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Saturday, December 12, 2009

What we can learn from spaghetti sauce

This is a great speech by Malcom Gladwell about what makes us most happy may not be the "best" or ideal product - rather a more segmented approach to meeting people's needs. If I were to run this to it's obvious conclusion - I believe the web has empowered people to develop products or content to meet very specific niches unlike anytime before. No longer is the entire country watching Johnny Carson simultaneously on TV - we are instead choosing our most passionate interests from a sea of options. I think this takes power away from the "one large widget corporation" and gives numerous entrepreneurs the opportunity to be masters of entire segments of widgets.

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell gets inside the food industry's pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce -- and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiny steps make major leaps

Pamela Slim from the Escape From Cubicle Nation recently posted a blog entry entitled Tiny steps make major leaps. The idea is very similar to a blog I posted a while back called One small step for man. Pamela compares trying to lose weight with trying to leave the cubicle world. Interesting read on Pam's take on a similar subject!


Sunday, November 22, 2009


This is probably one of those things that scarred me as a kid and I've not gotten over it. My last name is in the back end of the alphabet, and how many freakin' times did I hafta go last because of the first letter of my last name? Alphabetical order is not random order! It gives people earlier in the alphabet an unfair advantage. If I contributed to a project with a team of 5, anytime our names are listed I'm last. Do people even read that far down?

Seth Godin on his blog talks about times to NOT use alphabetical order. Namely, when you're not searching for something specific. Why not order it in a way that it makes sense to? By popularity? I have an example of a different way of ordering something that makes more sense to the end user. I was recently at a new Holiday Inn hotel, and the little cheat sheet of TV channels were listed like this:

Genius! No one goes into a hotel room, picks up the remote, and goes "I wonder what's on channel 2. Or on channel 8. Or channel 45." You go "What channel is ESPN on?"


Thursday, November 19, 2009

No one gets fired for punting

Last weekend, Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, decided to go for it on 4th down and 2 from their own 28 yard line near the end of the game, up 6 points. The Patriots didn't make it, and Belichick was vilified by the press.

Was it Belichick being bold? Was it his lack of confidence in his defense? Was he thinking he was smarter than everyone else in the world?

Well it turns out, he was right. According to Advanced NFL Stats blog, going for it gave him a 79% win probability. Punting gave him a 70% win probability. So if the goal of the game was to win, he made the right decision.

Punting would have been the safe decision. If the Colts drive for a TD, the defense would've been blamed. But punting would have been the wrong decision. But no one gets fired for punting.

The corporate world is like all 29 other coaches in the NFL. People in the corporate world are there because it's safe and secure. People get rewarded for making the safe decision instead of the right decision. There are numerous times where I've pushed and pushed for the risky decision when I saw that the safe route was too risky. I remember trying to convince my boss one day to change the method of production for a new product because the current method wouldn't get us to the point of the project making money. I literally said it's like being down by 8, scoring a touchdown, then kicking the extra point because going for 2 was too risky. (Incidentally, the product has now launched, using the method of production I pushed for... you can probably get it at Wal-Mart. Email me if you want to know what it is).

In a corporation, no one gets fired for punting, even if it means a higher probability of losing the game. No one gets fired for making their employees do hundreds of man-hours of paperwork before approving funding, even if it means wasted money due to all the extra salary paid out for work that doesn't increase the chance of the project succeeding. No one gets fired for requiring a hospital like clean room when manufacturing a product, even when the product is used to clean dirt.

I blogged earlier about how small companies can take down a large corporation. Here's another way. Think like Bill Belichick. Go for it on 4th and 2 to win the game while the corporations are punting.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Secrets of success in 8 words, 3 minutes

Short and to the point - here's a good video about what it takes to succeed. I think while it may seem simple - I feel that each step could use a lot of focus to bring it to life.

Why do people succeed? Is it because they’re smart? Or are they just lucky? Neither. Analyst Richard St. John condenses years of interviews into an unmissable 3-minute slideshow on the real secrets of success.


Friday, November 6, 2009

The last day of the sabbatical

Today is the last day of my 3 month sabbatical. It's been very relaxing, and it definitely recharges your batteries. On Monday, I return to the corporate world. Now, I pause and reflect on some things I've accomplished, discovered, or figured out during my 3 months off...

It's a really nice break mentally. Your life is a lot simpler when you aren't required to be anywhere at a particular time. You have no bosses telling you what to do, and no organizational things you hafta worry about. My alarm clock broke about a day into the sabbatical, and I haven't had one in my room since. When I wake up, I don't know what time it is until I boot up the computer. I usually wake up around 8-9 AM on my own, but not being jolted awake is very therapeutic.

I feel like my capability to take !@#$! is a lot higher. If you asked me a month into the sabbatical about going back to work, I would tell you I dread it with all my soul. Right now, although of course I'd prefer to not need to go back, I feel OK with it and that I can handle it. I think even a 2 week vacation isn't enough; you aren't able to completely unplug. A 3 month vacation where you're working on something also doesn't really cut it. The ability to not have anything on your mind, and the ability to work on whitespace for an extended period of time is really cleansing for my mind.

One thing I was able to accomplish was cleaning out an extra bedroom and making it a home office. I live alone, and I used to do all my work in the family room on the couch with an IKEA laptop desk. A couple months ago I packed up the pile of books that were on the desk and shipped it off to Half Price Books. I now have a nice desk that faces out the window that I work from. I still would like to "pimp my home office" sometime (maybe add a fridge and a tea maker, maybe a sound system so I can work to some classical music?), but just having a nice space with a window really inspired me. Plus I would keep my laptop there, so when I woke up in the morning it would be the first place I'd head... and it'd get me started on my day fast.

I discovered the Pomodoro technique, which helped me overcome my natural weak points. I tend to not want to focus on one thing at a time, jumping around to do other things. I do this because I'm a curious person, but also because I tend to doubt myself and wonder if what I'm doing really is going to help the big picture. But setting a timer and requiring yourself to 25 min with no distractions was really effective for me.

