled

An amazing story is going around right now about a high school senior who has been accepted to Harvard.  What’s more notable is that she was basically from little means in high school and even homeless for her entire senior year.  Even more admirable is how she tried to live a normal life despite her situation, playing sports and partaking in extracurricular activities right along with her peers.

Dawn grew up in a ramshackle home with no electricity and no running water. She often went days, even weeks without showering. She and her brother Shane — who was equally studious in his schoolwork — would walk 20 minutes to a public park to fetch water.

“We would get water jugs and fill them up at the park, using the spigots in the bathroom. And we would use that to flush the toilet or cook with. Stuff like that,” she says.

She confided in a staff member at school. She had trouble doing homework at nighttime because her home had no electricity and she couldn’t afford candles. It was difficult to read in the dark.

Obviously Dawn is not a startup founder, but I think about stuff like this a lot since I am going through something similar.  Do I have it as bad as Dawn?  No, for sure not.  But am I sacrificing a lot and going through hardships to see my dream come true?  Yes, for damn sure.

It’s funny, the naiveté one has when starting a company can be their best friend because if they knew how hard it would be or what it actually takes to succeed, they probably wouldn’t even start.  Especially for the one’s who aren’t cut from the same mold as others they are competing against.

The Well Worn Path Of Tech Founders

A kid grows up playing with computers and rather than playing sports, and he focused on writing the most code he possibly could rather than getting the most girls he possible could.  Other students view him as an outcast or a nerd.  He goes to college, usually Stanford or MIT or some other prestigious school and studies engineering or Computer Science.  Once he graduates he usually receives employment offers from Google, Microsoft, Facebook or other large and successful technology companies.  And now he wants to start a company.  On paper he’s a prime candidate to be successful.

Unknown to most first time founders is how much this well worn path is valued.  It’s cred.  It’s validation.  “He worked at Google so he knows how to build a company” investors, bloggers and others assume.  Money is easier to come by when you take the well worn path.  Attracting engineering talent is not as big of deal if you have the ‘generally accepted credentials’.  People just assume you and your company will be a success.

But is that really true?

Google can help an engineer polish their skills and become one of the best in the wold at their trade.  But what does Google teach an engineer about building a company?  Or Microsoft?  I’m no expert but BIG corporations are about the farthest thing from scrappy, early stage startups.

I am more impressed with successful founders who took the road less traveled.  The ones who didn’t go to Stanford.  The ones who might not have a solid network of investors and engineers right out of the gate but work like hell and take 50 coffee meetings each year just to get to know other entrepreneurs.  The ones who work 2x as hard and 2x as smart as others to get to where they are now.

I love the person who looks impossible in the eye and basically says “f-you, i’m doing it anyway!”  The person who changes paths mid-journey because he knows the one he’s on is too worn down from all the others who preceded him.

Impressive is the one who cuts his own path.

And isn’t that what an entrepreneur actually does?  They shrewdly navigate the business ecosystem to give themselves the greatest advantage possible with the least amount of resources and against all odds.  Most impressive to me are the ones who started the lowest and finished the highest.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Fear – The Reason Why Most Of You Won’t Start A Company

Fear paralyzes most everyone at some point or another in life but it’s most drastic affect can be found when people are faced with doing something new or different.  It’s fascinating a person would choose not to do someone simply because they are scared of what they don’t know.

I often wonder why that is?  As an entrepreneur I am almost addicted to the new, to the rush of achievement and to the embarkment into the unknown.  It perplexes me why most of us don’t think this way and allow fear to paralyze them in making life changing decisions.  Of course, a simple search brings more to light.

From Wikipedia:

Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response) but in extreme cases of fear (terror) a freeze or paralysis response is possible. 

Additionally, fear is frequently related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats which are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.  It is worth noting that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable.  Fear can also be an instant reaction to something presently happening.  

Why am I focusing on fear?   Recently I identified fear as the sole deterrent to people taking the leap and starting something new, like a company or new life direction.  I should know, I am currently going through everything a person like this fears and living to tell you about it.

Fear of Failing

Quite possibly the strongest of the fears is the social fear of failing, or the public statement that we are going to do something and then ultimately not succeeding at it.  Humans have a inherent need to be liked, embraced and accepted by the norm of society.  I think this dates back to pre-historic times and the fear of being left out in the cold, alone and vulnerable to prey.  Back then, failing at something meant you would be ostracized from the pack which most likely led to your death.

I can relate to this sort of fear of failing, only to the opposite extreme.  I tend to turn our inherent fear of failing into the fear of failing to meet my potential.  Sometime earlier in my life I heard a statement that struck me so deep I will not ever forget it:

Imagine dying and arriving in the afterlife only to meet your ‘highest potential self’ – the one God intended you to be when he created you – and only then and there you fully realized what you wasted when you were alive.

Whether you believe in a God or not, that statement should send shivers down your spine.  It points to the fact that we all were created with a vast amount of potential, yet it is up to us to choose to pursue it.  My ultimate fear is not failure in one thing or another but  failing to continue to stretch and reach towards my potential.

