May 312012

What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

I think there are two kinds of entrepreneurs, and sometimes, you can be both.  There is the kind that starts businesses, and there is the kind that builds businesses.

The kind of entrepreneur who starts businesses but usually doesn’t like running or building them are typically serial entrepreneurs.  How can you spot one?  They:

  • Have an idea a minute and a bit of ADD – they are attracted to bright shiny objects – they can’t focus
    • Would rather generate 1 good and idea and 19 bad ones than just 1 good one
    • Are always thinking about the next thing, only excited by the possibility of what could be, not by what is
    • Are more philosophical and theoretical than practical
    • Probably shouldn’t run businesses for more than a few months
    • Are likely to frustrate everyone around them and get bored themselves
    • Are really fun at cocktail parties
    • Say things like “I thought of auctions online way before eBay!”

The second kind of entrepreneur is the kind of person who can run businesses but may or may not come up with the idea.  Typically, these people:

  • Care about success, not about having the idea
  • Love to make things work
  • Would rather generate 1 idea and execute it well than 2 ideas
  • Are problem solvers
  • Are great with people
  • May be less fun at cocktail parties, but you’d want them on your team in a game of paintball or laser tag

It’s the rare one who can do both of these things well.  But you know them when you see them.  Think Dell or Microsoft…or even Apple in a roundabout way if you consider the fact that Jobs hired Cook (and others) to partner with them to run the business.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

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Feb 162012

Book Short: Steve Jobs and Lessons for CEOs and Founders

Book Short:  Steve Jobs and Lessons for CEOs and Founders

First, if you work in the internet, grew up during the rise of the PC, or are an avid consumer of Apple products, read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs (book, kindle).  It’s long but well worth it.

I know much has been written about the subject and the book, so I won’t be long or formal, but here are the things that struck me from my perspective as a founder and CEO, many taken from specific passages from the book:

  • In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important.  Man is that ever true.  I’ve come up with some ideas over the years at Return Path, but hardly a majority or even a plurality of them.  But I think of myself as innovative because I’ve led the organization to execute them.  I also think innovation has as much to do with how work gets done as it does what work gets done.
  • There were some upsides to Jobs’s demanding and wounding behavior. People who were not crushed ended up being stronger. They did better work, out of both fear and an eagerness to please.  I guess that’s an upside.  But only in a dysfunctional sort of way.
  • When one reporter asked him immediately afterward why the (NeXT) machine was going to be so late, Jobs replied, “It’s not late. It’s five years ahead of its time.”  Amen to that.  Sometimes product deadlines are artificial and silly.  There’s another great related quote (I forget where it’s from) that goes something like “The future is here…it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  New releases can be about delivering the future for the first time…or about distributing it more broadly.
  • People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”  Amen.  See Powerpointless.
  • The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.  This is critical.  You can’t always be first in everything.  But ultimately, if you’re a good company, you can figure out how to recover when you’re not first.  Exhibit A:  Microsoft.
  • In order to institutionalize the lessons that he and his team were learning, Jobs started an in-house center called Apple University. He hired Joel Podolny, who was dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.  This is one of the most emotionally intelligent things Jobs did, if you just read his actions in the book and know nothing else.  Love the style or hate it – teaching it to the company reinforces a strong and consistent culture.
  • Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.  There’s always a tension between listening TO customers and innovating FOR them.  Great companies have to do both, and know when to do which.
  • What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.  This is perhaps one of the best explanations I’ve ever heard of how creativity can be applied to non-creative (e.g., most business) jobs.  I love this.

My board member Scott Weiss wrote a great post about the book as well and drew his own CEO lessons from it – also worth a read here.

Appropos of that, both Scott and I found out about Steve Jobs’ death at a Return Path Board dinner.  Fred broke the news when he saw it on his phone, and we had a moment of silence.  It was about as good a group as you can expect to be with upon hearing the news that an industry pioneer and icon has left us.  Here’s to you, Steve.  You may or may not have been a management role model, but your pursuit of perfection worked out well for your customers, and most important, you certainly had as much of an impact on society as just about anyone in business (or maybe all walks of life) that I can think of.

Jul 192007

Everything That is New is Old

Everything That is New is Old

With a full nod to my colleague Jack Sinclair for the title and concept here…we were having a little debate over email this morning about the value of web applications vs. Microsoft (perhaps inspired by Fred, Brad, and Andy’s comments lately around Microsoft vs. Apple).

Jack and his inner-CFO is looking for a less expensive way of running the business than having to buy full packages of Office for every employee to have many of them use 3% of the functionality.  He is also even more of a geek than I am.

I am concerned about being able to work effectively offline, which is something I do a lot.  So I worry about web applications as the basis for everything we do here.  We just launched a new internal web app last week for our 360 review process, and while it’s great, I couldn’t work on it on a plane recently as I’d wanted to.

Anyway, the net of the debate is that Jack pointed me to Google Gears, in beta for only a month now, as a way of enabling offline work on web applications.  It clearly has a way to go, and it’s unclear to me from a quick scan of what’s up on the web site whether or not the web app has to enable Gears or it’s purely user-driven, but in any case, it’s a great and very needed piece of functionality as we move towards a web-centric world.

But it reminded of me of an application that I used probably 10-12 years ago called WebWhacker (which still exists, now part of Blue Squirrel) that enables offline reading of static web pages and even knows how to go to different layers of depth in terms of following links.  I used to use it to download content sites before going on a plane.  And while I’m sure Google Gears will get it 1000x better and make it free and integrated, there’s our theme — Everything That is New is Old.

The iPhone?  Look at Fred’s picture of his decade old Newton (and marvel at how big it is).

Facebook?  Anyone remember

MySpace?  Geocities/Tripod.

LinkedIn?  GoodContacts.  Siebel meets Goldmine/Act.

Google Spreadsheets?  Where to begin…Excel…Lotus 123…Quattro Pro…Visicalc/Supercalc.

RSS feeds?  Pointcast was the push precursor.

Or as Brad frequently says, derive your online business model (or at least explain it to investors) as the analog analog.  How does what you are trying to online compare to a similar process or problem/solution pair in the offline world?

There are, of course, lots of bold, new business ideas out there.  But many successful products in life aren’t version 1 or even version 3 — they’re a new and better adaptation of something that some other visionary has tried and failed at for whatever reason years before (technology not ready, market not ready, etc.).