Now as a requirement for change

Whenever I want to make a change in my life, I always pause and reflect on it. If I’m still thinking about it days ( or weeks ) later, chances are it’s a worthwhile change.

I meet a lot of people who want to make similar changes to their lives, but they focus so intently on the now part. They want to start a company doing X now, they want to lose a ton of weight now, they want to read a certain book now.

Now, now, now.

The focus on now is a dangerous one. It implies that there’s a expiration date on whatever you’re doing and if you don’t act quick, it’s going to be gone.

If it’s a business worth building, it will be worth it tomorrow. If it’s a relationship worth having, it’s going to be worth it tomorrow. If it’s something worth purchasing, it will be worth it tomorrow.

Layover Companies

What if I told you that you’re stupid for for investing in mutual funds? In a savings account? In CDs, bonds or TIPS?

What if I told you that the true path to financial success and freedom is the lotto?

The lotto.

Fuck 4-8% return every year, you’re a man. You want the big money. You want the thrill of risking everything on the long shot. Pulling out the win against all odds.

So what if the odds are stacked against you? Real men take them on and spit in their eye. And yeah, you’ll spend more money chasing the pot of gold than if you went the safe route, but you’re not in it for nickels and dimes. You want folding money. You wanna make it rain.

This is, of course, stupid. No one would ever tell you the path to financial independence & freedom is the lotto. Yet, every day hundreds of entrepreneurs are being given this same advice. Except it’s not “go for the lotto”, it’s “avoid creating a lifestyle company”.

A lifestyle company?

Around the tech startup / entrepreneurial community, it’s a backhanded label. It means that you have no interest in your company “popping”, hockey stick growth or any number of other bs euphemisms for striking it rich. You’re not thinking about your exit strategy. You’re not worried about how to get to a billion in revenue. You’re not in it be the man or to change to world. You just want to run your own company. As long as it pays your salary, you’re happy. “That’s a cute hobby” they’ll say.

A hobby

In reality, it’s a pat on the head and a “wait over there while the real men talk.” You’re not in Business (with a capital B), you’re in business (little b). It means you’re not playing the game. You’re content to dink and dunk your way to success using singles rather step up, grab your crotch, wink at the prom queen and take your swing, hoping for a home run. Like a man. LIKE A BOSS.

Except it’s still a lotto ticket. The difference is perception. It’s ok to fail at your moonshot company because everybody does! 9 out of 10 startups fail after all! Sitting around with the other lotto ticket holders, knocking back a few, talking about how tough a company is to run is the norm. Everyone’s dream, after all, is to start the company, blow it up and get out after 3 or 4 years. Next!

3-4 years? I’ve never understood having an expiration date on a company. Yet, for a lot of entrepreneurs, they do just that. The message is clear: I’m here for the time being until I can get out and get to where I really want to go. ( Most likely, it’s a beach & umbrella drinks. The standard founder destination. )

Again: I’m here for the time being until I can get out and get to where I really want to go.

What’s that sound like to you? To me it’s a layover in an airport. So from now on, that’s what I’m calling these companies.

Layover Companies

Sure, just pay me then.

Brad Feld on implied suspicion vs. implied trust:

Entrepreneur: Following is an email describing my idea. Since you won’t sign an NDA, you agree that by reading beyond this paragraph you are agreeing not to share my idea with anyone, forward this email to anyone, or discuss the idea without my consent.

Me: I have not read past the end of the first paragraph (“”). I have permanently deleted this email from my inbox.

Entrepreneur: Why aren’t you willing to read my email?

Me: I’m unwilling to have an implied NDA applied to me via your email. You seem to be operating from a perspective of “implied suspicion.” I don’t work this way – I much prefer to operate from a perspective of “implied trust.” Since you clearly don’t trust that I’ll behave responsibly, then I don’t think I’m a good match for working with you.

Amen. Almost every single person I meet with wants me to sign an NDA. I either give them a flat out ‘No’ or I tell them they’re going to be paying for my time. The latter usually draws scoffs. However, if what you’re telling me is so critical to your company that you need an NDA to protect it, then my expertise is coming into play and I should be paid for that. Simple as that. Wanting to get an NDA to protect yourself, but not pay me just says that you want free consulting and don’t respect my time.

If you want to meet with me and discuss things, please don’t think that you’re doing me a favor. I’ll respect your time if you respect mine.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Pre-Snap Read on Virginia Techs recent success:

Step one: play good defense. Step two: don’t turn the ball over. Step three: run the ball effectively. Step four: dictate the tempo on special teams. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s a simple formula — the Shredded Wheat of football philosophy — yet Virginia Tech is one of only a handful of programs that actually dedicates itself to the simple things, because it’s the simple things that win football games. And win, and win and win, to the tune of seven straight double-digit win seasons, three B.C.S. bowls since 2007 and annual national title contention. If it’s so simple, why can’t others do the same? There’s your big question, and I don’t have an answer. But coaches across the land, at all levels, would be wise to pop in a tape of Virginia Tech at work to see how it’s done. Few, if any, do the little things better.

I think the parallels to Apple here are apparent. Apple, just like Virgina Tech, does something so basic, so fundamental, that it’s a wonder why more companies simply don’t copy it. But therein lies the rub: never confuse simple with easy. Doing the things Apple does isn’t easy. Just like Va Tech’s persona, it requires motivation, dedication and the patience to see things through, despite naysayers. Not things are abundant in today’s society.

Most successful people, companies and teams understand this. That’s why simple, effective strategies are looked upon with some awe & mystery. They’re dismissed with a hand wave and blamed on something else ( luck, a certain person, whatever ) that other people don’t have. A nice excuse for why some people shine and over achieve and others falter.

It’s why the old dismissive of “If it’s so obvious, why doesn’t everyone else do it?” can be answered with “Because it’s hard.” People think radical, successful ideas need to be complex if they don’t understand them or can’t reproduce them. That’s because it’s a nice place to lay the blame on when things do work out.

As we’ve seen time and time again with companies, personal finance and, yes, even sports, dedication to a simple idea can reap incredibly huge rewards. After all, “The harder I work, the luckier I get” has never been more true.

“The Money”

In mid-2000, I was part of a consulting company (Bauhaus Technologies) in Chicago that was bought by BEA Systems. BEA was the main competitor to IBM during the Java heyday. The people at Bauhaus were considered experts with their app server stack (ha…EJBs), so they decided to make Bauhaus their midwest professional services wing.

Early on during the on boarding process, we had a call with the whole company, where the CEO at the time (Bill Coleman, or the ‘B’ in BEA) took questions from employees. The only one that stuck with me after all these years was this one:

Random BEA Employee: Bill, when are we going to go after IBM in public? I mean, their ads are everywhere. Hell, even my grandmother knows who IBM is, but doesn’t know BEA.

Bill Coleman: When your grandmother can write a $1.5+ million check for Java middleware, we’ll worry about advertising to her. Next question?

BOOM.

Slightly pompous delivery aside, Bill had a great point about business and who you should spend your time selling to. If you’re not talking to people who can write the check, you’re not talking to anyone.

I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs who are having good talks with this person or that person. Always claiming to be one-hop away from “the money”. I’m not sure these founders realize those people are there PRECISELY to keep them away from “the money”. “The money” is busy. They have stuff to do. If they talked to every single person claiming to solve all of their problems with their product, they’d cease to be “the money”.

Of all the things at the start of your entrepreneurial journey, learn one phrase: budgetary approval. Those who have it are your true customers. Find them, woo them, sell them. Everyone else you meet are, buffers meant to keep you spinning your wheels.

The Earliest Encounter With Racism I Can Remember

warning: this post contains profanity and offensive language. act accordingly.

During the 80’s I was into metal / rock bands. Metallica, Def Leopard, Montley Creu and the like. As I became a teenager, I got more into rap music. The early 90’s was a golden era for rap, with Dr Dre, the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, 2Pac and more all dropping their 1st or 2nd albums within 1-2 years of each other. In parallel, grunge music was washing over the country like a wave. Bringing this subculture into the mainstream were bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and, of course, Nirvana. I had groups of friends who were into rap and groups that were into grunge, but very few into both. These being the two dominant music scenes in the country at the time, if you were of a certain age, you mostly found yourself identifying with one or the other. I was decidedly in the rap camp, but I respected most of the grunge music I heard and owned a few cds.

As many know, yesterday was the anniversary of Kurt Cobains suicide. You didn’t need to be a devoted fan of Nirvana to understand the impact this event had on the youth in this country. Here was a famous, well liked and talented musician leading the musical charge for a musical revolution and the generation it represented. Throngs of youths idolized him and he was one of the biggest icons of an entire generation. He had given a voice to a lot of disenfranchised youth struggling to find their place in a post-Reagan world.

And like that, poof, he was gone.

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It was especially shocking because it was the first time people my age felt a real sense of loss outside of their personal lives. In fact, for many people, it was like losing a family member despite never even meeting him. The closest comparison I can come to for my parents is when JFK was shot. It’s not so much a sense of sadness, but a yearning for what could have been had they lived and the hope they represented.

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When I arrived at school the first day after the news broke, his death was THE topic of discussion. I distinctly remember a malaise surrounding everyone. When we all finally got together for lunch and were able to talk about things, I heard someone, whom I thought was a friend, say the strangest thing when I asked about the suicide:

It wasn’t a suicide. My dad says it was a bunch of black guys who killed him & made it look like one. I be all you wiggers couldn’t be happier.

record screeching…. Wait, what?

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here’s someone I thought was my friend, a guy like me, and he’s not only spouting off about his racist dad but simultaneously trying to denigrate me. As a kid of 13, I was really confused. That was first blatantly racist thing I’d heard anyone say around me, even without the second sentence. Even back then, I was happy-go-lucky and inclusive of everyone & everything, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe I was naive, but that’s ok. Unfortunately, others didn’t share my empathy and sense of inclusion. That’s when I learned a hard lesson: you can be as nice and inclusive to people as you want, but don’t assume the same in return. Needless to say, me and this guy didn’t hang out after that.

That’s why every year when his anniversary comes up and gets a lot of press, I don’t just think of the day a generation lost a idol. I think of the day that I realized there are some shitty, angry people in this world and no matter how I treat them, it’s not guaranteed to affect how they treat me. It’s a cruel lesson to learn. In the end, however, it makes me strive to devote my time & energy on people that enrich my life.

Building A Community In Chicago

My first guest post is up over at Technori. I chose to write about my father, community building and the consummate entrepreneurial skill: listening.

For those unaware, Technori is a fantastic new source of information about Chicago & its entrepreneurs. Started by uber-mench Seth Kravitz, of InsuranceAgents.com fame, it celebrates both the technical and the non-technical successes here in Chicago, both large and small. Seriously, check it out.