Want to get a job at a Seattle startup? Here’s how!

I just learned that our good friend and legendary startup advocate Andy Sack just launched a very cool new program to Codefellowsgrow the pool of startup dev talent in Seattle. I suspect that the lucky folks who participate are going to have crazy-good job opportunities making serious bank — and many of them will find themselves in the right place at the right time and ride a killer startup to a life changing exit (although I don’t think the program guarantees that 😉 Here’s some deets on the program:

———————
Calling all awesome engineers looking for a job they love at a startup in Seattle! Code Fellows has a lined up a great set of local startups for you to meet on Jan. 16. Plus, SEOMoz CEO Rand Fishkin is giving a talk about awesome company cultures.

WHAT IS IT?
A seminar and mixer about startup jobs in Seattle. Keynote by Rand Fishkin followed by a round-table of CTOs. Open mixer with local startups. And beer. Good beer!
Limited space, register soon at http://getawesome.eventbrite.com/
** This week only, use code “GETAWESOME” to attend event for free**

WHO SHOULD COME?
Engineers and designers interested in getting a job at a startup.
If you’re not sure that your tech skills are polished enough, take a look at Code Fellows. They run 4-week bootcamps that teach fundamental technical skills.

Recruiters and Service Providers not welcome.

For more info please visit: http://codefellows.org/getawesome

Register for the event HERE.


Startup Grind comes to Seattle

Thanks to Red Russak of Startup Seattle for connecting me with Startup Grind, a new meetup that’s already hit the startup scene in a dozen other cities.  Guess they wanted to work out the kinks in some of the lesser startup cities like Silicon Valley, SF and NY before putting it in front of the greatest startup city on planet earth.  🙂  Seriously, though, it looks like a great new offering for Seattle startup entrepreneurs.  Their first Seattle meetup on August 29th at Surf Incubator features an up close and personal chat with Rahul Sood of the Bing Fund — perfect timing!  Hope to see you there.


Why Glenn Kelman is wrong: A defense of networking

[This post was originally published on GeekWire, February 18, 2012.  The original version included a misrepresentation of Neil Patel’s views on networking and was corrected soon after it was published. See the comment thread their for Neil’s response. and to see me lambasted for blowing it.]

First, a big thanks to Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman for stepping up and delivering a thoughtful and illuminating presentation at the recent

Glenn Kelman, inspiring entrepreneur. (Photo by GeekWire)

Startup Conference in Seattle.  I was enlightened, inspired and entertained… and I’m sure the audience of nascent entrepreneurs was as well.

For the record, I don’t know Glenn personally but I’ve bumped into him a couple of times at awards ceremonies and the TechStars offices.  And while I share 17 LinkedIn connections with Glenn, I’m quite certain he’d squint, look at you funny and say “who” if you ever mentioned my name in his presence.

I don’t have a bone to pick with Glenn and I admire his accomplishments.  I’m also not trying to pick a fight… really.

It’s just that Glenn is flat wrong when he told an audience of 300 budding entrepreneurs at The Startup Conference that networking is “a waste of time.” I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  To be fair, he qualified his remarks a bit… but only a tiny bit.  I considered calling him out during the Q&A, but balked.  Time to rectify.

Networking is critical for early-stage entrepreneurs.  If you have the resume, reputation, personal connections and resources that Glenn has, then there are probably more advantageous ways to spend your time.  But if you don’t (and most of you don’t) then listen up — a great deal of the very best things that are going to happen for you and your startup are going to come from the people you know.  So you be better be busy getting to know the right people.

Glenn already knows a ton of the right people… which puts him one phone call away from two tons more.  That’s so awesome for him, and he’s earned every bit of it.  But if you can’t pick up the phone and get a relevant and meaningful introduction into anyone you need to… then head his advice at your peril.

Here’s what I wish Glenn would have said:

“I don’t network much but I don’t need to.  You do.  Here’s a few tips to help you make the most of it, i.e., to keep from wasting your time.”