With this technique, I feel more confident that I can continue to work on the ultimate goal of financial independence while working in the corporate world. I can set aside 25 min of my time daily to advance my projects. My home office is a nice place to work now. Panera's are the best place to work (outside of the 11-2 lunch rush), with ample space, free soda refills, and a nice environment. Barnes and Noble and Borders now offer free wifi and are great places to work too. Starbucks also has free wifi now if you buy something with their gift card, and there's of course one on every corner. I was able to figure out what to get at these places now, since I don't drink coffee and I don't like Panera's food all that much... I get a iced or hot tea, with milk and sweetener. With all that, I can easily set aside a chunk of time to move forward with my projects.

I'm OK working on my own. One concern I had was if I would miss the human interaction with my co-workers. And honestly I don't (nothing against them, they're great to hang out with). I have friends who are entrepreneurs and corporatepreneurs, and I have lunch with them. I figureed out that my company IM system links with AIM, so I was able to keep in touch with my good friends. I definitely see less people than at work, but it's the equivalent of working at a small company.

The burn rate is real. Usually I take my paycheck, pay off all my bills, and deposit the rest into savings. For the first time, I had to do it backwards... figure out how much my bills were, pull that amount out of my savings, and pay my bills. That was quite a shock to the system watching my savings account dwindle like that. Usually a bad month was when there was nothing going into savings. This just made me want to have a good cash flow in from another source before quitting my day job. For me, having my day job fund my ventures is still a pretty good model.

So on Monday, I rejoin the corporate world. It's been a great 3 months. Hopefully the next time it'll be for good!


Monday, November 2, 2009

Inspiring video about sabbaticals

Thanks Tom for this TED video about from Stefan Sagmeister...  Stefan closes his design studio for a year every seven years. The best part of this talk was the illustration of little pieces of retirement put into the working years (about 1:30 into the video).

As I enter the last week of MY 3 month sabbatical, I plan on taking some time to reflect on what I've learned and accomplished in the last 3 months. But one thing I can say for sure right now: it was definitely a great thing to do. Enjoy the video!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hitting 4 hours a day - with the help of a tomato

I blogged earlier about how I was struggling trying to reach my goal of 4 hours of good work a day. I'm happy to report that the last two weeks have been very productive and I've gotten to 4 hours a day!

I went over the tipping point with the help of a technique I read on a blog... I would love to give the kudos, but I honestly can't remember where I got it from. It's called the "Pomodoro Technique" (after looking into this technique some more, I discovered pomodoro means tomato. You'll hafta check it out yourself to find out why it's called that).

In a nutshell, you basically set a timer for 25 minutes (one Pomodoro). You start the timer, and you have to work on one task for 25 straight minutes. If you stop and do something else, you have to start the 25 minutes over. If you're tempted to do something else, you should just write it down, then decide if it's worth it to start over. You must stop at the end of the 25 min, and take a 5 or 30 min break (depending on how many you've done already).

The technique is great because it makes you focus on one task; as I mentioned in previous posts, I have a hard time doing that. But I like that it recognizes distractions occur, and it has you write down the distraction so you can get to it during your breaks. Or you combine them together to form a whole 25 minute session. The forced 25 minute session (technically you're not allowed to go over) also gives you some sense of urgency to get your task completed so you also are inspired to be efficient.

I used this method to tackle important tasks that I procrastinate on. I procrastinate because the task appears too big to tackle, or tasks where I feel some self doubt on. For instance, as I mentioned before, I hired a programmer to help with the latest NOTtheBookStore.com. His part is done, but I have a lot of things I still wish to change on the site. Taking one look at the code floored me. But I set my iPhone to 25 minutes one day, with the goal to figure out how to change the design of the front home page. I ended up figuring out how to do it, and along the way learning about organizing functions, object oriented php, css, and why Internet Explorer is a pain in the ass for web designers.

I relax the forced 25 minute rule... if I need to keep going I do. I know I'm not motivated by deadlines as much as normal people, and the bigger issue for me is getting going and staying going. I tend to doubt the "big picture" when I dig into things, so when things are moving and I don't have that problem, I want to keep it going!

So with two weeks and counting on my sabbatical, I'm starting to hit max productivity. This is a great learning because once I go back to the "Corporate" part of my Corporatepreneurship, I know I can do 1-2 hour chunks after work and keep up the "preneurship" part.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Why you owe it to the world to run with your ideas

When I was maybe 13-14 years old, my family drove down to Chicago to visit my aunt and my uncle. I remember us going out to some tennis courts near where they lived and hitting around a bit with the family. My dad just didn't look right the whole time, looking like he was in pain. Later that day, we found out his stomach was bothering him a lot. My dad loves spicy food (he was born in the Hunan province of China, which is known for spicy food), but he started having these ulcers and had to cut way back.

The next day, we were going to drive back to Milwaukee, and my dad was so bad he couldn't drive. My mom, who didn't drive the mini-van much, gave it a go even though my uncle offered to drive us back. We did fine, as I sat in the front seat and helped navigate. My dad laid down in the second row of seats, still suffering from pain. When we neared the Milwaukee area, he let out an audible groan, and my mom started getting scared and we decided to go to the hospital where a family friend practiced. We helped my dad out of the car to the emergency room, where they put him in a wheelchair. I'll never forget the image of my dad in obvious pain sitting in a wheelchair clutching his insurance card.

I don't remember how long my dad stayed in the hospital, probably a day or two, but I do remember what happened next. Ulcers were through to be a weakening of the stomach lining, causing your stomach acid to irritate the stomach. It was also conventional wisdom to think that stress would cause the acid levels of your stomach to increase, causing ulcers. But one of the doctors treating my dad had read about a new line of thinking for ulcers based off some new research that showed that ulcers were caused by bacteria. They put my dad on anti-biotics and Pepto Bismol, and within a few weeks he was cured.

The doctors that helped discover this bacteria being the cause of ulcers deservedly won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2005. I love this story for many reasons, of course number one being the quality of life my dad now enjoys. The second part of this story I love is how people took a different approach from conventional wisdom and solved an age old problem. 

