Month: February 2014

“When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws.” – Derek Sivers

Starting a company is a magical time.  It’s a time when all the potential and possibility are in front of you and the vision of making change and meaning are the strongest.

It’s also a time when you control pretty much all that can be controlled.  You get to test your hypotheses and make your pivots without worrying about the approval of investors and board members.  The only thing that matters is finding out what your customers are willing to pay for solving their problems.

Enjoy this time but use it very wisely.  Having control is not about appeasing the ego.  It’s about getting to your core value proposition as quickly and cheaply as possible.  There’s a time for involving partners, key employees, investors, boards of directors and the rank and file.  You will spend more and more of your time managing communication between all these groups.  Make sure by then you are on the right track.

Read “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson


“Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” – Chinese Proverb

Mr. Proverb seems to be a smart guy.

A startup is a lot about failures.  Your success depends on it.  You will find out much more about what doesn’t work than what does and much of that has nothing to do with customers and their needs, (but of course there is that…).

You will run into difficulties with suppliers, partners, and investors.  You will have issues with intellectual property, licensing and other negotiations.  You will have employee issues and you may have to fire key people.  You will face financial pressures and you may have to downsize.  Then there’s the economy and the federal government.

You will fall down a lot but the point is to always get back up skinned knees and all.  We have a nice term for it now.  We call it a “pivot”.  Each pivot makes you smarter and stronger.  Embrace them.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson


“I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklin Bridge than the one who sold it.” – Will Rogers

You’re going to screw up.  It’s wired into your DNA.  You don’t have perfect information and a boundless amount of time. Mistakes will happen.  Bad decisions will be made.  Then there are the tough decisions that have to be made, which end up hurting people.  Like when you have to downsize or invite a bad hire to exit the bus.

But there’s one thing that should never be questioned, for sale or otherwise discounted.  That’s your integrity.  Tough decisions can hurt everyone, including you but you must make them for the good of the customer and the sustainability of the company.  You may not be able to make the right decisions all the time but you have to try to make them for the right reasons.

It won’t make sleeping that night any easier but when you look back, you’ll be able to say “it was a good ride”.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

My son is now an ‘entrepreneur’. That’s what you’re called when you don’t have a job. – Ted Turner

Strange comment coming from an iconic entrepreneur…

Thankfully, we are living in the post industrial age when success is not tied to a lifelong career with a corporation.  But the cliche is true: “Along with freedom comes great responsibility.”  Entrepreneurs embrace the fact that their destiny is in their hands and not dependent on the prescribed rules of the corporate career ladder.

In the startup stage, your boss is not the shareholders.  Your boss is the customer.  This changes as you grow and take on investors and other stakeholders but a least in the early days, you have the singular focus of satisfying one group.  This is the stage where value is created.  Embrace it and work maniacally toward getting note customers.

As for Mr. Turner’s opinion, you’ll work harder than any job you ever had enriching someone else.

Blogging Gazelle is publish daily by Shawn Carson


“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

A lot of people in middle age have had entrepreneurship thrust upon them by way of a job loss or other major life change.  Perhaps it’s the kick in the behind that got them going on starting their own company.  Maybe it’s a point of having no other choice.  Regardless the reason, they are now on their way.

Others choose to retire but not.  A serial entrepreneur I know is fond of introducing himself as one who is constantly failing at retirement.  He’s pushing 70.

Solving problems for people is not the domain of any particular demographic.  While youth may have energy and cutting edge technology on their side, those with years experience have been through failures that have informed their leadership and ability to make good decisions.

You don’t have to be in your twenties to start a company.  You just have to have a customer with a problem you can solve.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.” – Spanish Proverb

I was listening to a news report on the radio yesterday.  The interviewer asked a tough question of a Marine General, which was followed by about 6 seconds of silence.  Although 6 seconds is not a long time, the interviewer found the silence so excruciating that she had to finally say “…OoooKaaaay….”

Silence is a very powerful thing and yet we seem utterly terrified of it, which is why we live in a world with a constant drone of noise.

This finds it’s way into our company pitches, elevator pitches, company tag lines and branding.  In all these things, less is always more.  I’ve coached enough company pitches now to know that 8 minutes is a better time constraint than 12 minutes.  The lesser time forces you to really think about the most important things to say and leave it at that.  Of course this takes time and a lot of practice.  This is the way with excellence.

As for story telling, slow down and relax.  And if you really want to grab the audience’s attention, pause your narrative for about 6 seconds. Do it deliberately and look at them in the eyes.  The tension will grow until it’s brittle and bound to break.  When you break it, make sure it’s profound…

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“We didn’t actually overspend our budget. The allocation simply fell short of the expenditure.” – Keith Davis

Finance is hard, it’s not fun and nobody likes it.  And until you start generating cash, there’s no way you’ll be correct in your projections.  So why do it?

Because of yesterday’s quote; it’s not the plan, it’s the planning.  Going through your financial planning exercises is one of the most revealing activities you can do.  It reveals what you really know about your business. It forces you to think about pricing.  It shows what you know about your market size and growth trend.  On the cost side, it let’s you know how much money you are going to need to raise and what your burn rate is.

Knowing your value proposition and your market segments are vital but financial planning will answer if you are going to have a business.

Get help and spend the time.

Blogging Gazzelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Steve Blank says that no business plan survives first contact with the customer.  That’s a riff on a quote ascribed to Helmuth von Moltke,  a German general from the 19th Century who said “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

The point is that the value of the plan is in the planning; in the understanding about your customers, products and markets.  It’s in the learning of your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  It’s about pivots and reacting to what you learn when you enter the market.

A plan gives you a set of objects to get started but immediately, you run into things you didn’t anticipate.  Your planing should include “what-if” scenarios and careful measures to provide data on how you are doing.

It always takes longer, costs more and is more challenging that you expect to get your company launched and your product in the hands of the customer.  Stay lean, flexible and pivot!

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with” – Austin Kleon

Jim Collins says to get the right people on the bus even before you decide where the bus is going to go.  This is bold advice, especially when you are trying to attract people to your vision – you should probably at least have the vision.  But I think it’s about tactics more than vision.  Of course you need to have an idea of the problem you are going to solve but you should get the team together before you start to figure out all the details.

This is for two reasons; you can’t know everything and you can’t do everything.

Success and sustainability depend on execution more so than planning.  And there’s always more to do in less available time.  Highly motivated people will naturally gravitate toward doing the things necessary to get the job done, even if those things are outside their experience or comfort zone.

Read “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson