Whatever you can do, or dream you can, Begin it.
Boldness has Genius, Power and Magic in it.
Begin it Now

Startup Disaster Clinkle


Business Insider just released an update on Clinkle, the 3 year old payments app startup with no product and $30 Million invested by big names, the largest seed round in Valley history!

VCs are supposed to be smart, but how smart a move was it to put megabucks into "just another payments app" run by a 22 year old first time founder, manager, CEO, product guy, etc. The website says he's on a 50 year mission. Seriously? No co-founders; only hired-gun outsiders who quit fast at the signs of trouble.  What could go wrong, right?  For the icing on the cake, these smart investors never saw the product that was supposed to be built, only a demo video.  Duh.

It seems that they are having their share of problems. If reading about how screwed up other companies are will help you see how good you have it, then read it here:
http://www.businessinsider.com/inside-story-of-clinkle-2014-4

And for current real-world commentary and answers about how it is possible to bomb so badly, read more on Quora at http://www.quora.com/search?q=clinkle

My guess is that Clinkle will crumple...

What I Wish I Knew...



Business Insider just did a neat bit on "25 Entrepreneurs Reveal What They Wished They Knew Before Their First Startup". This is well worth the read. Check it out now, and then come back to finish the rest of this post...

OK, now let's consider some of the things I wish I knew before I did my first startup, and the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc. It seems there's always more to learn!

If I look back to my last big startup, Landmark National Bank, a collaborative effort with 14 other really excellent business people, the big thing I wish I knew was to stay the hell out of banking! What a miserable business, so many government regulations that bankers are afraid of their shadows and more concerned about their jobs than doing anything truly excellent. Due to some luck and some foresight, I got out without a loss before the big collapse of the financial system, and before the bank was forced to merge into another bank, who was then merged into another. Depositors were fully insured, but today there is no trace of the bank's existence, nor of the investors' money.

But most readers of this post are not going to be entering the banking business, so how about my previous big and successful software startup, TeleMagic, the first CRM product for the PC. I am frequently accused of being the "Father of CRM" or some such title, because I dreamed up, and programmed what would soon have hundreds of competitors in the "contact management" category, then "Customer Relationship Management". At first I had zero competitors, but that didn't last long as it was one of those products that seems so obvious when you look back on it, kind of like the wheel.

Here's what I wish I knew before the TeleMagic adventure:

1. Yoga! The life of a founder/CEO is just about the most stressful thing a person can do, so you need a method to turn off the madness and find peace and quiet, and perspective. Yoga is extraordinarily effective at this. It is great exercise, although it doesn't look like it when you watch it. Yoga is breathing and stretching and Focus. Focus is a key element in any startup. The stress can be a killer, and it was the final straw that lead me to sell the company. Although it was a very rewarding exit, if I could have handled the stress better, I could have stayed around longer and built an ever bigger, more rewarding business on the back of the Internet, which came around only a couple of years later!

2. Board of Advisors. Trying to be the only person with the answers is stupid. There will always be people who have more experience (even though this was about my 6th startup), and a clearer perspective, and who can ask smart questions, provide contacts, etc. One of the best things about enlisting the help of a Board of Advisors is that you get to meet on a regular basis (monthly) and address the key issues of the business and formulate plans for dealing with them. Without a Board of Advisors, the founder/CEO finds it all too easy to be distracted by the "Tyranny of the Idea du Jour" and he/she also has the power to Procrastinate for way too long on important issues. The regular meetings with your Board will serve as a management metronome and add great power beyond what you would expect. This power is often referred to as the "Mastermind Principle" as first discussed in the book "Law of Success" by Napoleon Hill. I finally put together a Board of Advisors only in my final (7th) year of the TeleMagic adventure, and the Board was assembled only for the purpose of positioning the company for sale. It worked perfectly and I feel certain that the sale would not have happened, or happened as well, without their help and perspective.