This is where entrepreneurs fit in. They're the ones that zig when everyone zags, and are passionate about their goals enough to keep pushing on even when others constantly shoot you down. The doctors were willing to think outside the box and not be dissuaded by public skepticism. One of the doctors actually drank some of the bacteria himself to prove to others that it was the cause of ulcers. How many problems are out there right now because people refuse to believe anything other than conventional wisdom? Is there a cure for cancer out there that we're not seeing because everyone thinks cancer is a mutation of cells in the body? Maybe it's caused by bacteria, or a fungus? I have no idea, but I wonder what alternate theories there are out there. On a business note, are there opportunities out there that everyone's passing up? Or even discouraging you from doing because they think it's ludicrous? If you think you're right, you owe it to the world to at least try. 

My dad has never relapsed and eats spicy food now whenever he can find someone else to enjoy it with (my mom doesn't eat spicy food at all!). One of my favorite images of him now is watching him eating something so spicy it makes him sweat. He usually follows that up by saying, "mmm that's good!" All because someone challenged conventional wisdom and believed in their idea.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Do schools kill creativity?

YES. [End of blog]

Just kidding - but seriously I am concerned about how poorly prepared for the real world our education system makes people. ESPECIALLY future entrepreneurs. Any school system (especially before college) is primarily based on funneling people into a "this is how it's done' way of thinking. Fortunately others are beginning to see this as evidenced by this great video! Schools make people afraid to make mistakes and learn to try new things. My favorite entrepreneurial quote is something along the lines of "it took [insert famous business person here] 5 tries before they had a successful business". My take is - if this is the case - get busy failing because true success takes time and experimentation.

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The story of NOTtheBookStore.com

I've been mentioning a site that I've been focusing my efforts on, NOTtheBookStore.com I figure I'd blog a little bit more about it here!

The gist of the site is, it helps college students order textbooks online instead of at the campus bookstore. The site shows you which books you need, you can order from Amazon or Half, and then see how much you saved over buying from the campus bookstore (usually a lot).

Incidentally, the name of the site came to me in a half asleep state... I actually got out of bed, started up my computer, and drew up an initial logo. The name basically says that the site is NOT the campus bookstore and its high prices, instead it's on your side. The logo is eye catching, as it looks like "no BS" (or no bulls@#t) making it even more rebellious.

I started with a little bit of html code a few years ago, and created a site that looked like a 6 year old designed it. I entered in a few books from Xavier University (where I got my MBA) by hand, and then tried to figure out how to use Google adwords. It didn't really amount to much traffic, but then I got my first break when Facebook offered up "Facebook Flyers" that allowed me to advertise to Xavier students only. It was a cheap way to get the exact traffic I needed. I ended up with maybe 50 books sold that semester.

I knew I needed a better way to advertise on campus... it was so hard to do it during the summer when students weren't there. I tried hanging up some fliers, but it was hard to find places that allowed you to do that. Plus I didn't want the site to look trashy. I'm a big fan of student organizations (I was the president of my major's professional organization back in the day), so on a whim I contacted the Xavier Marketing Club. They responded immediately, and for the next year or so I've been working with them to come up with promotions for the site. The students loved it, as they were getting real world experience on a marketing project that was so near to their heart, and I was getting great exposure on campus and furthering the site's equity of being "for the student." I also revamped the site, buying a $25 template on line. That semester, I sold around 350 books... which all occurred during a vacation to Hawaii, where I got to track it while sitting on a wifi enabled beach (my 4 Hour Workweek moment).

This year, the Xavier Marketing Club did their thing again, and I ended up hiring a programmer to revamp the site and add some features. There were a good number of delays, to be fair much of it could be attributed to me, so the site didn't go live in time for this fall. The site ended up selling 400 books, which was a small increase from last year, but I was hoping for a 2X increase. The new site got up and running in time for me to add another school to the list, the University of Cincinnati. So far with only Facebook ads, the site has sold a grand total of 4 books.

So what's next? Well first, I'd like to see if a bigger school will bring economies of scale (UC has 4X the students of XU). I've already contacted UC's marketing club, and we're going to have our first meeting in a few weeks. I also think the site still needs a lot of optimization... I did get some features added, but now it takes a lot more clicks to get to a sale. And I'm not sure the features are intuitive. It's hard to deal with the website because someone else programmed it, and despite the fact that he did a really good job of being organized and giving me lots of documentation explaining what he did, it might be a bit over my head. So now I'm trying to understand what he did enough so I can make little tweaks to the site. I wish I had the programming expertise that Adam or Jason have!

So that's that. I'd love any advice or feedback!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Technology's long tail

Here's a great video about how technology slowly builds until a tipping point. This video is from the perspective of WIRED magazine in terms of how they cover the adoption of technology but also how critical mass of one technology (like DVD players) influences other technology tipping points like Netflix or Plasma TVs.

Chris Anderson, the editor of WIRED, explores the four key stages of any viable technology: setting the right price, gaining market share, displacing an established technology and, finally, becoming ubiquitous.


Monday, September 14, 2009

End of the first sabbatical trimester

It's been a little over a month since the sabbatical started, so about 1/3 of the way done. Here are a few of my thoughts/impressions at this juncture, and some updates:

The day goes by really fast. The first week or so, it was because I would wake up, read up on my fantasy leagues, play some Mario Kart Wii... But since then, I haven't watched any TV,  played any video games, nor sat around wasting time during the day, and a below average amount during the evening. Granted, the reason for that is because the Milwaukee Brewers fell out of the playoff race and the fall TV season hasn't started yet, but it goes to show that even when you're not wasting time, the day goes fast.

I set a goal to get 4 hours of business related work done a day. I'm still struggling very hard to get there... I'm still at 2-3 hours. I discovered that my house is not conducive to getting my work done, because it's a mess from lack of maintenance since I've been living there the last 8 years. So I've spent a good amount of time fixing it up, with the latest project decluttering (4 bags to Goodwill last week) and painting the kitchen. I want to make "pimp my home office" the next project. I figure if I can make my office an inviting place to work, it'll get me to 4 hours a day a lot easier. Right now I'm compensating by going to Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Panera, and trying to discover new places to work. I still plan on going to these places to work, but the home office might get me the incremental hours I'm looking for...

