And So Forth

Sorry about the neglect, blog. I just haven’t been feeling profound enough I suppose. The idea orgy that typified the first month of business is over, and has been replaced with the part of the rollercoaster where you get hooked by the chain that pulls up up up toward the top of the coaster. Each of the clinks that you’d hear on the way to the top is one more piece that gets put together. But face it: when people talk about their favorite roller coaster, the trip up that first precipice is an oft-neglected component of their story.

That certainly isn’t to say that it isn’t fun and fascinating to look over the side at how high up we already are. In the last couple weeks, I’ve continued building information and partners, to the net effect that real live development should be getting underway in the next two weeks. We’re now three developers strong, and I can honestly say that if we were on the playground and I had the first three picks of whoever I’d want to be helping, I got ’em all three. Not only good for the project, but good for the developers themselves, because if there’s one thing that my day job has taught me, its that programming enters a whole new dimension of fun when you get to work with great people who can amaze on a daily basis. And if there’s one other thing my day job has taught me, it’s that the opportunities to work with people like that can be few and far between in the real world.

Wheeee!

Kill the Gorilla

I went to see Sujal Patel give an intriguing talk on “Introducing Disruptive Technologies into Mature Markets” this Friday. Listed as starting at 6:30 (it actually started at 8, but that’s a different story), my expectations were high as I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30, after a mockingly short 5 hours rest. It didn’t disappoint.

In brief, his three keys to dethroning your gorilla:

1) Possessing a “disruptive technology.” According to Patel, for a new product to make a dent in an existing marketplace, it must be at least 10x better than similar existing offerings. Not twice as good, not five times as good. The logic behind this is that a product anything less than 10x better will not be able to cross the chasm into the early majority, because all breeds of majority adopters (early, middle and late stage) are compelled to adopt only when a product is so overwhelming better that it justifies the investment of time to learn it. This matches my intuitive perception of user adoption patterns — I’m certainly unlikely to adopt something new unless I can clearly see high benefit and low risk (i.e., of the new technology disappearing) to doing so.

2. Tenacity. Though this one is somewhat obvious, the depth to which it is necessary is something that new or non- entrepreneurs may not understand. Patel gave the example of spending literally three months in VC meetings for “all but two days. ” In many of those meetings, he was assured that his idea “was like so-and-so’s idea,” but worse. Other challenges in his case involved convincing VCs that two late 20-somethings, who knew almost nothing about storage, could build a successful storage company amongst a landscape of almost 100 competitors. An illuminating example that he didn’t give was that, as he lectured us, his company had dropped in value almost 22% in the last couple months on news of poor fourth-quarter earnings. Nevertheless, he had to show up, organize an hour-long show, and preach the perfection of his company’s execution. Guts.

3. Partners=results. If there is a single, overarching requirement for success, it is surrounding yourself with the absolute best people that exist. He specifically mentioned the need to find “high ceiling” people who have separated themselves from their peers. When asked in the Q&A session why he’d failed to mention “adaptability” as one of the core needs of a new business, Patel responded that “adaptability” is really a function of who you have. Do you have partners that hear the needs of the business and work together effectively to ensure those needs are met? If so, adaptability is already assured.

Overall, it was an extremely relevant topic for me. Thinking about the features of the site that are truly 10x better than their alternatives helps to focus on the core of the business model. And the need to partner was one that I had already understood, but Patel’s commitment to not compromising on a less-than-ideal partner certainly resonates, as my search for able accomplices extends into weeks from what I’d hoped would be days.

Consulting

I had my second visit with business consultant Karrie Kohlhaas yesterday, and continued hammering out the most effective way to spend my time. Karrie is one of the first bona fide business-minded people I have had the opportunity to sit down with over a meaningful length of time, and as such, it has been a very intruiging process to watch her work.

