Being Unreliable Leads to Missed Opportunities

Here’s another one of my ‘this should be obvious, but so many people don’t do it’ posts. I am simply in awe just how many people are unreliable out in that big world, so much so that I wonder if they even care just how many opportunities they are missing out on every day. You’re likely doing this to, and it’s a shame because you’re stunting your ability to achieve.

Let me explain.

Every day I see companies and individuals leaving collaborative opportunities on the table. They are complaining about their budgets being too small to accomplish what they are trying to achieve, while at the same time they are saying no to volunteers, no to collaborative partnerships, and no to advice from well traveled subject experts. But they’re not actually saying “No!” they are simply ignoring the correspondence. Tweets that do not get responded to, emails that go ignored, or simply lacking a phone number that can take a call from an eager partner. How unreliable!

If you are building a mobile application to help save birds but you’re short on the development team and decide to post on Kickstarter to get extra funding to bridge the gap, what do you think is going to happen when you ignore that email from a development veteran who offered to help you? You end up not securing the funding and then try to approach the guy who offered to help you. He will either ignore you, or reply back saying that he changed his mind. Why? Because you were unreliable!

Or what if you’re short on cash and looking to bring in some revenue for the month. You tell your friend that you’re looking for extra work. Later your friend comes back to you and gives you a detailed offer to earn some extra cash that month. For whatever reason, you didn’t write your friend back. Maybe you found other work. Maybe you decided his offer was to low. But you didn’t write him back to let him know. Months later you’re in a hole again, and you decide to write your friend about the opportunity. He doesn’t write you back, he’s angry with you, or perhaps just says that the opportunity isn’t available anymore. Why? Because you were unreliable!

Maybe you’re thinking about starting a business and you’re looking for some guidance and help. You reach out to some friends of yours telling them about your great idea. Some of them like your idea, give you some advice, or offer some connections in their network. Maybe you’re busy, but for some reason you decide not to write your friends back. You’re head is down, you’re focused, you don’t have time to talk to them and hear their crappy advice, after all, you only wrote them because you want likes on Facebook, and you want the business to succeed. A short while later, you notice that your friends aren’t helping you out anymore. They’re not liking your posts, sharing your press releases, or helping you in any way. Why? Because you were unreliable!

I find this to be such a common occurrence that I just had to write about it. If you’re already reliable and you get back to people that are trying to help you, then you’re in a good place. I have a theory that the people who are so unreliable aren’t necessarily just selfish people, but that they are ignorant to being the way they are. They are just not aware that they lack the fundamental communication skills necessary to appear reliable and worthy of collaboration.

I see deals dropped almost everyday, and most of the time it isn’t because they aren’t well qualified from a technical perspective or don’t have the business acumen to pull of their ideas, but because they lack the ability to be reliable. Nobody wants to work with someone like that.

Bootstrapping Is Insanely Hard

There are a number of ways to build a startup. The traditional route is to assemble a core team of founders, build a block of potential board advisors, and seek angel and venture capital. Another common route is to find a co-founder or two, build a prototype, and seek out seed funding from an early stage investment competition (i.e. YC) to gain momentum, press, nurturing and the possibility for future angel/VC capital. A less attractive, but very popular, third route is to bootstrap. To many, it’s the most attractive option of the three because you don’t have to put on presentations to hopefully win a few measly thousand dollars or do the dog and pony VC circuit for 6 months to potentially find a match who really gets you and your product. But bootstrapping is the most difficult, most challenging way to create a startup.

Contrary to a number of my motivation-infused articles, I want to break through the startup world smokescreen and be excessively real here. Here’s why bootstrapping is hard as hell:

1) It’s hard to find co-founders. Finding a good co-founder is like trying to find your soulmate. Most people spend their whole lives looking for the one, often stumbling along the way with a few bad relationships. In fact, the divorce rate is so high these days because people are so bad at pairing up. Finding a co-founder is no different. You’ve got a lot of things going on – you need to both be excited about the same product ideas, you have to work well together, you have to complement each other and not be working on the same parts of the business all of the time, you have to support each others shortcomings, and you need to be patient with each other. At the end of the day, you have to like each other too.

This all assumes you can actually find people who aren’t already busy working a full-time gig, busy on side projects, or running a startup of their own. Most people aren’t sitting around resting on their laurels, and if they are then chances are they aren’t well suited for building a startup anyway. So this means you have to convince people to stop working on what they’re currently doing, or you need to ditch what you are doing and join them. This is reasonable, but it’s not convenient; it’s just another roadblock to finding a co-founder.

You might be the type that loves to go to meetups, drinkups, conferences, launch parties, and other social events, but the results of attending these are often mixed bags, and are often the angst of juvenile partying disguised as startup networking events. Others think that they don’t really have the time to be sloshing it around in a dark bar with a bunch of pseudo-entrepreneurs instead of buckling down and keeping their head in code. The conundrum here is that if you never get out, you’ll never meet your co-founder. Having some balance is necessary; a feat not necessarily that easy to pull off. And if you’ve got family, kids, or a full-time job, you might just be SOL here.

2) You have no funding. You’re working out of your basement, your kitchen, your garage, or Starbucks. If you are working full-time on this, you are either burning your savings to cover your personal expenses or you have a spouse kind enough to slave away at their full-time job to pay the basic expenses. In any case, you have very little money for the business itself, so you can’t hire anyone and you need to keep your overhead low.

