Note: yet another arc, this one unfinished after eight years. J must think this is a book…
Thoughts on Building a Business, Part 1
Yep, we’re going to start another arc here. I wanted to call it “Adventures in Small Business Management across the 8th Dimension” but didn’t want to limit myself. The idea for this arc comes from a few sources. One source is two people who called me (not together, this was two separate phone conversations) and asked for my advice starting companies. Another source is the increasing number of people who’ve asked me to read their business plans and help them out.
The former doesn’t really surprise me. The longer you’re in business the better the chances are you’ll stay in business. NextStage Evolution has been NextStage Evolution for five years now. A few years back we created a sister company, NextStage Global [[(it was our Canadian group. Susan’s reorged the company and NSG no longer exists as a separate entity)]], so that I could get back to doing what I’m good at — research.
This arc, therefore, will deal with the joys and sorrows of growing a business.
First, are you sure want to start a business, let alone run one? Does the expression “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” have any meaning to you? I didn’t want to start a business and knew for a fact I didn’t want to run one. I’ve written about an early presentation I did for an MIT Enterprise Forum. After my presentation a panel of business “experts” asked, what I wanted to do. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation on my part. “I want to go back to my farm in Nova Scotia. I have no right to think I can run a company. I need to find a CEO to do that. Having me run a company is like putting me on a racehorse and telling me to win a race. We may go around the track but I won’t like it, the horse won’t like it and I can guarantee we ain’t gonna win.”
Let me share something with you; You have to be a little crazy to start your own business. Don’t think so? Let’s go down the list of questions which you should ask yourself before starting down this road.
- Are you putting together your business with your own resources?
- Are you independently wealthy?
- Do you plan on running your business out of your garage or basement for an indeterminate period of time?
- Are you seeking outside financing?
- Have you gone through a Family, Friends&Fools round? Politely it’s called “Family&Friends” but it’s really called “Family, Friends&Fools” because these folks are taking the biggest risk of everybody except you. You’re taking the biggest risk. You do know that, don’t you?
- Have you talked to Angel Investors?
- What about VC?
- How about Golden Fathers?
- What do you know about Equity and Merchant Banks?
- You do appreciate that this business is your idea, you’re taking the biggest risk and by the time you’re done you might own 5-10% of your business.
- You do know that you could end up owing the investors money because you didn’t plan properly and they’re concerned about the liquidity of their investment.
- What about the SBA?
- Have you talked with your local governmental economic development offices?
What? You didn’t ask yourself any of these questions and don’t know how to answer them?
Congratulations. Neither did I, and of my “graduating class” of entrepreneurs (the other companies represented at that long ago MIT Enterprise forum), NextStage is the only one still around and going strong.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 2
Have you considered how starting a business is going to affect your relationships? One of those local business experts I mentioned above told me that his first wife divorced him. Last time I talked with him he was on wife #2 because “she understands the sacrifices you have to make in business.” I wonder if she appreciates she could well be one of those sacrifices?
You need to know whether or not your life partner is going to support you emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. Think you have a good lock on those? Good, then what about financially? Are they willing to work and do without so you can get the equipment you need, pay contractors, rent office space? Are they willing to get a second or third mortgage, possibly lose the house you live in, get a smaller, used car, basically sacrifice with a capital Ouch! to make things happen? The reality check on this is whether or not you and your partner have a goal together or if your partner is just buying into your goal to humor you.
Remember my writing that NextStage had been around for five years? Those five years are significant. Do you know that from 1990 to 2003 96% of small businesses started in the US failed? The longer you remain in business the better your chances are of staying in business.
The US Small Business Office of Advocacy defines a small business as “…an independent business having fewer than 500 employees.” That’s a pretty big small business to me. Is it to you? How many employees do you have? Who’s in your core management team? Where did you find them? How did they find you? You did background checks, didn’t you? How well are they working together?