Fear of success

Interestingly, a lot of people actually fear achievement and success.  Millions of dollars, popularity and attention or the phenomenon of freedom from a job is so foreign to some people they have no idea how to comprehend it in their life.  Imagine waking up early and automatically going to a job each day and then one day waking up with so much money you never have to work again.  This is unfathomable for many people.  So they say things like “oh, I can’t do that?” and  “I am not talented, so how could I achieve that.”  Fear is actually at the root of those statements – they perceive the ability to do such things as something they lack and thus unknown – so one merely passes it off as a fear not be entertained.  That is quite sad.

Fear of hard work

Starting a company is damn hard work.  Most people are lazy and don’t want to work hard; they want to cruise through life along the path of least resistance and have as much handed to them for the least amount of effort.  There, I said it.  And it’s a fact of life.  Humans have been trained to expend the least amount of energy for the most amount of gain and it’s no more prevalent than in the corporate world.  As a culture we have trained ourselves to be lazy and get the most we can for the least amount of effort or investment.

This is why entrepreneurs are so different than the rest of society.  We think opposite.  We understand it demands a hell of a lot from us and WANT to work hard to achieve our goals.  We actually shun the 9-5 “clock in and clock out” life.  This trait can be seen in entrepreneurs, athletes and any person who strikes out on their own to accomplish something extraordinary.  We embrace the 10,000 hours it takes to achieve excellence in anything.

Fear of the unknown

I think all of this comes down to the paralyzing fear of the unknown.  Quite simply, people just want to know everything and hate it when they don’t (obviously the growth of Google has proven that true).  People hate it so much that when they are unsure of something, even when it’s totally normal to not be sure, they just don’t do anything.  They’re frozen.  They stay put.

If there is one point to take away from this is the fact that staying put is they worst thing to do today if you want to move forward in your life.  Doing nothing will only bring more of the same.  This is why most of you will not start a company, because you don’t know what you don’t know and that scares you.  You have no idea how hard it will be.  You don’t know how low the balance in your bank account will go.  You have no idea how hard it will be to recruit people to your vision, compensate them appropriately and treat them right regardless of the circumstances.  You have no clue as to how high the balance in your bank account could go if you happen to succeed.  Lost to you is the incredible opportunities of growth and development that come with placing yourself in a challenging situation.

It’s unfortunate because you have no idea what you are missing.  Although this has been the most challenging thing I have ever done, it is also the most rewarding.  In the depths of the valley I find more about myself than on the tops of the mountains.  The valley’s reveal to us our weaknesses and our strengths; they show us where we need help but they also allow for discovery of the character traits only we posses and how we must use them to get out of the valley and back on the mountain.  For that is what the entrepreneurial journey is all about.

@jnickhughes

Entrepreneurs Running On Faith

I jumped on here today to start working and Eric Clapton’s Running On Faith was playing in the background.  It seems like a perfect song for me right now, as I am flat out running on faith.

At certain times in our life we get overcome with a feeling of desperation, that we simply cannot give any more than we currently are.  It’s such a difficult and painful situation to be in, knowing you are giving all you can but in the end forces outside your control will determine your outcome.  At this moment all we can do is commit to placing one foot in front of the other, keeping at it and letting faith do the rest.

I was telling a friend yesterday how scary it is to know your future (and others) rides on saying the right thing, to the right person, with the right kind of conviction and emotion, all at the right time.  Knowing that if I talk to the right person – someone who can put money to work in our company and thus we will stay alive and continue to change the world  – is definitely exhilarating.  But at the same time, understanding that for whatever reason I can’t reach the right person at the right time and the company dies, is equally frightening.

It’s hard to even begin to describe what it’s like to give up everything, take the leap, start a company from scratch and grow it into a sustainable enterprise.  The stress is so damn high…. it’s so heavy you actually get used to it.  In a different conversation with another friend, I spoke about how to manage stress in a situation like this.  You literally get comfortable with being uncomfortable and become desensitized to things going on in your life.  You simply have to or you will literally go crazy.  You emerge with the feeling akin to how you might say the word “whatever” when something crazy happens in your life.  Look at it for a few seconds, shrug a shoulder and keep going.

Because of this I have probably become a worse friend, son, brother, boyfriend (if I had a girlfriend) but that is where I find myself right now.  Although those are going in the wrong direction, I am becoming a world class entrepreneur.  Each day I feel myself getting better at this game, learning more of the nuances of founding a business only experience can teach you.  I am choosing to only focus on things that will move my life forward. I am learning how to make in the world, not just take from the world.  It might not look like it from the outside or in the bank account but believe me, it’s happening.

For context, a good read for any leader is Crucibles of Leadership, a great book detailing how any great leader is made through tough times, not easy times.  It is because of this book I am clinging to my faith and enduring through this crucible to come out the other side a better leader and person.