1) Have a mission:  If you’re out there networking without an idea of who it makes sense for you to meet then that’s not really networking… it’s partying.  Know the kind of people you want to meet and why.  But don’t be a jerk and turn your nose up at anyone who doesn’t fit your profile. Some time the best connections are not obvious at first and serendipity is a powerful force in the startup world (just ask Dan Shapiro.)

In my experience, the best folks for nascent entrepreneurs to meet are other entrepreneurs, thought leaders in their industry and skilled professionals that have an appetite for startups, e.g., engineers and designers.  Investors are good to meet at events too but usually just to get to know them… not to pitch them.  If you don’t have your shit together or your just not very confident about engaging investors then be careful — start with entrepreneurs who are good at engaging investors and learn from them first.

2) Stick your damn hand out:  I was really bad at networking early in my entrepreneurial career.  I very rarely did it and when I did I sucked at it.  If I didn’t know anyone at the event, then I was the guy who’d stand in the corner with a beer in his hand waiting for someone to come up and ask me what I do.  If I knew folks at the event, then I would spend all of my time in comfortable conversation with them.  So stupid!

I had no clue about how to engage folks and I didn’t accomplish much.  Yep, it was just like Glenn: Just about every minute I spent “networking” was indeed a waste of time.  But it’s not because networking per se is a waste of time… it’s because I wasted the opportunity.

What I should have been doing is walking up to folks I didn’t know, introducing myself with a handshake and asking them what they do!  Lesson learned.

3) Be sincere and add value to the conversation: Don’t go on and on about yourself and your startup.  Ask them questions and listen to their answers.  Then try to think of some way to help them.  An article you read… a similar company you just heard about… your perspective as a potential customer… your thoughts about their business model… is there someone you can offer to introduce them to?  If you do this well, they’ll return the favor.  If listening and helping don’t feel like natural behaviors for you then you may have some things to work on besides writing code and tweaking your SEO.

4) Learn how to disengage gracefully:  Everyone you start a conversation with may not be someone you want to continue a conversation with.  If it’s not a good fit, then it’s better for everyone if you figure out a way to politely and respectfully break away and go find the next person to chat with. One tactic that is very useful (and actually good for the person you want to break away from) is to suggest to them that there’s someone else there that it would be good for them to meet.  Keep this in mind while you’re meeting folks… you may just want to connect them with someone later.

5) Quality matters… a lot:  Lots of traditional networking events have a very low signal-to-noise ratio, i.e., there will be a lot of people there whom you’ll want to politely break away from.  This is especially a challenge where events draw a lot of service providers who consider you fresh meat.  Remember, that free beer and food was paid for by someone and they consider it a marketing expense… so be prepared to be marketed to.  When you run into one that you don’t want to spend time with, tell them you like their shoes and move on. They know how the game is played and they won’t hold it against you.  Again… just don’t be a jerk about it.

6) Go do something!  Networking doesn’t just happen at “events.” In fact, the very best networking happens away from networking events.  It happens on the golf course, along a hiking trail, around a poker table, at a ball game, over a cup of coffee.

7) Networking is a worthwhile investment:  Building meaningful relationships with relevant people takes time and effort.  As I said at the outset, a lot (I’d say most) of the really good things that happen for you and your startup are going to come from people you know.  You can’t force it and you can’t rush it but you can get started on it.  Be selective and deliberate and know what you want.  And remember too that a lot of benefits of a strong network will be invisible to you.  When people talk about you when you’re not around, what do they say?  Are they inclined to vouch for you when asked?  Are they likely to refer you to the strongest parts of their network?  Are they going to spot the opportunities to bring you up in conversations that might be relevant to your startup?  Is it hard to imagine that having a strong network is worthwhile?

8) Pay it forward:  If you’re always taking and never giving back, then your network is not as strong as you think.  If you’re seriously hoping to build a terrific company, entice an amazing team, engage high-caliber advisors or raise funding… guess what… they all know each other and before they sign on to you.com they’re likely to ask around.  If you’re just a taker, then I guarantee you that your network is much less likely to pass you on to their network.  So, be a good startup citizen and look for opportunities to help others.  I think you should do this because it’s the right thing to do.  But if you don’t buy all that fuzzy-helpy stuff, then just know that you have a reputation whether you like it or not.


