Monthly Archives: September 2006

Big in Japan News: Fancast is Famous!

FX just sent me a clip on their on-air promotion for the Nip/Tuck Fancast Big in Japan built.  Check it out by clicking here:

Thirteen months of hell!

I run across people who want to start their own business all of the time. Sometimes I even hire them (typically a bad idea). Most people have no idea how much hard work and time it takes to create a new business. In most cases I think it is impossible to start seeing returns before the first year (if you are getting returns before then it is likely you are not investing enough of your money or time in the venture). Most people are not prepared to work long or hard enough to make their business viable. The ones who are usually succeed.

Ironically, by the time things seem hopeless and you begin to think about getting a job your business is usually poised to start working. Most people start to argue with their partners, friends and family at this point and they are focused almost exclusively on failure. Called negative target acquisition, this phenomenon ensures that you will fail. If, instead, you can keep focusing on making the business work you have a good chance of success after the first 12 months.
Why? There are a million reason why, but here are three:

  • Most clients don’t take you seriously during your first 12 months. There will be lots of potential clients that will wait in the wings to see if your company is going to make it.
  • It is likely you won’t even know what business you are for the first 12 months or so. You need time to figure out who is going to pay for what you do or make.
  • Everything takes longer than you assume. Your website won’t get done on time, your projects will take longer, you will be busy focused on the wrong things at first and so on.

Our Big in Japan/Weblogs Work business is a great example of a business that took a year to figure out. Just before our year anniversary (after almost ten months of work) we lost a key contributor because they gave up on the business. They began focusing on what wasn’t working instead of focusing on what could work. Two months after they left the remaining team figured out how to make the business work and signed up major clients who turned the breakeven business into a big money maker for Spur. Let me tell you, it got really hard to see how the business was going to work until August of this year. My advice to anyone considering starting a business?

  • Commit 13 months to making the business a success.
  • Prepare your family for the 13 month committment and get their buy-in.
  • Work on and in your business for 12 hours a day (including weekends).
  • Be prepared not to make any money for the first 13 months.
  • Be prepared to change your business plan over and over until you get it right.
  • Be prepared to do everything yourself.
  • Be prepared to fight with your partners, spouse, friends and family.
  • Realize that before you succeed it will seem like you have failed – don’t give up.
  • Realize that if it was easy everyone would do it…
  • Oh and read Rick Segal!

7-Eleven Dumps Citgo! (do they read my blog?)

http://schmaltz.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/mamamoonbat.jpgLast week I suggested that Americans should stop doing business with Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Citgo Petroleum Corp in a post titled, “How you can respond to crazy!”  I noted in my post that 7-Eleven resold Citgo gas.  Perhaps it was due to my post, or more likely due to Hugo Chavez calling our President the devil, but for whatever reason, 7-Eleven announced this afternoon they were going to “dump” Citgo gasoline from their stores.  The Dallas Morning News reported:

The image “http://godgunsglory.com/images/citgo2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. “Regardless of politics, we sympathize with many Americans’ concern over derogatory comments about our country and its leadership recently made by Venezuela’s president,” said 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris.  “Certainly Chavez’s position and statements over the past year or so didn’t tempt us to stay with Citgo,” she added.  Instead, 7-Eleven, which sells gasoline at 2,100 of its 5,300 U.S. stores, will now purchase fuel from several distributors, including Tower Energy Group of Torrance, Calif., Sinclair Oil of Salt Lake City, and Houston-based Frontier Oil Corp.

7-Eleven has responded to ‘crazy’ and you can too.  Stop doing business with Chavez’s Citgo now!  Don’t buy your beer, candy or gas from our enemies.

Rails and Usability!

It is no secret that we are fans of Ruby on Rails. Last night Big in Japan launched Fancast for FX Network’s hit series Nip/Tuck. Most users are impressed with the VoIP and podcast integration, but they were frustrated by the delayed gratifcation associated with the account creation/registration process.

Jeremy Pepper, a public relations pro from Weber Shandwick, spent some time with Fancast and based on his findings we sat down this morning and came up with a new user workflow. The new workflow is simplified, no longer requiring a registration and verification step. Instead, users simply enter their name, email and phone number and a call is generated. Simple. Why didn’t we think of that?

With any standard programming language it would take a week to make the necessary changes on the front and backend to reflect this new workflow. With rails we were able to see the new workflow on our development servers within an hour. By the end of the day those changes will be committed to the production server. Total turn from idea to code: 4 hours. Talk about agile development!  With rails you couldn’t figure out how to spend $15MM

On fences, immigration and racism. . .