There is simply no way around the dichotomy of all these wide ranging emotions, entrepreneurs have to run on faith.  There are times in your life you will have nothing more.

The Axioms of Entrepreneurship

Recently Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, founder and CEO of WatchMojo, wrote a brief post about the Lies Entrepreneurs Tell.  In the article he makes the point entrepreneurs are “always in sell mode, but that doesn’t mean they need to be BS-artists”.  Their common lies include  “I have no regrets” or “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it any differently”; “It’s not personal, it’s business”; “We’re not raising money”; “We’re not looking to sell”; and “I’m your biggest fan.”

Ashkan has an interesting point – entrepreneurs can be so damn good at “selling” that they begin to say things that aren’t exactly true.  This may be due to a few factors: we actually believe the words we are saying, we feel the means justify the ends or we just want it so bad we are willing to cross over the line into fallacy in order to get what we want.

Regardless, I agree with Ashkan.  We can at times can get carried away with the approach we take when it comes to business interactions.  Yet after reading the post I started thinking… if those are some of the lies of entrepreneurship, there must also be some truths, ones in which are germane to the success of an entrepreneur.

Build For Value

We are seeing a comeback in tech IPO’s and this can have a negative side affect on the business world: young founders dream of (and build) new startups mainly for the ultimate payday.  This is a grave mistake.  M& A or IPO desires directly out of the gate – meaning the only reason they are starting the company is to quickly flip it or go public – is a scary sign of misalignment.    Making certain decisions to maximize revenue and profits to the determent of users can be traced back to this unfortunate thinking.  These are results of building for money, not value.

The best entrepreneurs start (and end) their journey with value in mind.   What exactly is value and how do you find it?  I believe it starts by searching for a big problem in the world, a problem which if solved would open up new markets and even more opportunities for others.  Value means your product or service actually is meaningful in a persons life, and adds something rather than just take something away (time or money).  The irony is if you can focus on value first and you are able to clearly articulate what your company adds to the world, people will come knocking with money to spend.

Have A Standard

Imagine that… setting a standard and living by it!  This must permeate your company, from how you hire to how you interact with the press.  When hiring, who do you look for and why?  Knowing the answer to the question will save you from a lot of headache down the road.  We’ve all heard A players hire A players; B players hire C players, etc…  This is true because A players have standards for not only themselves but the people they look for to join the team.   A players are strong enough to pass on someone who does not stand up to their standards.

Applying a standard when building products and defining and business models most definitely leads to better outcomes.    Are you a trend setter or a trend follower?  Did you start the whole Daily Deal mania or did you just tag along because it seemed easy?   Notice who is the market leader and who isn’t.  Having a standard when developing a business means there are certain things you will not do because of certain beliefs.  It means having a backbone and saying “hell no” at times.  One of the best business building standards I have observed in current market leaders is the resistance to “trends” or “buzz word models” just because they are popular; they stay the course and  lead their market.

In addition to business model, another must have is user experience standards.  Simply put, it your product enjoyable to use?  Does it elicit positive emotions and experiences or is it hard to navigate and tough to understand?  Unfortunately, design and user experience is not something that just happens naturally in technology products.  Having a standard like limited number of swipes for certain actions and least amount of words on each page as possible are just two standards which can drastically enhance your users experience.  Standards in user experience will help your product stand out in a very large sea of…. well, crap.

Think Before You Speak

Entrepreneurs are notorious for blasphemy.  We tend to just say what we think and feel right at that exact moment.  And there’s the problem… no real thinking goes into the words coming out of their mouths most of the time.  Your words will be held against you whether you like it or not.   As Ashkan eluded to, lying or not being truthful during business practices, although common, should not be acceptable.  The truth will always come back around whether you are talking to media, speaking to employees, chatting with acquaintance or in a “discussion” with your significant other.

Simply taking a few seconds before you blurt out the next statement can steer the conversation (and your career) in the right direction.  You’ve heard of damage control – where you have to take precious time from your already busy schedule to smooth over a sensitive situation caused by a misread tweet or a too-much-passion-in-the-moment comment?  You got it, that’s time not spent on value adding tasks your startup desperately needs.  And you cannot afford it.  Just think before you speak.

Be Original

An amazing phenomenon is happening right now: there is a burgeoning of creativity happening on the web right now yet originality is waning.  What do I mean?  I see more copying, emulating and flat out ripping off happening each day as information flows freely.  This is not good for innovation and IMHO it’s just annoying.  Being original is one of the best ways to be discovered.  Original thoughts and personality created a Jack Dorsey.  They also created a Steve Jobs… and other unique personalities in the tech world.  Be yourself and be someone who is unique; it goes a long way.  Just look at one of the newest billionaires Andrew Mason…

Originality in business models and product characteristics create unique offerings that help set your company apart in the market, leading to media coverage as well as investor interest.  We don’t need more Daily Deal sites, we need more innovative ideas for local commerce that actually add value and help merchants succeed, growing local economies.  So look into abyss, seek out problems, ask why, iterate around a new solution will help in becoming a unique and original business.

