random thoughts on being an entrepreneur


[The “I’m Not Delusional” print, for sale on the gallery…]

Random thoughts on being an entrepreneur. [Originally posted January, 2007]

I wouldn’t say I was an authority on entrepreneurship, certainly not in the same league as people like Fred Wilson or Jason Calacanis. That being said, the last couple of years haven’t been too shabby, either. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts I have on the subject, in no particular order. The list, by the way, is far from complete- I’ll probably be adding to it sooner than later etc.

1. Everything takes three times longer than it should. Especially the money part.
2. The best way to get approval is not to need it.
3. People want what they can’t have. In fact, that’s pretty much all they do want.
4. Once you become an entrepreneur, you find the company of non-entrepreneurs a lot harder to be around. You’ve seen things they haven’t; the wavelengths alter, it’s that simple.
5. In a world of over-supply and commodification, you are no longer paid to supply. You’re being paid to deliver something else. What that is exactly, is not always obvious.
6. Word of mouth is the best advertising medium of all. The best word of mouth comes from disrupting markets.
7. People buy your product because it helps fill in the narrative gaps in their lives.
8. You can either be cheapest or the best. I know which one I prefer.
9. Some people think that once they secure venture funding, their problems will be over. Wrong. That’s when your problems REALLY begin.
10. It’s better to be underfunded than overfunded.
11. If an average guy in a bar can understand what you do for a living, chances are you’re halfway to becoming a commodity.
12. It’s easier to turn an ally into a customer than vice versa.
13. If you’re happy in your career before the age of thirty, you’re probably doing something wrong. Heck, if you’re happy in your career before the age of seventy, you’re probably doing something wrong.
14. Smart, young, artistic people are always asking me which is a better career path, “Creativity” or “Money”. I always answer that it doesn’t matter. What matters is “Effective” and/or “Ineffective”.
15. Write the following on a piece of paper, have it framed, and stick it on your office wall: “Have you hugged your customer today?”
16. People will always, always be in the market for a story that resonates with them. Your product will either have this quality or it won’t. If your product fails this test, quit your job and go find something else. Just making the product incrementally cheaper or better won’t help you.
17. Products are idea amplifiers. The molecules and/or bytes are secondary.
18. People remember the quality long after they’ve forgotten the price. Unless you try to rip them off.
19. Markets serve entrepreneurs better if the latter can keep the former undersupplied. Oversupply is the kiss of death.
20. I personally know a former CEO who, once he attained control of the company, ran an EXTREMELY profitable business into the ground in less than two years. From a market cap of $100 million to ZERO, just like that. Why? Short answer: He loved being “The” CEO, but he didn’t much care for being “a” CEO.
21. In terms of becoming an entrepreneur, probably the most useful thing I learned in the last twenty years was how to enjoy my own company for long stretches of time.
22. One successful entrepreneur I know well has a wonderful quality, namely that he never, ever compares himself to other people. He just does his own thing, which actually serves him rather well. Just because his competitor has bought himself a bigger motor boat, doesn’t mean he feels the need have a bigger motor boat. This quality helps him to build his business the way he sees fit, not the way the motor boat people see fit.
23. Running a startup is full of extreme ups and downs. Which is why so many successful and happy entrepreneurs I know lead such normal, stable, unglamorous, “boring”, family-centered lives. Somehow they need the latter in order to balance out the former. Extra-curricular drama looks great in the tabloids, but that’s all it’s ultimately good for.
24. MBAs are conditioned to use their brains in much the same way as sex workers are conditioned to use their genitals. Nice work if you can get it.
25. Bill Gates may have a million times more money than me, but he isn’t going to live a million times longer than me, watch a million times more sunsets than me, make love to a million times more women than me, drink a million times more fine wines than me, listen to a million times more Beethoven String Quartets than me, nor sire a million times more children than me. Human beings don’t scale.
26. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” F. Scott was a drunkard and a fool.

Comments

  1. Yes! I just wrote down “Have you hugged your customer today?” and posted it on my wall, as you suggested. Brilliant, and so overlooked!

    And #4 is oh so true! that and #7 really hit home. You rock my dear! :)

    And you deserve a hug too. *hugs*

  2. Usually when I see a list that involves entrepeneurship I’m ready to click the little X on the tab in Firefox, but I actually really enjoyed reading this, great article.

  3. Got this link form a friend, wow I love my friend more now. You summed up so much of what I have thought from time to time and explained so many things I didn’t realize but kinda knew. Thanks…. May the world go the way of creative people in business and life.

  4. Re “You can either be cheapest or the best. I know which one I prefer.”…

    That is priceless and Apple’s business model. Unfortunately too many artists and entrepreneurs compete on price alone. A fool’s game. Tons of wisdom in this post!!!

  5. I disagree with this one:

    “13. If you’re happy in your career before the age of thirty, you’re probably doing something wrong. Heck, if you’re happy in your career before the age of seventy, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

    Seems like you’re only applying this to your own circumstance. Don’t know how this possibly could be right otherwise.

  6. Hi Hugh…nice list. As a serial entrepreneur myself, I did the same thing and wrote STARTUP, 100TIPS TO GET YOUR BUSINESS GOING.
    It is not for sale but if any of your readers want a FREE pdf of my 100 tips, they can just email me.
    Good work, I am a fan.