This presents a lot of problems. You need to be excessively picky about the services you spend your minuscule capital on. This is a good thing to do anyway, but everyday you will face opportunities to analyze services that might help you if you can afford them. If you are terrible at design, you’ll realize that it’s probably a good idea to hire a great designer so that you can focus on implementing the rest of your product. You’ll immediately discover that you can’t afford the designer you want, and either resort to hiring inexperienced but cheap freelancers or doing it yourself. By not having enough capital, you are strangling yourself by the throat because you simply do not have the talent or ability to do every possible startup role well.

If you’re good at learning new things, have incredible motivation, and work 80 to 100 hours a week without burning out, you might just be able to slide by without any funding depending on what your product is. But it will not be easy, and you’ll very quickly discover what you are and are not capable of. Do not be delusional and think that running a startup our of your grandpa’s garage will be a sure bet just because you don’t have to pay for office space. Bootstrapping is not for the faint at heart.

3) It’s hard to get traction. You’ve been building a product mostly in a gas chamber. You’ve got a co-founder, but you guys are so slammed that you don’t get out to the mixers much. You isolate yourself because you’re tired of all the buzz and success that your colleagues are receiving on TechCrunch. You’ve been talking to your customers, but they’re waiting until you release before they bring out their wallets. You’ve tried to get some beta testers, but they’re busy with their own lives, or maybe they just don’t like your product and don’t have the balls to tell you. You’ve considered paying for advertising, but know that it’s a branding game, and you don’t really have a brand yet. You’ve dreamed up guerrilla marketing campaigns, but they didn’t go as planned because you’re really spending most of your time building product.

You’ve written the major trade publications, but you can’t seem to get their attention. Maybe you are terrible at pitching, maybe you’re too proud of your product or conversely too humble, maybe you are ignorant to the needs of journalists, or maybe you’re just unlucky. You’ve got to learn another skill now; add it to the list. Oh there you go, you found a press release service for $199 who promises to announce your unfinished product to the world and get you paying subscribers. Flop. You knew it would too, come on, press releases don’t work!

You wrote a blog article every 2 weeks, trying to lure in potential customers by offering industry-relevant news and positioning yourself as a knowledge expert. You got some eyeballs, but damn, they aren’t using your product yet. In fact, some of those people have made some connections for you, but now you need to leverage those connections appropriately so you don’t scare them off. You’ve got a half-built product after all, and you’re mighty embarrassed.

Getting traction, getting users, and getting promoted is rough when you have no capital, no team, no experts advising you. When you’re bootstrapped, this problem is exacerbated.

4) It’s hard to sell before the product is ready. If you’re a natural salesman, you’ve already learned this trick… selling your product before you’ve built it. The holy grail of sales is selling a product to bring in revenue that you can use to build your product. It is risky business because you have to make promises that you have to deliver on later or lose all of your credibility. As a bootstrapper, this is a skill you probably don’t have. You want to build a product with a small budget and overhead, and get it to market quickly. To get feedback and traction you need customers. But if the product isn’t built yet, you will have a hard time landing customers.

Most people can’t sell ice to eskimos, or half baked products to unsuspecting consumers. Most people feel that it’s scammy to do this. And to some degree it is. You’re making a sale on a foundation of lies. If you can look past this flaw, you might just rocket launch your product into success. If you can’t, you’re going to continue to struggle. Even if you are a natural salesman, selling this not-so-ready product is going to be rough. You might get a customer’s interest, show them some mockup images in a printed booklet, but then you’re going to have to manage them throughout the process. You have to convince them things will be OK, and that you’re going to make good on your promises. None of this is easy.

5) Your personal life is often negatively affected. You’re late on your bills, your debts are climbing, your spouse is anxious, your colleagues are weary. When you bootstrap you will almost always get very little support. You’re new to the entrepreneur game so no one knows your name and no one trusts you. Everyone you talk to questions your ability to build your startup, sometimes mentioning that you should have a regular job just like them. That’s not easy when you begin to internalize that the world around you is actually against you. Going to meetups to talk with other bootstrappers in your situation can help, but it’s a temporary patch on the situation. Your life is still affected, until you make that big day when your product begins to sell… which may never come, as most startups fail.

If your startup fails, you’re left holding your guts. You’ll have a pile of debt, family who thinks you made a mistake (even if they don’t share their opinion), friends who think you’re an asshole because you’ve been hunkered down for 80-100 hours a week ignoring them for months at a time, and a failed product that you might actually learn to hate because of where it left you. This is incredible hard for people to deal with.

During the recession a lot of startup magazines and blogs were talking about how people need to take a stand and go into business for themselves. They presented it that just anyone could start a business with enough guts. They were partially right – it is possible for anyone to run a business – but they failed to really address just how hard it would be for the average person, who isn’t already wealthy, well connected, or geographically positioned in the heart of a startup epicenter.

Bootstrapping is a fantastic option if you are going to create your own startup, but be prepared for a lot of lonely days and nights, and the challenges will never disappear. You are the Mad Max of the entrepreneurial world. Start getting use to it.