Here in Texas the rhetoric related to the immigration issue has reached a new low. More and more Latino/Hispanic leaders have taken the position that you are a racist if you support border control. For several months they have painted Republicans and Democrats alike as racists for supporting tighter controls on the borders. You can’t turn on the local news without a cut to a someone of Hispanic origin railing against “the racist U.S. immigration policy.” The border fence (authorized by the House last night) is a lightning rod for racist rhetoric – the racist fence is a common phrase used to describe the idea.

Comments such as, “…the border fence is a racist attempt divide people along racial lines” are common. If you continue down this line of thinking you would have to conclude that anyone who built a fence around their house was doing so for racial reason. I suspect that most people put up fences for economic and safty related reasons. At our house our fence is designed to prevent people from stealing our property and to keep our son out of the road. We have no racial agenda.

This isn’t a race issue and I would hope that we could bring some honesty to the debate and admit what it is really about. Despite what you may thing, Hispanic is not a race. The Latino community is diverse including many races (white, black, native indian and even Asian) from as many as twenty different countries (most with little in common). If you generally don’t like Hispanics, you are an idiot, but you are not inherently a racist (you might be racist as well as an idiot as the two are not mutually exclusive). The two primary reasons our country is considering building a fence are economic and safety related.

If Latino leaders don’t like our immigration laws they should lobby against them. Arguing against enforcement and advocating violation of our laws is not the sort of strategy that helps build a strong country. The rule of law is important, not simply for justice, but for our economy. Latino leaders are not the only ones guilty of this behavior – our own Congress is as well. How? Simple, they do not enforce our laws when it comes to businesses who employ illegal immigrants. If we are going to jail and deport immigrants who do not follow our laws we should do the same for the businesses who employ them.  My previous immigration posts: Immigration Problem – Just Pay Them to Leave, More on Immigration, 500,000 March for Immigration Reform and The Muse Immigration Proposal.

(oh and if you thought fences were racist, above you can see the design of the Spanish border fences – these guys actually have a fence and it is scary. Is that guy getting shocked by the detection wires before he gets the tear gas?  The picture’s caption reads: “Spain’s government has announced plans to upgrade the border fences around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The security system detailed in the graphic will be installed in the hope of preventing groups of immigrants from storming the fences.”)

Has Fred Wilson Jumped the Shark?

Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water skis.When I began reading blogs more than a year ago Fred Wilson’s “A VC” blog was on the top of my blog roll. His message was unique, true and fresh. For me it was a unique perspective into the venture capital world, a world that I thought I understood fairly well. Over time the uniquenss and freshness has worn off.
This not unique to Fred’s blog – anytime someone does great work they tend to generate higher than normal expectations. It feels alot like a TV series that was great in season one and two, but has lost something by season three. It is time to tune out, but you keep hoping to regain what you loved in the first two seasons. For example, in this week’s episode of “VC Cliche of the Week” Fred suggests that “the goal of anyone serious in the company starting business” is to “build a billion dollar company.” He explains, “These days it seems almost impossible to get a company public and trading at a billion dollar market cap unless it is a very solid business.” Yawn… I am not sure if I agree with the premise in the first place and the rest of the post seems like he was trying to hard to come up with a cliche this week.

For me Fred has “Jumped the Shark.” The truth is, I want Fred’s blog to be as fresh as it was a year ago. But I have an idea. My plan is simple, tune out for six months (i.e. remove it from my feed reader). Bye for now Fred, look forward to reading you again in March.  FYI – my blog should not have this problem as, well, what do you expect from me anyway?

Please Test and Post Comments Here

If you have a moment we would love your help.  We are testing our Fancast system and need a few beta testers.  Visit the Nip/Tuck fancast site and generate a call: http://fancast.biggu.com/niptuck.  When you are done let us know what doesn’t work for you on this blog.

Ethan and Spot’s Adventure

Ethan’s kindergarten class has a mascot named Spot.  Each weekend one of the students brings the mascot home for an adventure.  Ethan took spot to see the Apollo 7 space capsule at the Frontiers of Flight Museum (on loan from the Smithsonian).  Spot enjoyed the ride…

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Embrace Mistakes

I don’t know if it’s the amazing success of Pittsburgh Steeler rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, but I’ve been involved in an inordinate number of conversations about leadership recently.

That has got me thinking about the various aspects of leadership. Among the most important traits, a leader must create a culture that embraces mistakes.

First, you must acknowledge your own mistakes and correct them.  In addition, you must encourage everyone in your company to make decisions appropriate to their responsibilities. When some of those decisions don’t work out, celebrate the noble attempt, and never, ever chastise or punish someone for an honest effort.  Without glorious failures along the way, grand victories are rarely achieved.

