Embrace the (lack of) suck

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You have just spilled your espresso all over your new white jeans. Time to text “@#$%^! my life” to your friends?

No.

Someone dented your car while you were at the grocery store. Should you vent on Twitter?

No.

The bank froze your credit card temporarily because it deemed your last purchase suspicious. Post your outrage on Facebook? Still no.

Why not? What’s wrong with venting? Turn the question on it’s head.

Care to guess what characteristic the most successful people in the world share? Is it drive? Luck? The ability to calculate large sums in their head? No again. It’s gratitude. You just don’t see them complaining.

I can hear you thinking… “Well of course these people can be grateful. They have everything going their way!” So let’s back it up a bit.

  1. You have way, way more to be grateful for than you realize

One out of eight people suffered from “chronic undernourishment” in 2011-2012.

Half of the world lives on less than $2.50 per day.

There are still more than 40 major armed conflicts happening the world right now, with fatalities numbering in the tens of thousands.

In Ecuador, you can be jailed for having a miscarriage.

In Afghanistan, you can go to prison for being raped. 46.5 million Americans live in poverty.

Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

  1. The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. – Steve Furtick

Successful people have bad days too. They lose money. They lose friends and relatives. They get old. Believe it or not, the universe treats them the same way it treats you.

They also screw things up, and make mistakes, and some of them barely hold it together or even fall to pieces from time to time. But because they keep going and don’t make a big deal out of it, their successes tend to outnumber their failures, and we forget the bad bits.

  1. If you always speak of your troubles, you’ll always have troubles to speak of

I don’t know who came up with this  line, but it’s exactly right. Some people like to talk about the law of attraction, other people talk about karma. Me, I think we end up in a feedback loop: the more we focus on and talk about the bad things that happen, the more we unconsciously do things that bring more bad things and drama into our lives.

And of course, the opposite holds true: the more we focus on and talk about the good things that happen, and — especially this — the better we make other people feel, the more we unconsciously do things to improve our lot in life.

So if you really want to be successful, start by focusing on your successes, and quietly shrug off all of your problems.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly things turn around for you.

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Actually, entrepreneurs are not risk-takers

Probably not the best approach to business.

Probably not the best approach to business.

Every group has its own mythology. For entrepreneurs, the prevailing mythos is that, to a person, they are all daredevil adventurers. When they’re not heli-skiing or bungee jumping, they approach their business decisions with the famous Branson screw it, let’s do it attitude. The business press is full of stories about ventures where the principals supposedly closed their eyes, made a breath-taking gamble, and won.

Don’t you believe it for a second.

For every entrepreneur who claims to have hit the jackpot with that kind of approach, there are dozens more that flamed out spectacularly. Insofar as we can rely on stats about privately-owned ventures, the numbers tell the tale: StatisticsBrain suggests that 24% of businesses fail in the first year, with up to 44% failing by their 3rd year. In Canada, StatsCan posted a 5-year survival rate for new businesses at a measly 0.36. The US government data puts businesses started in 2010 at 668,861 firms, and the business exit rate for that same year at 690,504 firms.

The numbers are worse in the tech category, where 3 out of 4 start-ups go kablooie. And before you go blaming economic conditions, remember that the story was the same back in the 90s, when money flowed like wine. In true dot-com fashion, there was even a website dedicated to chronicling the blowouts.

So why the discrepancy between the media reports and the reality? And is that a bad thing?

The media question is easy. First, the media loves a sexy story, and at the moment, there’s nothing sexier than stories about slightly nerdy young people who become overnight billionaires. Entrepreneurs are hawt, and it’s the outliers that get the coverage.

Second, there’s a lot of active myth-building going on by the people behind the success stories. That’s only natural. After all, when a reporter comes calling, what’s going to get you the most ink? The tale of how you spent hours tweaking your projections in an Excel spreadsheet, or the (ahem) slightly (cough, cough) exaggerated story of how you jacked yourself up on espresso to program a killer app, scored VC funding over a bottle of Jack Daniels, and went skydiving, all in the space of a month?

But is that bad? You bet it is, because it leads a lot of people into business who really, really shouldn’t be. And that by itself wouldn’t be terrible, except that failed businesses hurt more than just the wannabe entrepreneurs. They leave vendors unpaid, landlords with vacancies, and good people suddenly unemployed.

The truth is that real entrepreneurs only take calculated risks. Even the ones who appear to do everything on intuition are really just very, very well-versed in their fields and can do the math in their heads, while the rest of us have to commit it to paper. And all of the entrepreneurs that I know that are really bankin’ it measure the crap out of everything, and leave as little as possible to chance.

What does that mean for your business idea? Before you bet the farm, and with apologies to Desi Arnaz: you’ve got some plannin’ to do.

You’ll want to start with originality: you need either a new product or service, or a new way to produce an existing product better, faster or cheaper. And if you’re doing the latter, it had better be orders of magnitude better, faster, or cheaper, because otherwise, you’re an also-ran, and they become statistics, fast. That should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a pizzeria open in a city where there’s already one on every block; likewise don’t try to start a new job-hunting website when there are already several big guns and dozens of smaller competitors in the field.

