My friend Jon works at Connected Ventures - here is a video they made for fun one afternoon after work. Damn, that's a pretty cool place to work.
Our last class in Entrepreneurship & VC featured all three of the instructors - Andy Rachleff (co-founder of Benchmark Capital), Peter Wendell (founder of Sierra Ventures), and Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) - individually talking for 45 minutes, giving us parting advice. It was one of the best single classes I've ever had. I thought I would share here some of my key take-aways.
- Successful people listen. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio. You learn more when you listen than when you talk.
- Putting on "the cloak" of leadership. A large part of your role is to inspire and motivate your employees, and people will look to you for confidence. If you were on a plane with engine problems, you don't want the pilot to say "I am exploring a number of options and hope that...", you want him to say, "I will do whatever it takes to land this plane."
- The importance of passion. When Warren Buffet finds people to run his business, his key criteria is to find somebody who would do the job whether they would get paid or not.
- Just when you think you've got it 100% right, you can be taken down. Look no further than what happened to JetBlue in February. In January, a mistake like this by JetBlue was almost unthinkable.
- People who are lucky make their own luck. And you only make your own luck by staying in the game.
- You will only be as good as the people you will recruit. Media & culture celebrate individuals, but teams succeed.
- The best scientists can explain complex issues in simple terms. Pretty good scientists can explain complex issues in complex terms.
- A's hire A's. B's hire C's. Always strive to hire people better than you are.
- Be a clear, fair manager. For example, when speaking to a business unit leader that isn't succeeding, say: "I want a strategy to win in 1-page and the objectives we need to hit each quarter to reach them."
- When considering a business:
- Look for change. What inflection point are you taking advantage of? Without change, there is rarely opportunity.
- Always look for the 80/20. 80 percent of the value is delivered by 20 percent of the product/service. Focus on that 20 percent.
- Does is answer a real pain? Who is the user and what is their pain point?
- Just keep selling. Not a bad default strategy to communicate to your team.
- Be humble. The markets are brutal to those who are arrogant.
- Understand what you don't do well. Surround yourself with people and resources that can do these things well.
- Practice self-discipline. Set targets, have timetables, have clear unambiguous goals. Life passes quickly - days, weeks, months, years, a lifetime.
- Be yourself. In group settings, you usually serve the group best by thoughtfully expressing exactly what you are thinking. Not necessarily what the group wants to hear.
- You've got to give trust to get trust. Treat people as you would want to be treated. Sometimes people take advantage of you. That's fine, don't do business with them again.
- Shoot for the moon.To be successful, don't follow the pack. If you want to win, don't hedge.
David Kelley, founder of IDEO, came by our "Evaluating Entrepreneurial Opportunities" class last quarter to speak about the "design process". This is likely documented a million times in other places, but I thought it personally useful to write down some of the most salient points So here are some tips on how to design things or ideas. If you are interested in this sort of stuff, check out my podcast with David.
Before you even say what you are going to do, seek to better understand.
Talk to experts (don't just read experts)
Best question to ask experts: "why?"
Develop empathy for the user!
Questionnaires won't tell you what you want to know.
Watch users. Watch when they grimace, watch when they smile.
Go to their workplaces, their cars, their homes.
Users often prove experts wrong.
Look at people who are high value, low status (e.g. nurses)
Look at extreme users. Users who use a lot or a little.
Much more important to build a crummy prototype than to write a specification.
Three crummy prototypes are better than a single polished one.
Never go into a meeting without a prototype. *
* General rule: whoever has a prototype at a meeting wins
Show stuff to the user.
Show messy stuff to the user.
Let the user chose.
Iterate rapidly, fail often.
And one other random tip: Make the coolest workspaces in the building workspaces for teams. (Corner offices, etc.)
On Wednesday, Needham analyst Mark May points out what what many have realized for years, Yahoo Messed Up Not Buying Facebook. For the younger demographics Yahoo's brand is irrelevant. Not a single person I have spoken to under 22 uses or cares about any of Yahoo's properties. Facebook, in comparison - well, I'll let the stats speak for themselves. From the report:
Facebook is no doubt one of the most important Internet companies to have been created in the last five years. In just three years since launch the property has attracted 21 million registered users. More phenomenal, however, is that an estimated 93% of those 21 million users are “active”, or log on at least once a month, 85% at least once a week and 60% at least once a day. In addition, average daily usage is reported to be nearly 20 minutes per day per user. According to comScore, Facebook.com ranked as the 36th most-visited site on the Web in February 2007 with 16.7 million unique visitors, and was also the second-most “engaging” site with 23.6 average visits per visitor during the month (see figure below). Facebook has also been ranked as the number one site for photos, ahead of Yahoo!’s Flickr, with over 6 million photos uploaded daily. In a survey conducted last month, eMarketer found that Facebook was the most viewed site by females in the United States (69%) ages 17-25 and also the most viewed website by males (56%). In a survey conducted last year by Student Monitor, Facebook was named the econd most "in" thing among undergraduates, tied with beer and after only the iPod. Those sorts of usage statistics are nearly unheard of, and make Facebook one of the largest and stickiness media properties around.
I'm in the first class of Social Machines: Online Learning Communities, going over a history of the modern computer and internet. One of the most fascinating characters is a guy named Doug Engelbart, "father of the personal computer."
In a 6-year period in the 60's, Doug and his team developed the mouse, hypertext, the client-server architecture, to a large extent the internet and a slew of other thing. What is amazing is that the bulk of this research was presented in one place, to 1000 people, on Dec 9, 1968. This was the equivalent of Woodstock for computer users. From Wikipedia:
At the Fall Joint Computer Conference, Engelbart, with the help of his geographically distributed team, demonstrated the workings of the NLS (which stood for oNLine System) to the 1,000 computer professionals in attendance... The demo featured the first computer mouse the public had ever seen, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email and hypertext.
Keeping in mind that nobody had seen a personal computer before, this is a pretty amazing demonstration. Thanks to the technologies that Doug and his team envisioned, the video is available below :)
Note: In the cllip, Jeff Rollifson appears, who ends up leading the development of the Mac at Apple.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chad and Steve, co-founders of YouTube, came to our Entrepreneurship & VC class. I was fortunate to have lunch with them afterwards as well. One of the questions that I asked them was:
Given that there were dozens of video sharing sites before YouTube (indeed, iFilm had seemingly "won" in the space, being acquired years before), what specifically did YouTube do that everybody else missed?*
So, I will generously paraphrase the answer, but basically they said that it came down to two big things. First, although they were a relative late-comer to the online video space, they were the first to add easy embedding of videos in other pages. This allowed them to ride the MySpace phenomenon. Second, YouTube had a highly scalable back-end, so when "viral videos" brought down other services, YouTube stayed up. It turns out that much of the success of these services is based on these viral videos, so this led to YouTube's continues success.
Of course these two major factors were in addition to thousands of "little things" that YouTube did right every day in executing their vision. However, it's instructive to think of the major factors that allowed them to win in a space crowded by so much money and talent.
* Long-term readers may have noted that this is a topic I'm generally interested in. See my post referencing Danah Boyd's thoughts on why MySpace beat Friendster.