Mistakes Are Inevitable

First-time entrepreneurs often believe that there is one right answer for every challenge that is thrown their way. One right answer almost never exists.  There are usually several (many?) good answers.  The key is in the formulation of the planned response and execution.

As Sean McDonald, CEO of Precision Therapeutics, recently told a group of aspiring entrepreneurs, “Be satisfied with excellence.  Leave perfection up to God.�

Execute as if you know you’re right, but recognize that you may be wrong

Contrary to what you may think, the acceptance of the possibility that you could be wrong is extremely liberating.  Knowing that you don’t have to be absolutely right all of the time gives you the freedom to try what you think is best at a particular moment in time. [You do need to be right some of the time, by the way. I’m not advocating complete failure here.]

Do you want to be right, or do you want to create a successful company?

I’ll admit that I’m paraphrasing that wise man, Dr. Phil, so I apologize in advance.

Building a successful company is like fighting a war.  You’ve got to keep the ultimate goal in mind.  Winning a battle, but losing the war is not what it’s all about.

Defending yourself and your decision is a waste of time and energy.  Learn from your mistakes, and move on. Accept constructive criticism from one and all and thank them.

Similarly, offer advice to those who have stumbled along the way.

Don’t “Bet the Company�

There are mistakes and there are MISTAKES.

Before making any decision, assess the possible damage if the decision is wrong.  In all but the most extreme cases, don’t bet the company on a single decision.

  • Maybe it’s not the right time to spend all of your remaining cash on a four-color, inside-front-cover advertisement in an industry magazine.
  • Maybe you shouldn’t outsource the production of your product right now.
  • Maybe you shouldn’t open up five regional sales offices.

Mistakes of Commission Are Better Than Mistakes of Omission

An underlying theme throughout these comments is a bias toward action. If you make a decision and implement it, presumably you’re doing so with some anticipated outcome in mind. [You’d better be.] If that outcome doesn’t occur, you can try to evaluate why and do better the next time.

Conversely, if you don’t do anything and you have a bad outcome, what do you fix?

Decisions Must be Made with Incomplete Information

If you are a first-time technology-oriented entrepreneur, you are likely to want as much information as possible when faced with important decisions. But complete information is an ideal that can never be achieved.

In fact, delaying a decision in the anticipation of getting more information is often more damaging than making an immediate decision and adjusting to the outcomes as needed.

R.F. Culbertson, CEO of Eidoserve, recounted a meeting he (and many others) had with Colin Powell, when he was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  R.F. was surprised when Col. Powell said that he expected his commanders in the field to make their decisions when they had roughly 40% of the potentially available information.

If they are expected to make potentially life-and-death decisions with only 40% of the information, how much do you really need?

Practice, Practice, Practice

Creating this kind of culture is not very easy.  The behavior is one that often has to be learned. Therefore, I say to you, PRACTICE MAKING MISTAKES!

Now I don’t mean that literally.  What I do mean is that you, first, and members of your team, second, should consciously make decisions more quickly than you have in the past. Monitor how they work out. Learn from them.

Also, learn about yourself.  Where are your comfort zones? Why? What are the defense mechanisms that you use to avoid making decisions? If you recognize them, you can combat them.

Pull your team together and discuss the challenges facing the company. Pick one of them that has been delayed pending receipt of additional information. Ask, “If we had to decide today, what would we do?� Once that response has been solicited, implement it immediately!

If you are going to be successful, you need to develop your panic armor.  You need to exercise your gut decision muscles.  You need to experience the relief that the sun really does rise the next day after you’ve made a monumental blunder. You need to view mistakes as learning experiences.  You can only be sure if you’ve been there and done that. Develop the mindset.  Develop the experience.

You need to nurture the same skills within everyone in your organization.

Just like Ben Roethlisberger, when your team is down by 2 points with less than two minutes left in the game, you need poise.  You need faith that your teammates will execute their jobs as they should, improvising as necessary.  You need the confidence that as the rushing defenders (your competitors) try to take you out, that you will make a good decision when it matters, and you and your team’s execution will yield victory. [I apologize if this metaphor is annoying, but I’m writing this just after the Steelers’ victory over the Jets, so I’m a little giddy with football at the moment.]

Concluding Advice

The following pieces of advice concern your relationship with the members of your team.  They may appear to be trite, but they contain a lot of truth, so consider them carefully.

  • Praise in public. Counsel in private.
  • Pass on credit. Take blame.
  • People don’t have to like you, but they do have to respect you.

Wanted: Lego Mindstorm NXT

Note to Mom, I want this for my birthday: