Anyone that has been reading this blog probably realizes I haven’t posted anything in years. Maintaining my own blog is just not as efficient at getting my message out as other modern platforms like Medium.
In the coming month’s I’m going to remove a lot of the content here, and replace it with a landing page that directs people to other online channels where I post more regularly (like Medium, Twitter and LinkedIn).
If you are following this blog, I highly recommend following me on Medium where I’ll be posting a lot more over the next year. In fact, I just put out a new post on Healthcare last week.
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.
This post was published originally on Medium
“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+
When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.
–Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)
Last week I read a couple posts about hiring MBAs into startups by Ed Zimmerman and Phin Barnes. They took a thoughtful look at hiring and funding MBAs, with both largely ending up on the “it ultimately depends – but I’m usually extra cautious about it” answer. My view is a little more nuanced view, in that I think that most MBAs should ignore the startup hype and go after the big roles at corporates that they dream about. Much like a Rabbi telling the wannabe convert to get stuffed 3 times before welcoming them into the fold, founders should push the limits of potential MBA candidates.
If they don’t do the startup thing, it’s totally ok! Other people do not need to define success, or their life, the way that a startup founder does. It makes me extremely upset when I see startups poopooing other people’s career goals as not valiant. It is perfectly acceptable, and more logical, to make a conscious effort to de-risk career choices. Hell, in the depths of the dark days there isn’t a single startup founder who makes it past the “just messing around stage” that doesn’t rethink their own huge risk taking. Over the past year I’ve had more than my share of dark days, many of which had me thinking how to seriously de-risk.
When an MBA decides to take on the extra risk, they can be a huge asset. Many MBAs have an element of unrestrained ambition that makes them a force when deployed in the right way. They will give up all other aspects of their life for professional success, throw personal relationships out the door and maybe even sacrifice their own health. They also usually have the intelligence and attitude to be a key contributor to the team. The problem, as both Phin and Ed point out, is that they are usually wired to take safe bets and seek out status, security and prestige. As a founder, you question their motives for wanting to be involved, worse you fear that they’ll jump ship when something shinier comes along. If you can find one that truly wants to be involved, they usually have something to prove and that kind of fire translates into an employee that will be very hard to stop.
So when an MBA comes looking for startup opportunities as their modern “safety school” equivalent, they get shown the door. If you put up every roadblock and they knock them down one by one and are relentless because either your idea or your team is something they need to be a part of, then open up and use their fire to your benefit.
If you love me
tell me you love me
don’t stab me man
– 50 Cent (High All The Time)
For some reason, many people seem to have been conditioned over time to choose tact over honesty. In both personal and business life this manifests itself as white lies, dropped e-mail threads, and ultimately, resentment. Why can’t we as a society be upfront with our thoughts and feelings? What is there lose?
Last week, I got an email from a friend talking about another entrepreneur: “[xyz knowledgeable entrepreneur] is totally unresponsive. To a point where I’ve written him off….all his friends believe the drop off is due to ego, he’s too good for people now”. Ugh, can you think of a worse insult for an entrepreneur (or for anyone)?
Like many of you I get a good amount of unsolicited requests, resumes and other small-asks. It’s annoying, sure, but I don’t ignore them, and usually send a polite “Sorry, but I can’t do this” response. No need to go through the rig-a-ma-roll of explaining the reasoning for your decision, just be direct and up-front. As adults, we should be accustomed to rejection (hell, entrepreneurs even more so) but I know for myself, and nearly everyone I know, hearing directly “no” is 100X better than being ignored, or worse, being lied to.
There are a million and one reasons why you may not want, or be able, to help someone. Have the decency and guts to close the loop and say what you think. We’ll be more productive, happy and successful for it.