How I Built This Podcast

One of my new favorite podcasts is How I Built This on NPR. It’s a tightly edited 20-30 minutes each week with an entrepreneur about how they built their business.  They done stories with the founders of Patagonia, Zumbra, Crate & Barrel and more.  All of them are great.

The latest one I’ve heard is that of 5-Hour Energy Drink with founder Manoj Bhargava. I’ve never had the product and frankly have always looked down on it, but the story was fascinating and I found a few great nuggets in the episode.  My favorite nuggets are:

The three best characteristics, according to Manoj, for someone wanting to start a business are (a) Common sense. Don’t get caught up in MBA-Speak.  If it makes sense, do it. If not, don’t do it.  (b) Determination.  Don’t confuse passion with determination.  Passion goes away but to be succussful you have to show up every single day. (c) Urgency. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Don’t wait.

I also like the part where he talked about leaving money to his son and why he’s leaving him almost nothing. Manoj a billonaire and he had the great quote of “If you raise your kid to be useless, than leaving him money is pointless.  If you raise your son to be competent, leaving him money is pointless.”
It’s worth a listen. Check it out.

SaaS is going into battle together every day

I read a good post by Jason Lemkin (former CEO of EchoSign, now partner at Storm Ventures) about hiring VP’s in your company and he had the following passage which totally resonated with me: 

SaaS is going into battle together every day.  Wining that next customer.  Saving that big deal.  Building that crazy feature.  Every day, there’s a new drama.

It’s truly a team effort.  The VP of Sales opens and closes.  The VP Marketing feeds the machine. The VP of Customer Success keeps it running and adds fuel to the fire.  The VP Product makes sure the 1,000+ customers get what they need, as impossible as that is.  And the VP Engineering’s job is to make a business process 10x better than it ever was before, just using computers.  This is teamwork.  And it’s really not that silo’d at all.  You’re all working on different parts of the same puzzle — Customers.

Where I don’t see true teamwork, I almost always see eventual failure.  Or at least, underperformance.

I’m running the product ship and I feel really thankful that we have a great team lined up right now of Toby, Patrick, Riley and Nader.  

It’s a battle out there but with these folks, I like our chances….

Nelson Mandela: A Great Man

“He’s actually the rare revolutionary who actually sees the revolution through” – Nader

I was sad to hear about Nelson Mandella’s death today.  He was an amazing person.  Some history about him….

Born into a traditional Aftrican tribe, he was sent to boarding school. In his spare time, he studied to become a lawyer so that he could protect blacks. Work as a lawyer strengthened his feelings against apartheid (which segregated and discriminated against blacks in South Africa).

He joined the African National Congress (ANC), which, at the time, was polite to the government. Soon Nelson Mandela had persuaded the ANC to use boycotts and strikes against the government instead of being polite. He was arrested for civil disobedience, and was not allowed to attend gatherings.

After a massacre, Nelson went underground and created the MK – a military portion of the ANC. He launched a sabotage campaign. On his return from Algeria he was arrested for going between countries without a passport, and was tried for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government. He spent the next 28 years in prison.

While Nelson was in prison he was offered freedom if he would stop his violent actions. He refused this offer.

In July of 1991, Nelson Mandela was appointed President of the ANC. Nelson decided to join the government and other parties to negotiate South Africa’s future. Finally everyone came to agree on a majority rule constitution. This constitution states that racial discrimination it is against the law.

In 1993, Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk for dismantling apartheid, and in 1994 he became the first democratically elected South African president.

He was quite a guy and truly shows how one man can make a difference in this world.  Well done Mandela.

 

Be a Little Kinder

This speech, sent to me by my cousin Nelly, really made my night tonight.  It’s by Syracuse professor and NYTimes writer George Saunders.

I think it’s a great message we all should listen to:

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that. Continue reading Be a Little Kinder

David Brooks: A Good Marriage is Equal to Doubling Your Income

David Brooks, one of the better columnists out there was interviewed by Alec Baldwin a few months ago on the Here’s the Thing podcast.  It’s a really interesting interview.  The entire thing is here but below is my favorite 4 minutes of the interview is where he talks about the book he wrote and why it’s so important to choose a good spouse. 

The first few seconds of this clip below is about his book is about why kids drop out of high school. He found in his research that you can tell in the first 18 months of kid’s life whether they will or not.  Apparently, kids who can form attachments at an early age can form emotional attachments with teachers and peers later in life and they’ll generally be okay.  If you can’t, life if very frustrating. 

The second part of this short clip he shares some of his thoughts on marriage.  I found it interesting to hear that he goes around and tells people, “If you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you’ll be miserable. If you have a crappy career and a great marriage, you’ll be happy.”  I like the thought of that.  If this is true, then all the courses you should take in college should be about who you should marry.  

He then talks more about happiness and makes the point that money only correlates a little to happiness and that studies have shown that, of people who are happy, they have a good marriage and that the happiness gain of a good marriage is equal to that of doubling your income. 

