The hardest thing about starting a company is that from day one you emerge as this completely vulnerable entity trying its hardest to project success, power, trajectory and inevitability while you secretly know that you’re one knock-out blow from extinction.
Think about it: You start with nearly no money, you bring on some co-founders and if they quit it could completely derail your mission, you talk to journalists who if they decide to be cranky can ruin your reputation, you pitch investors who can change your outcomes by giving you cash that enables more forward progress but if they withhold it you can starve. While all of this is going on you are trying to get customers to use your product, enterprises to sign contracts that don’t leave you with unlimited liabilities and landlords to take you in with limited deposits or guarantees.
In a word – you are truly vulnerable.
Understanding your vulnerability and understanding the power of those with whom you must do business is a very important part of figuring out as a startup how to fit into the broader ecosystem and the art of statecraft is tremendously important in knowing when and how to project power in sales, recruiting, negotiations, fund raising, etc. In politics this is often described as a Hobbesian system (after Thomas Hobbes who wrote Leviathon in 1651).
In a Hobbesian world powerful countries exploit their strength because they can and other players either align themselves with powerful countries are create competing systems. It’s convenient not to bother thinking about politics because you want to just ship really cool code and if users love it then you’ll be successful – but that’s not reality. You have to exist in a world with powerful ecosystems (iPhone vs. Android, Facebook vs. Twitter, YouTube vs. Facebook).
Yesterday I saw two biopic films: “Amy” about the life of Jazz sensation Amy Winehouse who died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 and “Montage of Heck” about the life of Kurt Cobain, the grunge-rock generational voice who died of an overdose of heroin and valium at the age of … 27.
It was a heavy day, for sure. Both films were must watches for artistry. They interweave off-stage lives and conversations with amazing musical performances and they both have amazing editing and cinematography.
They are essentially the same story. Each had childhoods with some degree of parental neglect and each suffered from and was diagnosed at a young age with depression. In both cases they turned to hard-core drugs to escape reality – Cobain to heroin and Winehouse to heroin and crack cocaine.
I noticed this post today from Ezra Galston titled “Dear Brad, Fred & Mark: How The Hell Do You Do It?”
The premise is that either I have some magical solutions that allow me to produce a lot of content or I’m super human.
tl;dr version courtesy of Tuvia Elbaum which made me laugh so I’m adding it after the fact. As you can see Tuvia asked me this June 25th. I answered. I get asked all the time. I have the same answer. I sit down to get things done. And I finish.
.@msuster and here’s the shorter version for those who don’t have time 😄 https://t.co/HSzvQK63th
— Tuvia Elbaum (@Tuviae) July 14, 2015
BTW – if anybody at Twitter reads this you need to fix your “embed Tweet” code because as you’ll see from above it doesn’t properly embed when you have a quoted Tweet.
If you follow the Twittersphere you may have noticed several people weighing in on this recent piece by Mike Isaac of the NY Times, asking “How Many Angels is Too Many?”
I found myself nodding through all of it with quotes like,
“Seed investing is the status symbol of Silicon Valley,” said Sam Altman
I myself coined the term ENIFA (everyone now is a fucking angel) in 2011 but it didn’t stick as well as the term Unicorn did. Ah, well. I was trying to cheekily suggest that it was the new status symbol. Sam is more succinct and well-stated than I and I’m guessing ENIFA wouldn’t make the NYT.
One of my favorite entrepreneur-Twitterer weighed in,
“You want to keep tapping into their collective intelligence so you keep saying ‘Thank you for the feedback’ and they keep sending it,” Ms. Morrill said.
“But then you are sitting there alone at 3 a.m.
Many people are too cautious in sales processes and as a result when they present their solutions they end up sounding milquetoast and undifferentiated from anybody else in the market. In this post I advocate taking a harder stand on where your product or solution differentiates in the market – even if it means you lose some deals as a result.
I recently wrote about the three rules of sales
1. Why Buy Anything?
2. Why Buy Me?
3. Why Buy Now?
The first of question is about qualifying your potential customers aka leads. Many sales organizations or inexperienced startup CEOs spend their time with leads who either aren’t a good fit for their solution, aren’t decisions makers in their organization or don’t have budget and therefore they aren’t likely to buy. I call these