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work-lifeIt is a hard balance that many of us need to struggle with. Working in a start-up and having a good family life seem to be poles apart. One of my favorite business school professors, Steve Blank published this piece today on VentureBeat. The permalink seems to be broken so I am repeating some of the key points that Steve mentioned.

This is what he writes –

My wife and I agreed to a few rules upfront and made up the rest as went along. We agreed I was still going to do startups, and probably more than most spouses she knew what that meant.  To her credit she also understood that meant that child raising wasn’t going to be a 50/50 split; I simply wasn’t going to be home at 5 pm every night.

In hindsight this list looks pretty organized but in reality we made it up as we went along, accompanied with all the husband and wife struggles of being married and trying to raise a family in Silicon Valley.  Here are the some of the rules that evolved that seemed to work for our family.

  • We would have a family dinner at home most nights of the week.  Regardless of what I was doing I had to be home by 7pm.  (My kids still remember mom secretly feeding them when they were hungry at 5pm, but eating again with dad at 7pm.)  But we would use dinnertime to talk about what they did at school, have family meetings etc.
  • Put the kids to bed. Since I was already home for dinner it was fun to help give them their baths, read them stories and put them to bed.  I never understood how important the continuity of time between dinner through bedtime was until my kids mentioned it as teenagers.
  • Act and be engaged. My kids and wife had better antenna than I thought.  If I was home but my head was elsewhere and not mentally engaged they would call me on it.  So I figured out how to spit the flow of the day in half.  I would work 10 hours a day in the office, come home and then…
  • Back to work after the kids were in bed. What my kids never saw is that as soon as they were in bed I was back on the computer and back at work for another 4 or 5 hours until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Weekends were with and for my kids. There was always some adventure on the weekends. I think we must have gone to the zoo, beach, museum, picnic, amusement, etc. a 100 times.
  • Half a day work on Saturday.  While weekends were for my kids I did go to work on Saturday morning.  But my kids would come with me.  This had two unexpected consequences; my kids still remember that work was very cool.  They liked going in with me and they said it helped them understand what dad did at “work.”  Second, it set a cultural norm at my startups, first at Supermac as the VP of Marketing, then at Rocket Science as the CEO and at E.piphany as President. (Most Silicon Valley startups have great policies for having your dog at work but not your kids.)
  • Long vacations. We would take at least a 3-week vacation every summer.  Since my wife and I liked to hike we’d explore national parks around the U.S. (Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine.) When the kids got older our adventures took us to Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa and Europe. The trips gave them a sense that the rest of the country and the world was not Silicon Valley and that their lives were not the norm.
  • Never miss an event. As my kids got older there were class plays, soccer games, piano and dance performances, birthdays, etc.  I never missed one if I was in town, sometimes even if it was in the middle of the day. (And I made sure I was in town for the major events.)
  • Engage your spouse. I asked my wife to read and critique every major presentation and document I wrote. Everything she touched was much better for it.  What my investors never knew is that they were getting two of us for the price of one.  (And one of us actually went to business school.)  It helped her understand what I was working on and what I was trying to accomplish.
  • Have a Date-Night. We tried hard to set aside one evening a week when just the two of us went out to dinner and/or a movie.
  • Get your spouse help. Early on in our marriage we didn’t have much money but we invested in childcare to help my wife.  While it didn’t make up for my absences it offloaded a lot.
  • Traditions matter. Holidays, religious and secular, weekly and yearly, were important to us.  The kids looked forward to them and we made them special.
  • Travel only if it needed me. As an executive it was easy to think I had to get on a plane for every deal. But after I had kids I definitely thought long and hard before I would jump on a plane.  When I ran Rocket Science our corporate partners were in Japan (Sega), Germany (Bertelsmann) and Italy (Mondadori) and some travel was unavoidable.  But I probably traveled 20% of what I did when I was single.
  • Document every step. Like most dads I took thousands of photos.  But I also filmed the girls once a week on the same couch, sitting in the same spot, for a few minutes – for 16 years.  When my oldest graduated high school I gave her a time-lapse movie of her life.
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Jane McGonigal is a very talented game designer. I met her for lunch in Berkeley when Nipun brought us together with Mike Smolen (dotSUB). She was voted MIT’s top-35 innovators changing the world, for her work in building distributed games. Here is an interesting presentation from her about how gaming would help learning in the future.

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ByronReeves

Could games be used to influence behavior? Could guilds, mobs and monsters teach us a thing or two about leadership, decision making, team building and effective communication? The answer is absolutely yes.

I met an interesting Stanford professor Byron Reeves who is focusing all his energies now to create this link between the fun games and the serious business.

Byron says –

If you want to see what business leadership may look like in three to five years, look at what’s happening in online games.

Here is an interesting report by IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook group – virtual worlds real leaders.

Helen Cheng, a level 60 guild leader and a stanford graduate talks about her transformative experience.