My Personal Startup Weekend

There’s really no such thing as a ‘holiday break’ for a startup founder — we’re “always on”.  But this Holiday Season I found myself clawing at the walls waiting for December to pass so that I could resume fund raising Startup Weekendactivities for MoonTango.  In case you’ve never tried to raise capital from mid-November through December, sufficed to say you’re odds of success are very low and odds of frustration are very high.  You’re better off trying to grow a giant bean stalk from magic beans and seeking to fund your company through the sale of golden eggs.

Feeling very unproductive, I decided to build something.  And as is my wont, I decided to build a company.  But there were conditions.  It had to be something that:

1) was relatively small in scope, so I could finish it before the holidays were over.

2) my team (i.e., me for now) could execute on, including tech and design.

3) was a real solution that could (even if it didn’t actually) get real customers by the time it was launched.

It dawned on me… if you substitute “weekend” for “holidays”, these are all criteria that you’d want to strive for if you were doing a Startup Weekend event.  I was doing my own personal Startup Weekend!  But rather than compressing the time to a weekend I was compressing the time to about 3 1/2 weeks… a few hours here… a few hours there.  I didn’t keep track of the total hours I spent, but wish I would have.  After the fact, I tried to estimate how much time I’d spent and I really don’t think it was much more than the 54 hours that make up a Startup Weekend.

XaffleWhat I built and launched was Xaffle, a virtual raffle system that allows you to launch, manage and enter a raffle/drawing/contest using only SMS text messages.  The inspiration came from a problem I’d experienced at the November Poker 2.0 event.  GeekWire was sponsoring and they wanted to give away a ticket to the GeekWire Gala.  We knew we couldn’t just give the ticket to whoever won the poker tournament because they might not be able to make it that night.

When the time came to pick a winner we decided just to have everyone who wanted the ticket come up and cut cards to see who won.  It was an apropos method to determine a winner, given that we were at a poker event.  But we had to delay the tournament in order have everyone come up… negotiate how to handle the case of a tie, where two people cut the exact same card, or at least the same denomination — “what’s higher… a heart or a spade… anyone remember?”

At that moment, I wished there was a way I could just have everybody send a text message and then pick a random winner.  I had built a little Twilio app for Dealometry a few months prior that just allowed guys to text their email address to subscribe for deal alerts… and several SMS-based reporting tools for MoonTangoTwilio is so easy to use that it took about 30 minutes to get a functioning app up and running and another hour or two of tweaking and it was done.  Someone, I thought, should build a simple raffle app using the Twilio platform.  Turns out that ‘someone’ was me.

Here’s the kicker.   Xaffle is going to debut at Startup Weekend this very weekend!  We’re doing three Xaffle drawings, each demonstrating a different capability of Xaffle.

The first is a trivia question where people text their answer in and the first three correct entries win an autographed copy of Lean Startup by Eric Ries.  Xaffle automatically checks their answer against the “right answer” and picks the winners based on the time that the answer was received.

The second is a voting contest where the entrants all submit their votes and Xaffle automatically tallies the submissions to see which was entered most often.  The question: What is the best drink to celebrate the launch of a startup?

The third is a simple prize drawing.  Participants can enter up to three times and the winners are randomly and automatically picked by Xaffle.  Entrants submit their email addresses and winners will receive a text notification that they’ve won.  By submitting their email address, each entrant is also subscribing to Dealometry.  This is the ‘lead gen’ aspect of Xaffle and in part what makes Xaffle’s business model potentially viable.  Dealometry is donating a pair of cool video camera eyeglasses as the first-place prize and Madrona Capital is donating a couple of nice tote bags for 2nd and 3rd.  Thanks Madrona!

I am a raging fan of Startup Weekend and it’s a delight to launch a product that was inspired by the Startup Weekend process at a Startup Weekend event.

Lucky me.