Resist the Urge to Be Perfect

The reason I often blog about vague or high level concepts is that I continue to notice companies that are violating the laws of common sense. For whatever reason it is, people are constantly going against the grain with what should be obvious. So that’s why sometimes you might read one of my posts and think “Come on, I already know this!” The question I have for you is, “but do you really do what I’m suggesting or do you just know what I am saying?” With that said, let me introduce another common sense topic: perfectionism is stifling your ability to get things done.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones… you are more productive than the IBM Blue supercomputer, and you’re able to churn out product all by yourself, while you play the piano upside down on your head, balancing on a round spinning metal chair, singing Paul McCartney songs, and tweeting about it all at the same time. Bravo, I really do admire you. You’re one of the few and you’ve got no reason to read what I’m saying because you already get it. The rest of us have a lot to learn from you, and I hope you’re blogging about it.

It may seem counterintuitive, but being perfect will slow you down. I’ll say this again, just so you realize how important it really is. Being perfect will slow you down.

Whether or not you are a new entrepreneur (but especially if you’re new to running your own business), getting things done is the most important thing you could possibly do. Not just getting anything done, but you need to get the right things done. Figuring out what you should be doing requires that you’ve done some research and tried to do some things already. If you did the wrong things, you’ll know it soon enough, and it’ll serve as additional research for what the right things are.

OK, so you know what the right things to do are; you’ve got a plan. Fantastic. Now you’ve got to get them done. If you spend too much time researching, or too much time creating, then you might very well miss the deadline. When you own a business, you’re usually the boss, so you might not have any hard deadlines. You might have deadlines you’ve set for yourself or your team. But ultimately, you are only accountable to yourself and your investors (if you even have any) for missing them. By not having a firm deadline you might have the urge to perfect your product, since you can afford to slip on your delivery. You want that awe-ing effect when your perfect product is slipped into the hands of your customers. You want your clients to be wowed and shocked and excited.

But that’s wrong! If you try to make a perfect product, a perfect proposal, a perfect birthday cake, or a perfect song, you’re missing out on the opportunity of getting feedback from your clients early on and you might very well miss your “deadline.” Perhaps the cake is perfect, but you’ve missed the party. Perhaps the product meets all your requirements, but a competitor surfaced and stole your market. Perhaps the product still isn’t perfect, but you’ve missed the opportunity to make it happen. I have been there; I get why you want it to be perfect before letting others see it. I have spent years on a product and hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money trying to make it perfect, only to have never shown it to the public, with the exception of a few people.

Was it worth it? No. Was I trying to be stealthy intentionally, so that my competition wouldn’t know in detail what I was cooking up? Maybe. Should I have released product improvements incrementally so that I wasn’t stuck in a hole if the whole thing flopped upon final release? Abso-fuckin’-lutely.

You need to balance progress with perfection. It’s important to try your hardest to do your best without tying yourself into the product so strongly that you’re worried that when people like or dislike it that they are making judgements of you personally. Having an incomplete or imperfect product is an opportunity for your clients to tell you what’s wrong with it or to tell you what needs improvement. It’s not a reflection upon your abilities or your value in the world, at least, not directly.

If being perfectly forces you to delay, you’re not able to make progress. If you’re unable to make progress, you might very well fail. Get that in your head now, because if you like to fail it might just happen if you try to be perfect. Small, timely improvements are better than occasional, delayed improvements. The duration of your improvements may vary depending on your market or product. For example, it’s expected that NASA takes a long time to make the next Space Shuttle or instrumented space satellite, but that’s because lives are on the line and space is dangerous. Mistakes are detrimental to the success of the program. Therefore they have a budget that allows NASA to be perfect. (This is changing, even for NASA, with the existence of commercial space companies in the private sector, forcing NASA to have smaller cycles with smaller budgets.)

You don’t have the kind of budget NASA does. And that forces you to make small leaps into your market, get feedback, and implement improvements. If you truly embrace the cycle, you’ll iteratively make a product you’re proud of, instead of one big splash.

Resist the urge to be perfect. In the end, you might actually make a product that the market deems perfect. It won’t happen right away, but people will help you build the road to eventually get there. Being perfect isn’t what matters; making things a reality is.

Interview Properly to Build a Great Team

With all this talk about how small business can rebuild the economy, I find it very unfortunate (and a little amusing) that so many companies hire incorrectly. What I find that most companies are doing wrong is that they either have inconsistent interview strategies across team members/departments or they are too strictly interviewing candidates from a rigid set of questions and answers. Maybe a company has been struggling to survive during the recession and just “hasn’t had time” to create a structured interview process. Maybe they have had a lot of turnover, and the people in charge of hiring now simply don’t know how to do it. Or maybe even the interview process is run by a centralized and out of touch human resources department who pretends they know more about the candidates than the hiring manager does. In any case, interviewing is done poorly at most companies.

Here’s why.