Although as entrepreneurs we have a tendency to mislead and lie on occasion, we also have tried and true Axioms into which wisdom and success can be found.  These are just a few I came up with quickly as I read Ashkan’s post.  Are there others you cling to as you strive forward?

Forget Governments; Here Is The One Thing Entrepreneurs Must Do To Save The World

Well folks, things are starting to look pretty bleak out there.  As an optimist I want to believe the future is brighter than the past, but I am having a hard time sleeping at night and imagining the days ahead won’t be filled with economic strife.

Shall we review some basic facts:

The U.S. debt ceiling has been raised by trillions – simply meaning we are sinking further down the quicksand without any help of getting out.

Do you realize one trillion dollars is a thousand BILLION dollars?  This is really getting out of hand.  It is pretty sad to realize our World Economic Powerhouse is actually just like the 24 year old post college grad who is taking out (and maxing) another credit card just to pay off the creditor calling them on the phone, while not even remembering when the specific credit line in question was taken out.

S&P has downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+, an unprecedented action initiating a period of economic uncertainty around the world with no clear ending in site.

What happens when the world loses total faith in the United States?

The tremors of volatility in the stock markets has recently increased in magnitude, with numerous daily slides of more the 4%, sending mini-shocks of fear and loathing through the psyche of any shareholder.

Go ahead, take a look at what happend in the years following the 1929 market crash…  sound familiar?

Here are some stats on the impending recession; it’s a great (but long) article but really places things in perspective.  Choice quote:

So, I guess I am going out on a limb, without any help from an inverted yield curve, and saying that we will be in recession within 12 months, if we are not already in one. This will be unlike any recession we have seen, as there is not much that can be done, other than to just get through it as best we can. Sit down and think about your own situation and prepare.

So after you sit down and think about your own situation, what should you do?  Well, if you are an entrepreneur I have a thought…

Understand How Your Business Adds Value To The World

Every entrepreneur need to take a tough look in the mirror and ask themselves what it really means to be in business.  The most basic tenets of business are profits, losses and margins.   As an owner, if you are not bringing in more money (adding value) than you are spending (extracting value), you will sink.   One would think the most important of those 3 is profits – and I do generally agree with that position – yet that may be precisely why we are now in this economic mess.  It turns out that profit above all else ends up creating more losses all around.  This, in my opinion, has led to our current toilet bowl effect where regardless of what happens we are circling further and further out of control.

A few questions worth considering when looking in the mirror:

Am I making a positive difference in the world?

Does my business add value to the world?  Or does it just extract value?

How can my business create an order of magnitude more value than the current solution?

Where is the government wasting money and how could I provide a better and cheaper solution?

Understanding how and where you add value to the world is just the first step; illustrating how you add value to the world is where you must focus your time and energy.  Having some sort of value quotient (if that is even possible) is where businesses worth can be easily quantified.  People need to know how you make the world a better place (socially, economically, environmentally) so they can start to make healthier world choices.

Specifically, I am referring to the question:  Is the world economically healthier because company “X” exists?  If there is not a resounding yes from the outside, I am afraid we will continue down this toilet.

Apple is now pretty much the most valuable corporation in the world, but do they really add value to the world?  Controversial statement, yes.  But of course a valid question, since people spend quite a bit of money on their consumer products.  How about the next company, Exon Mobile?  How much value are they adding to the world?  Arguably, they aren’t just extracting oil from the world…  And remember, these are the most VALUABLE companies in the world today.

The only way out from this mess is going to be through entrepreneurial fortitude.  Governments worldwide have only proven they are inept and cannot figure out how to spend less money.  It seems rather than actually ‘governing’ towards a solution, they are just ‘spending towards another problem’.   This does not work and we are now realizing how much we are in over our heads.   The world will be saved by entrepreneurial fortitude and finding a more efficient method to solving a societal problem.

The world is in desperate need right now of  smarter, more courageous, and innovative entrepreneurs who are not out to exploit current inequities but looking to reshape and save the world so their children will have something to actually live for.

@jnickhughes

Image courtesy of Flickr user Amagill.

Do You Have The Courage To Say No?

Do you have the courage to say no?  Even when an offer is on the table but something inside just doesn’t feel right?

Saying Yes seems too easy these days and is typically the simplest way out of a predicament.  I think  this is why most people are over stressed and maxed out.  They agree to way too many obligations and accept offers which might not be exactly what they are looking for just so can they feel like they are moving forward.

I was offered an opportunity recently, one in which on the surface seemed like a good fit for me.  I will not go into detail as to what it was, which business, industry or investors were involved, but after initially accepting it I ended up walking away from it upon further evaluation.  It was a tough decision for sure, but I believe it was the right one.

Approaching a tough decision is challenging and it is quite easy to reflexively answer with a “yea, sure… I’ll do it.”  Obviously, saying no means you do not go forward and receive the benefits of the opportunity. Saying no means giving up a future that for some meant promise and prosperity.  But saying no usually is the smartest decision.

