Archive | February 2009

Best Life Magazine The One That Got Away

Amazing (but long) article on Omega 3’s and why it makese a lot of sense to take them…a great quote:
Among the Japanese, who each eat an average of 145 pounds of fish a year, rates of depression and homicide are strikingly low. Meanwhile, men who live in landlocked nations such as Austria and Hungary, where fish consumption is respectively 25 pounds and nine pounds per capita, top the global charts in suicide and depression.

Best Life Magazine The One That Got Away

Inputs of Entrepreneurship

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I’ve been thinking and wondering a lot lately about what needs to come together to create a working company.  I’m not going to touch the issue of “successful,” company because that’s really impossible to quantify (at least for me), so instead I’m just going to look at what I think is needed to make a “working” company, defined as one that is growing, can meet all of its financial obligations, and support the entrepreneurs behind it.  As best as I can see it there are 4 inputs required to create a working company (all either provided or gathered  by the entrepreneur):

  1. time
  2. expertise (includes a network of contacts)
  3. money
  4. energy / passion
  5. **Luck

I struggled with putting energy and passion in this list because I think it is more important than any of those items, and it influences them all.  The odds are (and we always hear about this) the more passionate you are about what you’re working on, the more leverage you’ll have on everything else (time, money, expertise).  If you’re passionate, you will find a way to get all of those ingredients together.  In fact I would say that number 4 is more of the wildcard here.  It can make up for a huge defiency in any of the other items or all.  I guess you could call passion/energy the leverage.  It helps you do more with less.

All of these are needed in some amount to get a company going.   If you’re extremely strong in one area you can make up for a weakness in other areas.  For example if you’re expert in building and managing sales teams, and your new business is in sales of some kind, it will likely take less time, money, and energy on your part to get things up and running.  If you don’t have any money, and you don’t have any expertise in the space you are hoping to work in, then you’ll need to devote a lot more time (and I hope you have the passion to drive you through it). I added luck with a star because I think all companies need it.  The problem is you can’t really plan on good luck, you can only increase your odds of getting it through time.  The more time you’re able to buy yourself and your business, the more likely you’ll have some luck on your side.

I’m sure a lot of people will wonder where idea fits in all of this.  I”m learning that idea in most cases is not all that important.  It can really help people be excited about what they are working on, but I think mission can do more for making someone passionate.  The idea itself is usually just a starting point, a place to organize resources.  Rarely will the idea you start with be the one that works.  They usually evolve very quickly as more time, money, and expertise are added.

I’d say in my current situation I’m capable of providing some expertise, some money, and some energy…but my best contribution is my time.  Sometimes that really can be frustrating.  Without expertise or money to push things forward, you just need the time to experiment (and make a lot of mistakes). When setting out to start a business, take a look at the list above.  What, at the moment, are you most capable of bringing to the table?  Are you OK with that?  Can you really give all that is required (especially in $$ or time)?

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Can I fix it?

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I’m very happy my gym has  flat panel tv’s called Cardio Theater hooked up to all cardio equipment so  I can watch cnn, espn, or sometimes cnbc while either running or exercising on the elliptical trainer.   I am not very happy, though, at how crappy and unreliable the Cardio Theaters seem to be.  I would say at any given time 30% of the tv’s are busted at the NYSC down the street from me.  I honestly don’t get how a 12 inch flat panel tv hooked up to regular cable could be broken so easily.  Yes they get a lot of wear and tear, but I mean come on…

Anyway, while at the gym today exercising on an elliptical I noticed the tv on the machine next to me was not working properly because it was still on, despite the fact no one was using it.  If you’ve never used the Cardio Theater, it turns off  (it’s supposed to) when it does not have headphones (and a person) plugged in.  It was during the rush hour time, so in a matter of 40 or so minutes I saw probably 15 people do the same thing…come up to the machine, plug in their headphones, try and change the channel once or twice, and walk away in disgust.  Since this is the peak of rush hour at the gym, this machine was really the only one open.  If you wanted to use the elliptical trainer and watch tv, this was it.  The thing that amazed me was just how many people walked up, tried to change the channels, and quickly assumed there was nothing else they could do. I understand that because these things stink and are constantly broken, the best assumption to make would be there is nothing else you can do.  But how many times do we throw away an opportunity to learn and grow because we quickly assume there is nothing else we can do (obviously this isn’t that big of a deal unless you REALLY wanted to watch TV while exercising. but it’s a fixable problem nonetheless)?