When candidates are flooding resumes into your inbox, you’re scrambling to figure out who is worthy of a telephone interview. On paper, most candidates look pretty similar (though, there are definitely a nice chunk you can immediately ignore due poor formatting, lack of experience, skills not matching position needs, etc), and only a telephone interview will effectively weed them out. But it’s not until the candidates walk into the door for a formal interview that most companies are really messing up. In the technology sector (this process varies in each industry), it is very common for a candidate to spend half a day at the potential employer to be interviewed by 4 or 5 employees (of which, one or two are often managers in the company). If the candidate is still interesting to the employer, a second half-day of 4 or 5 more employee interviews will happen (and usually a higher rank manager or company executive will be involved). The reason so many people get a chance to interview the candidate is primarily to determine company culture fit, and it is rarely due to general qualifications. This is fairly controversial (there is debate that letting such a significant chunk of employees interview only leads to culture decay since they’re playing a game with each other’s opinions and acceptance), but it is definitely very commonplace in the industry. When so many “future coworkers”are involved in the interview process, the process used to determine whether or not the candidate gets a recommendation to the hiring manager will vary, and is often subject to the interviewer’s personal opinion of the candidate’s character, attitude, skill, and even negative/illegal factors (such as race, sex, etc).

To resolve this, you either need to let your decision makers (managers, partners, executives, leads, etc) hire directly, or you need to standardize an interview process when you are letting a significant number of people interview candidates. (I can’t tell you how many companies don’t standardize; it’s no wonder they’re complaining about “a lack of qualified candidates” in the market!) There are several key components to a well structured and standardized interview, but the single most useful component (if you had to narrow it down to one) would be a competency matrix. A competency matrix is a table that identifies core interests/topics/areas that you’d like to evaluate for a candidate, which are further broken down into skills and capabilities. By standardizing on the same core set of interest areas, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page. It forces interviewers to stay focused on what the hiring manager feels is most important and gives the interviewer some ideas on what questions to ask and how to score the candidate.

The competency matrix gives examples on how to rank a candidate for each skill or capability so that the candidate is less likely to be ranked on the interviewer’s opinion of what the skill level should be. An interviewer who is unfamiliar with the content of the interview would still potentially skew the scoring of the candidate’s capabilities, but that interviewer shouldn’t be interviewing to begin with. For example, a Sales employee should never evaluate the qualifications of a Software Engineer candidate because they’re simply not capable of understanding the requirements of the job, much less understand how well the candidate understands the attributes of their role. This should be obvious, but I’ve seen so many companies misuse their interview pools over the years that I feel it needs a swift reminder. Of course, you can also apply this to interviewing a consultant, contractor, or potentially even a vendor (though it may require some modification).

Building a great competency matrix is worthwhile (though it may take you some time to put together). For example, there is a well known Programmer Competency Matrix by Sijin Joseph that was later web-ified and updated by Starling Software. It’s a fantastic competency matrix because it clearly identifies general requirement sections and detailed attributes matched against different levels. You can determine the competency level of yourself (or a candidate) by reading the matrix and scoring yourself in each area.

I have taken their fantastic matrix and formatted and updated it in a colorful and convenient format for interviewing candidates (or evaluating existing staff for the purposes of goal-setting or getting to know what your software engineer team is capable of currently). Even if you don’t hire software engineers, this chart could be a starting point for your own matrix (of which I strongly welcome).

Download the Programmer Competency Matrix (.PDF)

Download the Programmer Competency Matrix (.PAGES)

Download the Programmer Competency Matrix (.DOC)

 As usual, you’re encouraged to use it as you please, including editing it and posting it on a website or forum, but please do include some attribution. I am always curious to see what you end up creating, and how you have implemented your own interview processes. Happy hiring!

A Balanced Daily Practice Leads to Happiness and Success

A productive routine can lead to good habits, a bucket of luck, and a life of happiness. Success often trails people that are happy, talented, smart working (not necessarily hard working), and above all, connected. Reaching this place can be very difficult for some people, while others seems to be born with all of these things. Most people have the ability to reach their potential, but it takes a strict regimen or daily practice.

I recently came across an article by James Altucher about a daily practice he does every day in order to stay on top of his game. He’s gone through many struggling phases in his life where he has lost everything: millions of dollars, his family, his friends but later came back stronger, in part due to his daily practice.

He talks about having four legs to his practice: Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. It’s really all about not over exerting yourself in one area and staying balanced between all four. His theory, based on his life experience, is that if you are weak on one or more of these legs, you will have difficulty mastering the remaining ones. This imbalance leads to chaos and you’ll lose your luck, and quite possibly your success.

I found his particular daily practice to be the most interesting over other knowledge-centric practices because he incorporates other activities that are often neglected by entrepreneurs and people involved in early stage startups! For example, it’s very easy to skip workouts due to sitting at a desk coding all day, or avoiding spirituality because you’re stressed out. It is vital to make your life is balanced if you actually want to expand your network, attract some luck, and be successful. Otherwise, you’re just playing the lottery for success!

In honor of James’ daily practice, I created a chart that can be printed out and posted on a nearby wall in your home or office. After you have read the post about his daily practice, the chart can be used to remind you of your daily responsibilities. It doesn’t track your progress or nag you to do them (that might be a future article and adjoining iPhone/iPad app!), but it will keep you on track as it serves as a visual reminder and “cheat sheet.” Download the PDF below.

Download the Daily Practice Chart (.PDF)

You’re free to use it as you please, including posting it on a website or forum, but please do include some attribution.

Goals Define Your Future Success

You can’t achieve great things without setting goals.