3. A mentor. Completely different than a Board of Advisors, a mentor is the ultimate resource for a founder/CEO. I never had one during my many startups, and always wish I did. It was a lonely, and highly stressful adventure, and when I finally got on the other side of startups, I resolved to be that mentor to help others going down that path.

There were many other lessons, of course, but these are the ones that come first to mind. Stay tuned for more. That's what this blog is all about...

Again, read the story that started this post:
http://www.businessinsider.com/entrepreneurs-startup-advice-and-lessons-2014-4

Lessons from Shark Tank


Good friend Mitch Russo just posted this excellent article, and I highly recommend it:

http://mitchrusso.com/lessons-from-shark-tank/

Mitch and I both sold our separate software companies to Sage Group Plc at around the same time, and he also now does CEO coaching, so we have some similar experiences, but I think he's a better writer, and I'm sure you'll get a lot from his posts. So, sign up for a free subscription, and tell him FastMikie sent you!

:)

Creativity, by Cleese


This is an excellent talk by comic legend John Cleese on How to Be Creative.  Some of my most treasured principles are mentioned, including Play, Solitude, Reserved Time, Perseverance, the Feedback Loop, and dogged focus on Execution.

Philosophy, Epitaphs, and Elevator Stories

A friend stopped by this afternoon, and philosophy happened, as it is customary for us to do.

In considering the Meaning of Life, we got into the exercise of looking back on one's life, and looking forward to the balance of one's life and summing it all up by choosing the words one would want on their tombstone.

How would you write your epitaph?  Try it in a maximum of 12 words. It's an interesting exercise to consider your entire life, being, personality, hopes, dreams, and ambitions, achievements...  in only 12 words or less.

I took a shot at it and came up with something like: "He Lived Life On His Terms, One Perfect Day At A Time" without thinking about it at all, and it just happened to be 12 words exactly. But about an hour later I started changing things, of course. The first 6 words seemed to be too self-centered, so I improved it to be "A Giver, Who Lived One Perfect Day At A Time."  And only 10 words, so much more economical to carve into stone.  There's a win-win! But wait, there's more: "Loved Helping Others Succeed. Planning New Adventures To The End."

The exercise continues for a lifetime, as we evolve and refine our raison d'etre.  Maybe you would prefer humor, such as "I Knew This Would Happen" or, as the comedy legend W.C. Fields is said to have wanted on his grave: "I'd Rather Be Here Than In Philadelphia." I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so I can relate to his thinking.

Why 12 words?  Why not 10 or 20?  Is there some ideal number of words for an epitaph? Should it be written in the third person or the first person (He vs. I)? There's a lot to think about when you try to condense a life into a few words.

But it's easier than a vanity license plate! In California you get a maximum of 7 letters or numbers, and it must be Unique! I like getting a new license plate every once in a while, after I get inspired by some new project. For the last few years I've been exploring the 10x theme, as in One Order of Magnitude.


The principle of 10x is that my goal is to help others gain rewards 10 times what they would otherwise enjoy without my help.  That is my goal with each of my Protégés. According to my way of thinking, if I can do that for someone else, then I'll be well taken care of. It's the law of Karma.

Is it weird that I have a collection of old vanity plates? Probably. But I figure that getting a new license plate is cheaper than getting a new car.

An epitaph, to me as an entrepreneur, is really a subset of an Elevator Story, which is a subset of an Executive Summary, which is a subset of a Pitch Deck, which is a subset of a website, which is a subset of a Business Plan. Each is a bit of copy/content of different lengths, starting with the shortest, most focused elements, and increasing in length as needed to get the customer/investor/new team member, whoever, to say YES.

The Hierarchy of Content:

Vanity Plate - 7 letters/numbers
Epitaph - 12 words max
Tag Line - short phrase describing the business
Elevator Story - 30 - 60 seconds
Executive Summary - 1 page
Pitch Deck - 10 slides minimum, 10 minutes max
Business Plan - a collection of Plans, including projections and requirements, for marketing, sales, personnel, distribution, financial...
Web presence (site/blog/store) - buy, request info, FAQs, support, news...