You’ll want to continue by figuring out how to make a profit. You’ll notice I didn’t say revenue. That’s because it’s actually quite easy to make money; keeping it is quite another matter. If you don’t have a solid plan for profitability in place before you launch, you’ll soon find yourself on the wrong side of the ledger with no clear way to get back. (VC funding you say? Nice if you can get it. But know this: VCs sleep like babies. That is, they wake up crying every two hours. They’ll want a return on any money they give you, and fast.)

Finally, you need to figure out what it all looks like one year, three years and five years out. If you have no idea what the end looks like, you won’t be putting the right things — staffing plans, growth projections, safeguards — in place now. Begin with the end in mind.

There’s nothing more dazzling and seemingly romantic than the entrepreneurial lifestyle at the moment, especially when job security seems so tenuous. However, there’s no such thing as a fairy tale existence; there’s a great deal more that has to come before and after that bit about “they lived happily ever after.”

Photo credit: Canva

Dear Silicon Valley: Here’s What You Really Need To Disrupt

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Photo Credit: DTTSP

There are many things I admire about America: its energy, its enthusiasm, and above all, its willingness to change.

That is especially true of the culture in California, and specifically in Silicon Valley, where the bywords are ‘disruptive,’ ‘innovative,’ and ‘democratize.’

Yet, looking through ProductHunt these past few weeks, I can’t help but think that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis), we’ve lost a lot of the ‘think big’ mentality that has served us so well. (I’m not the first to say this, either.)

For example, right now the top items on PH are Skype for Slack, an inexpensive standing desk, and… a password manager.

Further down, there’s a dating-related app, a project management app, and a designer resources app.

Are these useful things? Probably. Do we really need more of these? Almost certainly not.

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to compete in these niches, all that time and money would make a much bigger ‘dent in the universe’ if applied elsewhere.

Consider:

  • Statistics vary depending on the source, but most agree that billions of pounds of disposable diapers go to US landfills every year, and that diapers as they’re manufactured right now will take hundreds of years to decompose. They’re also expensive, costing up to $1500 per year, which means low income parents can’t afford them. Cloth reusable diapers require a hefty upfront investment; they take a lot of time to wash and dry, and you need enough to have 5-6 changes per child available every single day. And frankly, they are a lot of extra work, which puts another burden on sleep-deprived moms, especially moms working outside the home. We could really use a better solution here.
  • It’s awesome that we’re finally getting serious about hybrid, electric, and hydrogen cars. But let’s not forget about another dirty secret: the two-stroke engine. These stinky, smoky beasts can be found everywhere: your chainsaw, your lawnmower, your weedeater. Indeed, a gas-powered leafblower emits more crap than a 6,200-pound 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. And two-stroke engines power a huge percentage of the vehicles in Asia, in the form of motorcycles, scooters, and tuk tuks. If you want to make a difference, this would huge.
  • I must see at least three ‘sleep hacking’ articles a week. But I have yet to see anything about ‘mattress hacking.’ They super expensive to buy, which means that most low income households must make due with what they have for years, leading to very poor sleep quality and the consequent health issues. They emit volatile organic compounds. And, like disposable diapers, they are dumped by the millions every year, often right in the street. Some states have instituted mattress recycling programs, but these will be expensive and hard to maintain, not least because mattresses have never been built to be recycled. This needs to change.

These are just three items off the top of my head. I bet if you look around right now you can see dozens of products that need to be rebuilt from the ground up to be less expensive, just as convenient, and most important, not end up in the trash.

 

Photo Credits: –CFeyecare (software window) and Con-Struct (red x) via Wikimedia Commons

Why Do We Still Ask For References?

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In general, habits and processes are good things. Habits can help prevent decision fatigue, and processes – especially well-thought-out ones with good documentation – can help ensure you get the same results every time you do something.

Every once and a while though, it’s important to review these things to make sure they’re still helpful. Occasionally, we’ll find one that has become counterproductive.

Asking for references, whether we’re talking about a job application or a university or college application, strikes me as one of those things that no longer serves a useful purpose.

Here’s why:

They don’t provide any new information

If someone provides you with references, of course those references are going to be positive. Of course they’re going to say that the applicant is very well-suited for the job or degree. That’s because the applicant gets to pick his or her reference contacts, and they’re only going to give you the names of people who will support the application.

They can be faked

Like anything else in the 21st century, you can purchase fake references as easily as you can purchase a lottery ticket. All it takes is two minutes of searching online and a bit of money, and you too can have someone willing to testify to your good character and suitability.

They’re a holdover from a previous era

References come from a time before we had other means of verifying someone’s identity or determining their ability. I know it’s hard to remember, but there was once a time before email, fax, and even telephones. So it’s not like you could just ring up someone to ask if they knew your applicant. The only way to get the measure of someone unknown to you was to ask to see a letter of reference, and typically this letter had to come from someone the employer or school knew personally, or at least knew of, and whom they could trust.