Do you know the language of business? Do you know what “I don’t know how to help you” means? You know about marketing and advertising and employee laws and regulations and taxes and incorporating and getting loans and support and sales and distribution and business models and marketing plans and pro formas?
I think these questions are much more important than those in the previous section. I asked Dan Sobotincic [[(CEO of NextStage Global at the time)]] how he learned how to run a business. He answered, “By making lots of mistakes.”
Sorry to all of the business school graduates (oh, let me get back to that one, too). You can learn lots of stuff from books. I’ve learned lots of stuff from books, anyway. But books plus experience? That’s the knockout combination. You can learn martial arts reading a book. Get punched in the face once or twice, though, and you really learn how to throw a block. Me thinks this post alone is going to end up being several thousand entries.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 3
Do you know the language of business? Do you know what “I don’t know how to help you” means? Do you know about marketing and advertising and employee laws and regulations and taxes and incorporating and getting loans and support and sales and distribution and business models and marketing plans and pro formas?
I think these questions are much more important than those listed in the first section of this post and are killers unless you have the kind of support I alluded to in the second part of this post.
Sorry to all of the business school graduates (let me get back to that one, too). You can learn lots of stuff from books. I’ve learned lots of stuff from books, anyway. But books plus experience? That’s the knockout combination. You can learn to play a musical instrument by reading a book. Sit down and play with someone who plays for a living, though? That’s when you really learn how to play. You can learn how to write from a book, too. Sit down and write with an experienced, excellent writer and again, your writing skills will go through the roof.
Learn about running a business from books is all well and good. This arc, I’ve come to realize, is about what I’ve learned by actually doing it, making mistakes, and how a personal philosophy can take you much further than anything else you can imagine.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 4
Do you have a trademark? Is your business based on a patentable device or technology? Do you know the financial costs of filing domestic and international patents? Who owns those patents? You or the business? Are there corporate or trade secrets involved in what you do? Where are these documented? Who knows these secrets besides you? Have you escrowed them somewhere and are you sure it’s safe?
What about the business’ income, real and projected? Forget about your income, you won’t be seeing that for a while unless you’re really, really lucky (chances are you won’t be). Do you have a product or are you developing a product? Do you have beta sites? How many beta sites do you need in order to validate your product? Or do you need third party validation of your product or technology? Is your product, technology or service scalable? Do you know what “scalable” means?
What’s your production costs? How quickly can you ramp up production to meet demand? What if there’s no demand and you already have manufacturing facilities in place? Are you using an onshore-offshore model? How do you know those onshore and offshore folks aren’t stealing your product?
And no, I’m not being paranoid. These are questions I was asked, had to ask myself or had to ask others in the early days of NextStage.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 5
When is a paying client a worthwhile client? What’s your customer or client acquisition cost? What’s each sale’s support cost? What’s each client’s maintenance cost? How much is each sale costing you? Can you support each sale?
Do you have employees or do you have consultants? Is there a difference in how each is treated and how each is compensated for their labors? How much equity do you want to share? Are your employees and consultants concerned with opportunity costs? Do you know what opportunity costs are? Do you have a trustworthy lawyer to draw up employment, consulting, incorporation, intellectual property, trademark and all the other legal agreements you’ll need?
Bing Bang Boom.
I’ve hit you with a lot in posts 1-5, I know. Now I’ll tell you the one question which, in my opinion, you really need to answer before you answer anything else; Who do you trust?
I can sit here all day typing things that come to mind based on what I’ve gone through and am going through (and again, I know I don’t know how to run a business), but what I’ve learned to answer before I answer anything else is “Do I trust this person? Do I trust this information?”
In the next post in this arc we’re going to start answering some of these questions. Over my five years I’ve made some friends who’ll help answer some of these questions and any others you might care to ask.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 6
The first person you’ve got to trust is yourself. You need to learn to go with your gut right from the start and out of the gate. Trust yourself or you’re not going to succeed.
This is not just something that applies to me. Dan Sobotincic calls it his “spider sense”. One of my other mentors calls it “that funny tingling in my toes”. I’ve heard Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and others speak of the same thing. This isn’t something that only appears in business. Generals throughout history have described this “sixth” sense.
