Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it. – Albert Einstein
In business, and particular in the world of startups, we like to refer to our growth as a percentage. “We’re showing double-digit monthly growth.”, or “We’ve grown 150% since last year”. Have you ever stopped to think about why a relative metric like percentage is so frequently used over an absolute one? The actual growth is the same whichever form is used to communicate it, so why do we so often lean towards the relative framing? I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but I think in the world of startups there are two main ones.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison
This is a talk I gave for ECEWeek at the University of Alberta on January 29th, 2015. It’s goal is to make the argument that culturally (especially in the Engineering discipline), we overemphasize the value of planning and preparation, and that there are situations where it’s the less efficient approach to solving a problem.
There comes a time in every company’s life where it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?” – Ben Horowitz
I recently did a book review on Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It is a great book with no shortage of gems of insight and wisdom, but there’s one that stuck with me in particular.
This lesson is actually from one of the shorter chapters in the book, titled “Lead Bullets”. (The chapter is actually available on Ben’s blog as a post here) The title is a reference to advice given to Ben when Netscape was going through a crisis with the release of a superior web server product from Microsoft. The advice came from Bull Turpin, responding to the plan Ben had put into place to deal with the thread.
A busy office is like a food processor – it chops your day into tiny bits. – Remote
From the team that brought us Basecamp, ‘Remote’ is a timely book for an industry that is currently going through a broad debate regarding the topic of remote workers. At Jobber we currently hire all our workers out of our Edmonton office as we believe in the value of buiding a culture through the physical attributes of an office (though we do have flexible policies about working away from the office), but ‘Remote’ makes a strong argument for taking the alternative strategy.
This topic has been thrown into the mainstream with some large companies making very visible statements reverting their remote working policies. Certainly this is not a straightforward decision, so it is only appropriate for managers, founders, and workers to arm themselves with good research to help in making that decision. ‘Remote’ has timed itself well to try and be one of the resources used for such a purpose.
In May 2014, Matt Berman was found dead. He was the third prominent entrepreneur in the Las Vegas startup scene to commit suicide within the last year and half. It is unfortunate that often such dramatic and sad events are necessary to open a dialogue, but I believe it’s important that we use such events to help us take pause and reflect.
Do you know the best thing about startups?
You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.
– Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things
To put the book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” into context it’s important to know a little bit about the author, Ben Horowitz. Personally I knew about him from his arguably industry leading VC firm Andressen Horowtiz firm which he founded along with Netscape cofounder Marc Andressen. Previous to that venture he founded the cloud infrastructure company Loudcloud and took it through a rollercoaster existence seeing it swing from success to failure and finally to a $1.6 billion cash exit to Hewlett Packard. Basically he’s a guy that’s done some real things.
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato
I’m currently working with a startup in Edmonton that is going through really strong growth in its team. One of the side effects of this is a lot more potential for distraction in the office (if there’s n people in an office there are n(n-1)/2 potential conversational pairs). With all this additional potential for activity in the office we’ve been thinking a lot about how to allow (and encourage) developers to reach that deep state of flow needed to produce good code more frequently and for longer periods.
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Our understanding of failure has a long ways to progress as a culture and a society. This is one of the significant pieces of “Soft Technology” that we have yet to have a mature relationship with.
This is easy to see from the connotations associated with the word in the first place. There are not many more negative ways to describe a project or an individual, than as a failure. It implies that not only was there a lack of success, but that it was inherently doomed to not be successful because of some inherent lack. Somehow this word carries so much more weight than simply than to state that a person or project did not achieve it’s goals.
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” – Nassim Taleb
There are people who will strongly disagree with some of the things I have to say in this post. In fact, I’m going to take aim at what have become some of the foundational ideas of our culture. They may feel uncomfortable, but I urge you to try and read them with an open mind. While I write this on my startup blog (as it’s relevant to achieving sufficient freedom to start a startup without an income), the concepts here have much broader applicability to any middle class life.
Money is the largest source of stress for Americans. While there is a certainly a percentage of Americans who live with insufficient incomes to cover the needs of themselves or their families, I’m sure that percentage is much smaller than the number of Americans who are currently stressed about money. Most of this stress is ultimately caused by our culture’s imposed poor understanding of money. At this point you’re going to expect me to tell you to save more and spend less, but I believe you’ll take care of that yourself once understand what we’re actually talking about.
“What I tell founders is not to sweat the business model too much at first. The most important task at first is to build something people want. If you don’t do that, it won’t matter how clever your business model is.” – Paul Graham
There is no shortage of definitions and explanations for business models. Wikipedia defines it as “[describing] the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value (economic, social, cultural, or other forms of value).”. Steve Blank has developed a system of 9 boxes to help you capture a business model. As a starting entrepreneur you’ll probably have lots of conversations with partners, investors, and advisors around what your business model is going to be. Mostly you’ll do this because you’ll constantly be asked to explain what your business model is, but you probably won’t really understand why.