The biggest learning for me is to focus on one thing at a time. It's REALLY hard to do that. I'm a divergent thinker, lots of random ideas and thoughts I like to chase. It is one of my strengths, but I do need to hunker down and focus if I want any of those ideas to take off! So I've changed my line of thinking. My original goal was to start 3 ventures, to get failures out of the way. Now I'm going to focus on one project, NOTtheBookStore.com, and then with any leftover time in my 4 hour a day goal, I'll work on other things.

Overall, this has been a great experience. It's been a great mental break from corporate life. The work I do for my own ventures doesn't feel that much like work... it's more getting over fears. I think because of that, I'm not mentally drained at the end of the day like I am from work. Plus not having to fight traffic helps too. In the next "trimester" of my sabbatical, I hope to get to 4 hours of work a day or more, really driving NTBS, and making my house a place I love to work at.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The paradox of choice

Here's a great speech on the paradox of choice (it is also a great book). I think the entrepreneurial spin I would put on it is this: One of the many reasons it is so hard to start a business is because you just don't know what business to start.

I think many people never get started because they have the drive to be their own boss - but of what business? If you are looking for a job it's easy - there are only a narrow set of jobs that you are "qualified" for based on your degree or education. As for being an entrepreneur - there is no formal "qualification" to do anything - and sometimes that means nothing gets done if you don't know where to start. This video helps explain why...

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.


Monday, August 17, 2009

1 week into the sabbatical

I'm now one week into the SEEF3M... one of the objectives was to feel what being an entrepreneur was like. I've definitely accomplished that:

  • At night, I can't wait for the morning to come so I can get up and work on stuff. Slightly different than my day job.
  • It's really easy to just let the day go away... It's amazing how fast a day goes! I find myself working maybe 2-3 hours a day of real work, which was discouraging to me until I figured that at my corporate job, that's about how much real work you do too. But through Toodledoo, I'm trying to get myself more efficient and accomplish more in a day.
  • My main project, NOTtheBookstore.com, is in the middle of selling season for the fall semester, and it's going pretty slow. I'm barely breaking even on revenue with all of the marketing costs I spent on it. So that's led me to freaking out that I'm not getting a paycheck and wondering how I'm gonna make money. I guess just like an entrepreneur eh?
If you asked me today how I'm feeling, I would be thinking "Thank god I have a real job to go back to" instead of "this freedom is great." Last week it was the latter, but a little dose of reality today. I'm doing some traveling over the next couple weeks, but still plan on doing some work each day. Hopefully I can work on getting some new projects going and get re-encouraged again!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Starbucks is loud... Barnes and Noble has free wifi?

This is more of a "Twitter" post, but since I don't have Twitter I'll borrow the blog:

Sitting at Starbucks doing some SEEFADing. Starbucks is really loud, with the blenders and the loud soul music that's blaring. Where else could one SEEFAD... I remember reading Barnes and Noble offering up free wifi now. I'll hafta check it out...

DOH I think I went over the character limit. And there goes the !#@!@! blender again, the employees must need earplugs to be under OSHA compliance...


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The task to end all tasks: GTD

I'm about 1.5 days into my 3 month leave (it actually started on Friday, but I'll take that as a day off. I used it to clean the house a bit). I decided that the #1 thing I need to do is to get GTD going. With every task in my head, I tried to break down step by step until I got to the "next action." And the next action was always "get my GTD system working." So here goes.

I had tried a few times with a few tools, but it all fell apart. I looked online for help, and there are a LOT of GTD lovers out there (not even counting Jason and Scott, who commented on this blog). Here are two of the posts I found:

I then took an inventory of the tools I had:

  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Google Notebook
  • Toodledoo plus iPhone app
  • Gmail
I was already getting overwhelmed and starting to overanalyze. So then I figured out what really needed to be done. I needed something to collect materials (inboxes), sort/organize into categories, allow me to use it on my iPhone, and a place to store reference and someday/maybe items. Then I tried to figure out which tool was best for which "job to be done."

Then I had the relevaltion: the thing I really need is something to sort/organize. I could always collect "inbox" stuff from a bunch of different sources, just needed to keep a master list handy so I don't miss any. For sort/organize, Toodledoo, OneNote, and Google Notebook were all fine. For on the go for my iPhone, Toodledoo had a really good iPhone app that I had already bought. For someday/maybe and reference items, OneNote was the best because it allowed you to type anywhere you wanted and clip screenshots. OneNote really fits my "scattered thinking" style, so I was just about to choose it until I realized that it's a Microsoft product, and I was really close to switching over to a Mac!

So I'm going to give Toodledoo a renewed shot. I just wish I had done this when my free trial of "Toodledoo Pro" was still going, because it allowed you to do "sub-tasks." That would be extremely helpful for me to define steps to get me to a next action. Anyone have thoughts on if the upgrade is worth it?

There's only one thing I'd like to be able to do that I haven't figured out how yet. It's if I take a picture of something, what's the best way to get it into my workflow? Toodledoo doesn't support attachments via email, and OneNote doesn't allow you to get emails.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

And so it officially begins...

The three month leave of absence begins as of tomorrow. I think the first order of business will be to do a renewal of my goals... starting from high level to what I want to accomplish in my 3 months, down to what I want to accomplish today.

One thing I really would like to get right is to get a system working that allows me to do the "GTD (Getting Things Done)" concept... I'm a scattered thinker, so having this method buttoned up would allow me to know exactly what to do when I feel like doing something else for 10 minutes. Right now I tend to check the stock market, play Mario Kart, and see how many people have read this blog (not many if I don't post new entries). I've struggled with many different methods; an iPhone ap (Toodledoo), Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Excel, and iPrioritize. I've read tips on how to use Outlook, Gmail, etc. I think I have a couple of issues: 1. I don't take the time to maintain my GTD list, and 2. I haven't found the right tools yet. If anyone has tips, I'd love to hear them!