Is this sixth sense always accurate? History demonstrates that sometimes it is fallible, but even then the evidence is illusory at best. Neuro- and cognitive-science have this sixth sense falling into the category of intuition. The concept of intuition is studied as everything from an energy flow to a kind of non-conscious mathematical savantness. Business studies often view intuition as a form of knowledge management. My own research points me towards two possibilities and not in an “either-or” configuration but in a “both-and” metaphor.
- The ability to non-consciously access accumulated knowledge via non-directed memory access.
- The ability to both access and accept information from a higher knowledge source.
Before going further, yes, I know that last one is a little out there. Someday we’ll discuss the subtle differences between natural, preternatural and supernatural. I put the latter option above in the preternatural cast. I have a favorite anecdote about sliding from natural to supernatural; Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the great Scottish evangelist, tells a story of meeting Kruschev and engaging the First Secretary in a debate about Kruschev’s statement that he (Kruschev) was an atheist. Kruschev was so irritated by Dr. Orr’s logic that he finally banged his fist on the table and shouted “God knows I’m an atheist!”
Anyway, I think there’s a mixing of the two, sometimes all of one and none of the other and at all times a blend at work. Just so we’re all being honest here, my personal philosophy is that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 7
Okay, everybody take a moment to catch their breath. I took the first five sections in this arc listing questions I never thought to ask myself before starting NextStage and one post responding to WorthABillion‘s comments [[(Sorry, all the comments to the old BizMediaScience blog are lost)]] in Responding to Reader’s Comments re Building a Business.
The last section had us reach the crest in this arc and was about trusting yourself.
No matter what you have done, learned or studied, appreciate that you’re going to make mistakes along the way. One thing I hope to share with you is (to paraphrase President Truman) the buck stops with you. Trust yourself to make mistakes and trust yourself to get beyond them. Every once in a while I’m asked to talk about my experiences starting a business. I tell people that they’re going to have problems and that in business or anything else it doesn’t matter how many time you fall down, only how many times you’re willing to get up. As long as you’re willing to get back up, you’re going to succeed.
We’re going to spend a little time at the crest. It’s a good place from which to get some perspective.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 8
Readers familiar with my history and bio know that I was once a truckdriver (still prefer manual to automatic transmissions). One of the things you learn truckdriving is “Whatever gear you go up a hill in is the gear you go down the hill in.” I think that metaphor applies here, so I’ll share my experiences getting NextStage going in the order I presented questions in previous posts starting tomorrow.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 9
Now we go down the hill we just climbed. At various points in my life I’ve kept journals, sometimes for no reason, sometimes because I knew I was going through something that would change me. Starting NextStage was something I suspected would change me. The anecdotes I’ll be sharing — most of them personal — will be from that journal.
Part of my commitment to journal writing was and is to be open and honest about my feelings, my thoughts, my insights and embarrassments. You don’t have to read a line twice to know if something is making me laugh, cry, ticking me off or just making me think. I’ve been debating how much of those feelings and thoughts to reveal in this blog.
A neutral, dry reportage of events chronicled in my NextStage journal will let you know things that happened and there is value in that. But it is a “if a tree falls in a wood” type of thing. Reporting events neutrally may provide facts but success and failure isn’t about facts, it’s about responses and reactions to facts. I remembered that fellow KMM author and editorial assistant Kimberlee Morrison wrote about my blog, “Candor – I enjoy the relaxed and candid tone of this blog.” and “Carrabis is open about his growth and it is quite endearing.”
It was while looking up the link for that quote that I read the incredible story about the Freedom Writers and Ms. Morrison’s involvement in it.
And this woman thinks I’m candid? I am humbled, dear woman.
I’ve decided I’ll state the factual lesson (as much as I’m able to neutralize it) and then my response and reaction, and what I learned from it.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 10
The fact: Getting financing from a bank involves lots of paperwork, so be prepared.