When evaluating opportunities, strong wisdom needs to be used.  A great question to ask yourself is – “what happens if I say yes?

Here’s how to determine if something is the right fit and if not, how to have the courage to say no.

Does it meet your immediate needs?

Asking these questions will help you determine if the opportunity is something that meets your immediate needs, such standard of living, time commitments and opportunities to learn.

  • Will it cover your lifestyle needs and support your living?
  • Is it something that will challenge you in areas you want/need to be challenged?
  • Will it help you get to the next level?

Does it meet your long term needs?

Asking these questions help you determine if it fits the mold of how you see your life in 5-10 years and maybe even further down the road.

  • Is it something you still want to be doing in 5 or 10 years?
  • Does it align with your life goals (business, professional, personal)
  • Will I regret passing up this opportunity when I am old, wrinkly and gray?

How does your gut (heart) feel about it?

When all else seems foggy, the best decisions are made from deep down in your heart, where you can feel through the clutter and find a distinct Yes, or No.  Your lack of ability to sleep at night or your lack of wanting to jump out of bed each day should make it pretty clear what direction you should go.

  • Shut off all other external influences and listen to your heart
  • Are you leaning forward toward it?  Or are you leaning away from it?

If not, then you need Courage to say No.

Plain and simple, saying no takes courage.  No one likes to say or hear no and I think that is why people have such a hard time making decisions.  Having courage means you might have to pass on the good to have an opportunity for the great.  This is not easy and probably why most people in the world shun entrepreneurial opportunities and choose to be an employee.  Nothing against the employee life, but with high risk come high reward.  Risk requires courage, that of what few people actually put to use.

When one comes to terms with how valuable saying no can be, they will start to see their path become a lot more clear.

@jnickhughes

Ice-cream Is Great, But Utilities Make The World Go Around

Lately I have had a recurring theme running through my head – “didn’t I see that startup idea before, only with a different name?  Aren’t there more than a few startups doing this same  little sharing thing? ”  I believe we are witnessing another “bubblish” period of time, with valuations of young startups skyrocketing and investment money flowing like wine from Napa Valley.  When money starts flying from every which pocket so do the various copy cats and so called “Groupon’s for X industry” and “Airbnb for Y category” startups.  Ironically, creative innovation declines as similar business ideas get most of the available investment funding; I am not sure this is the best thing for the future of our economy.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recently commented “Everybody said ‘Twitter’s useless.’ To which my co-founder Evan Williams said, ‘Well so’s Ice Cream, you want us to ban Ice Cream and all joy?’ We said, ‘Screw that. We’ll just keep working on it.’”

This ice cream statement is referring to some people thinking Twitter and other social sharing applications are just petty fun but don’t serve much purpose and are not very important to the development of our economy.  Others believe the future lies in developing new technologies around people and infusing social in everything we do.  So who is right?

Well, let me go on record saying I beleive the application of social technology is indeed impacting our world and will continue to transform our society.  Yet, I will add a caveat to Stone’s point of view – ice cream is great, but ultilties make the world go around.  Ironies aside as Twitter becomes a utility to web users around the world, it ended up solving a problem we didn’t know we had at the time, which happened to be discovering people and distributing information.  But how many social companies are actually created with a strong economic value proposition in mind?  I think the point is very clear – when evaluating business and startup ideas, entrepreneurs and investors would be wise to focus their attention on things that solve a very strong need and plug into society’s daily function if they want to increase their odds of success.

Take a look at the following list below and observe what they all have in common:

Natural gas

Electricity

Telephone

Water

Old Steam Companies

hydraulic power

public transit

postal services

Public Infrastructure

All those industries and the associated companies all have one major thing in common – they are a public utility.  Being a public utility implies they serve a very obvious consumer need and  are frequently used products and services (speaking generally from a consumer point of view).  As a business they should have no problem developing a customer base, since their product is a need all consumers inherently have.

I suggest entrepreneurs think in absolute terms when developing their products or services.  Using an understanding of where technology is going, founders can anticipate aspects of everyday life which can be turned into utilities.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • What types of problems and challenges are consumers facing each day?
  • What problems are still served with older technological paradigms and are in need of more efficient solutions?
  • What types of industries have become ‘utilities’ and why?
  • What consumer activities seem to be more common place and will become utilities tomorrow?
Below are just a few examples of entrepreneurs viewing business as a utility.  Not an exhaustive list by any means, but they can serve as examples of clever business strategy and positioning.

 Schwab  and Wharton –  Steel

Steel was foundational utility as our country expanded from a small “startup” into the economic powerhouse of the 20th century.  Due to the expansion of the steel industry, railways, buildings, cars and other major industries advanced.  From wikipedia:

The Bethlehem Steel Corporation ascended to great prominence in American industry, installing the revolutionary grey rolling mill and producing the first wide-flange structural shapes to be made in America. These shapes were largely responsible for ushering in the age of the skyscraper and establishing Bethlehem Steel as the leading supplier of steel to the construction industry.

