I recently wrote a guest blog post for Inside 3DP looking at what radical transformation means in manufacturing and why additive manufacturing does not meet the expectations we’ve set for it.
“The only protection you have from me copying you, is doing something really really hard”
– CEO of Major Technology Company
Last week, a bill containing key pieces of needed patent reform was killed in the Senate. The legislation was aimed at reducing patent trolls by preventing them from bringing baseless lawsuits to extract concessions from companies without the financial strength to take the issue to court. There is another side to the patent reform debate that gets talked about less, it’s the side where small companies aren’t really even protected in many cases by patents. We all file them, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them, but it feels like we’re checking the box, not really adding real protection.
Last year when we were raising money for SOLS a CEO of a large publicly traded technology company asked us how we would protect our technology from competitors. The first thing out of our mouth was “oh, we filed patents” — without hesitation he chuckled and told us that the only protection we had from him not taking our idea was to do something really difficult. That statement stuck with me for the last year and haven’t asked a company how they plan on protecting their IP since — either what they are doing is hard or it’s not.
Brad Bernthal from the University of Colorado once told me that a patent is only as strong as the willingness to enforce it. It seems to me that our patent system has figured out a way to both screw the little guy by enabling fraudulent patent trolls and at the same time taken away protection from the innovators that need it most — small cash strapped companies. In the current environment it has become painfully obvious that the only protection is the difficulty with which someone could copy what you’ve created whether that be a technology, community or process.
If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.
– Christopher McDougall (Born To Run)
As I prepared for my first marathon last year, people kept asking me why I was running the race. What compelled me to spend all my free time running (and at the time fundraising for CCFA). While there were personal reasons for this specific race, what was apparent is that a ton of my fellow entrepreneurs had done or were preparing to do some endurance activity themselves. From mountaineering to marathons to triathlons – it was clear that the entrepreneurially inclined also have a higher than normal participation rate in endurance sports.
What is it about pushing yourself to physical limits that appeals to us? Some say it’s the same drive and motivation to succeed that lead them to entrepreneurship in the first place. Honestly that’s just not it. Certainly the skills and character needed for professional success helps someone complete their chosen activity – but it’s not the “why”. After 6 months of reflection and a few more races, it’s become apparent that the thing I seek is myself. The voice in my head that becomes even more introspective, even more truthful. It’s a place to reconcile the decisions of my past and their results and think through the decisions I currently face in a physical and emotional place that has been stripped bare of its armor.
The startup environment is so emotionally and physically demanding that we develop protection, both from the outside world and from ourselves. There is something about bumping up against your physical limits that breaks down even the strongest armor.
You come to me with ideas
You say they’re just pieces, so I’m puzzled
– Eminem (Dr Dre – I Need a Doctor)
People usually respond in one of 2 ways to hearing about a new idea. Either they say “how can this work” or they say “this can’t work because of X”. One reaction opens a dialog and the other shuts it down. Some people don’t understand that the idea itself doesn’t matter, it’s just a jumping off point for a conversation. When the conversation is shut down and you end up having to defend the basic validity of having an idea – it really kills the mood.
It’s just an idea for god’s sakes!
Ideas aren’t inherently bad or good, they are jumping off points for thinking. Who can say which of a barrage of ideas was the one that led to a radical solution to a tough problem? Nobody. It’s just too fluid to judge. The conversation around the idea is what is important and is vital to expanding how we think through problems and the interact with the world around us.
This simple reaction has become a simple test when meeting and hiring new people and it has proved remarkably adapt at predicting how well we’ll get along.
Sunny days wouldn’t be special, if it wasn’t for rain
Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain
– 50 Cent (Many Men)
When I was a little kid I’d go with my dad to his office. He ran a sales team that did a lot of direct mailing and I got to stuff envelopes for awesome prizes – like a can of Mountain Dew from the cafeteria. Seeing the stack of sales material and envelopes turn into a box of ready-to-send mail was so rewarding. It was easy to measure my success and fun to try to get more done in the same amount of time.
As I got older, the lead time between work and gratification got longer and longer. Now, the delay is so severe that sometimes it’s hard to tell which work led to which gratification. That’s a serious issue if the gratification is what’s driving your decision making.
A few of my friends have told me they have similar feelings – and a bit of yearning for activities that have immediate gratification. Maybe that’s why many of us fill our social time with easily measurable activities with clear gratification. You set out to climb a mountain in the morning and you are fist pumping at the summit in the afternoon. You set out to run a race and you crossed the finish line to the cheers of your friends and family. You set out to cook a meal and your friends are licking their plates at the end since it’s so good.
A few weeks ago I noticed that I got enjoyment from watching my own flossing progress each night. What!? I set out to write a blog post about why this simple act would bring me joy, and look, it’s all written up. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and share it and give me some of that gratification that I crave.
For the past few weeks I’ve been exiting my taxis like a boss. No weird on screen prompt, no credit card swipe, no fumbling with cash – I just hop out of the taxi and say thanks. Sometimes even the cabbies are surprised and yell after me for my change – before I even turn around they realize my payments went through. The app is called way2ride and it’s as big a deal as Uber, Seamless and OpenTable for New Yorkers and yet no one is talking about it, or apparently using it!
It’s simple – you open the app, click “I’m in a taxi” and then hold the phone microphone up to the Verifone speaker that’s under the screen. The phone buzzes and automatically has my billing information and default tip setup. That’s it, when the ride is done I hop out of the boss and save an awkward minute with the payment system – I feel like a boss. It only works on Verifone cabs for now, but that seems to cover 80% of my trips.
The app is made by Verifone, the behemoth credit card processing company. I’m not sure if they paid an outside firm, or did it themselves, but they get high marks from me for reliability, user experience, UI and performance. A+
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
– The Who (Won’t Get Fooled Again)
In the past few months, I’ve been getting asked about whether it’s strange to work for a female CEO and move out of the CEO role for my second company. Back in June when Kegan asked me to start this company with her, neither of these potential issues even entered my mind. After a few months of operation, and tons reflection, I’ve got a much better understanding of both issues.
Let’s start with the easiest issue, working with a female CEO. Kegan is a badass whether you compare her to other girls or to guys. I don’t see any specific traits that make her better or worse at being a CEO because of her gender. Maybe her ability to deliver hard messages with compassion is one, but that’s it, and I’m sure many guys have that skill too. The biggest change seems to be the differentiation we automatically get and the outsized interest from press.
On the issue of not being the CEO, it’s really not a big deal. As co-founders, we’ve shared major decision making worked towards a decision through debate and influence and have resisted striving for compromise. We’re both really willing to see different perspectives and go with what makes the most sense. There has only been one decision where we just disagreed and she made the final call. Technically I’m working for Kegan, but it doesn’t feel that way and importantly that’s the point. It’s not management by consensus or autocracy, it’s a culture built on management by influence.
So basically, not being the CEO is fine because of our culture and management style and a female CEO is no different than a male CEO except we get more attention.