In order to accomplish great things, you need a roadmap for how to get there. To create a roadmap, you need to set goals first, so you know where you are headed. If you were building a railroad, you would research and determine what your goals were (destinations), and then build the tracks to connect them; you wouldn’t build tracks in all sorts of funky directions as you went along.

Contrary to what you might have heard, as an entrepreneur, when you sit down to set goals, you need to set them high. For people not looking to be in business for themselves, setting goals just out of reach are OK. But you’re an entrepreneur, so you need to think bigger. Generally, your maximum potential is what you set your goals to. Thus, if you set a goal to make a $100,000 salary and you’ve executed on your roadmap to get there, chances are you’ll come close and make $90,000/year. You might even hit your goal, or just above it. You will probably not have a chance at making $500k/year because that requires a different roadmap… a roadmap you haven’t discovered because you set your sights at the $100,000 salary. You need to set your goals high, even if they seem unrealistic to others. When combined with ideas and a purpose, goals that high become dreams.

One of the things that makes you unique as an entrepreneur is that you’re a dreamer. It seems like everyone thinks you dream too much and have ethereal ideals. Employees don’t dream; sure, they dream in their sleep, and perhaps they have an imagination, but real employees tend to look to others to set their dreams and ambitions for them. Entrepreneurs live and breathe dreams. It’s in their DNA. They work to persevere by making them a reality, even when everything is going against them.

If you don’t dream that you are going to build a $50 million dollar enterprise that revolutionizes the way people power their vehicles, then the chances of you ever making it happen are slim.

How To Set Goals

You may already know how to set goals perfectly. If that’s the case, drop into the comments section of this post (contest is at the bottom), and show your expertise by sharing some tips with the rest of our readers. Otherwise, don’t worry, here is how you get started. There are many ways you can set and track your goals, but here is what I recommend:

  1. Create a list of things you want to accomplish. Begin by creating a list, in no particular order and in free form, of all the things you would one day like to accomplish with your business. While you’re at it, do this for your personal life as well, because believe it or not, your personal and business goals have a lot in common and will influence each other over time. Spend at least 1 hour thinking and writing down your goals. Doing this on paper is probably the easiest effort, because you can do it anywhere. Some people find sitting in a spacious park with a notepad to be a really effective way of purging the distractions.
  2. Categorize your goals. Beyond “Business” and “Personal”, you want to categorize your goals that are in common. If you wrote down goals like “Start a business”, “Hire a lawyer”, and “Hire 2 employees”, then you might consider categorizing them as “Company Formation.” Other goals might be “Visit Eastern Europe”, “Live in Paris”, and “Skydive in Cairnes, Australia” and mark those as category “Travel.” This step just helps you build context around your goals. Later, when you want to discover new goals, you can pull out the goal list for a particular category so you can have some focus to further refine it. Spend 15 to 30 minutes categorizing your goals, and don’t let this step frustrate you.
  3. Map your goals to a timeline. For each categorized goal list, you want to start thinking about when you expect to complete the goal. For example, the previously mentioned goal “Hire a lawyer” would most likely be a Short Term goal. A goal of “Bring in revenues of $1 million” might possibly be a long term goal for you. Ideal timelines would be: this week, this month, this year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years. The more frequently you revisit these goal timelines and your goal lists in general, the higher probability that you’ll actually complete them. For some, this step may take hours as they try to visualize when in their lives they think the goal is realistic. Other people might actually do this instinctively.
  4. Break down your mega-goals into smaller goals. If you have made incredibly lofty goals, that’s OK. But you need to break them down into more digestible and time-sensitive goals too. A goal of “Grow my business into a multi-national organization with 450 franchises and a gross revenue of $500 million” is most definitely not accomplishable with only a set of tasks as a roadmap. You need to chop it into sub-goals, such as “Grow revenue to $10 million”, “Develop a franchise business plan”, “Setup 5 franchises”, “Establish opportunity in franchise conferences”, and “Build presence in Mexico.” How you keep track of your goals and sub-goals is up to you, but a manilla folder for each category and sheets for each major goal seems appropriate for most people. Others use elaborate Excel spreadsheets, or other custom software.
  5. Break your goals into tasks. Now that you’ve set your eyes on what you want for your personal and business lives, it’s time to create a roadmap to get there. I find it amazing that a lot of people have trouble with this part of achieving their goals. You need to spend many hours, and possibly days on this step, although thankfully, you can do this one goal at a time. What are the tasks necessary to accomplish your goal? If your goal is “Start a business” some of your tasks might be “Research types of businesses”, “Purchase books about starting a company”, “Talk to other business owners”, “Do some preliminary market research”, or “Hire a formation lawyer.” If you have trouble coming up with the tasks you need to do for the roadmap of your goal, phrase your goal as a question (“How do I start a business?”) and ask your network for help.
  6. Each morning, create a Today List. That’s right, you should be starting every day by sitting down and reviewing what you think you need to do, and then create a list to get those tasks done. There certainly will be interruptions and derailments, but that’s fine, because you can always get back on track. If you’re not starting your day with a clear understanding of what you’re attempting to do, how could you possibly get them done properly? This may be obvious to most, but you would really be shocked at how many people just “wing it.”
  7. Resolve your day with some cleanup and reflection. The last thing you may feel like you want to do at the end of a stressful day is sit down and check things off, but you need to do it! Not only is it absolutely rewarding to see all the work you’ve completed, but it’s a way to identify what you need to finish tomorrow. You can also think back and examine if your tasks were on track for reaching your goals. Did you feel like they helped you get closer? Can you clean up your task lists at all to refine your roadmap?
  8. Revisit all of your timeline goal lists on a regular basis. Over time you are going to change. Your desires will change, and you will refine your ability to track your goals. You should be revisiting your weekly goals every day, your monthly goals every week, and your yearly goals every month. It won’t hurt to post your goals on the wall on occasion to remind yourself what you’re working towards too. For some, this might be too aggressive and overkill. But, for the rest of us, this is exactly what we need to stay on track.