This wasn’t the first time I started a business. I had learned some things from that previous experience which I applied here. One thing I learned previously was not to go to banks for money unless you’re business is going to deal with known quantities. If you’re business deals with something truly innovative, shoot yourself now. You’ll eventually heal and the pain will go away.
This was the case with local banks, anyway. Back in the late 1980’s I had written a series of best selling trade technical books and had a growing consultancy going. Wanting to expand, I went to the bank where we had our accounts and asked for a business loan. The loan officer came from an IT background and had actually read several of my books. The bank’s internal systems were using methods I described in them.
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 11
I couldn’t get a loan even though we had an excellent credit history. The problem was that I had asked for the money I knew I needed, not the money the bank decided I needed. Confusing?
I knew how much I was making from consulting and writing. Some quick calculations showed how much I would need to expand operations, so that was what I asked for.
The bank, however, decided that I needed about US$1.5M (million), roughly twelve times what I calculated I needed. Why the difference? Because if the bank gave me a loan for US$120k it would have come out of their funds, US$1.5M would have come from SBA funding and the bank would only have to contribute 20% of the loan.
I’m only giving the high points, of course, but as I told the loan officer, “You do realize that at 20%, the bank still has to cover US$300k, don’t you? I mean, if I default on the loan the bank will be out more money than if you folks just give me the loan for US$120k, correct?”
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 12
This time I went through all the SBA paperwork, got their approval, got letters of approval, etc., from different NH state offices, letters of referral, letters of intent from clients, had our accountant put everything in order so that the bank would see our financial situation was improving over time, put together a business plan…
…and still got refused a loan. Why this time? Two reasons, both a little arcane (to me, anyway).
- Again, I wasn’t asking for what the banks thought I’d need. Banks can’t tell you how much to ask for when you’re seeking a business loan. If they tell you how much to ask for and your business fails, they’re liable. Therefore nobody at any of the banks I went to was willing to tell me, “Ask for this much money and we’ll approve the loan.” The bigger problem was that the banks couldn’t figure out how much I would need. The reason the banks couldn’t figure out how much I would need was, …
- …as several members of NH’s SBDC and PTAC offices told me, I wasn’t getting a loan for a “pink poodle parlor”. [[Something so known and commodified that they knew the success would be completely due to the applicant and not the business concept at all.]]
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 13
NextStage’s problem, therefore, was that what we do isn’t intuitively obvious to the casual observer (Evolution Technology is a paradigm shift for most people. As one of my professors said to me when I showed him my thesis, “This is so obvious only you could have figured it out.”).
It turns out that it’s relatively easy to get government funding for what’s obvious. “Pink poodle parlors” was the term some folks at SBDC and PTAC offices used to designate beauty salons, dog groomers, stitcheries, manufacturing, … anything which could be explained by saying “We do what those folks in that building do, we just do it in pink.” These are obvious things to get funded because everybody knows what they are and what to expect from them. I still remember several members of these offices telling me that they were really excited about working with NextStage precisely because we weren’t a pink poodle parlor. “Do you know how many pink poodle parlors we have to go through in a month? And you bring us something like this and wonder why we all want to help you?”
Thoughts on Building a Business, part 14
Next fact: Getting financing from the government involves lots of paperwork and knowing the right people, so if you have no connections, get some.
NextStage wasn’t in the pink poodle parlor business but there were still people willing to help NextStage succeed. Interestingly enough, none of the people I worked with at SBDC, PTAC are still involved with those organizations and only a few people remain at the banks from which I sought loans.