Friday, July 24, 2009

A made up story about Shaquille O'Neal

Coach: Hey Shaq, thanks for coming into my office for your performance review.

Shaq: No problem.

Coach: Well, I wanted to tell you that you're not quite up to our standards, and we're going to put you on a performance improvement plan.

Shaq: Really? What do I need to improve?

Coach: Well, the main thing is we really need to see more basketball mastery out of you. You tend to miss a lot of shots, and you pass the ball on to others a lot instead of taking it up the court yourself. That's not what we're looking for in a point guard.

Shaq: I'm not sure what I can do, I've been trying really hard and it seems like nothing I do really works. I've been working on my dribbling skills, and I pass the ball to other people because they can do a better job of it than I can.

Coach: But to be on this team, you need to demonstrate basketball mastery. And unfortunately I haven't seen that out of you yet. So I'm going to schedule weekly one on ones with you and have you work with our ball-handling coach on Tuesdays, and our jump shot coach on Fridays. Then in 6 months, we'll schedule a time to meet up and I'm confident you'll improve. But if we don't see any improvement, we might have to release you.

Shaq: Coach, I've been thinking, maybe point guard isn't the right position for me to play.

Coach: Really, why do you say that?

Shaq: First of all, I'm 7 feet tall and I weigh 325 pounds. I think if you let me play center, I'd be able to dunk over anyone who'd be guarding me.

Coach: I definitely see that you're tall, and you are pretty muscular. But in order to be successful on this team, you need to demonstrate basketball mastery in the role you are in right now. After you do that, you can consider a change to center. So I want you to concentrate on your ball handling skills and your jump shots, and I want to see you bring the ball up the court instead of passing it on to the shorter and quicker players.

Shaq: Coach, I will do my best, but I really think if you gave me a chance to play center, I could demonstrate my basketball mastery skills by rebounding and scoring near the rim.

Coach: Basketball mastery skills are fundamental and they are the same in any role. So you need to demonstrate them in your current role as a point guard. After you've proven yourself, then someone in the center department might be willing to take you on.

Shaq: Um, OK...

Follow up

So Shaq goes out and tries to demonstrate his basketball mastery skills by taking the ball up the court and working on his jump shot. But he struggles, turning the ball over a lot and missing a lot of shots. He ends up being put on the bench, where he sits there today as a 3rd string point guard, never getting a chance to play center, and the world will never know how good of a center he could have been...


Monday, July 20, 2009

Countdown to the sabbatical!

Last week I turned in my leave of absence form to HR... And it's suddenly it's feeling a lot more real that this is actually going to happen! I've spent the last few days working on finishing up some things, transitioning my work to my replacement, and starting to do some pre-work in finding my new role for when I return. I sent out an announcement to my project team today, and the best response I got was "You lucky SOB." August 5th will be my last day in the office for three months... Only 12 business days left!

I read an update about the guy who left his corporate job to join a baseball league in Germany on the Escape From Cubicle Nation blog. One thing that hit home with me was how his parents didn't exactly agree with his decision, just like mine, and it encourages me his parents are starting to come around (my dad still avoids the subject when I bring it up). He's enjoying his time and doesn't regret doing what he did. Here's to me having the same experience with what I'm calling my SEEF3M!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The stem cell fallacy

No, this blog didn’t turn into a political activist blog for or against stem cell research. Yes, this is going to be an analogy. This came to me recently as I was discussing my post-sabbatical future with my boss. He’s done a lot to help me out, but it’s hard for me to get the recognition I deserve because I’m in a very non-traditional engineering role (i.e. one that’s entrepreneurial with projects that are outside the box and usually much smaller than typical). So to stay in my function I’d probably need to do more traditional roles so I could get the recognition (i.e. promotions and raises).

I’m at the point now where I’ve been around long enough that I have a little more say in my career, and I know enough about career paths to be able to know what I want. In the past, I did what I was told and went and did a traditional role. I don’t feel like the company got the most out of me.

What bothers me is corporations think we’re stem cells. At the risk of oversimplifying, stems cells are undifferentiated cells and can grow into whatever type of cell it’s placed near. If a stem cell is placed near a liver cell it grows into a liver cell. If it’s placed near a heart cell it grows into a heart cell.

Corporations think we’re all like that. You put me in a traditional engineering role, and I will turn into a traditional engineering person. You put me in an operations role, and I will turn into an operations person.

Well, I’m just not like that. The issue is everywhere I go, they assume that. If I want to go into marketing, they want me to turn into a marketing person. If I want to go into R&D, they want me to turn into an R&D person.

Corporations think of themselves as one person and the employees as cells within that body. We’re more like an ecosystem, individual organisms that interact with each other and evolve as conditions dictate. Why can't they recognize that?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Notes from the blogosphere

There were three mention worthy posts from A Smart Bear and Adam McFarland's blogs this past week:

From "Adam McFarland":

Funding your first business - This was a neat take on what path to take to your first business. The path to the corporate world is really well worn (go to school, get a job, work for 30 years, retire). Adam proposes a neat path to the entrepreneurship world, starting with a "non-career job," providing a service, then finally getting to the point of starting a business. It's really close to a Corporatepreneur path. Maybe the subject of another post!

From idea to cashflow - Adam responds to a request I had to describe how he went from getting an idea to getting cashflow. In the corporate world, we're given ideas and told to execute them using their systems. How do we go from idea to cashflow on our own? Good post, I'm hoping that he talks a little bit more on the nuts and bolts to starting a business, i.e. how the heck do you get to be a distributor? Do you just call someone up?

From "A Smart Bear":

Sacrifice your health for a startup - Here's Jason being all contrarian again. :) In this post, he feels like you need to work really hard to the point of sacrificing your health and friends/family in order for a startup to be successful. I don't have that kind of drive, so am I doomed to start? Can I be an 80 for 20 type person and still be successful?


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Open-source economics

Here's another great TED video about how business in the information age has to be approached differently than business from the industrial age. The change is based on technology, the web, and collaboration.