Additional Reading

Contribute and Win

If you have a technique or resource that I’ve overlooked, please leave a comment! I will be choosing a comment at random (on Sunday, November 16th) to receive a copy of Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

Seize Today… Tomorrow Is Never Good Enough!

Treat today like it is your last. Reach out and meet people in your industry. Finish that project you’ve been procrastinating on. Stop making excuses for why you’re not ready to be successful. Take risks and chances that you’ve avoided taking out of fear.

Occasionally when I’m writing, I find that some of the topics that I investigate may sound cliche or generically common. I end up rationalizing my intent to write about it when I realize that even though it may be truly obvious or common sense, I witness too many people not applying the knowledge in their lives. In some cases, they are simply forgetting how valuable it might be and just need a nudge. Sometimes, we forget some of the most basic, but important, life lessons that can give us guidance for true success. Cliches are great ways to remind us of some important knowledge gained from our collective history. One of my favorite cliches is: “There’s no time like the present.” It reminds me that now is the best time, and it doesn’t attach any predefined reasoning of why it’s so. It gives me an opportunity to explore, in my own mind, why using today is such a valuable lesson.

I haven’t published an article in a few weeks because I decided to take some time off, having reached yet another rounded decade in age (a.k.a. my 30th birthday). To celebrate such a historic event, I went with a group of close friends and family to jump out of a perfectly good plane; at 15,000 feet. Rightfully so, I had several moments before the actual leap occurred, to reflect on why I’m jumping, things and events in my life, and shake in my boots. To be honest, I wasn’t frightened by the jump or falling portions of skydiving… it was the anticipation of it happening. The climb up to the atmosphere, high above the earth, in an excessively tiny and rickety plane with no straps or supports, also did not help. There were moments of my life that flashed by, reminding me that we only live once. “Take advantage of today” whispered my conscience.

Then I leaped from the cranky plane, flipped through the air, and viewed the Earth in a way that most people only see in videos. Almost instant acceleration towards the ground felt surprisingly comforting, giving me an opportunity to appreciate the opportunity given to me of being alive. My experience couldn’t possibly have been much different than the hundreds of thousands of people who have skydived since the invention of flight, but it certainly reminded me that I’m alive.

Generally, I try not to write much about my personal life, because most people these days are more interested in newsworthy content, and don’t really want to be bothered by the details of people they don’t know. In this case, my experience hurdling through the air (nearly 3 miles above the surface), gave me a swift reminder that I can’t continue to put things off for tomorrow. I wanted to correlate my life jostling event with one of the most important concepts of life and business.

In business, many of us put off our projects until they are perfected. We want the world to see a product worthy of worship in hopes that it translates to higher gross sales (and hopefully higher profitability; but that’s another topic altogether). More of us lack the confidence we need to network or close successful deals absolutely necessary for the survival of our businesses (depending on who you listen to, 70-95% of all businesses started will fail). And even most of us are frightened by the idea of presenting at conferences and general public speaking. Why are we afraid? Is it because our presentation today, may reflect on how people see us tomorrow?

Everyone will interpret the “seizing of today” differently, but it’s important to spend some time identifying what’s important to you and your business. It’s time to start conquering your fears now, and not waiting until your life has passed you by to feel regret. If you died today, would people who knew you be able to say that you’ve done everything you wanted to do?

Times Are Rough, So Think Smart and Profit

Chances are, you don’t need a reminder from me to know that the economy is suffering, financial institutions are collapsing, the real estate bubble is popping, people have lost their jobs, getting access to loans and other credit is stiffening, and federal bailouts are occurring. There are those that choose to live in a world of ignorance devised of pretending that our situation is not as bad as it is now, nor will it get worse. “The worst has come!” they say, and “Now is the best time to buy!” These super-optimists slow down the inevitable crash of our economy so that those of us that are paying attention can take the action necessary to protect our assets and thrive during hard times. Take a minute and try to decide which person you are; seriously, think about it.

If you believe that the worst has come to the US and world economies, then perhaps you believe the next 5 years is filled with a joyful rise in the stock market, endless consumer purchasing, extreme real estate speculation — you should stop reading this article right now. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise!