As far as I can tell, a good business consultant is part entrepreneur, part investor, part psychologist, part buddy, and part client. It can be hard to toe so many areas. Take yesterday’s meeting. Karrie sees the research I have done on trying to determine the different target groups for the site. She sees that one of the groups is collectors, and that I have written that I believe that collectors are motivated by having a community of like-minded collectors. At this, she squints her eyes slightly, and in a split second I witness her thought process dart through a sequence something like “Real sellers don’t care about community” to “Though I suppose what that really means is its hard to say what these groups want,” at which point she’ll say something like “Hmm, that’s interesting. Community.” Because one of your roles is client, and the customer is going to get the benefit of the doubt when there is potential doubt.

This is surely the most difficult set of balls to juggle as a consultant, because on one hand you need to use your expertise to tell your client that you disagree, but on the other hand you need to instill confidence that leads your client to believe in themselves and become more productive. And though this is not altogether dissimilar from an employee telling their boss that the blink tags proliferating the new company web site sort of clash with the progress mankind has made in the last 10 years, it is different, because A) your boss isn’t paying you to tell him he’s wrong B) you’ve known your boss longer than 10 minutes C) you aren’t charging your boss $125 an hour and thus D) time is less of the essence. It’s extremely complex, and yet paradoxically, the complexities add up to the result that conversation has to move faster.

Analysis of the peculiarities aside, finding a good consultant can definitely be an extremely productive experience, especially if, like me, you’re new. Karrie’s part entrepreneur has helped me come up with catchy ways to think about and describe my business. The part investor has helped me be extremely needs-met-centric in my consideration of the site’s success. The part psychologist has made more observations on my nature in three hours time than many of my friends have tried in three years time. Part buddy chatted with me about how the body will steal back sleep cycles during the day if you don’t let it sleep proper. And part client wraps up all of the above in as rosy a container as can be expediently created.

I’m sure your mileage may vary by consultant. I picked Karrie by her prickly (in a good way), unorthodox profile on Biznik, which, in a nutshell, reminded me of me. Now that I’ve visited a couple times, I’ve been most impressed by her focus and follow up. This is a topic that I may revisit in a future blog once I have more data for comparison points. It can certainly go a long way toward helping one escape their own mind.

Inertia

I had an interesting talk with an intelligent young man this evening, and it got me to thinking about an entrepreneurial question that runs right past mere entrepreneurship, and straight into the human condition. That question is: “Why aren’t people more productive?” Or, as my brain construes it: “Why do so many people watch TV five nights a week?”

The cynics will tell you it’s because we’re lazy and brainwashed. The idealists will say it is to relax and to understand the world we live in. The intelligent young man (who also had a name, “Ben”) said it’s because people will take the path of least resistance to personal satisfaction. I say “dunno.” I think Ben might be thinking along the right track, because the act of turning on television/turning off brain is easy easy enough to initiate, and it’s interesting for the first few minutes. But after those five glorious minutes of watching the contestant pick random briefcases in search of $1,000,000, the question re-surfaces: “Why aren’t people more productive?”

My best guess is that the watcher has failed to discover what it is that they’re really interested in. Because once you know what you love doing, you have an option that both passes time and prevents brain decay.

It’s not hard to see how this relates back to entrepreneurship. I consider myself a ridiculously lucky human to have been given a consciousness that innately craves challenges and is action-oriented. I enjoy thinking up and organizing ideas the same way that others enjoy stamp collecting, gossiping, or theatre. But despite the feelings of well-being that I bask in every time I tackle a new entrepreneurial challenge, it still takes some time to climb up the stairs before I get to sled down that hill. TV is the other way around. When you first turn it on, there is ramp-up pleasure to be derived, but after the brief fun, your brain turns off and an hour later you suddenly wake up feeling dirty.

I know that entrepreneurs aren’t always so hot with math, so I’ll work this one out for you. One hour of spare time + TV = 5 minutes fun, 55 minutes flub. One hour of spare time + hobby = 5 minutes pain, 55 minutes passion. I will not work out how those numbers extrapolate to an entire evening, because if you’re the TV watcher it would probably hurt your feelings. Suffice to say,

Harding: 1. America’s Favorite Past Time: 0. Booyah.