Don’t Drink (Too Much of) Your Own Kool-Aid

[This article was originally published on GeekWire, June 25, 2011. ]

When we humans believe in something strongly we naturally seek out others who believe similarly. This Kool-Aid drinking tendency applies equally to politics, religion and startups.

Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll tell you what I think about the echo chambers we create around our political and religious beliefs. But I’ll tell you what I think about startup echo chambers right here, right now, for free.

As I’ve written before, passion for an idea can make us blind to the viability of an idea to become a business. As a hedge to our Kool-Aid drinking tendencies, the wise among us seek validation from knowledgeable characters around them.

If you’re not actively doing this then you are failing, day by day. But even if you think you are actively seeking honest, qualified feedback on your idea/market/model, you still may be failing.

Here’s how things often go badly:

When entrepreneurs first begin to look for people for feedback on their idea, they inevitably start with family, friends, colleagues — people who know them and probably like them. So the very earliest third-party validation that lots of entrepreneurs get comes from people who want to support them and encourage them and, frankly, aren’t qualified to add much value (and even when they are qualified) they rarely have a clue about what valuable feedback for a startup looks like.

It’s also the case that many early entrepreneurs don’t know what valuable feedback looks like either. Our natural Kool-Aid drinking tendency will make you want to find the folks who will tell you that your idea is great. (And doesn’t it feel good when you find one!)

Each new friend/family/colleague you talk to pours you that tall, refreshing drink of Kool-Aid that tastes and feels so good. Each time, your assumptions are reinforced, your passion justified — setting them in your mind ever more solidly.

But they aren’t telling you anything you didn’t already believe. Sure, you’ll get some good ideas about useful features you could add or how your model could extend into other industries. But is that really what a newly minted startup needs? No way!

In my humble opinion, what you need to do is seek out qualified people who DON’T like your idea.

–Customers who say they’d never use it or don’t understand it.

–Investors who say they’d never invest in it.

–Industry veterans who know why the same idea failed before.

It may not feel like it right away, but folks like that are gold. Even if you really don’t think they are right, still have the conversation, ask questions, listen closely and drill in everywhere you can.

In academic philosophy, students are taught a very useful technique for proving that a premise is true by assuming first that it’s false.

The technique is called reductio ad absurdum, which means “reduction to absurdity.”

Very basically, if you start from the premise that your claim is false and can show that doing so leads to an absurd conclusion then you must have been right all along.

Applying the technique directly to validating your startup’s assumptions would be a lot of work and probably not the best use of your time. But the main idea of starting from the premise that you’re idea/market/model is not the bread slicer you think it is is a very healthy approach.

But you’re drunk on Kool-Aid and so when you finally do find a qualified critic of your idea you feel like you have the “data” you need to blow them off as “he just doesn’t understand” or “she’s not really in our target customer demographic” or “we’re just not a good fit for their portfolio” or “you can’t please everyone” or “I’m sure I could answer those objections but I just don’t have time to do the research.”

If you find yourself saying things like this very often then you very well could have drunk too much or your own Kool-Aid.

Early on in the ideation process, I’m constantly on the look out for smart critics; and when I find one that’s willing to talk in depth they get my full attention. If you want to feel a rush as an entrepreneur, then try converting someone who initially didn’t like your idea into someone who loves it and wants to work with you on it… or at least no longer hates it and is suddenly interested in joining the beta when it’s ready. Booyah!

So next time you ask someone for feedback and you find that the person really likes your idea, say thank you, smile and nod… and then put the cork back in the Kool-Aid bottle and go find someone who thinks you’re out of your mind and offer to by them coffee.


Think Like a Serial Entrepreneur

[This article was originally published on GeekWire, June 22, 2011. ]

I’m struck by the question of whether, and how, an entrepreneur might act differently if they were mindful that their current startup probably won’t be their last. In other words, chances are you’re likely to continue to be a “serial entrepreneur” whether you like it or not.  This actually might be a good thing to dwell on once in a while. Even if you’re only on your first startup. And even if you’re only just thinking about starting your first one.