Yochai Benkler explains how collaborative projects like Wikipedia and Linux represent the next stage of human organization. Yochai Benkler has been called "the leading intellectual of the information age." He proposes that volunteer-based projects such as Wikipedia and Linux are the next stage of human organization and economic production.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


So once in a while I like to do a "Bloginage" which is a takeoff of the word "blog" and "badinage." The word badinage, which I learned in a game of cranium, basically means "banter." So I'm just gonna banter a bit, giving some snippets of random stuff...

So about the upcoming leave of absence (or SEEF3M), the analogy I had earlier was I felt like I had senioritis. You know, when all you can think of is graduating and being free from all this homework. Well, since I'm a little over a month away now, I have a new analogy from my college days: It feels like final exam month. I have all this stuff I need to get done at work before I can leave for summer vacation!

I've inched my way out of the dip... The new project I'm looking at trying out is a single use wipe for use on the exterior of cars. It's not a ground breaking idea, but it'll let me learn about selling a physical product. Also, I'm thinking this as an example of a commercial innovation: the product is very similar (if not the same) as an existing product, but you position it in a way so it solves a different problem for the consumer.

I had a short meeting with the wipes vendor and learned about the typical issues with this kind of business model. Minimum order quantity is 50,000 wipes. The cost isn't too bad (in the thosands of dollars for 50K wipes). But then I figured in fulfillment and shipping costs, and I'd prob at best break even if I charged $0.50 a wipe. Adam, how do you make money using this model? :) Next step is some testing with people...

I've gotten some buzz on NotTheBookstore.com, as 3 students have signed up for my mailing list in the same week. The mailing list is invaluable; these are people who voluntarily want to be reminded to buy your product. I haven't rolled out the new site yet, but I've gotten to the point now where I've redesigned one page and have sent it in to my programmer.

I find it interesting that Brad was in "The Dip" just as I was at the same time...

I've always wondered if this blog would ever make money for us. It's been great as a way to get inspiration and meet people similar to you in this journey, so even if it doesn't make me a penny it'll be worth it. But last week, someone bought a copy of the E-Myth that I blogged about. So our first pennies of revenue! Funny how such a small thing inspires you so much...

As usual, things just kinda flow when you just start writing and instead of a bunch of small snippets I end up with a pretty long post!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Way-new collaboration

This is another great video from TED talking about how collaboration is the future of business. I think business is seen as a zero-sum game - if I win someone else has to lose. Well this video argues how that was based on a biological scarcity of resources mindset - and not how business works.

Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action -- and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.


Monday, June 8, 2009

I've hit "The Dip"

So as you've probably noticed, I haven't been blogging as much lately. I think I've hit "The Dip"(the concept described by the Seth Godin book). The lack of blogging correlates to the lack of stuff getting done in general on my entrepreneurial pursuits:

Notthebookstore.com - I hired a programmer to revamp the site and add some nice features to it. The guy did an awesome job. I trust him so much that I paid him in full before I launched the site, trusting that he'll be there if I had issues. But now I'm stuck in The Dip, with the old site still up and the new site still to go. I know I want to tweak the new site, put up some content to feature the new stuff. But every time I've thought about it, I've found something else to do.

New project - I took the first baby step on a new product idea I had (it's not new or ingenious by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm afraid to talk about it because I don't wanna jinx it! It does have something to do with cars, so Adam I might be contacting you for advice since you have a lot of experience with Detailed Image). I contacted a supplier, and the person has responded and has asked me for my contact info so we can talk about it. I've procrastinated giving him that info, even though it would be a great next step to keep the chain moving.

So today, instead of procrastinating some more or thinking up excuses not to do something, I've decided I would blog with reckless abandon and not think about perfection or if this post makes sense or not. This is one of those cases where it's better to do something and have it be not quite perfect than to not do anything at all. So here it is! I'm sitting at Panera Bread drinking below average ice tea (hmm, maybe that's a subject of a future blog... how I would design the perfect place to SEEFAD). My goal is to take the next step in the two things I listed above (I've already taken the next step for this blog by posting this!)


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Entrepreneural thinking squashed at school

A follow up to the previous blog about how entrepreneurship is not taught in our schools... This story actually shows how this type of thinking was squashed.

Back in 7th grade, we had these "assignment notebooks." These were booklets, with each page printed front and back with columns labeled "Subject" "Assignment" and "Due Date." We had 9 class hours in a day, so 9 rows were below each of the columns. Every day, we were to fill in our 9 subjects in the first column, our assignment for the class in the second column, and the due date in the third column. Our Reading teacher would check on our assignment notebooks one by one and grade them.

Well I got sick of writing the same subjects every day in the first column. So I put a cover on my assignment notebook, and in the front flap I wrote down my subjects. Every day, I would flip the page and tuck it into the front flap, and then voila! The subjects would already be there. So now what to do about the right side pages... I created a strip of paper like a bookmark, wrote my class subjects on it, and connected it to the cover. Then I could flip the page and fold the connected bookmark down, and voila, I'd have all my subjects showing for that day.

My Reading teacher took one look, shook her head, and said "no no no. None of this." And gave me a C+ for the book.

It's this kind of thinking that needs to change in our schooling system. In real life, this type of thing could be patented, sold, and made a lot of people's lives better.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Best response to my leave of absence yet

So word of the pending personal leave of absence is starting to spread around my project teams... Most people have a hint of jealousy, one colleague said "You're lucky, I hafta wait until I retire and the kids get out of college before I can do that." Yes, one other reason why I'm doing it is just because I can. I have no baggage... I'm single, unattached, and only have a goldfish that depends on me.

I had this IM exchange with a co-worker:

Him: I hear you're going on a sabbatical
Me: Yup, gonna take some time off just because I can
Him: Rumor has it that it's paternity leave.