Otherwise, if you believe that we’re in bad times, and headed for something nastier, I invite you to take this time to identify what things you need to change in your life to thrive during this time. Here are a few things you can do to help your business survive (or even start) during a period of duress:

  • Spend less.
    This may sound obvious, but you need to stop spending so much. You may think you’re frugal now, but there are always things you don’t need that you keep buying. Was it necessary that you brought on all those extra consultants? Do you really believe that those fringe benefits are directly contributing to your profitability? Make some needed cuts, and start developing a “Do I really need this?” mentality.
  • Start saving money.
    Cash is king in a world that is suffering. If you can manage to save up extra money now, you’ll be able to buy up assets and resources when things hit rock bottom. There won’t be much (if any) financing when everything is down! You’re going to need cash. Imagine when you have an opportunity to buy that $950,000 3-bedroom house that will eventually drop to $350,000. Or, when BMW and Mercedes starts to offer extremely steep discounts to clear their inventory because no one else is buying. If you don’t have cash when the deals come knocking, you’re missing out.
  • Use lower cost alternatives to services.
    In many cases, we’ve standardized on using nothing but the best when it comes to services and products for our businesses. But there are a tremendous amount of alternatives to everything we use, many of which offer similar (if not superior) quality, but for a drastically lower cost. Seek them out, because you might just be surprised to find out that you can barter a little more with someone else.
  • Bank with a reputable bank.
    Banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America will not go under. Why? Because they take on a much lower quantity of high risk debt. Seek out banks that have a track record of taking on less risk, but provide higher interest rates. If you look carefully, you’ll find banks offering 3.5% and above for savings accounts (ING Direct), and considerably more for money market accounts. Why do you have tens of thousands of dollars sitting in a traditional savings account earning less than the historical average of inflation?
  • Avoid rising above FDIC limits in your accounts.
    I don’t care who you are, but putting more than $100,000 in a checking, savings, or money market account is just asking for trouble. The FDIC insures accounts up to $100,000 per account type per bank. Anything over that, you risk losing (and at a minimum, at pennies on the dollar) when the bank fails and needs to be bailed out. There are billions of dollars in accounts that go uninsured because they’re over the limits. Take the time to setup additional accounts and split your capital up across them. Like the cliche says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
  • Always put 20% or more down when buying property.
    I know it seems appealing to buy that car for 0 down, or that piece of property for only 5% out of pocket. Unless your payments are considerably less than 20% of your monthly cash flow, you’re making a huge mistake. Should your cash flow come down, you’re going to be living in hell. Putting 20% or more down makes you truly think about what it is you are buying, and it increases your chances of financing. Some lenders are actually requiring 20% down now.
  • Help others save money.
    If you build in the ability for people to save money into your products, they’ll buy your product, even during a recession or time of economic stress! Would you pay $5 for an iPhone application that helps you find the cheapest gas nearby? What if your services were all by phone and the Internet, instead of continually requiring your clients to come into your office? Perhaps you can even offer your product for 50% cheaper than your best competitor, and spin it as saving 50% to your clients.
  • Telecommute more often, even with your clients.
    Work with your clients, vendors, employees, and consultants to telecommute more often. Everyone benefits. There are a few hurdles with it, but the benefits outweigh the problems. Your top performing staff will think twice about going to your competitors if you offer them perks that benefit them, but without costing you.
  • Strengthen your network.
    Now is the best time to start revitalizing your network. Do it before the situation gets worse, because when times are rough, you’re going to want to lean on your network. I’d be willing to bet that most of the people in your network are not yet prepared for what is coming. This means, when that time comes, they’ll be asking you for favor, and returning them in exchange. Take the current moment to reach out to the people in your current network, and offer them a hand. Additionally, spend some time meeting new people at local business groups, on Twitter, and LinkedIn. Offer your new friends something to show your level of commitment.
  • Increase your cash flow.
    Last but not least, find ways to increase your cash flow. You should be striving to grow your revenue every month. New streams of income are hiding all over the place. Put advertisements on that newsletter that you send out every month. Start a blog. Create simple side products that reuse some of what you’ve already built — a simplified version of it. Share a piece of what you’re good at in a PDF and sell it.

Many of these may seem incredibly obvious, but I’m willing to bet you don’t even try to do most of them. Give it a shot, focus on them, and see where you stand in 6 months. Come back and let us know how you did.

Startup metrics, Prototyping, Scaling, Developing, Marketing, and Funding

I have heard people say it just takes a good idea followed by a lot of hands to make a successful company. This can’t be further from the truth because building a thriving and desirable startup is really tough.

Sure, it starts with an idea (hopefully one that is based on solving a problem in the real world market and not just something that is ‘cool’). Very soon after, you need to start considering a million things:

Chances are that in the beginning it’s just you (and maybe another person) bootstrapping all of this. The reality is, most of these components are absolutely necessary, and it can seem incredibly overwhelming. The fact that many founders skip a lot of these steps is one of the main reasons startups go bust so early (take for example that many forgo the financial forecasting, and thus, have no true sense of their revenue and profitability potential). The contrary can be said as well, that because some entrepreneurs focus too much on these areas they never really get off the ground.

You need to have thought out your business well and you need to successfully launch and continue to deliver. But how can one or two people do all of this? The answer is that you need to stay balanced and not get too focused into any particular stage or topic, and you need to reach out and discover what other successful entrepreneurs have done.