One of the people who helped NextStage succeed was Dave Nelson, then of NH SBDC. He and two other gentlemen constituted my first experience with NH SBDC is documented in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, Chapter 4, Anecdotes of Learning and excerpted in the following:
ET had only been in existence as an interface for about a month. It had learned all it could from me and had some experience with others in the tribe (students, friends, family and peers). Could ET take what it had learned and synthesize new information, essentially
- )learn and interpret the signs of someone it had never met (ie, acquire them),
- ) make an accurate analysis of that person’s behaviors in order to understand how they think (ie, read their mind), and
- ) predict that person’s needs and future plans based on what it had discovered in 1 and 2 above (ie, synthesize outcomes)
I went to see Dave Nelson, then Director of New Hampshire’s Small Business Development Center office at Rivier College in Nashua, NH. There were two other gentlemen in the office with him, and I started to explain what ET was and what it could do. It was 10:30 in the morning.
Their eyes glazed over very rapidly.
Dave Nelson started working on his computer. I figured he was bored and checking his emails or some such. Little did I know he was navigating the NextStage Evolution website. The site is very different now from what it was then. Back then it would display little charts about you based on what it was learning about you while you navigated.
Dave stopped and, as I continued to explain how ET worked, he said, “I’m on your site.”
He said it very dryly, very deadpan. I figured someone had hacked into our site and replaced it with porn or something.
“Oh? What do you think?”
“Your site says I’m highly visual and that I’m thinking about something in the near future.”
“Oh? That’s nice.”
Dave paused, then looked at me. “My wife always complains about how visual I am and I was just wondering what I’d have for lunch.”
Like I said, it was about 10:30 in the morning. Near future. Highly visual.
Acquire, read, synthesize.
Dave has been one of NextStage’s strongest advocates ever since.
Don’t, and let me emphasize don’t, attempt to get bank or government funding for anything truly innovative because no one will understand it but you and perhaps a handful of others, and if either you or that handful of others has money, why are you going this route in the first place?
Next up, government funding.
Thoughts on Building A Business – Government Funding
My adventures began with federal government. I started at the federal level because, heck, why start small?
I contacted our NH’s two US senators at the time (2001-2002). I met with their staff and in person (at least with the senior senator for NH [[and eventually both]]). I’ll cut to the chase. Nothing ever came from it except a promise to look into things. They promised in writing and to my face.
“… As soon as I have a response from the Department, I will be back in touch with you. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any additional questions.”
I guess the Department (of Defense) never got back to him because he never got back in touch with me. Neither of them did.
Well, that’s not quite accurate. I did receive an invitation to donate to the RNC. I also discovered I’d been selected Honorary Chairperson for the State of NH RNC. We still have the plaque somewhere and the letter’s on file.
And if I had US$2,000, I could attend a meeting in DC at which I’d have the chance to get my picture taken with the President. No guarantee of that, you understand, just the chance.
Hold me back, hold me back now.
Thoughts on Building A Business – Government Grants, SBIRs, STTRs and Other Things You Won’t Qualify For, Part 1
I continue with my quest for intelligent life in the universe. This time, SBIRs and other incentive programs.
Before going further, yes, I know there are companies who qualify and receive funding from such things, and I’m genuinely happy for them. They know how to do things that I didn’t at the time and probably still don’t.
But then again, this arc is primarily about my ignorance.
There is a federal program where by companies can get in touch with other companies to go after government contracts. This is partnering and most business people would recognize it as such. NextStage went after several of these, we put our name on federal lists for this and that, and never got a partnering nibble because “Government backed businesses won’t do business with you because you’re not big enough to sue.”
Evidently, about the only thing you can be sure of when dealing with the government or its businesses is that at some point, at some time, you’ll be sued and it will be for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you did what you agreed to do but because getting sued is part of the game. Unless you’re big enough to go after, you’re not considered big enough to get in the game, kind of an “You have to be this tall to get on this ride” thing that nobody openly talks about and you only learn when you’re sitting in a bar and someone feels paternalistic towards you.
Still Crazy After All These Years
Eois and Calum told me that I’d never completed this arc and, recognizing the point in time I was writing it, I understand; My spider-sense was tingling. Both NextStage and I were about to go through fundamental changes that brought all my and our resources to bear.
So have I learned anything? I hope so. If not, shoot me now.
What have I learned and what am I learning? In summary and in no particular order.