Finally, I pushed my button to talk and rallied the troops to revive one another and try again, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. It was me, this girl, talking to a room of guys. And to my shock and surprise, everyone complied and we got going. That was a defining moment for me, and eventually led to me becoming a guild leader.

Leadership in current times, just like games, could be –

  • A temporary phenomenon
  • Task-oriented
  • Dynamic and constantly changing

Only time will tell where the leadership is headed in the coming decades. I think games are a clear indication of what it might look like in the future.

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pic_bruce

I met a very successful enterprise software entrepreneur/investor Bruce Cleveland in a very random way. Bruce was a part of the founding teams at Siebel and Oracle. It is really amazing how/where/when you meet such interesting people. As I was going through Bruce’s blog I found many intriguing posts. This one stood out because it defines an alternate investment structure particularly suitable for enterprise software companies. This could be a new structure that brave VCs who are looking for innovation in the VC model could experiment with.

Bruce defines this Spin In structure as a new startup where a large software company seeds the venture with the management team, IP, distribution and sometimes cash. This is done in partnership with other financial investors.

I could see how this would be very useful in some situations if all the incentives are aligned properly. It would also make a lot of sense to try it in a partnership situation too. For companies with a platform strategy it could make sense to seed the potential platform applications start-up partners funded using this approach. Think iFund and fbFund kind of situations in the enterprise software world.

Bruce’s blog post also reminded me of an author/entrepreneur I recently met – Jon Fisher. He advocates building companies (most relevant for enterprise software) with the end goal (a large software company as the exit) in mind. Bruce’s approach provides a good structure to what he calls strategic entrepreneurism.

Hope to see how this structure would play out in the real life. This could take at least 8-10 years before we see some start-ups exiting using this approach.

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I asked this question to my network –

How to bring simplicity in to the design of products – take complexity out and not the capabilities?

Here are a couple of interesting answers I got –

David Marshall wrote back –

It should all be driven by a proper elicitation process to define system requirements. This should result in an immediate protoyping session with the users without ever telling them what is technically possible. Find out what they need to be able to do their work effectively. Then build that and only that. Too often, designers build what they want to work on and with. The latest technological gizmos are cool. It is boring to keep reusing the tried and tested code. Except that users want only what makes their work easy. Anything that slows down the system’s performance or clutters up the GUI with redundant options is annoying and demotivating. It is hard enough to manage the transition to a new system. Giving the users the chance to take ownership of the design gives managers the best chance of a smooth transition. Thus, taking the designers out of the design is the best way to achieve simplicity.

Shantanu Sengupta says –

1st step – Forget you’re designing!!! Think you’re solving a problem!
2nd step – Once a solution is found, don’t stop… look for more solutions – at least 5 more!
3rd step – Apply logic and reason to see if these solutions are different and addresses the problem fully
4th step – If yes, see if they’re simple enough for applying in reality

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steve-blank4 One of my greatest teachers ever, Steve Blank, started writing his blog recently. He is the master of understanding the intricacies of the startups. He has a knack of telling these complex ideas in a very simple and fun language. His core idea is that there are patterns in successful startups. He calls his core model “customer development”. After going through a few cycles of startups myself I could tell you how right he is. Everytime I get in to a situation where I have a choice to go the “traditional product development cycle” or follow the “customer development approach” – I take a deap breath, remember Steve and choose the second path.

Chris Anderson calls Steve “a dude with serious street cred“.

Steve writes on his Blog –

I call this process “Customer Development,” a sibling to “Product Development,” and each and every startup that succeeds recapitulates it, knowingly or not.

The “Customer Development” model is a paradox because it is followed by successful startups, yet articulated by no one.  Its basic propositions are the antithesis of common wisdom yet they are followed by those who succeed.

It is the path that is hidden in plain sight.

Steve: Thanks for continuing our customer development class conversations on Twitter and blog now 🙂 Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts. So far I used to refer my entrepreneur friends to your book, now I have two more places to send them to – your tweets and your blog.

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mark_zuckerberg_ceo_facebookI loved this short story about Mark Zuckerberg and how to “start” communities. [Taken from “What would Google do?”]

The scene was the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum International Media Council in Davos, Switzerland, as the head of a powerful news organization begged young Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for his secret. Please, the publisher beseeched him, how can my publication start a community like yours? We should own a community, shouldn’t we? Tell us how.

Zuckerberg, 22 at the time, is a geek of few words. Some assume his laconicism is a sign of arrogance – that and his habit of wearing sandals at big business conferences. But it’s not. He’s shy. He’s direct. He’s a geek, and this is how geeks are. Better get used to it. When the geeks take over the world-and they will-a few blunt words and then a silent stare will become a societal norm. But Zuckerberg is brilliant and accomplished, and so his few words are worth waiting for.

After this publishing titan pleaded for advice about how to build his own community, Zuckerberg’s reply was, in full: “You can’t.”

Full stop. Hard stare.

He later offered more advice. He told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

What is an elegant organization? I would tell my perspective in a post later.

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