Edison – Electricity

Electricity, ala Thomas Edison, brought light to our night as well as power to our life.  Imagine a world without electricity… it is almost impossible to live in the 21st centuty (at least in the developed world) without this incredible utility.  Think about all the other multi-billion dollar industries that have been born and brought forth because electricity became widespread technology everyone could use.

Ford – Automobile

Although Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, he brought it (and mass manufacturing) to the general population.  With the introduction of the affordable car, consumers were able to travel more than a couple miles to spend their hard earned money, a transforming affect on the young US economy.  Commercial malls, retail centers, Supermarkets and many other industries were born from the advent of the automobile.  From the book American Entrepreneur:

Autos fundamentally changed transportation from a collective undertaking, whether in boats or railcars, to a principally individual experience.  Cars represented independence, not only freeing people from the confines of the city but from restrictions imposed by a particular geographic region. 

Gates – Software

Bill Gates had a vision – a computer on every desk!  Unofficially, he has achieved his vision and then some.  Shouldn’t it now be referred to as ‘a computer in every hand/pocket’?  But, who is keeping score…  Gates and Microsoft built the software found in almost all computers available, bringing to life the PC  revolution and birthing the connected world we live in today.  Productivity of Private, Public as well as Personal lives has greatly increased because of the software industry Gates created.

Zuckerberg – Social networks

As web connected devices continue to drive our daily activities, no one company has a better position to lead the charge in our new world as does Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg, at a ripe young age of 19, saw we would interact with devices, the web and people around the world in a whole new way.  In creating and growing Facebook, he established a platform users now consider a daily communications tool.  What can be built off it still mostly remains a mystery, but his vision of a utility is quite clear.

As a brieft list, these visionary individuals are amongst many others who transformed our world through groundbreaking businesses.  Importantly, all of them viewed their concepts through a utilitarian eye, observing where human life currently had a problem and how their company could offer a solution.  Find a need and fill it.  Serve a strong purpose in consumers’ everyday life.  Have a vision of a wide-spread platform, or a unique position where a multitude of new industries can be spawned from your one idea.  I believe that is the best position to start with when evaluating a new business venture.

@jnickhughes

Image courtesy of Flickr user Daniele Sartori.

Here is Why Your Passion is Always A Blessing

This post is built off of Bob Crimmons’ recent post Entrepreneurial Passion: A blessing or a Curse.  In one part I agree with Bob and in another I find disagreement and will offer a slightly varying perspective.  Let’s call it taking a different path to a similar conclusion and in doing so encouraging any entrepreneur that yes, they should pursue their passion to the fullest extent.

I agree with Bob in his general message – you must validate the idea you have become passionate about.  As he eludes, it is natural for an entrepreneur be overcome with the passion for “scratching their own itch”, working long hours to get something out into the market only to launch and then realize their execution is all wrong.  The way around this (and what I believe Bob was encouraging any entrepreneur to do) is to do massive market testing and validation prior to any time invested in production.  How do you do this?

Observe – Go into your target market’s environment and observe them interacting around where your product would fit.

Investigate – Ask them open ended questions regarding their thoughts on X, Y, Z products and features.

Float The Idea – Spend $25 on a google ad promoting your product with the link leading to a landing page, observe the click response.

Test and Research – Do massive business model research prior to launching a product, especially if you are developing a “social app”.

These are just a few actions that fall within due diligence and business validity testing and they should be done prior to any product work.  So yes, I agree with Bob when he cautions entrepreneurs in blindly pursuing their passions.

I should know, I was the guy Bob was talking about the first attempt at my start up, Loyaltize.  I was extremely passionate about building a business which not only was to be a web 2.0 darling but would also rewrite the books for the new social media marketing era.  Our bright idea was to integrate local business marketing and the support of local non-profits, such as youth soccer teams.  Local business created offers and coupons with donations tied into them, so when someone redeemed the offer a donation would go from the local business to the local soccer club.  Everyone wins right!  We were so passionate about this idea we spent more than a year to build our site (remember, I was living a double life so things take double the amount of time you think they should) and finally launched in our test market.

BAM…. fell right on the ground.   We scraped it forward for about six months but basically realized our execution around a few main features was flawed.  Would we have saved the year if we did proper user testing and validation?  I am not sure but we would have learned a few key lessons and we probably would be still growing right now had we validated properly.  I learned you need to do major validation, testing, and “pivoting” around your initial assumptions to get the proper fit.

-I am now going to talk strongly here and although I have never met Bob, I fully respect him-

What struck a cord when I read Bob’s post is I am that guy – incredibly passionate, focused, head down working to build out a new platform to take over the world.  It struck me quite deep because after working so hard on something you start to wonder if you are doing the right thing and really cut out to be an entrepreneur if things aren’t coming together.  It struck me because, as they say, “truth hurts”.

Passion definitely can work against you, and if you are an entrepreneur you are probably nodding your head with me.

