Archive for February, 2007

Don’t reduce passion to a cliche

February 19, 2007

Often I’ve heard from entrepreneurs that it was in fact passion for something which led them to this or that venture they are in.  It’s also not quite uncommon for Angel investors and VCs to pad it up when they say “ first thing we search a founder for, is passion for what (s)he does”. Now I understand passion as `intense feeling, desire, sexual urge or fervor’ – but how do founders get the VC to see it ?  With a trouser tent ?

Does that mean to run a DVD rental store, VCs expect you to have a passion for movies ? Love the stars ? Eventually when you run that business you’ll realize it’s just another retail outfit with long hours of work, boring inventory management, content display, book keeping and logistics. No high profile glitzy parties or nothing remotely close to glamour.  You wouldn’t be happy, and you weren’t accomplishing the dreams you wanted to achieve in life. The experience even end up taking away some of the passion you had for movies, since you associated the negatives of the retail business environment to the product you peddle : the movies.

Heck, you’ll soon begin to hate movies and stars – the very species you were once ready to die for.

I remember reading Jeff Elgin on passion in Franchisee business.  Excerpts –

“In any life endeavor, your chances of success increase greatly if you’re passionate about your desired goal. Passion is a huge source of energy–it drives people to accomplish whatever they set out to do. And, let’s face it, it’s far more rewarding and satisfying to strive for something you’re passionate about.

But as a franchisee, do you need to be passionate about the product or service your franchise is providing to be successful ? Furthermore, do you need to be passionate about the franchise business at all to be successful?

Truthfully, the answer is no.

You don’t need to be gaga over grass to be a great lawn-care franchisee. There’s no need to be passionate about dog poop to become a super-duper pooper-scooper. And yes, even a vegetarian can make a great fast-food franchisee. You don’t need passion for the franchise’s product or service–but you do need passion for some personal result that you believe you can achieve by being a franchisee.

The simple reality is that when most people become franchisees, their motivation isn’t to buy a specific business; their desire is to buy a certain outcome in their life they’d like to see as a result of buying a franchise. The specific product or service involved is often the least of their considerations–as long as they see the business having a high likelihood of producing that outcome. To be a successful franchisee, your passion for the outcome you seek will give you the drive and energy to overcome the obstacles involved with setting up any new franchise operation.

It’s also very important that you’re completely comfortable with the role you’ll have as a franchisee. If you’re only passionate about the product or service, it can actually be detrimental to success–especially if that passion leads you to get involved in a franchise business that otherwise doesn’t match well with your skills and goals.

Don’t get hung up on the product; it’s the results that matter. You should focus on the result you want in your life, whether that’s more free time, more responsibility, more income–whatever’s driving your passion”.

Now tell me, what `outcome’ are you passionate about ?

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When a VC play goes south…

February 14, 2007

I was reading the TechCrunch story filed by Michael Arrington – FilmLoop betrayed by investors and came away with some serious doubts on VC process.

Filmloop raised $7 million from ComVentures in May of last year. Nine months later, with $3 million reportedly still in the bank, investors shut it down.  Apparently, it appears the ComVentures did it when forced by its Limited Partners ( investors in the VC Fund ) to clean up their act and get rid of loss making investments. The worst part is that the sale was forced to another portfolio company of ComVentures ( Fabrik ) for much less than a song. Now there could be two versions of the story here – one from the founders and other from the VCs.

But some questions need answers.

a)      If VCs are clueless about what technology and/or idea will be successful, why would they recommend investments at all ?  Is it because it’s not their own money ( it’s the Limited Partners’ ) and they are assured of their $ 500 k ++ salaries anyway ?

b)      We hear VCs often say, only one out of 10 investments that we make succeed.  Now that talks a lot about how good their selection process is and if so are they not just a bunch of pampered kids ?  Even FilmLoop appears to be a clone of YouTube and was ranked # 98 by Alexa.

c)      VCs are pulling out of a company and they think they are smart because of that?? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard.. Who gives money to VCs who act like that? Do they disclose their practices to their investors?

 d)      VC’s are trying to portray the idea that there is a ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to a new idea or a start-up. Is there one ? I don’t buy that.  I still believe in cause and effect. However, playing with other people’s money, blood and sweat is so easy.. that’s why they can only turn 10% (if that!) into winners.