- Make sure you vet and hire your own staff. One of our CEOs hired someone they thought would be great for us. That person damn near brought the company down. Not only were they completely unsuited to the task they were hired for, they had no concept of the chain of command.
- Along those lines and as much as you’re able, hire people as consultants, not employees. Especially when you’re starting out. The down side is that they’ll want to be paid for their work and won’t necessarily believe in your company or product or offering the way you do, so offering them part of the company won’t be an incentive. The up side is that you can let them go and never look back. (From Susan: And you don’t have to pay employee taxes on consultants.)
- Biggee – Don’t start the company until you have the right people in place. Corollary – You’ll rarely have the right people in place.
- Don’t hire brilliant people. Definitely hire people who are incredibly good at what they do, but never hire people who are brilliant and definitely never hire brilliant people who are insecure in their brilliance.
- Only hire people who know they are there to do a job. People who want to change the world will work cheap but their fire will consume them and probably everything you’re working for…at the worst possible moment.
- Biggee – and this is from a quote one of our original programmers, Kevin “KBar” McBride, gave me, “Go with your gut; it’s right between your heart and your balls.” In other words, follow your instincts. Even when their incorrect, it’ll be you that both pays the price and learns from the experience, and in those there is value beyond heaven’s gates.
- Biggee – Make sure you’re speaking the same language as anyone who uses the word “help” as in “How can I help you?”, “How can we help each other?”, etc. Understand that in business, the word “help” means “make a profit” as in “How can I profit from you?” I know that every group has its own jargon and business is excellent at using metaphor to hide meaning and intent. I remember being with an investor in the crowded restaurant of his club having lunch. At one point he stood up (there was no reason to do so), faced me, said loudly “I don’t know how to help you, Joe” while moving his arms back and forth (ask me to demonstrate some time, it’s a hoot), then sat back down. I was seriously confused. I said, “Give me $50k to buy the computer systems I need. I’ve been telling you that for the past half hour.” He shook his head and looked away, disgusted. I didn’t realize his performance was for his peers, not me, to let them know that he was willing to help this village idiot but he’d managed to get an idiot who didn’t know that something was expected in return. This is where knowing each other’s language comes in. If he’d simply said, “What do I get?” I would have told him and things would have moved forward, but such a crass statement wouldn’t have been worthy, I guess. Another example was the investment group who told me to get clients. Once I got clients, investors would line up. No problem. I went to my deli owner, a friend, and a woman I knew with a small consultancy and asked them to sign up. They didn’t have to pay, I just wanted to be able to say “I have clients”. They did, I went back to the investment group and they shook their heads. “We mean companies like Ford, Amazon, Google, clients like that.” Again, I was confused. “You know anybody at those companies to make introductions for me?” Of course they didn’t, but there you go.
- Learn to recognize idiots. They can be well meaning idiots, malicious idiots, extremely intelligent idiots and plain and simple idiots. Avoid them. If you hired them, get rid of them. If you’re working for them, leave.
- Biggee and following the above, learn to recognize, as quickly and truthfully as possible, when you’re an idiot. Stop what you’re doing immediately. Take time to reassess. Get back your intelligence, replan, regroup, redo, then start getting back to work.
- One of the first people I ever went to for help immediately answered me back with “What do I get?” It was crass and vulgar and immediately understandable. I didn’t like it and I thanked him for it. Many times. With ROI.
- Just because somebody’s run a business doesn’t mean they know how to run your business. We went through a few CEOs who were successful in one vertical and couldn’t shift their acumen to other verticals. The end result was that they spent lots of money — sometimes ours — and nothing got done.
- Get business, patent, etc., attorneys who know the law and know they don’t know your business, your invention, your technology, etc. Attorneys who thought they understood engineering better than me have cost me several patents, attorneys who thought they knew people better than me have cost me several dollars. Make sure you get attorneys who will give you the best legal advice available (doesn’t mean they have to be the most expensive), tell you when they think you’re making a mistake and then follow your instructions exactly.