But I would caution Bob on cautioning entrepreneurs to be wary of their passions.  It has the potential to send the wrong message to young aspiring entrepreneurs; because it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.  They will hear messages such as “don’t follow your passion, follow a proven business model” and “Your passions are not valid businesses”.

Following a proven business model does not inspire innovative new ideas, it does not create new markets nor does it spawn new industries.   Encouraging entrepreneurs to follow proven business models creates hundreds of daily deal sites.  We don’t need more competition, we need more innovation.

I would not be writing for you today had I taken Bob’s advice.  There is a high probability that if I went to a mentor such as Bob and they cautioned me on pursuing my passions, I might be on a different path.  Keeping aligned with my passion is what helped me gather enough knowledge and courage to make the leap and put me in the position I am in today.  I am so grateful someone I respected didn’t pull me aside and say “ya know Nick, this Loyaltize thing just does seem like it’s panning out for you.  Are you sure you should pursue this passion?”

I think Bob’s message takes the wrong angle on a good point.  Rather than telling entrepreneurs to be wary of things they are passionate about, I think a better angle on this issue would be to encourage entrepreneurs to harness their passions for everything they have.  Understand you have been tapped by something (someone) and dive deep into the problem area you are looking to bring a solution to.  Indeed entrepreneurs need every ounce of their passion to get where they want to go.

Jack Dorsey was obsessed with how cabs moved and communicated about the city.  He was so passionate about the idea of communication networks he sat on the idea for twitter for something like 6 years.  He couldn’t shake it and decided to build it even though it seemed crazy and didn’t make sense.  We are lucky to have twitter today to help us connect with people around the globe (@jnickhughes if you want to connect with me)

Dennis Crowley was seemingly obsessed with location aware technologies, so he built Dodgeball.  He ended up selling it to Google quite quickly, which some saw as a success, but they subsequently shut it down.  This really bothered him.  Because he was so passionate about this concept he build another application, Foursquare, with the knowledge and validations they learned from Dodgeball.  Foursquare just crossed the 10 million user mark in a little over 2 years and is paving the way in geolocation applications.

I am not being facetious here, I am being totally serious.  I guarantee Jack, Dennis, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or any other successful entrepreneur followed their passion.  The next “Jack” or “Dennis” is probably reading this right now.  They are gripped by something in the world, so gripped they want to build a product and business around it.  I say follow it.  Build it.  Test it.  Work it.  Rework it.  Test it again.  Stay on it.  Just don’t give up, the right thing will come together.

Call me crazy and laugh to yourself if you want, but I wholeheartedly believe this: The only difference between you and Jack Dorsey is… you just haven’t figured out the combination yet.  That is it.

In fact, I am of the camp we need more entrepreneurs who think bigger.  I agree with Jason Freedman of FlightCaster.

Jason wrote a post recently about a recent trip he took to visit some friends, Henderson and Rebecca who live in Mississippi.  He was shocked at what he felt as he was leaving them:

I’m glad we’ve moved past throwing sheep at each other on Facebook.  I’m glad we’ve moved past acquiring users by downloading someone’s contact list and spamming their friends.  The startup ecosystem is much healthier than it was in 2008.  But still, I’m concerned.  As a fellow geek and early adopter, I’m psyched for one of the photo-sharing concepts to really take off.  I think it’ll be sweet to instantly share pictures with my friends in cool new ways.  But I know it’s not a huge problem for Henderson and Rebecca.  It’s just not an issue that affects them.  I’m concerned about how many of us are working on problems that just don’t matter all that much to the rest of the world.

Look, it requires a lot of passion to change the world.  I mean, to really impact Henderson and Rebecca you are going to need to harness all your passion and give it everything you got.  Just remember to test and validate along the way.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Horia Varlan

Another Lesson Learned: See The Opening

I woke up yesterday to a pretty cool email waiting in my inbox with the words:

“We would like you to come in and interview Giant Thinkwell and Sir Mix-A-Lot today”

This doesn’t just happen to anybody, and it certainly doesn’t happen to someone that waits for opportunities to fall in their lap.  Successful entrepreneurs MAKE things happen.  And to be brutally honest, I pretty much made this happen (acknowledgment: with help from others to connect the dots).  How?  It all started 3 months ago.

  1. I connected with a founder of a recently launched startup about 3 months ago
  2. We stayed in contact via email, sometimes not hearing from him for months at a time
  3. I started writing on this blog
  4. I started shooting out my posts to larger publications around the country
  5. BusinessInsider.com like my writing, published a few posts and offered me to become a contributor
  6. I finally met up with the founder a few weeks ago and chatted about my latest happenings (quitting job, blogging, looking for connections)
  7. He connected me into a local startup communications list last week
  8. Giant Thinkwell, a local startup, announced they were releasing the Mix-n-Match app on the list
  9. They also requested help and asked if people could spread via social networks
  10. I reached out and simply commented “I could do a post on BusinessInsider.com if they wanted”
  11. I recieved the email in the morning and that afternoon I was sitting across the table having a conversation with “Mix”

Successful people jump at opportunities and follow through on them.  You cannot wait around for someone to find you and give you exactly what you have been looking for.  You must go make it happen.  Like a running back in football, when you see an opening, you must go for it.  Sometimes that little opening will make all the difference in your life.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Monicas Dad

An Exclusive Interview with Sir-Mix-A-Lot Baby!