I told him I wish I was bad ass enough to hafta deny it, but no one would believe it anyway!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Career Day

I was recently asked to speak at a Career Day at a local High School. For my corporate career, of course, not my entrepreneur career. I was so glad to see a school have a career day. My High School never had a formal career day. It was an eye opening experience that showed me we are failing our youth by not giving them the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves.
The purpose of this blog is to speak to those who are starting to see more and want more out of their own efforts. For most of us, it came from direct learning in our 20's as we started to work full time in the corporate world. I wish there would have been more resources like this blog and the other blogs we have been able to connect with when I was just starting out 9 years ago.
I think since seeing Career Day, there is a big point I have been missing. Most of us who are or want to be corporatepreneurs have now gotten into the habit of seeking out and finding our own sources of information. From our personal life experiences, there are those of us who reject the normal careers or normal life as the best that could be done with our talents and interests. We have learned to stand firm in our beliefs when faced with those who ask "why couldn't you be happy climbing the corporate ladder and achieving a comfortable living by all normal means?" Once you convince yourself that you want more out of life, it is easy for you to avoid the onslaught of social pressure to just live a normal life. That does not mean we don't feel the social pressure, which has been the topic of many recent blogs, but we at least know enough to balance that with what we hear within ourselves.
The point is we are failing our youth because we do not give them enough support and information to let them feel comfortable with choosing their own path rather than forcing them to take tests to fit their interests into preexisting career paths that will leave them longing for more by their 30's. The reason for this is because we do not even give them enough information and tools to learn enough about how the real world works.
When my brother in law was looking at colleges and majors, I sat down with him for a night talking about life. I was so jealous of the information he had access to at his finger tips. Online, we were able to get information about the various costs of schools he was considering. We were able to go to Salary.com to see the starting salaries of the types of careers he was considering at the time, and even print out sample paychecks for budget planning. From Rent.com or any Housing sites we were able to look up the types of houses he could afford on a given salary and even look for new cars he could afford. This is an amazing amount of information to have at your fingertips. I never had this much access growing up. If I had I am sure I would have spent hours upon hours playing Fantasy Real Life.
From the types of questions I got at Career Day, it was quite clear to me that no one was sharing these tools with kids to help them begin to understand the impact of their choices. Especially these days when kids expect to get onto MTV Cribs but have no idea how to get started.
I think as corporatepreneurs, we are used to searching far and wide for our tools and information because no one shares any information and the perfect plan for one of our businesses may not reapply at all to another business we may choose to start. While always looking to improve my corporatepreneur life, I have been able to at times look back and enjoy the journey for what it has been. I do see giving back as a big part of my corporatepreneur plans and one reason I jumped at the chance to speak to a High School. I have already created a scholarship at my Alma Matter. But, now I think we need to start share our life lessons to more of our youth, to share with them the tools we have learned about how to live your own life.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Entrepreneurship just isn't taught right

One of the hardest things I've had to deal with about entrepreneurship is that I just plain don't know how to do it. I've been taught to go to school, get good grades, work for a big company, get a good pension, and retire. My dad, who on the one hand tells me I need to work for myself because it sucks having a boss telling you what to do, also gets scared when I talk of the goal of becoming one full time (or taking a 3 month personal leave of absence to try it out). My schooling taught me how to take a derivative, F=ma, how to identify a subject and a predicate, and how to spell (how irrelevant does learning how to spell well feel now as I right click and fix my spelling error). All my friends (prior to finding out that some of them were closet entrepreneurs) worked in the corporate world.

My one entrepreneurship class taught me how to write a business plan... Basically a document to attempt to inspire someone to just give me money for my pie in the sky idea. I made BS financial projections, entered in gory details about how I plan on marketing on TV and radio, and all this "planning" stuff... In the military there's a quote: "No plan survives the battlefield."

I've always wanted to teach a class to students who are currently working to show them that entrepreneurship isn't about that. It's actually part of the reason for starting this blog. I've come across the blog of Bill Wales, an entrepreneurship professor at Skidmore College who GETS IT. Hopefully more classes will be taught like the way he's teaching it.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The rise of the amateur professional

Sometimes large companies create products for profit - or for a specific business model. This talk argues how the BEST products are designed by the users - the people who want the product. An example here is how the mountain bike was not designed by a large bike company - but by the biking enthusiasts. No longer can companies design products and then get a read from "passive" consumers who say they like it or not - now I believe the call is for entrepreneurs to design in collaboration with consumers.

In this deceptively casual talk, Charles Leadbeater weaves a tight argument that innovation isn't just for professionals anymore. Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can't.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lessons from The Office

On a recent series of The Office episodes, Michael Scott, the main character, decides to quit the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and start his own company, the Michael Scott Paper Company. In a Jerry McGuire-esque scene, he asks who's going with him... and Pam, the really cute administrative assistant, goes with him. This plotline lasts for maybe 2-3 episodes, and of course it's pretty ridiculous. But there are a few tidbits we can get from these episodes...

One small step for man...

The day after Michael and Pam quit, they gather at Michael's apartment. He has a nervous breakdown. So unsung hero Pam tries to help him:

"When I feel overwhelmed, I like to make a list of things to do, and then start with the easy stuff. We need to come up with one realistic thing we can do today."

Pam is employing our "one small step for man" approach, which I blogged about here.

Benefits: The supposed holy grail

A little later, it's Pam's turn to have a nervous breakdown:

"I had a job. I had benefits!"

I've always thought benefits were overrated. Then again I've never had to be without them. But can't you convert "benefits" to a monetary figure? Health insurance can be bought. It probably isn't cheap, but it can be bought. So put in a number. $1000 a month? That just means you add $1000 a month to your opportunity cost hurdle. I actually tried to get some quotes, and I found health insurance for $100 a month. It probably only covers a horrible disaster, but isn't that what insurance is for anyway?

The folly of not including your time as a cost

So Michael and company deliver their first orders of paper in a van that used to be owned by a Korean church. They get up at 4 AM to get their deliveries in on time. When they're done, they sit around the office tired but happy about their first orders. Michael then suggests they add a loft to the office. Pam suggest hiring a delivery service so she doesn't hafta wake up at 4 AM to do this work. Michael keeps on fantasizing about adding a loft.

