Billions with the Next Google!

27 02 2008

Being unreasonable can set yourself up for failure, quite frankly a very hard fall. I’ll take the extreme example of aspiring to be a billionaire technology tycoon:

  1. In 2007, Forbes counts 946 billionaires in a world . Anyone who remotely thinks a billion dollar net worth is anywhere near trivial is delusional.
  2. Low expectations are the secret to happiness. So is a sense of security. These are two traits that 60 minutes found in Denmark, the happiest place on earth. But they are quick to point out that is not equivalent to a lack of ambition.
  3. As David writes on the 37Signals blog, the next is never the same as its predecessor – that’s why it’s NEXT!

But presumably- if you’re even thinking about billions or building the next Google, you derive a sense of happiness for accomplishment, making a difference and success. So what’s with the aspiration to lofty status symbols of a billion dollars or the “next Google” then?

Ambition is commendable. Max Levchin is well known around the Valley for saying he would not be happy with an exit for Slide below $1.65 billion. Max’s lifestyle does not remind you of a greedy capitalist, rather a fierce competitor.

When I think of aspiring actors, I always believe that you should only follow that vocation if you would still do it if you didn’t get paid for it. In the duality of Hollywood, this attitude always pumps out the most inspired work.

Oprah has said that she is not a goal setter. She just gets up every day and does what she does. I’m a fan of her attitude.

Is it any surprise that some of the unhappiest people in the world are also the richest?

Rome was not built in a day. But if you’re following your passions day in, day out and one day a billion dollar opportunity comes within your sights, certainly you should go for it. When anyone says they aspire and will work endlessly towards greatness and love every minute of it, but will not be unhappy without hitting arbitrary goalposts are on the right track to happiness and greatness in my mind.


GenieTown: Devilish on the Details?

20 02 2008

GenieTown launches today, just like CitySearch, Yelp and Craigslist before it for local services such as plumbers, electricians and other such service providers. The initial piece on TechCrunch signals two details that might help and hinder this business.

Michael Arrington points out that the Q&A section is the best part of the strategy. From what I can tell, there’s also a provision to provide guides and articles. In the Squidoo way, this will prove to be a great move from SEO, traffic generation standpoint.

What local, SMB targeted startups have in common is the chicken and egg, critical mass problem. Furthermore, locally targeted businesses always have trouble signing up SMBs to varying degrees. The ability to creatively and effectively sign up businesses and customers provides the most important differentiation.

Commenter #2 Dito writes:

    It doesn’t allow you to link back to your company’s website. worthless.

Like many of the local, long tail startups, it’s not immediately useful enough to start. This exacerbates the chicken and egg problem.  Similarly, you might not like the dismissal offered in the above comment but it’s correct by and large in that one-liner way.

I like the overall concept, but there are some things I’d do differently. And it’s interesting to watch how other startups hop into a somewhat similar sandbox as we’ll be entering.

Blurring of an Entrepreneur

19 02 2008

I’m reading Muhammed Yunus’ book about Creating a World Without Poverty. Astounding, inspiring stuff regarding Yunus’ work.

A common thread in Yunus’ work with Grameen is the belief that entrepreneurial energy exists in every human being. By no means is this is a dismissal of the traditional job, rather it’s a hopeful message that every human being has that creative energy within. It only needs to be unlocked properly. The sheer number of success stories of lifting people out of poverty shows that Yunus might possibly, just possibly onto something here. It’s no accident.

In the developing world, this generally takes the shape of having no other choice than having to find some way to make enough money to feed, clothe and shelter you and your family. Visit a developing country, flea market, or even Chinatown in the US and you’ll see this energy at work.

In the US and Silicon Valley too, some great innovations came from “filling the time” – a luxury only borne of developed nations, but analogous nonetheless. Six Apart is probably the best known company that was borne of two programmers with nothing better to do, laid off from the dotcom bust.

So if the poorest of the poor, the most desolate of desolate can be entrepreneurial… why do we still think that entrepreneurs are born with the special gift?

Just stop for a second and think: is this crown prince theory just an excuse? Yes, I think it is. I believe in natural talent just as much as the next guy. But in today’s day and age, I do believe that if you don’t unlock your entrepreneurial talent, you’re wasting something.

Being a traditional “risk it all” entrepreneur is wrought with stress and horror, it bears repeating that I’m not sure it’s always the smartest route. I don’t really advocate this route with much passion.

Big companies can do a lot to act entrepreneurial. The best do this simply by removing the unnecessary constraints, while keeping the necessary constraints. Now you are part of a smart, resource-heavy organization. Sometimes working within the system can be the best, smartest option.

I do advocate a more general entrepreneurial spirit. The system or someone isn’t allowing you to do what you want and know in your heart is possible: screw the system, do it yourself. That’s what it’s about.

Yunus writes of social businesses, those removed of the profit motive able to utilize the efficiencies of the capitalist system. Competition breeds innovation – and the production of something better. Capitalism is a beautiful system, and all these thought leaders are continuing to make it better.