There is one major problem here.. Some VC’s really have people with little or no experience, no vision – just kids (a lot of times, out school!), basically, posing God because they have access to someone else’s checkbook..

Come to think of it – you had a 10% success rate at what you do, where would you be ?

And to think that the VCs are saying that so easily.. I’d fire those guys in a sec just for saying it. So, if the VC tells you that THEIR success rate is 10% – just RUN away from them as fast as you can. 

Getting out of a mess

February 12, 2007

Last thing I’ll do whenever I feel low is to turn to some motivational D-I-Y book for solace. It will throw up all kinds of seemingly impossible solutions like “Just do it”, “ Pull yourselves up and get going” etc.  Holy shit.  Most of us fume when we read all that.  We feel like saying “ you’ve no clue what it’s really like. Here I am all fucked up and you ask me to act like a champion !” 

The natural reaction to a bad phase in life is to feel sad.  The bad phase could be an immediate financial ruin, a business that’s burning a hole, a career going nowhere, a lost job, a major illness or death of a near one. The pall of gloom overwhelms us.  In such situations, we definitely can’t smile like the D-I-Y author would like us to.  It’s human to react in a low phase and to feel sad.  

How do we come out of it is what matters.  Some do it early, others take a while.  

Here let me share how I deal with lows, in a very truly human, natural way. 

I am not authoring any D-I-Y, have no book to sell nor have I spent too much time surveying and analyzing other people who have gone thro it all. All that I try to do here is to articulate my reflections without bothering you with details.  If it helps you, I’d be glad.   

First, accept that we are in a low phase and think about it. Never try to flip over or get around your problem. If you do, it’ll have you for breakfast, lunch and you won’t be around for dinner.  The more we look at it in the eye, apply our mind and engage, it’s hold over us tends to weaken and solutions begin to emerge.  I am not saying how you should do it.  It depends on what sort of mess you are in.  Just let your mind take that elevator ride and go back to where it all started.  And slowly take it apart, sequence by sequence.  I call it fragmenting.  You’ll soon find your big mess broken down into several small, easily solvable puzzles and you regain control over your life. 

The emotions like anxiety and pain are natural, necessary for our growth and are unavoidable like gravity.  Believe me, we are not worse off because of them; we in fact benefit by since we learn from them and grow.  If you don’t experience them, you are either dead or are a psychopath.

I’ll let you in on a little truism. If a problem is not capable of being solved, then the problem doesn’t exist. Imagine a hypothetical problem like “ go count the grains of sand on the beach “ – would you rate it as a problem meant to be solved ?  No. It simply doesn’t exist.  

We can also collaborate with our sadness, using our intelligence to move with (or learn from) the natural tendencies at work in a situation. Aikido and judo masters protect themselves not by hitting their attackers, but by moving with them, supporting their energy — perhaps stepping out of the way of a charging opponent, and giving them a gentle nudge that sends them flying in the direction they were already running. Some people say that every problem is also an opportunity; it takes collaborative intelligence to recognize and engage those opportunities.

Never defend a bad idea. The problem with us is that we often like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong.  Willingness to concede a mistake and accept that other folks might know more or have better insight into a problem is a sign of intelligence, ability and maturity. Needing to always be right by playing “Calvin and Hobbes” is a sign of an asshole and a huge, dangerous ego.

Viewing in contrast helps. Review the problem and its circumstances, see how others deal with it. Contrast is one of the key means by which the mind distinguishes different objects. Try it. Picture becomes clearer. Sometimes a solution is lurking in the background and we just fail to see it.