The more clearly, congruently, and persuasively you can write each level of the hierarchy, the more likely you will succeed, all other things being equal.

Goal Setting Example: Ferrari


One of the more important things a startup CEO can do is to set goals, for the company, for himself, and for each of his immediate team members.  The goals should be achievable, specific, with dates, and should be personalized.

To learn more about Goals, let's take a personal example.  Let's say I want the Ferrari above (I do!):

This is the recently announced 2015 Ferrari California T (twin turbo).  It's very fast and looks great, and I haven't owned a Ferrari for a long time. This model moves me emotionally, so I made it a Goal.  I can see myself driving this car. I am committed to owning it as soon as possible. 

There's a built-in limiting factor to owning this car, and that is that Ferrari will not be taking orders for it until "late 2014" and there will be a waiting list so delivery may take a year or more. There is no way of knowing, right now, when mine will be built.  

And that's okay because I still need to figure out how to pay for it. I have already gone through the sofa cushions and every coat and pants pocket and I'm nowhere close to the quarter-million I'm going to need. Again, that's ok too, because Ferrari can't deliver one right now even if I could write a check.  I have about a year to put together a plan, and to execute. 

One key aspect of setting Goals, in my experience, is to go public with them. This adds energy to the quest. Keep your goals private and you lose energy; you can always quit with impunity. Tell the world. Be Bold!  

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has Genius, Power, and Magic in it.
Begin it Now!"

To do the Bold thing, I have started a blog about this new adventure: 
You might want to visit from time to time to see how it's coming along.

The date for achieving this Goal is unknown right now, and it's very important that I get a specific date as soon as possible, which I will get clearer on as Ferrari starts taking orders.  To fulfill the need to be specific, I'll use a placeholder date of September 7, 2015 (my birthday). There Must be a specific deadline.  Deadlines create all sorts of wonderful results.  No deadline; no results.  

"A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline."  (Harvey MacKay)

I like having a Plan A, and a Plan B.  I'm working on both of those plans now. 

A Goal should also be personalized.  For me, this will be the sixth Ferrari I will have owned in the last 40 years, so I could characterize myself as a Ferrari addict. I have been in remission for about 12 years, since I last owned a 2000 Ferrari 550 Maranello (car history). Bottom line is that I am way overdue for my next Ferrari. Yes, this is a very personal thing for me!

The more specific the Goal is, the better.  To make my goal even more specific, I have already decided it will be blue, with a blue/gray leather interior.  Three out of 5 of my previous Ferraris have been RED, but I was a lot younger then. Nowadays I'm a low-profile kinda guy.  That's not really relevant to this discussion, just that goals need to be specific as possible, down to the smallest possible detail. The clearer the goal, the more likely it will be achieved.

Finally, the most powerful part of achieving your goals is to Commit to it.

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."  (Goethe)

To that end, I have already contacted the Ferrari factory, and the dealer, and registered my intent to buy as soon as they will take my order. Until then I will wait patiently (and execute my plan) until they build it. Fortunately, I can commit to my order with only a small deposit, paying the balance on delivery.

What are your Goals? Are they specific, personal, and with a deadline? Are you committed to achieving them?

Check out 5 principles of Goal Setting, click here.

Bootstrap: Primary Focus: Sales!



A bootstrapped startup is a multitude of constantly changing variables along the path to only one goal: profitability day by day. Without this focus on Sales, it is all too easy to be distracted by one of many other shiny objects that masquerade as Important.

This focus on Sales is necessitated by the decision to Bootstrap the startup as much as possible. The more you bootstrap your startup the less control you give up in the way of equity to investors and others, and the less money you will have when/if you Exit.

The bootstrapping CEO will focus on Sales every day, and will know whether the day's sales will be in the Green, Yellow, or Red.  Sales per day will be posted on a graph by day, week and month.  The CEO will always know the Sales figures.  Per day, week to date, and month to date.

Green: sales are above the Target Sales per day.
Yellow: sales are below Target and above Break Even
Red: sales are below Break Even

If Sales are in the Green zone, you will have the resources to work on other Priorities.