  • Is it really necessary that your pitch includes a 50-page business plan instead of a concise but meaningful 10-page one?
  • Do you really need to understand every detail about how to erect a functional specification, or can a short set of mockup diagrams be sufficient?
  • Do you really need to spend a lot of time meeting with marketing consultants, or should you just hire a firm to take it over?
  • How can you fund your business, and once it’s funded, how do you manage your cash flow?
  • What do I really need in my business plan? Isn’t that overkill?

These are questions that are difficult to answer, and there is no single answer that works for everyone. You could get caught up in years of researching each of these fields if you’re not careful (this is why eventually businesses hire people that specialize!). Thankfully, there are conferences and training programs that can be really helpful. There are conferences that help you network and hone in on your skills for a piece of technology that you may use (i.e. RailsConf, Oracle OpenWorld, WWDC) and then there are conferences that help you with starting a business or marketing it (i.e. START!, Seed, TechCrunch50, BlogWorld Expo).

For example, coming up on October 2nd, 2008, is a one-day conference called STARTonomics in San Francisco that could help you figure out what pieces are critical to your startup, and which ones really aren’t. The sessions are led by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Here’s a little glimpse of some of the sessions that will be taking place during this intense day:

  • Welcome to Startonomics & Startup Metrics for Pirates (AARRR!)
    Overview of conference agenda + Intro to Startonomics: how to create simple, actionable metrics to help startups make better decisions in product development & marketing.
  • Product Development 101: Designing & Prototyping the DNA of a Killer App
    What does it take to plan, research, and develop a great web 2.0 application? Learn tips & best practices for setting the right process, goals, and metrics for your startup.
  • Marrying Design & Development: a Match made in Heaven, not Hell
    Learn about the basic fundamentals of web design, and find out how developers and designers can work together to create great websites and applications.
  • Creating & Implementing a Web 2.0 Marketing Plan
    How to design and implement an online marketing plan for acquiring users from multiple marketing channels, how to prioritize & mix channels based on stage of startup growth.
  • Revenue: The Internet Wants to Be Free, but You Need to Get Paid
    Learn how to generate revenue using a variety of business models & strategies including advertising, digital goods, subscriptions, lead generation, & e-commerce.
  • Funding Wisdom: What I Wish I Knew
    Forget the school of hard knocks – this is your chance to hear what 3 successful startup executives learned about the funding process, including timing considerations, types of funding, term sheets and working with investors.
  • View the full list here.

This is a must-attend conference for startups working on Internet-based products! Beyond general session topics, you will be able to connect with other startups and successful entrepreneurs who can help you answer the really tough questions.


I’ll be there, soaking it all up. After the conference, I’ll write up a summary of some of the things I’ve learned from others that I think is most important for a successful startup!

Nurturing Your Network

Networking is one of the most important activities that an entrepreneur can do. The problem is that many people don’t do it right. The current attitude of the “me generation” certainly lends to the passion and drive of the American Dream; the pursuit of wealth and success. But on the way, some people forget to nurture and build their networks. For most, this makes that American Dream that much more inaccessible. You can’t do it alone, so you’re eventually going to need the support of others. Once you’ve built a network, you need to nurture it for it to become useful to you.

A Story About A Colleague

A young entrepreneur colleague of mine has an incredible sense of drive and enthusiasm. He’s 22 years old. He’s even pretty smart, which lends to his success attributes. However, he absolutely fails at networking. He recently solicited my advice about his problem, and I wanted to share it with others in this article.

I pointed out to him that while he was good at meeting people, and great at letting people know (including me) what he was working on, he never sincerely asked his colleagues what they were working on, or how he could help. He shared with me the thought that he felt his work was more important and had a lot of excitement around it. I’m certain that many others share his position with their own projects. However, he clearly overlooked that others associate this behavior with being self-centered or uncaring. No one wants to help someone who doesn’t exhibit the ability to help in return (that’s questionably self-centered as well, but that’s beyond the purpose of this article).

While I know without a doubt that he’s not intending to be this way, a little bit of effort from now on, and he’ll experience a valuable return from his network one day.

Ways To Nurture Your Network

Many people find themselves with a large network, but no way to harness it. Here are a few ways you can nurture your network so that, eventually, it can become useful, meaningful, and profitable to you in the future.

    1. Request status updates by touching base. Showing interest strengthens your relationship.

    2. Share status updates with others upon their request and even when they don’t ask for it. Share it in a personal and meaningful way, and definitely not as an advertisement.

    3. Be open to collaboration! You can use the help. And if you are helping a colleague, they are more likely to help you when you need it most. Working together only strengthens your initiatives and doesn’t mean you’re giving up control or ownership.

    4. Find out how you can help, then do it. You’re busy and have very little time for yourself anyway, so giving a small piece can seem wasteful. Think of it like you would an investment. Chances are that you can discover small things that will help your colleague. This shows support and validation to your contact, both of which you’ll need later on.

    5. As much as you think you do, you don’t know everything about everything, or even about your field, so don’t act like it. Solicit and value feedback and advice from your network. Be open to the opinions of others, even if it conflicts with your convictions.

    6. Connect people in your network with each other. Once you have a strong network of people who trust and value you, one of the easiest but most important networking responsibilities is introductions and connecting other people together. For this to flourish, you will absolutely need up-to-date statuses on their needs and activities.

These steps take commitment and effort, but if you apply them, you will see fruitful returns from your networking investments.

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