Giant Thinkwell, a social game studio based in Seattle launched a new Facebook game today called Mix-N-Match that features Grammy Award-winning hip hop icon, Sir Mix-A-Lot.  Mix n Match brings you and your friends along side Sir Mix-A-Lot to hang out, learn more about the entertainer, win stuff and have a good time.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Sir Mix-A-Lot and Giant Thinkwell CEO Adam Tratt today for a little chat about the new project as well as the recent changes in the entertainment industry.  When you sit with Mix, you get the feeling this man knows what’s going on.  He is curious, quick witted as well as forward thinking.  You also get the feeling he is not done yet.  Here is an excerpt of our interview.

What attracted you to Giant Thinkwell?

These guys are geniuses.  From my perspective, a guy who came along in an era where you were distant from your fans, not by design, that is just how it was.  It was all systematic.  They produced the record, they distributed the record, they promoted the record, you wait till you get the call.  The way you sell records now is totally different.  These Giant Thinkwell guys are rock stars.  They are the mega pimps of this era, and they understand it really is about connecting with fans.  They get it!

What did you do back then in the day?

It was really the label.  They had a team of people who scripted how you were going to do things.  They did everything.  As an artist you were very removed from it all.  Most guys have just pulled back.  My manager has been talking about this stuff for a long time.  And now today, your fans know everything, like what time you take your dumps in the morning to what kind of underwear you are wearing, ya know?

Adam, is this Giant Thinkwell’s first app?

No, but it is our second.  So our story is the company was born at Start-up weekend.  In the beginning of social games it was the Wild West, and  Zynga was doing whatever they wanted on Facebook.  Now, everyone else is now clamoring for a piece of it.  Zynga already has their customer base of 500 million players.  What we realized is there is very little in the area of Branded Entertainment, and what is out there is really not that good.  So we thought, why don’t we take 2 things people love, social games and entertainment and put them together?

Where do you see this category of apps going?

Adam: What’s happening on the sidelines in entertainment is the whole model is changing, people aren’t buying records much any more.  It’s all changed.  Entertainers and celebrities of all kinds musicians, actors, athletes, will be interacting with their fans on line, in fact they do it already.  Social media right now is about talking AT your fans.  So we think the model is going to change.  The bar is going up. We think the way a guy like Mix announces and releases a new song will change.  And we want to be a part of it.

Mix: from an artist perspective, this is the first time in my career I can shape my brand, my personality.  They used to think “OK, this is a dumb guy who likes Big Butts and asses” (according to Mix only part of that is true) because that is how I was promoted by the record labels.  But now, I come down to meet with the Giant Thinkwell team and they don’t go, “this is what we’re doing”, they say “what should we do?”  Finally I am able to deal with my fans one-on-one on my terms with my personality.  It’s great!  I predicted the demise of the music industry back in 1999.  So today, I’m not like Lady Gaga and the way she is with her fans, but it’s on my own terms.  You are your own marketing firm now.  The gangsta element of record business is gone forever.

Do you think it’s a better time to be a musician?

Good Question.  From an old school cats point of view, no it’s not a better time cause back then we were spoiled.  But a new artist just breaking in, yes it is.  Because Music is more honest now.   You can get your stuff out into people’s hands in so many different ways.  So the cream is going to rise and the good ones will break out naturally.

You’ve seen success, what is the most important characteristic of successful people?

Mindset.  I have never met a successful person who talked about failing.  The glass is always half full.  I don’t even like being around negative talkers.  And secondly, they always figure out a way to monetize something.  You find a hole in the market, find what people don’t have enough of… and you supply it.  There is a big difference between those people who have the entrepreneurial spirit and those who are talented, but scared of themselves.  They are always sitting in the corner, shivering, wondering why they can’t make it.  Successful people jump at opportunity and take advantage of it.

What keeps you going?

Anything new.  I just started new company called True Human Interface, software to help people make music easier.  Right now we are finishing the brains of the software and we’re thinking sometime early next year we’ll have something released.  If you look at a lot of the older artists, the only ones who are still profiting are the ones trying these new things.  Our goal is to come out with a strong, serious product.  I was watching them edit True Grit, and they edited the whole thing with mouse and keyboard.  It was crazy!  We think we can have some good ideas to help make things easier.

What advice to you have for young entrepreneurs?

Make sure that you have  is unique and necessary, make sure your dream is viable.  Second, don’t be afraid to fire someone early if they are not the right fit.  You need to make sure you have the right people in the right places.  Lastly, don’t be afraid of criticism.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.