Anyway, I ended up taking a quick look at the machine and realized the “remote” had simply been unplugged.  I plugged it in, and the tv went off.  Problem solved, and I’ve learned that you can listen to your ipod and watch tv at the same time by simply unplugging the “remote.”  Next time a machine is seemingly busted during “rush hour,” I’ll have an idea on how to fix it.

Watching these people made me think about how many moments in my life I was in too big of a hurry to learn.  You’re surrounded by opportunities disguised as problems.  If you look at a problem in the same way as everyone, as those 15 people did,  you’ll get the same results. Don’t assume you can’t fix it.

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Hot, Flat, Crowded -thoughts

I recently finished Thomas Friedman‘s latest book: Hot, Flat, Crowded and I loved it.  He does a great job describing the major problems facing our increasingly hot, flat, and crowded world, which include booming population growth, more energy demand, a changing climate, and rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss.  (Rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss is a topic covered in detail by A World Without US, a book I loved and recommend)

It’s hard to become aware of the some of the issues he discusses in this book (and even more so in A World Without US) and not feel  overwhelmed by the size of the problems.  We have very real issues to deal with, all of which more or less come back to a rapidly expanding human population (from loss of habitat, major energy problems, diminishing resources, and human driven climate change), and these generally are not things that can be fixed overnight.  What’s also frustrating is that these issues require solutions that require the ability to think and act in the best interest of the long term, something that I think 95% of people on the planet struggle to do, especially in government.  The US system, in my opinion, really suffers from horrible nearsightedness.  The way we elect our governing body, we really don’t provide any incentive for elected officials to look beyond 2, 4, 6, or at best 8 years.  It’s really hard to plan for and start to act on big things that take time, when people are judging you on your results today.  I guess all of this isn’t particularly hopeful…but that’s actually the opposite of how I felt coming away from the book.  I am very hopeful.

I’m hopeful because I see a shift. I see people moving away from recognizing these things as big problems, and starting to see them as Huge opportunities.  I’m going to put aside the “Obama” effect for now, although I do think it is very real and just focus in on more of what I’m hearing from people directly (or reading).  (By the way, when I say “Obama,” effect I’m talking about the hope for the future people seem to be experiencing as the result of him being in office.  I think whether or not you think he will be a good president is irrelevant, because I think the hope people feel is incredibly powerful and has already seeded great things to come in the future.  On a personal level,  just think how much more effective you are in doing whatever you do when you feel optimistic about it. ) Anyway, I”m very hopeful because it seems like more and more people I talk to are not only aware of these many issues facing us described in the book, but many are doing their part to create solutions.  And what’s even more exciting about those looking for solutions is that they are not doing things in a charitable way (doing good because it’s the right thing to do..which of course is far from a bad thing), but they are doing it because there are tremendous economic opportunities in these solutions.  In my countless iterations of personal and professional missions, I’ve always held the phrase “Doing good is great for business,” high on my list.  The problems we face today have come together to create the environment where that is absolutely true.  By seeking solutions, you’re creating tremendous opportunities for yourself, and the world.

I look to my friend Ross and his very dynamic company Univenture as an example of this.  Ross is what I think of when I hear the term “inventor / entrepreneur.”  He’s built quite an amazing company in Univenture through his constant tinkering.  A few years ago he saw the cost of plastics rising quickly.  Plastics are a big cost for a company that creates plastic cases.  He wanted to find a way to cut his expenses.  He also was troubled by the long term effects of putting all these plastic products out in the world, so he sought to create a new solution, one that would be a win/win.  He’d have lower and more stable material costs, while significantly reducing his long term environmental effects.  Through his constant tinkering he discovered a way to create usable, plastic like material from algae.  In his experimentation with Algae, he’s discovered all sorts of opportunities…everything from waste processing to bio-fuel.  He’s pumping significant amounts of money, his money, into algae exploration. He’s got a readymade buyer for his algae based plastics (his company), and he’s got the entrepreneurial experience to create real business opportunities from his other discoveries.  He’s creating another real business that will make the world a better place both economically and environmentally…a true win/win.