The point here is you hafta account for your own time as a cost. Working long hours, working hard, being the hero isn't sustainable because there's only a certain number of hours in a day. Michael and Pam basically are getting paid to be delivery people instead of being business owners. If you can't afford to hire a delivery person and you hafta do it yourself, you're working in your business instead of on your business. This concept is explained really well in the book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.

Better have a good idea of cost structure before lowering prices

Michael ends up getting a lot of clients because he undercuts his old employer's prices. But his accountant tells him that as his company grows, he won't be profitable. Michael ends up calling his clients back and asking for more money to stay afloat. Obviously, he doesn't have much luck with it.

Michael just offered paper at really low prices... which can be a good strategy, but your cost structure has to support it. You can't just cut prices and take lower profits, because your costs will continue to grow as your sales do. Wal Mart can have lower prices because of their cost structure. They are so huge that they have all kinds of economies of scale, like being able to ship full trucks and having the power to get lower prices from their suppliers. They don't just lower prices without these things.

"Jobs are safer"

So, in a plot twist worthy of a sitcom, Dunder Mifflin wants to buy out Michael's paper company because they're losing clients. They offer him $60,000... after much celebrating Michael changes his mind and asks for their jobs back instead because "jobs are safer."

Well, jobs are safer when you aren't a true entrepreneur. Michael and Pam proved that, quitting on an impulse because they didn't like their new boss and trying to start their own paper company without testing it out first (Corporatepreneurship?) nor thinking about their business model.

Not bad content for a funny sitcom, eh?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

DRTV and Thank God I'm a Corporatepreneur

Dale's SEEF3M is going to be awesome. Who wouldn't want to work for yourself full time even for just 3 months. But I thought I'd offer my perspective. For those who don't know Dale and I don't run any businesses together (at least not yet) but we are friends and routinely meet to share what we are up to and in general how to better be Entrepreneurs. We also try to keep each other motivated and of course - share code if we've solved a specific issue before.

So I am really glad to be a Corporatepreneur this year... here's why.

For the past 8 years I have made money from a somewhat popular gaming website from banner ads. And I have to say while it took a few years to really take off - when it did things were way better than I ever expected. In fact for the past 3-4 years I could have lived off of that income alone - but didn't. People who know always thought I was crazy, and in a way I was. I guess I figured I could run a business part time and work full tie - why not do it. At the minimum I'd be taking years off my retirement income.

Also over that time I got married, bought a house, etc etc and long story short - people count on me now.

So over the past year my Entrepreneurial income has been drastically lower - and it wouldn't be enough for me to live on at my current lifestyle (see my blog The Paradox of Replacement Income).

Anyways - since the last year has been so rough for making money from advertising - my partners and I decided to take advantage of the low ad rates and think of a business model that could capitalize on these low rates. We've decided to try and sell a product on TV (as seen on TV type).

If you have seen the Snuggie - know that they have sold millions of them. Some people see this and think the Snuggie is dumb, I see it as a brilliant DRTV product. So stay tuned because I'll keep you posted on the DRTV journey. We are working out what out product could be, then we'll shoot a commercial.

In the meantime - be sure to catch Pitchmen on Discovery as it give you some great behind the scenes of the DRTV world.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

One person is seriously derailing my entrepreneurial drive

It's my boss. And it's not what you think...

Last week I had a regular meeting with him. Before I had a chance to start updating him on all of the projects I was working on, he said one sec... and pulled out a sheet of paper with my raise for this year. I wasn't expecting much with this economy, but it was more than I expected. He told me that he thought highly of me and I was doing great work. Now typically you write that off as hot air, but he put his money where his mouth was.

I've worked with this person before. About 5 years ago, I was struggling with the company. When I was called into my previous boss's office, I actually thought that this could be it. But instead they came to talk to me to offer me a "change in scenery" role, with this guy as my new boss. He basically told me from the beginning that he believed in me and didn't care about the previous stuff. In a twist of fate, fast forward 5 years and he became my boss again.

So now I'm thinking, with a boss like that, why can't I just stick around, collect a nice paycheck, and be happy???


Monday, April 20, 2009

The bigger they are... the harder they fall

Jason Cohen's post in his Smart Bear blog (check out fear #6 and his answer to #6 later in the blog) gave me this idea for a post that I think we at the Corporatepreneur know a thing or two about... inefficiencies at big companies. Let me tell you some things about big companies that an entrepreneur can exploit.

Overhead: Big companies hafta pay pensions, bonuses, cushy office chairs, and salaries of people who are not quite ready to retire yet but have stopped working.

How to exploit: If you can find a better cost structure (i.e. selling something online instead of through big warehouses), you can not only beat big companies but they will run away from you because they don't want to dilute their margins (the books Innovator's Dilemma and Innovator's Solution talk about this)

Functional Silos: Big companies have lots of functions (R&D, Marketing, production, Finance) and with each function there are numerous managers. Each function feels like they need to carve out their influence and create their empire. A lot of times products are sub-optimized because each function is trying to serve their best interests, not the best interests of the company as a whole.

How to exploit: Since you have a more holistic view, you can create a product that's good on all fronts. Plus, you can tweak things on a whim to improve them for a particular customer, or adjust prices as you see fit, or even name a product something you dreamed up last night. Any one of these things at a large company requires meetings and pre-meetings about these meetings. You can change things on a whim to delight your customer. Or make more money.

Risk Averse: At big companies, people are always trying to CYA (Cover Your Ass). You don't take risks, because failure gets you fired. You hafta test things a million times, document all the stuff you learn and why you made a certain decision, and get all kinds of approvals from people. Sometimes something as simple as the color of a package needs to get VP sign off.

How to exploit: An entrepreneur can take calculated risks and beat a big company at it any time. Want to try to sell something online? Google it, maybe read a few blogs like Adam McFarland's, get on Yahoo small business, and do it. At a big company, you'd probably hire consultants and have numerous team meetings. Want to try a new ad slogan? Go for it. At a big company, you hafta go through legal, who's on vacation this week, then marketing will get mad at you because you've stepped on their toes.

I could go on forever, but it's good to keep blog entries short and sweet. Jason, hopefully this helps illustrate #6 for you.


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