This may be why I was so willing to quit my job in 2009 – because I was about to get married.

We are So Lucky, Indeed

Just listened to a great commencement speech by Michael Lewis (aka: my google search nemesis).  The end of the speech is great.  He talks to the graduating Princeton class about luck and the role it plays in life.  Here’s the transcript.  I loved it:

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

I couldn’t agree more.  I feel completely lucky to be on the earth at this time, in this country, with my family and with all the other things that have fallen into place for me.  It’s great to stop every now and then and acknowledge it.

You can watch the whole thing video:

 

More Forward or Die

I was reading BusinessWeek and there was a good interview with Cisco’s John Chambers 

Companies that don’t change get left behind. Since I became CEO [in 1995], 87 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 are off the list. What that says is that companies that don’t reinvent themselves will be left behind.

Wow. I love that. You see this all over the place.  The companies that will be killing it in 10 years probably don’t even exist yet.  They say that each person today will have 8 careers by the time they are 65.  The world changes pretty fast now. It’s exciting. 

Looking back at 2011

Some things i’ll remember about 2011:

Steve Jobs’ Death & Legacy. As Esquire says…

No one ever died the way Steve Jobs died. Other people have died of cancer. Other people have died in the public eye.  But no one has ever died with the inexorable logic of their mortality feeding into a logic of expectation that they themselves created and aroused.

Reading about Steve Jobs in 2011 was a terrific experience.  He inspired me to take my passion in products to the next level.  He was truly a special individual and will be missed.

Mavericks vs. Heat. The stage was set: a team of underdogs who lost to the Heat in 2006 vs. a team of selfish divas. Down 2-1 and nearly 3-1, the scappy Mavs fought back and took the title in the most exciting NBA Finals I’ve ever seen. Continue reading Looking back at 2011

Steve Jobs Biography was Great

I just finished the Steve Jobs book and it was probably one of the most enjoyable books i’ve read in a long long time. I might say the past 10 years.  Here’s why:

Steve Jobs really cared about his products, deeply.  He had an intuitive feel for what the consumer wanted, and what he wanted.  He truly wanted his products to be close to art.   Even though very few in the industry believed him, even after the Macintosh had been around for over 10 years, he continued to hold on to this belief.  Each button, CD tray, color, and line was important to him. There’s a great passage in the book when he found out that the CD-ROM drive of a Mac was a tray instead a slot and it brought him to tears.

It was also fascinating to hear about the infant PC industry.  I had no idea how the PC industry started. I knew there was Apple and i knew there were was IBM but i didn’t understand how it emerged.  The narrative of the hobbyists building the board in garages makes sense to me, and i now understand.

I also didn’t understand how Jobs could get kicked out of his own company by a CEO and board that he selected.  But, after reading the story, i’m surprised he didn’t get kicked out sooner.   To hear of his return and his path back towards success was riveting.  Just a great story.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s enjoys Apple even a little bit.  Most people didn’t revere Jobs that much when he was alive (except, obviously the fanboys) but looking back at his accomplishments and commitment to excellence and innovation, we have to place him in the pantheon of business and product innovators.
I do think the world is a better place for having him here and i wish more people followed his path and held on to their dreams and reached for the stars.  It’s a great thing when it happens and actually works.




How i get stuff done

A few people asked me this week how keep track of things i need to get things done.  So, let me tell you.

First, I keep an ongoing Task list. I have a big list and then i have a line in that list that i put each day of the things i want to accomplish that day.  This way i can move things up and down that list.  I actually have two lists – a personal list and a work list. I find that it’s helpful to keep them separate as i try to accomplish the work list when i’m at work and then when i leave, i consider my time to get those tasks done as over.  Then i’m on personal time.  It’s helpful to keep them separate.  How do i keep these tasks? I use Google Tasks.  It’s nicely tied into both my email and my calendar.  Also, there’s an app (I use GooTasks) that synch with the Gmail version so i can grab tasks when i’m on the go.

Second, i have a “one-touch” policy.  I’m not sure who told me about this but the idea is that you should touch things only once.  If you can read, process and reply all at one time, it’s better than filing to do later.  I do this with physical mail and i also try to do it with email.  I’m not as good as some, but i’ve found that the more you do this, the more you get done. My business partner Toby is actually a master of this.

Third, i subscribe to the “Daily Inches” mantra of consistency. This is best expressed in the Al Pacino speech in “Any Given Sunday” (listen to it here). The idea is that if you really want to make big changes – this could be your life, your work or whatever – the best way is to make progress daily.  You don’t ahve to do it all at once, but just make a little progress every day and you’ll get there.  For instance, if you want to increase your arm strength in the gym, you don’t want to go on a weekend and try to lift weights for 20 hours straight.  No, it’s better to work out a little bit each day for an extended period of time.  Make a little progress, every day.

There it is.  My three easy steps to getting things done – Lewis-style.  Most of it is common sense, but thought i’d share.  Tasks, one-touch, and daily inches.   What is your philosophy for getting things done?