If Sales are in the Yellow zone, you must be working on your plan to get them to Green (hiring additional/replacement sales people, email campaigns, adwords, etc). Other non-sales activities may be done, but only as a second Priority.

If Sales are in the Red zone, all other activities cease and total focus must be put on Sales.

The CEO who gets this will greatly increase probability of success.


On Being a Leader



If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams

------------------

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.


Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Elevator Story




The Elevator Story

The Elevator Story is the elemental creation of the startup business.  It is foundational.  You must have an Elevator Story. It is intended to be a Habit, able to be told as a reflex, a Go To definition of the business.  It is the standard answer to the question "What do you do?" (and Why do you do it.) However, it is seldom delivered frequently enough to become a habit, and over time falls into disuse and is abandoned. The focused startup CEO will have a powerful Elevator Story for all occasions.


Pitch or Story?

Some call it an Elevator Pitch rather than an Elevator Story. I recommend Story. A pitch is what you hear from a used car salesman, or on late night TV commercials for a set of steak knives. Calling your story a pitch cheapens and demeans it in your thoughts. It lacks sincerity and integrity. A story is a sharing event.


The Magic of the Elevator Story

By design it is the finest distillation of everything you are all about, focused into the fewest and most powerful words, delivered with great impact and results.  By definition, delivering your Elevator Story is one of your greatest Opportunities in Life. Your shining moment.
A story that is crafted to be delivered verbally from one person to another, or a group of others, that describes the startup business.


The Spirituality of the Elevator Story

The Elevator Story is an Extraordinary Opportunity.
Sometimes the delivery of the Elevator Story will be a pre-planned event, such as at the beginning of a presentation before potential investors.  This setting allows for the maximum preparation and customizing the Elevator Story to the circumstances.  In the moments just prior to the start of the story, you should go to a Place of great personal Power.  Breathe.  Be grateful for the Opportunity. Start smiling.  Engage your Core Energy. Enthusiasm is contagious.

The Physicality of the Elevator Story

Breathe - to generate Energy, and Pause
Smile -  Human Interaction 101
Eye Contact -  Human Interaction 101
Tone - appropriate for the audience
Posture - project confidence
Gestures - hands, arms...
Pace - mirror the pace of the audience, moving to increase the Pace.

Pauses - the Pause that gives Power to the previous, and creates attention to what comes next.
Energy - Enthusiasm is contagious.
The Surprise Gift - your card. The gift that keeps on giving.  Karma.
Duration - the shorter the better, less than 30 seconds. Add Chunks as the opportunity presents.


The Introduction

The first instants of the delivery are critical in getting attention.  Consider the framework: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action


The Call To Action

The Elevator Story is a meaningless waste of time unless there is some Call to Action.  Examples of a Call to Action would be to ask the listener to contact you, or to check out your website, or order your book on amazon.com.

A basic tenet of Sales is to Assume The Sale, so it will be better to Assume the Call to Action. The Call to Action is an Invitation to join you in your Adventure.


Other Forms of the Elevator Story

Website - the home page, or "about" page
Video -  add great Leverage to the Power of the story
Key Team Members - customize the Elevator Story for each key team member (CTO, Biz Dev, etc)


Additional resources

the-elevator-pitch
elevator-pitch-define-compose-practice-and-polish-rinse-and-repeat
why-your-startup-pitch-should-be-8-seconds-long
What Great Salespeople Do: the power of Story


Focus: Prevention of Random Events




Prevent Random Events. Distractions slow us down on our way to the goal. Shiny objects drain energy and consume bandwidth. Beware The Shiny Object. Prevent Random Events.

As CEO, your job is to Delegate, to create a Reality through the Actions of Others. Your focus must be clear. Your focus must be like a laser.

As CEO, you must come to your business as one who is working a plan rather than one who is wondering what's going to happen next, or grasping at straws, or reacting to Random Events.

You are either In Control, or Out of Control.

Choose.  Commit.  Act.  Learn.  Repeat.