- Biggee – it’s your company. You have a say. In fact, you have the only say. When things aren’t going your way, say so. Loudly. Until people stop what they’re doing to listen. And respond. Or either you or they leave. Someone told me early on that no investor is going to shoot the golden goose (that would be me in the case of NextStage). I knew that advice was crap when I heard it and experience has held it true.
- There’s a wonderfully idiotic saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”. Don’t believe it. Unless you have someone willing to sacrifice to keep you afloat until the money shows up. The money invariably drives a much slower vehicle than you do.
- Take a lesson from evolution; stay small to survive. NextStage has been around since 2001. Most of the companies that started at the same time are gone. The minute your company gains recognition beyond a chosen few, lawsuits show up for no reason. Investors don’t like what you did. Clients don’t like what you did. People you don’t know don’t like what you did. The sky is cloudy and it’s your fault. But if you stay so small that you survive with minimal pockets, nobody bothers you. Use this time to perfect everything you can and put as many protections in place as possible. Then and only then, make your big splash.
- Biggee – Make everybody accountable and hold them accountable. This is something else we learned from failed CEOs. More than once we said, “We don’t want your money, we want your rolodex and your experience” and more than once all they knew how to do was give us money. But without business experience, money is actually pretty useless.
- Major Biggee – Don’t go after money until you’ve either had experience running a real business (not a pink poodle parlor and no offense to those who run them), running a multi-person dept in a larger company (complete with financial oversight for the dept), or have someone who’s had those experiences. Until you’ve worked with finances — not money but finances — you’re not ready for money. One investor asked me for a spreadsheet of projected income v expenses. Easy, took less than one screen of an XLS sheet. He said, “No, I mean something like this” and showed me something that covered seven (no kidding) XLS sheets in full. In Full!.
- Learn to use your ego, don’t let yourself, your business, your family, your investors, your employees, etc., get used by your ego. There are times to stand firm because you do know what’s best and there are times to admit you don’t. Pay attention to which times are which and you’ll be better off.
- Major Biggee – You’re going to make mistakes. Get use to it and get over it. You can have the best advice, best intelligence, best counselling, best whatever, and you’ll still make mistakes. The stupidest thing you can do is ignore them and hope everyone else does, too. Not good. You won’t learn otherwise. (See our Principles for more on this)
- Biggee – Make sure everyone who’s working for you, with you and around you knows, understands, appreciates and will use the chain of command. If you’re running the company, everybody has to report to you either directly or through that chain. If you own the company, ditto in spades.
- Hire with a purpose, not to help out someone in need. If someone can’t benefit the business in an obvious way, take them to dinner, buy them a meal, clothing, whatever, just don’t hire them. (From Susan:) Remember, you’re not a charity. You can help the world when you’re rich and famous or rich and have time. Until then, help yourself first, your (immediate) family second, your business third, …
- Spend money on equipment, people, space, travel, development, research, … only when there’s a recognized, road-blocking, game-stopping, must have, more-than-one use need for it, them, … You can spend discretionary dollars when you’re out of start-up mode because that’s when you’ll have discretionary dollars to spend. But not when you’re just out of the gate.
- Biggee – Get it in writing. Don’t accept promises, handshakes, etc. Acknowledge them, definitely, and get it in writing. As Susan often says, “Promises make a thin soup.”
- Major Biggee – Make sure your family is going to emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically and definitely financially support you. Then return that support. I’ve known a few entrepreneurs whose families sacrificed everything for them and then the entrepreneurs turned around and sacrificed their families on the altars of stupidity and greed. Don’t do that. The most terrifying enemies are those closest to your heart.
Okay, Susan says I’ve covered it all. I think there’s stuff I’ve missed. Stay tuned…maybe it’ll be in a future blog post. Or a book. Yeah, that’s the ticket…because there are already so many in the queue…
Tagged Commentary, From Dec '06, From Feb '07, From Jan '07, History, KBar