We have other ways now

For better or worse, people now put a lot about themselves online, whether it be through social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, or on blogs, or simply by leaving comments on discussion sites. Although potential employers shouldn’t use information from social media to influence hiring decisions, many of them have admitted to doing so in surveys. Depending on jurisdiction and local legislation, employers may also make use of background checks to verify someone’s record before considering them for a position.

They create a burden

Writing references creates a lot of extra work for the people who are regularly asked to give them; here I am thinking specifically of academia, where professors are asked to provide letters or references for further academic study or jobs all the time. Indeed, given that each school seems to have its own forms and format requirements for references, it’s not like a professor can even just hand out a standard letter.

But enough about what I think; what’s your opinion? Is there a better way? Or do you think references still have value?

Photo Credit: Silverije via Wikimedia Commons

How a food festival might save the publishing industry

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In the wake of Jeff Bezos’ much ballyhooed purchase of the Washington Post, pundits have inevitably returned to discussing the slow and painful death of traditional media outlets.

While it is worth noting that news of the deaths of some of the big news institutions has been greatly exaggerated, it is true that journalism is in a very sorry state. Radio has been taken over by shock jocks and shrill jills, and your TV news screens are a mess of tickers, DOGs, and permanently overexcited talking heads.

Online, it’s not much better; in fact, it may be worse. First-hand reporting is now just a quaint 20th-century notion. Most online “articles” are simply a smidgen of copy that rehashes what some other site is talking about. If you follow the trail back to that other site, you will find its story is second-hand too. And that’s if you are lucky enough to find something at least pretending to be reportage. Increasingly, you’ll find a slide show of pictures, or one of those horrible formula pieces that use a number, a celebrity, and something random to make up a story. You know the type: “8 Ways Lady Gaga’s Hair Is Like Bacon” or “6 Horrible Diseases the Kardashians Might Be Worrying About Right Now (and You Should Too!)”

How did we get here? As always, follow the money. Journalism, the real stuff that is, can be expensive. Those costs used to be covered by subscription sales and ad sales. But then along came the Internet, and some media outlets put their material online for free. People not only stopped buying the dead tree copies, they stopped buying, period. Now, the only way to make any money in the business is to get people to write for you for free (also known in the industry as “for the exposure”) and to charge for your online ads by the pageview. More pageviews means more money, which is why everything—from the crazy headlines to the scintillating pictures—is now geared to make you click, click, and click some more.

Some outlets are now trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle and are locking up their online content behind paywalls. This works as long as A) you have a large potential audience, B) you put out something worth reading, and C) enough of A ponies up for B. But this is a really tough equation, especially as audiences shrink or shift.

This is where the food festival comes in.

At most of those yummy “Taste of” events that are so popular right now, you pay an entrance fee and are handed a wad of tickets. You can then exchange the tickets for dishes at the various stalls; maybe it’s three tickets for an onion bhaji sampler and eight tickets for a pulled pork sandwich with fries. At the end of the day, you have had a chance to eat many different items, and the restaurateur gets to cash in the tickets.

This model would perfectly suit the modern media consumer. On any given day, I might want to read an article from The New York Times, The Register, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Maclean’s. Right now, it is too expensive and impractical for me to subscribe to all of these publications, especially if they only have things that interest me occasionally. So, if they go completely behind a paywall I will simply have to stop reading them. But if I could choose to read parts of them when I want to, I would be quite happy to pay fair value to do so.

I am not naive enough to believe that such a model will put an end to sensationalism and fluff; after all, that kind of thing is not new. What we now think of as pageview journalism used to be called yellow journalism, and exaggerating for fun and profit almost certainly goes all the way back to the beginning of our history as social animals.

But it might change the landscape just enough for the good and important kind of journalism to survive … at least until the next paradigm shift.

14 Signs You Are An Entrepreneur

 

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  1. You always work the statutory holidays because it’s quiet at the office and you can get sh*t done.
  2. You get ridiculously excited by terms like automate, replicate, and scale.
  3. You catch yourself trying to apply those terms to chores at home, and sometimes even to your kids.
  4. You hope no one ever invents a Breathalyzer for caffeine because you would blow over the limit. By 8 a.m.
  5. You work 12 hours a day for yourself so that you don’t have to work eight hours a day for someone else.
  6. You actually like public transportation because it means you don’t have to waste time driving when you could be getting sh*t done.
  7. You keep a journal, not to record your thoughts and feelings, but to brain dump all your ideas for businesses and processes – otherwise you would never get to sleep.
  8. You are a connoisseur of calendar and to-do list apps, to the point where you have even dedicated an hour to designing the ultimate version.
  9. You say you have ADHD like it’s a good thing.
  10. At least once in your life, you have configured your sales invoice emails or your paid download alerts to play a cha-ching! sound when they come in.
  11. You are a sucker for any headline that uses the words improve or productivity because you are still hoping science has come up with a way to cram 48 hours into a single day.
  12. Your kids know that they have to call your name at least three times to get you to look up from your smart phone.
  13. You haven’t watched real time television in at least a decade. If you watch a TV series at all, you prefer to wait until you hear that it ends well so you know it is worth the time investment. Then you rent the DVDs.
  14. You really, really like getting sh*t done.