Category: Entrepreneurship (page 1 of 2)

Listen to Customers, Not Trolls

An article was posted recently in a local tech entrepreneurship-focused Facebook group that a DC entrepreneur would be on Shark Tank. The comment thread was disappointing to me:

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 4.12.52 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-01 at 4.13.22 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 4.13.49 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 4.14.08 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 4.14.22 PM

Here’s the rant I wanted to post on the thread but never got around to it:

This comment thread is really disappointing to read. Normally, it wouldn’t be a concern because entrepreneurs run into naysayers all the time when it comes to their business ideas. But to do that in this particular forum is destructive. I know for a fact that there are hundreds of members in this very fb group thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Then they see trolling like this, and then they second-guess their idea, worrying that it will be met with this sort of criticism.

It would be one thing if the naysaying in this case was justified. The fact of the matter is that this particular entrepreneur is shipping (literally shipping—and not just in the overused metaphorical sense) thousands of units of his product to customers who are recognizing a need and paying him the $6.99 or whatever it is for it. He took a lean approach to starting the company, validating a market for his product in the form of having paying customers, and now he’s about to land some huge publicity.

To the folks out there thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship: it doesn’t matter what 4 guys on a facebook thread think about your idea. Get it in front of customers, and let their credit card do the talking. Like this guy did.

As for the relevance of this product to the DC Tech brand, I’m just not concerned that VCs will base their full impression of the DC Tech community on some guy’s side project that was featured on a very physical product-focused TV show. As for whether or not the sharks will invest… who cares? The publicity will be huge.

As for the relevance to tech in general, his sole distribution channel right now is a landing page that he mocked up. Arguably, Amazon wasn’t much different when it first launched (though they weren’t manufacturing their own products). Will eyebloc be the next Amazon? Probably not. But you never know how businesses will evolve as they develop relationships with paying customers.

U-Mask and the U-Tabe (sic?) are obviously a joke, but the fact that the first thought is to put them on AngelList for feedback rather than in front customers is a little concerning. (Again, I know it’s a joke, but wondering if the joke is indicative of the current prevailing mindset among startup founders). Rather than put the idea up on AngelList, why not put it in front of customers to see if they’ll buy it?

We should be more encouraging of people putting themselves out there in front of customers.

On the Shortness of Life

I was doing some cleaning today and stumbled across a piece of paper with a quote I had scribbled down awhile back. The quote was from Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life:

Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace… If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

On the Shortness of Life

This quote really struck a chord with me when I first read it in early 2011. At the time, I had a stable job with a great benefits package in a Fortune 500 company. But I was stuck in a cubicle all day—bearing unnecessary amounts of stress—to try to essentially make the company’s wealthy shareholders even wealthier. Re-reading the quote, I came to the harsh realization that my job situation was forcing me to “regulate [my] sleep by another’s.”

Seneca’s essay definitely influenced my decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship, which I ended up doing within six months, and—despite many difficulties along the way—I haven’t looked back. Thanks, Seneca!

Battle

I had previously started a series of posts on songs that are meaningful for entrepreneurs. I have also found meaningful passages in the last few pieces of fiction I’ve read, so I’ll widen the scope of that series of posts to ‘the arts’ in general—not just music.

lonesomedoveThe inspiration for this post comes from a novel I’m reading, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I’m not even finished yet, but this epic Western is already one of my favorite books of all time.

The following scene—which finds one of the novel’s heroes after he single-handedly fended off a group of enemy attackers—contains an apt analogy for the entrepreneurship experience:

With no shooting to do for a little while, Augustus took stock of the situation and decided the worst part of it was that he had no one to talk to. He had been within a minute or two of death, which could not be said to be boring, exactly—but even desperate battle was lacking in something if there was no one to discuss it with. What had made battle interesting over the years was not his opponents but his colleagues. It was fascinating, at least to him, to see how the men he had fought with most often reacted to the stimulus of attack.