So, why not take a moment to consider that you’ll have another startup someday… maybe someday soon?

Whoa, wait a minute, did I just suggest that you may not be working on the next Facebook or Zynga? Is it pessimistic or defeatist to dwell on the thought that your current startup may not be your last? We’re supposed to be eternally optimistic and always be reaching for the brass ring, regardless of what the naysayers tell us, right? I say no.

I’ve long had a penchant for reality-based thinking, influenced by my days as a philosophy grad student where the official department T-shirt slogan was:

“Everything is what it is and not another thing.” — Bishop Joseph Butler, 1692 – 1752

Joseph Butler (Wikipedia image)

How’s that for a hip T-shirt? In any case, you very well may be blessed with the good fortune of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell or Mark Zuckerberg. One and done. You might also win the lottery. I sincerely wish you the best of luck with both.

But if you’re like the rest of us poor slobs who didn’t start NextBigThing.com right out of the gate, then you might consider what it means to be signed up as an entrepreneur, i.e., you may be at this for a while and it may take you a few before you land on your crowning achievement.

So what if, upon reflection, it dawns on you that the startup you’re working on right now won’t be your last? Would that recognition cause you to do anything differently? Mind you, I’m not saying that your startup will be a success or a failure (however YOU measure that for yourself).

After all, lots of folks keep going after their next startup even if they do achieve some success. I’m just saying that lots of entrepreneurs end up doing more than one startup and I’m guessing that most (maybe all) of them didn’t really think much about that when they were starting their first one.

It’s a little like asking a 14-year-old holding their first cigarette whether they realize that they are going to be addicted to nicotine for the rest of their lives, that their clothes are going to constantly reek of smoke and that they are likely to eventually develop very serious health problems as a result. It’s just not part of the thought process when you start smoking. And thinking that you’re gonna have another startup after this one is just not part of the thought process for an entrepreneur.

But having a clear understanding that your current startup probably isn’t your last is actually a really positive thing.

For example, I recently met a really smart, aspiring first-time entrepreneur who (in my opinion) was stuck pursuing a problem and a market that would be very hard to create a sustainable business around.

We talked about it at length several times and I really tried to imagine a possible path that would lead to him ending up with what he wanted: Namely a business that could (eventually) make money for him, his team, his family and possibly for investors.

I’m pretty flexible and creative in how I think about problems and markets. But I just couldn’t get this one to fly — even in imaginary flight.

The idea he had was interesting. It was fun. It was even useful. And building the product was well within his team’s reach. But what then?

No matter how we ran the scenarios and crunched the numbers, it was going to require a lot of really hard things to go really, really well and then even if they did (which they just never do) the result at the end of all that just wasn’t likely to get him what he wanted.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was telling him that. I was, however, the only one suggesting that he consider himself a serial entrepreneur, even though this was his first one. What this did was create the possibility of a conversation about opportunity costs for an entrepreneur who doggedly sticks to an idea that no one is telling him has a decent chance to succeed.

Once he grasped that this was only his first startup and that there would almost certainly be the next one and the next one, then he could begin to take a more objective and critical view of his project.

The realization that his current startup didn’t have to be his last (and probably wouldn’t be anyhow) allowed him to take a more-objective perspective on what he was doing. It also opened him up to considering what might be next. Like lots of entrepreneurs, he had a handful of other ideas that he had been wanting to explore but couldn’t act on them because he was bound up in the current idea.

When we started the conversation, he was struggling figure out how to make his startup work and wasn’t sure himself whether there would ever be a sustainable business even if he did figure it out. But he just wasn’t ready to let it go.

By the end of the conversation, there was a shift of tone to genuine hope and possibility, even excitement.

Am I really saying you should sometimes give up? Admit defeat? Be a quitter? Yeah, I guess I am.

But it’s not a negative thing. Your startup “is what it is and not another thing.”

If you’ve looked out into your future and you cannot see a path that ends up somewhere you think you’d want to be, and if none of the other smart, qualified people you trust can see a path either, then it may just be the case that your working on one of those startups that teaches you some really valuable lessons and adds to your credibility as a “seasoned serial entrepreneur.”