Another one of my favorite businesses that is making a big difference through a simple improvement is a company called BigBelly Solar. I don’t know anyone from the company personally, I’m just admirer, but I have read up on them quite a bit.  Basically they are trying to cut down on litter, habitat destruction fuel use, carbon emissions all through an efficient trash can. Yes, a trash can.  How?  Simple (apparently).  They have created solar powered trash compactors (there are a few here in NYC, including one by my apartment in Union Square).  The compactors (powered by the sun) mean that the trash cans have to be emptied less often (let’s say 2 times a week instead of 6), which means you have less overflow litter and significantly lower fuel use by garbage trucks that have to drive around and collect.  It’s truly a win/win, and one heck of a business I would bet with true international potential.

I could go on and on with stories like those above that make me excited and hopeful (by the way the opportunities extend far beyond doing “green,” things…there are great opportunities to empower people, such as a service I love called edufire) I think more than ever people are realizing the scope of the problems we face, and seeing those problems as huge opportunities to create, huge opportunities to be entrepreneurs.  I think that’s really exciting…a new era where being a successful entrepreneur is about creating a win/win/win situation for yourself, employees and customers, and the planet as a whole.  I want to be part of this new group.

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Opportunities in the moment

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I’ve been meaning to write something on Fred Wilson‘s post last week on job losses here in the US, noting that the announcement last week of 75,000 jobs being wiped out in one day exceeded the amount of jobs he had helped create in 22 years of venture investing. Wow.   He goes on to say that we need people going out on their own to help us get through this.  I agree.

I think going out on your own can mean a lot of things, and doesn’t necessarily being an entrepreneur as most people think.  You don’t have to know how to build a business or raise money or hire people, you have to know how to capitalize on your unique skills and abilities.  You have to know how to find opportunities that exist right now in your life, all around you.  I really liked this comment on Fred’s post elaborates on this better than I can:

An anecdote to illustrate the point of the awakening of entrepreneurial impulses in the population: a cab driver that took me to SFO airport from a recent JP Morgan Healthcare conference told me that he has been asking himself, what can he do better in this grim environment. His decision was to focus on nurturing and growing his local clientele, to increase their loyalty to him, and to bypass convention traffic, as it would not mean return business. – Now if everyone from cabbies to white collar folks is asking, what can they do better and how, wouldn’t that necessarily lead to a bump in productivity, perhaps an unexpectedly meaningful one? I hope so. Same for previous non-entrepreneurs becoming entrepreneurs – in some sense, it is a numbers game – if enough of them build highly scalable, fast growing businesses, VC-backed or bootstrapped, it might have a strong enough effect to at least dampen the fall we are in. I choose to remain a long-term optimist, if wounded at present.

I’ve been saying for a few years now that I think more and more people will eventually beome their own mini companies and create a world where we are more likely to be sole proprietors than employees.  I think it’s  likely that people will work on “projects” instead of working for companies in the near future.  Think I’m crazy? This process has already started.  You can see it on sites like elance.com, odesk.com, 99designs.com and many, many more.  These sites are filled with very talented people who are building thriving businesses (some one man shops, some have several people) focused on doing what they do best, whether that be design, programming, sales, or whatever. Now these sites are by no means perfect, and they certainly are not capable of having a major effect on the economy at the moment, but I think they could be a starting point for something that may.

I can’t help but think of all the amazingly talented, smart, hard working people out there who are not working at the moment.  To quote a friend that’s an “incredible waste of national resources.”  People are not losing their jobs because there is no work to do, in fact there is more work to be done now, it’s just that no one has figured out how to tap those resources.  Isn’t there an answer in the elances of the world? If we could figure out how to tap the incredible worldwide design talent by using a marketplace like elance,  can’t we expand that to put some of these people to work?  Doing something they are good at (and most likely enjoy)? Just a bit of rambling…

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