Not having a boss is an asinine benefit of entrepreneurship. You answer to someone always. Being able to unlock your creative energy without unproductive, arbitrary constraints is the best gift of entrepreneurship. That’s the base joy of it.

Every day, I’m on the look out for entrepreneurial types that I may work with in the future. For the really smart guys, you’ve got a lot of choices: start your own company, work for other smart people, academia. I think that’s a great thing. But if you’re an “entrepreneurial type” and want to work with others on the same mission, you’ll know the best way to find me and I hope you do ;-).

Silicon Valley vs. Everywhere Else

15 02 2008

There’s a spirited discussion over at TechCrunch over Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman’s perspective on Seattle versus Silicon Valley. There’s 116 comments (one from me) as of now, far more than standard startup news. I’m not the only one thinking about this stuff!

Tradeoffs make you really evaluate what you want. For a long time, I’ve wanted it all but having to choose makes you evaluate what you find most important. The point of Glenn Kelman’s point was not as much for lifestyle. Glenn’s rebuttal also concedes that Silicon Valley is better for startups. Rather, he makes the argument in areas where Seattle or non-Valley locations are superior for startups. If you (and thereby, your company) value a homier atmosphere, then maybe the big game is not where you want to be. You don’t always play in the big game to win big. The corollary is that the big game is also how you lose big. An “at all costs” mentality can be dangerous, but it’s also what drives the innovation.

I also lived in both Seattle and San Francisco, and I do prefer all that the Bay Area has to offer: tech scene or not. But that’s just me: I don’t like hiking that much.

Macbook Pro + Broadband Access + Bluetooth = Awesome

13 02 2008

I finally got my Verizon Broadband Access from my Treo 700wx to tether to my MacBook Pro through Bluetooth – no wires! Of course, this is a nasty combination Windows Mobile to Mac with Bluetooth (and I’m still hopeful that 3G iPhone is coming soon). Verizon support said it couldn’t be done!

Practical hint, combed from Apple support forums: connect using Spring PCS vision and set Dial Mode as “Ignore dial tone when dialing”. Keep trying to connect if you don’t connect at first try (or first 10 tries).

Yeah, the connection really isn’t that fast and I’ve always had this through a PC card previously, but being able to only carry my cell phone (which is attached to my hip) and laptop to work anywhere is pretty awesome.

This wasn’t quick to set up – and I do get frustrated when things that should work don’t. And bringing it back to wider realizations: blanket WiFi may stall, but carrying your own connectivity that can be used on numerous devices may yet carry long-term implications. Once the seamless experience improves of course.

Accidental Innovator – Evan Williams

12 02 2008

There’s a great writeup on Evan Williams, a model example of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship and innovation, in The Economist.

Surprisingly, the article hits the nail on the head when analyzing what makes Silicon Valley great: right-brain innovation.

People sometimes tend to think that innovation is this intellectual, organized process. And to some extent it can be. But even Williams got somewhat frustrated with Google, after they acquired his first success Blogger, and their analytical approach towards systematically solving problems.

When in fact as with Williams, it often starts with frustration, going down a path, but then losing yourself along that path. As Williams puts it: “We have an itch that we scratch,” he says, “and that becomes the thing.”

Getting lost is something central to what the spirit of the Valley is.

You’ve got one shot! Not!

7 02 2008

Three common Silicon Valley entrepreneur viewpoints:

Viewpoint #1: You’re young. The downside is low, typically 1-2 years in forgone salary and just your time if you’re moonlighting. You get great experience that can even enhance your resume of consulting, McKinsey, investment banking, finance, and business school with “in the trenches” experience.

[I owe it to myself to try, but corporate life is my backup especially once I get a family and other obligations.]

Viewpoint #2: I’m in love with working for myself. I’ll do whatever it takes to work in my pajamas: freelance gigs, affiliate marketing, Facebook apps, blogging. I understand that compensation may be lower, but lifestyle and freedom are worth quite a bit.

[I’m in love with this lifestyle. Sure I want to make it big, but I’d be happy even if I didn’t.]

Viewpoint #3: I’m learning and growing along the way. I may jump between gigs at startups to learn the ropes from people who’ve done it successfully before, banking/finance/VC jobs to get exposure to big transactions and connections, and doing my own startups.

[I want to learn this process and master everything about it. Entrepreneurship is romanticized. There’s nothing inherently different between your own startup and someone else’s. All that matters is success.]

I’m simplifying the picture, but you’d be surprised how many people fit into these broad strokes.

You’ve got to have the skills to posit reasonable hypotheses. But you also have to realize that rarely is one shot enough. Give yourself enough chances to fail to get to success. Look at the every process scientifically: one failed direction means you’re closer to the correct direction. One failed marketing campaign means one campaign closer to the right.

Test, measure, adjust. Test, measure, adjust. Ian Ayres writes about this extensively in Super Crunchers. The most effective methods will combine informed hypotheses and intuition (the universe is too big to test everything) with systematic testing and measurement.

Speed means a lot because you get a lot more cycles in (1 to 2 years may be one shot for some, ten to twenty for others!). You’ve got one shot… not!

(I don’t always take this advice, but I resolve to always try to.)