As someone who’s stared that beast in the face a few times, I know it’s not easy. But the alternatives can be worse.

So what do you think?


Startups and Free Will Have Something in Common…

Believing your startup will be a big success is a little like believing you have free will… you can’t help but believe it, even feel it, but deeper consideration suggests there are lots of reasons to be suspicious.


Thanks Dad

I haven’t thought about my entrepreneurial roots in long time but this Fathers Day, in the midst of launching a new startup, I can’t help but think about all the entrepreneurial lessons that I learned from my dad.  Throughout my life, my dad was (and still is) very entrepreneurial.  My mom was right along side him the whole way and was an entrepreneur in her own right as well; but dad was the instigator.

As far back as I can remember, my brother, my sister and I worked in the family businesses.  Yes, that’s plural, business-es.  Through very high highs and very low lows, my dad took us all on an entrepreneurial adventure… from rabbit farming, to garment making, to retail, wood product manufacturing, to furniture making… and a bunch of stuff in between.  One year we’d be in the poor house… the next year we’d buy a new house and a new car right off the lot — with cash!  Throughout the years, we’d move through these cycles again and again.

The experiences gained and lessons learned along the way were formative and invaluable to me — from the importance of family and the basics of accounting, to operating a chop saw and optimizing manufacturing processes.  If dad was a banker or a fireman or a foundry worker I would have learned other things that I would hold dear… but you dance with who brought you and for me that means the lessons of business.

My first job was feeding the rabbits at B&G Rabbitry, our family’s small commercial rabbit farm.  (“B&G” stood for Bob and Gloria, my mom and dad.)  I was only about 8-years-old and I didn’t consider it work… it was fun.  B&G’s business was selling rabbit meat to supermarkets.  I still remember walking around barefoot on the cold, bloody concrete floor of the slaughterhouse. A gruesome thought, I know. I made up for that latter in life when I became a vegetarian. By the time I was nine or ten, I was stretching those poor bunnies skins on wire racks and hanging them up to dry a huge shed.

This was hard (and often disgusting) work for a ten-year-old.  And the skins had to be stretched within hours of being removed from their former owners or they would begin to rot; so my sister and I would often be working late into the night… even on a school night.  Sometimes we didn’t get them hung up soon enough and the smell would make you gag.  We worked very hard and we complained about it… but we did it because it had to get done — lesson learned.

After a while of selling the meat to markets and the skins to furriers, my dad realized that the furriers and the garment makers were making most of the money.  So he took it upon himself to learn how to tan hides.  Back in the seventies, before absolutely everything you’d ever want to learn was available online, commercial tanning techniques were a closely guarded secret of the furrier guilds and so figuring it out wasn’t easy – there was no Wikipedia page on tanning.  But dad figured it out and we stopped selling the hides and started tanning them ourselves.  We kids were never allowed anywhere near the caustic tanning process… but we still kept our jobs stretching and drying the fresh hides.

So right before my eyes, as a child, I saw the family business change to compete with a new product in a new segment of the market.  At the same time, we (dad) turned what was initially a byproduct of the business sold cheaply to anyone who wanted it into a new line of business that would quickly come to dwarf the original meat business… and which would become the impetus for several future (and substantial) business pivots.  I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time, of course, but I was watching it happen and I was doing it right along with the rest of the family.  I can’t help but think that all those family-business experiences helped shaped the entrepreneur I am now.

I told dad today when I called him to wish him happy Fathers Day that I wanted to help him share the story of all those family businesses with his grandchildren someday. I realize that I’m taking my own  family on an entrepreneurial journey right now as well and I hope that someday my kids look back on the lessons of this time in there lives with some sense gratitude as well.

Thanks dad.


Entrepreneurial passion: A blessing or a curse?