Admittedly, the analogy between entrepreneurship and ‘going into battle’ is somewhat cliché, but this passage digs a little deeper than the simple analogy. Entrepreneurship is so much easier when you have a business partner to talk to about the emotional rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship. I am grateful that my business partner, Lauryn, is right beside me on that rollercoaster. Though, I’m not sure which one of us would be Gus and which would be Call.

Thoughts from a Non-Self-Loathing MBA

Downplaying the value of an MBA—both the degree itself and the degree-holder—is a common topic in the startup world. I will not jump on that bandwagon because that would suggest that I regret getting my MBA.

I have absolutely no regrets getting my MBA (though my student loan payments can be painful tests of that attitude each month).

My Experience

I did a 5-year combined BA/MBA with the goal of getting a job on Wall Street. The program was a great opportunity for me, because I was more than halfway through completing my major in History when I realized I wanted to go into finance—not whatever you go into with a history degree. If I had switched majors to finance so late in the game, I would have put myself on the 5-6 year track for just a BA. Instead, the combined MBA program allowed me to stick with and finish my BA in history (in 3 years)—then go directly into a full-time 2-year MBA.

It was during my MBA entrepreneurship class four years ago that I stumbled across AVC and Feld Thoughts, two blogs that ended up being my gateway drugs for startup addiction. From then on, I knew I would not be seeking a job on Wall Street, but that I would find other gigs that would prepare me for taking the leap into entrepreneurship. (It’s not that Wall Street does not prepare you for entrepreneurship, but that I was no longer interested in going the Wall Street route at all).

In short, if it weren’t for my MBA, it’s possible that I would not have stumbled across the blogs from which I caught the startup bug. Because of that and the great friends I added to my network, I can’t possibly regret getting my MBA.

Would I recommend getting an MBA?

If you’re the career-type, then I’d say yes. My MBA would have prepared me pretty well to be a good corporate employee and eventually a manager in either finance or marketing. And again, the network you get from your cohort is perhaps the most valuable thing about an MBA.

If you’ve already caught the startup bug, I would not recommend getting an MBA for these reasons:

1)   The time commitment – Most MBA programs take two years or more. In two years, you could learn an incredible amount by starting a business of your own, failing, learning from your mistakes, and starting another business. (Not that failing should be a goal, just that you would have time for all that to happen in the time you got an MBA.)

2)   The financial commitment – MBA programs are expensive. Things would be a little easier for me without my monthly student loan repayments. I would rather be investing that money in my startup.

3)   MBA programs can be very old-school – I was disappointed that my MBA classes had almost no mention of anything tech-related. No mention of online CPCs in marketing class. No mention of lean startup principles in entrepreneurship class (granted, it was slightly before the Lean Startup movement came about). No mention of the mobile web in strategy class. Given that this whole Internet thing is so obviously here to stay, I would have appreciated some acknowledgement of it in class. Hopefully things have improved in the time since my MBA, but—since MBA curricula seem to be slow-moving—I wouldn’t be surprised if most programs are still analog.

If you have already started an MBA program and have the tech startup bug, all is not lost. Just start a business during the program and work on it in your free time.

Again, I have no regrets about getting my MBA. It was a crucial part of a string of events that got me to where I am today: happy.

Songs that are meaningful for entrepreneurs, part 2: Spoon’s “The Underdog”

I don’t know much at all about Spoon or what their inspiration was for writing ‘The Underdog’, but whenever the song plays in my iTunes library, I think of The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. If books had a soundtrack, ‘The Underdog’ would definitely be on it.

The catchy song acts as a warning for a stodgy incumbant / market leader / favorite that they will eventually fall to an underdog. Similarly, The Innovator’s Dilemma points out that market leading companies begin to focus too much on the current needs of existing customers rather than on their future, unstated needs. This failure to innovate becomes the company’s downfall when disruptive technologies emerge from upstart competitors.

Here are some lyrics for the song, which could have easily come out of the book:

But you won’t hear from the messenger
Don’t wanna know ’bout something that you don’t understand
You got no fear of the underdog
That’s why you will not survive, right!

And the video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7v0KCoPMTdU]