    • It’s great, I requested it and I had an immediate response from author. After I done reading the book I must say – well done. The book is very neat, written in creative way, yet simple to understand and I believe it is a must-have daily reminder for anyone who want to succeed in starting up new business ideas.

      Thank you Mr. Hoffman for this complimentary best gift of my day.

      P.S. I mostly like points 2, 14 and 25 of the main post. Great stuff! :o)

    • @Hugh McLeod
      Great stuff, food for thought, Hugh! Frankly most of it runs true, thanks for the same. Reading it for the third time and never boring, got it the first time from Avinash Kaushik, the web analytics Guru and your friend :-)Thanks once again!

      @Hoffman
      Would love to read your start up tips too:-) Mail it please!

  7. Really great, succinct messages.

    I want to just grab the whole thing and post in on my blog and claim owenership! (and no, I won’t)

    But, maybe I’ll go write about the way it touched me and I’ll point people back here to get a dose of the original.

    Thanks for the inspiration today!

    Cheers!
    Toby

  8. […] random thoughts on being an entrepreneur | @gapingvoid – Some of my favourites: 7. People buy your product because it helps fill in the narrative gaps in their lives. 5. In a world of over-supply and commodification, you are no longer paid to supply. You’re being paid to deliver something else. What that is exactly, is not always obvious. 11. If an average guy in a bar can understand what you do for a living, chances are you’re halfway to becoming a commodity. 16. People will always, always be in the market for a story that resonates with them. Your product will either have this quality or it won’t. If your product fails this test, quit your job and go find something else. Just making the product incrementally cheaper or better won’t help you. 21. In terms of becoming an entrepreneur, probably the most useful thing I learned in the last twenty years was how to enjoy my own company for long stretches of time. […]

  9. […] 25. Bill Gates may have a million times more money than me, but he isn’t going to live a million times longer than me, watch a million times more sunsets than me, make love to a million times more women than me, drink a million times more fine wines than me, listen to a million times more Beethoven String Quartets than me, nor sire a million times more children than me. Human beings don’t scale. via gapingvoid.com […]

  10. Like:
    18. People remember the quality long after they’ve forgotten the price. Unless you try to rip them off.

    7 sounds ‘cool’ but is such an overstatement. True of some products, but not all (or even most) imo.

  11. What a fantastic list! Love so many of them but #21 really hits home today: In terms of becoming an entrepreneur, probably the most useful thing I learned in the last twenty years was how to enjoy my own company for long stretches of time.

  12. One commenter said “number 7 is an overstatement”. Precisely – they are all overstatements. That’s why they work. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to take that gigantuous step that says “I am going to keep doing everything better.” Rather than learning *what* the truth is, learn “when* it is. You’ll never have the exactly right information, but you’ll learn how to use the information you have when you need it the most.

    Thanks Hugh. “Fucking awesometastic” is a pretty good coin of the phrase for what this is.

  13. As an Entreprenuer about to relaunch her company under a new name, so many of these ring true. I am glad I am not the crazy one, non-entreprenuers are! @jenehanson

  14. I have copied and pasted #6,7,15 & 16 into my word processor so I can print them out and stick them somewhere prominent… Great list – thanks!

    Yours,
    Megan

  15. Doesn’t sound like the kind of challenge I’d be interested, but I’m really happy it works for you. However, don’t count yourself out of the whole brain/creativity usage. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you use both over the course of your entrepreneurship. Chin up, brave one!

  16. Really enjoyed your random thoughts …very insightful. Only one I didn’t quite understand: #24. Who are you referring to in “nice work if you can get it”? Is “you” the entrepreneur or the MBA?

  17. Hugh-

    This is good stuff…..especially #25. Great reminder that it’s easy to forget the fundamentals.

    Keep writing! Be well….

  18. Awesome post. Solid stuff.

    Re: #26: I actually think Fitzgerald was saying something pretty deep about the collective American psyche of the 1920’s, not defining individual limitations. He may have been a drunkard (well, WAS a drunkard), but I’d be a little more careful before throwing casual epitaphs like “fool” at a colossus like Fitgerald, especially based on a misunderstanding (or at least misrepresentation) of one of his (actually pretty brilliant) statements.

    Nevertheless, it got me to comment, and I applaud the intent with which you wrote #26, to wit: yes, we can reinvent our lives. Cool.

    • Hi Mark!

      I don’t claim to understand Fitzgerald’s quote. I thought America was known as the place where people *could* reinvent themselves. We give people — or they take — second chances. If they’re successful, we may not like them, but we grudgingly admire them. We revere success.

      I think Hugh’s comment about Fitzgerald being a “fool” was meant for shock appeal and a touch of humor at the end of the article. A little playful hero-bashing is healthy. :-)

      Jill

  19. What an insightful look into the life of an entrepreneur! I could see myself (or my situation) in so many of these observations. I just had to chuckle at several of them, as they are so real–and let’s face it, nothing is more funny than real life!

    Thanks for the great post!

  20. A friend pointed this post out to me a while back; I enjoy coming back to it and re-reading it time to time. I never felt compelled to comment until tonight, but just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration.

    Best,
    -g

  21. es bueno encontrar gente que cuelgue sus informaciones y opiniones en blog y foros, is good that person attack his opinion and information in blog, best regards from spain, barricas, barriles de roble, venta de barricas, barricas usadas


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