[This article was originally published on GeekWire, June 9, 2011. ]

PassionI’ve met a lot of really bright engineers and entrepreneurs who I think could do great things if they pursued a big, interesting problem in a big, interesting market. But instead they get enamored of scratching their own itch, i.e., solving a problem they themselves have experienced and then didn’t find, didn’t like or didn’t even look for someone else’s solution to the problem.

What’s wrong with that approach?

There was a time when I would have said: Schmassion“Nothing, it’s great.” And I still think it can be great. But I no longer think it’s definitely great. Regrettably, too many otherwise really, really smart people believe that doggedly attacking their private obsession with great passion is THE way to do a startup.

Sorry. That’s just wrong. And it’s got me rethinking the role and value of entrepreneurial passion.

We’ve all heard the stories of entrepreneurs who experienced a problem and then attacked the problem, fanatically, until they figured out a simple solution. They built a prototype, raised seed capital, worked hard and then sold to Google for a ton of cash.

Some of the stories include apocryphal accounts of entrepreneurs who believed against all odds that their idea was meaningful and would amount to something, even in the face of dozens and dozens of investor rejections, colleague admonitions and the cold shoulder from customers.

See, the myth goes, all you have to do is passionately pursue a solution to a problem you’ve experienced and you’ll be rewarded. Believe in your dream. Prove them all wrong. Never give up. Bullshit! There are two major reasons why passion alone for your idea can be dangerous.
1) Your idea doesn’t know a damn thing about business.

There are countless ideas that I, you, and everyone else, have that just do not warrant spending any more than “hobby time” on. If you want to create a business (which I read somewhere is the point of being an entrepreneur) solving a problem isn’t, well, the problem.PassionBlindSpot

Solving a problem in a way that creates value sufficient to justify someone paying money for the solution (an amount of money sufficient to sustain and grow the business) is the problem.

Investors have a nose for this. And, if your problem doesn’t smell like one that people will (eventually) pay enough money for, then they are unlikely to invest. And if you’re gonna bootstrap (i.e., not take Other Peoples’ Money) then you need to get QUALIFIED external validation of your business because you won’t be getting it from your investors.

Your wife, your best friend, your co-worker, your aunt Judy and your neighbor are not qualified to give you advice on whether your idea might also be a viable business.

If I were going to bootstrap a new business, I’d still look to talk to investors for feedback on my idea as a business. Short of that, find some serial entrepreneurs to talk to, preferably ones who have lots of arrows in their backs.

2) Your passion doesn’t know a damn thing about business.

Passion is by definition not rational; and it’s certainly not business savvy. I would go so far as to say that passion (a close cousin of faith and love) is blind. Be careful. I get a little shiver up my spine whenever I hear an entrepreneur justify what they’re working on because it’s a problem they’ve experienced.

It’s as if the mere existence of their passion is what is going to make the difference in their success or, worse, that their passion is what qualifies them to solve the problem in the first place.

The reality is that mere passion about an idea is not a good reason to pursue it; nor is it an indicator that you’re capable or qualified to solve the problem you experience. In fact, the more passionate you are about an idea the more vigilant you should be about getting QUALIFIED third-party validation that your idea could actually be a business.

I don’t mean that you shouldn’t trust yourself. But I do mean that you should not trust an irrational, emotional drive to solve a problem as evidence that the problem is worth trying to build a business around.

Even if there is a business that could be built around solving that problem, that doesn’t mean that you are the one who can solve it. If you get some business validation around the idea and it is in the realm of possibility that you could build that business then your passion may turn out to be an asset.

Now that I’ve railed on passion, I have a confession to make.

I am a dangerously passionate entrepreneur. I also believe that passion is a tremendous asset to entrepreneurs. I would characterize it as necessary, but not sufficient. So what’s passion good for?

Passion can be the spark that gets you going. And it can be the fuel that keeps you going. It will keep you awake late nights. It will inspire confidence as you build a team, raise capital and engage early customers.

There are better things to be passionate about than scratching your own itch. Be passionate about building a great team, passionate about designing a great product, passionate about delighting your customers, passionate about making a difference in people’s lives, passionate about finding and scaling a sustainable business model.

These passions will serve you well whether you’re solving your own problem or someone else’s problem.