Confront it. This is a leader’s tactic. They always urge the people to face the problem head on because they feel that people are mostly blind to subtle pointers around them.  They manifest only when you look at it in the eye – it’s such a simple notion and people often take it for granted. A good leader brings it out and make his people confront the problem and see things in a clearer perspective.

It never was a problem. Sometimes we just jumped the gun and imagined hell. Discuss it with a friend and come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect the logic.  The thing which gave you grief will just dissipate.

I am sure you’ve had your own experiences of solving real life problems.  Would you care to share ? 

Network is the Computer, Context is the definition

February 4, 2007

The former is Sun Microsystems tag line.  The latter is of course an amateur mashup of  Quantum Mechanics and  Bhagavad Gita as I understood them.

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun recalls that since John Gage first uttered the phrase, Sun has been saying “The Network is the Computer.”  He says Sun believes the simplicity, accessibility and affordability of the power of the Network to change the face of computing for all organizations, large and small, public or private.

The message in that post by Schwartz flashed across my mind even as I was catching up on spirituality viewed thro the minds of quantum theorist.  It goes something like this –

They asked the Sage – “ Is there life after death ?

Sage replies “ Is there life before death ?”

If we have truly experienced life before death beyond the illusions of the five senses, then all questions about death would be irrelevant. For death would merely be a continuation of consciousness freed of the Karmic influences of the body – of the illusion of the individual self.

Our mind or ego is the trickster that is afraid of the truth.  Even quantum physicists have come to the conclusion that particles exist in space or time only when you try and observe them. Beyond your own observation nothing in this universe has the reality of existence.  Space and time only exist when you try and measure them against something else. They have no absolute value. So, for example space between the sun and the earth exist only in the context of each other.

You need a context for everything. Take this statement – Bill Gates is richer than Warren Buffet. Give binary values for the two contexts Gates and Buffet – `0’ for Bill and `1’ for Buffet ; when all of Buffet’s wealth goes to Gates foundation as charity,  Gates is the only context that’s left – which means `0’ is all that’s left.  Shorn of contextual relativity, nothing exists. Got it…?

So, the context is the definition.

Yet we live in a universe that’s infinite.  So how do you define infinity ? How do you define the space between the earth and infinity ?  Just infinity, right ? Only infinity has an absolute value.  Space therefore is infinite and so is time.

Spirituality for me is a battle to let go off my finite sense of individuality into understanding that I actually have none.  I exist in my own imagination in context of other imagined ideas. In absolute terms I have no context, no individuality and therefore no existence beyond an infinite immensity ( let’s say G.O.D – more for ease of use than conviction, if you are agnostic ).

I am not a drop but a formless part of the timeless, spaceless ocean. I am God as God is I, where any separation between the I, space and time dissolved.  That explains my existence just as a node in a network, in the context of a definition.   

Ed Sim – my top pick

February 3, 2007

I haven’t been reading New York VC Ed Sim’s blog for quite some time and never thought I would’ve missed so much. 

In this post, Ed neatly spells out his expectation of what the company managements  should communicate with their Boards and when.  It has some useful tips which all companies could use to good measure.  

Here’s another on importance of vision statements and some essential elements to be considered while framing those customary two liners ( as most of them do – “ who reads them anyway “ ). 

And if you think all his posts are so hard-up and pointed, he occasionally allows himself a joke.  Take a look at this one where he compares VCs with Social Workers…ah, ah –  ( talk of contradictions, pssst… ) especially if you happen to read it immediately after Ed’s post on VC loyalty which he affirms lie only with their Limited Partners for generating long term capital gains, ha..ha..ha…! 

This one is a gem of an insight.  Ed’s bang on in his diagnosis of  delayed Engineering Product releases – applies to many of our startup entrepreneurs who spend inordinately long time on product development ( except of course those who actually haven’t got a clue regarding what exactly they are after ! ). 

There are many more which I’d love to re-direct.  But I’d rather you love Ed yourself..