But passion just about your personal experience is actually shaky ground.

If you’re so passionate about solving your own problem, then you risk missing some really important things. For example, your market might share your problem too. But they might think about in a very different way.

If your passion about your solution to the problem is incongruous with the way your potential customers think about the problem then you’re in for a tough run. Beyond that, lots of startups end up pivoting their product/market/business pretty substantially away from where they started. This is healthy.

But, if you’re obsessive about solving your problem your way, then you may just miss the real market opportunity. And, if you end up pivoting and land on a product/market that you’re not as passionate about, then you’ll have lost the motivation that got you started in the first place.

Passion may just keep you in the game when nothing else will. When the dark days come (as they usually do) it can be hard to keep going. In the dark of night when you’re running out of money and can’t make payroll, your competitors are beating you badly, you’re being sued by a former employee and 1,000 other things that suck, your passion for the business can keep you from returning that call from the Amazon recruiter.

A closing thought.

If we had to wait around for entrepreneurs, first to suffer from every problem worth fixing, and we had to wait around for the ones who were also passionate about fixing it,strapspreadsheet and we had to wait around for them to successfully build a viable and sustainable solution, then not very many problems would get fixed. And not very many successful businesses would be built.

If you personally experience a problem in a way that makes you passionate about building a solution then congratulations — you have a reason to think about whether there is possibly a viable business that is worth spending time on. Now, go formulate and test your assumptions about the problem, the solution, the market, the revenue.  In short, first strap a spreadsheet to your passion and then see how high you can fly.


Geeks on a Trail

Time to Get Off Our Collective Behinds

I used to be in decent shape. I worked out… I ran 10K races ~five times a year… I even did a few triathlons. And then I became an startup entrepreneur… and I quickly got out of shape. Our days are filled with meetings, airplanes, whiteboards… and of course lots of computer screen time. I know a LOT of entrepreneurs who just don’t make the time any more to get active. Recently I started doing six-mile-ish walks on the weekends and it’s been great. Turns out that walking a mile and running a mile burns about the same number of calories and is amazing for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving the cholesterol math… and it doesn’t beat up the joints like running does (which is really important for us big guys.) I’ve decided to expand my walks into the work week and will be inviting a bunch of startup founders to join in if they want to.

I admit that “Geeks on a Trail” is a rip off of one of my most favoritest tech event names ever, “Geeks on a Plane”.  I haven’t asked Dave McClure for permission to plagiarize (sorry Dave)… but I think he’d be cool with it.  You’re cool with it, right Dave??  And, Dave, if you’re ever in Seattle then I hope you’ll join us for a walk (I’m just sayin’).

If you’re interested in getting some solid activity built into your week then please feel free to join in. There’s no requirement to socialize… do whatever you want while you’re walking.  Listen to your iPod, make phone calls, hold an executive teem meeting, catchup on email… whatever justifies you making the two-hour investment in your health.  I’ll be trying to be as productive as I can; in fact, I’ve already decided that I’m getting a tablet computer just so I can be more productive while I walk.  Here’s the GOAT schedule:

Monday afternoons, near the Seattle waterfront. The trail we’ll follow is about 1.25 miles each way, so back and forth is 2.5 miles. I’ll be doing two loops, i.e., 5 miles. If you only have an hour then you can drop off after the first loop. Sponsored free parking nearby is available if you need to drive to get there — thanks to Graham & Dunn!

Thursday mornings, at Greenlake. The inner trail is 2.8 miles. I’ll be doing two loops, i.e., 5.6 miles. Again, just do one loop if that’s all the time you have.

If you want to get added to the invite list and the calendar reminders, send an email to BOB [.dot.] CRIMMINS [at] GMAIL and I’ll add you on. I’ll also let you know the exact meeting places and times so you can hook up with the rest of the Geeks.

Hope your can join in.

Bob

PS. These are invite-only walks are for tech startup founders, execs and investors only… so please no service providers unless you are explicitly invited by one of the Startup Haven team.


%d bloggers like this: