Monthly Archives: September 2009

More About the World Domination Plan

In the last few meetings with entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed I’ve been consistently asking about whether they have a world domination plan. But I think my request is being misinterpreted; of course, I have not helped since I haven’t clarified what I’m looking for either.
I am reminded of when I ran User Experience at Yahoo and when we interviewed people, we would give them a test. This usually was an hour to create a new design for Yahoo Profiles. We would give them some paper, pencils or pens, and then leave them alone for an hour. After an hour, we’d come back and see what they came up with.
It’s pretty amazing the variance of output that we’d see. Some people would have maybe one piece of paper done. Others would have a whole tornado of paper and sketches on them and on the white boards on the walls. The way people “fail” this test if they came up with just one answer and were adamant about that being the only perfect answer. That’s not the point; the point is that it’s pretty impossible to come up with a fantastic solution in one hour. We gave them the test to illustrate their design process. If they had a great process and could walk us through their thinking, then we knew they could get a fantastic solution if given enough time. Those with a poor process would typically come up with just one answer and settle on that, thinking it was final.
This is the same for when I ask for the world domination plan. It would be nice to get “the answer” but I think it’s pretty unrealistic given the twists and turns that startups go through. Some give me “the answer”, which is fine if it’s in the context of something they’re thinking about. Sometimes, though, there is a certainty in their belief that is scary to me; it almost shows an inflexibility in their thinking that they are shooting for this solution and you sense that they’re going to bulldog their way to this answer even if it is the wrong answer.
It’s also pretty amazing to see how many entrepreneurs don’t even think about it. I ask them and there is a blank look on their faces. This is a problem. While that doesn’t mean a decent business couldn’t be built out of their idea, it could mean that it only grows to a certain point and then…that’s it. Great for the employees of the company who get paid every day, great for the founders who work at the company and own lots of it and also get paid, but not so great for us investors whose money is locked in the equity of the company.
As an investor, I would much prefer that you have the frame of mind that you WILL take over the world in whatever area you’re operating in and you’re always thinking about how that would happen. I don’t want to see a blank face like it was a new concept. I just want to hear that you are thinking about it either all the time or at least it’s floating in the back of your brain most of the time.
Because it’s then that us investors know that we have the best chance of getting our money back and hopefully making some on top of it. Smaller companies can be great companies, but many reach some midpoint where they may not be acquired because their potential seems limited and acquirers are also looking for big opportunities. Thus, our exit potential is also limited. When you’re on a trajectory through luck and planning to world domination, then your options are much greater because everyone chases you and wants your world dominating characteristics added to their own. You could even go IPO – but not if you’re not big enough.
World dominating companies are the ones we want to be involved in and it starts with the right mindset. Remember it’s not “the answer” that I’m looking for, but rather that right frame of mind and that you’re noodling on it day and night as you’re building your company.

The Hierarchy of Attributes for a Product Person

Often I wonder what makes a great “product person”. There are definitely those “product manager” type attributes like project management skills, group management skills, business development experience, and the like. These are important, but I want to talk more about those fuzzy skills that give a person a sensitivity towards what makes a great product out in the marketplace.
So perhaps the “product person” I talk about is not just about the product manager or those we choose to lead product teams. I am talking about anyone who seems to have that innate sensitivity and instinct towards creating a great product.
I thought about this for a while and thought it could expressed as a hierarchy like a pyramid:

In describing the levels in numerical order, the bottom-most levels deal with the self. The next level expands thinking to include others. And the top most levels deal with actually being able to do something about it.
The levels are:
1. Can only express a like or dislike for something, but cannot articulate why, or very vaguely.
2. Can explain clearly why they like or dislike something.
3. Can explain clearly why others like or dislike something.
4. Can create something for yourself, that is expression of likes, and/or fixes dislikes.
5. Can create something for others, that is expression of likes and/or fixes dislikes.
I talk about a person’s product sensitivity as likes or dislikes in the sense for what they would like or dislike in product. In this case, a great product is a product that many people likes a lot about, and dislikes very little about it. So in other words, a great product is one we love, want, or even need. My definition of a great product person is someone who has risen to the top of the pyramid and not only express likes or dislikes for himself and for others, but one that can take those likes and dislikes and create something that not only he loves, but everyone else does too.
The pyramid is an illustration of how rare great product people are. A lot more people inhabit the lower portions of the pyramid and pretty much everyone can tell you whether they like or hate something. But they can’t necessarily explain why.
Then as you move up the pyramid, you also need to be able to release your own ego and expand your sensitivity to others. This is very difficult as most people are very self-centered and tend to like solving problems for themselves. In fact, it’s a lot easier to solve problems for yourself since you know yourself pretty well and can keep at it until you like something a lot, and your dislikes disappear. However, doing this for other people is much much harder.
In design, we are taught design processes which tease out what others like and dislike and we have methodologies to discover them, and to figure out what to do about them. These processes can help create great products, even though the people involved may not be superior product people.
But, I believe the best product people have an instinctive connection to what makes a great product and often does not require additional processes and methodologies to do so. These processes and methodologies certainly enhance a great product person’s ability to create something great, so many great product people smartly employ these techniques to fine tune their creations.
I offer up this hierarchical pyramid of product people attributes as a potential way of evaluating whether or not someone truly is a great product person or not. I think that it could be a way to structure questions to ask a potential hire by giving them an example of a product to evaluate, and see how far up the pyramid they get in terms of sensitivities. Then you can figure out whether or not the person is great enough a product person for you to hire.

Are You Evil or Are You Just Lucky?

Last night I attended the Startup2Startup"s CeWebrity DeathMatch: Jason Calacanis vs Guy Kawasaki on "Is Apple Becoming Big Brother?" and it was a hoot. Watching Guy and Jason rag on each other was pretty hilarious and Dave McClure did a great job keeping the action going all night.
After the main feature, Startup2Startup dinners have a discussion at our dinner tables around a topic, which, tonight, was based on the concept of being evil and whether it was necessary or not. One question that circulated around the table was whether or not doing evil things in our lives was justifiable or not. In a funny way, I was glad that we did not get around to me answering this question because I really didn’t have an evil example in my work past to give.
How can that be? Well I’ll tell you. I thought back through my work history and could not think of a single evil event I’ve ever done. Not in business, not in politics of corporation, not in management. Now perhaps some of my former team may think of evil things I’ve done, especially like during layoffs, but that wasn’t really self orchestrated but rather forced on me by the corporation.
I’ve always tried to live my life to a higher moral standard and in dealing with people as human beings. I’ve never been great at lying, and thus corporate politics totally are out of my realm and I have seen many instances where I would have been totally outclassed in dealing with manipulation and backstabbing of others. I’m also not very talkative during meetings, which I believe has sunk my career because I’ve always let others take the limelight and not myself. The unfortunate by product of this is that if you don’t say something in meetings, people tend to view you as having nothing to contribute and thus are not worthy of attending further meetings or advancement in the company.
This, my readers, is the reason why I got about as high as I could up the corporate ladder and then could go no further. Because I’m an honest guy, don’t play corporate politics well, and just do my job well, that’s unfortunately not a formula for success in organizations.
I thought back to this lack of evil and wondered how I came to be at this point in my life. And I came on one big factor which has carried me to this day – that is LUCK.
In looking back to people I’ve worked for, the companies I’ve been at, the people who took a chance on me when I was just a dumb out of college guy, and then somehow being buddies with right two guys at Stanford leading to me joining the right internet startup at the right time – these coincidences were incredible instances in chance.
Looking back at this path I’ve taken through my career, I could have just taken the wrong step in a multitude of places and gone off totally into another place. But yet I ended up here.
Intelligence had an effect? Perhaps, but a lot of smart people do some smart things, or what they think is smart and don’t get anywhere. And I’m not particularly a genius either. I don’t think I went around and did anything special but just happened on these people as I walked through life. So that couldn’t be it.
While a lot of people poo-poo luck, I’m a big believer in it. The big problem is, how the heck do you find luck? I also think that some people are naturally lucky, and there are people who seem to have no luck at all. To that end, I have some suggestions as to how to increase your luck:
1. If you’re a lucky person, you’ve made it!
2. If you’re totally unlucky, I don’t think you’ll instantly be lucky. However, there could be hope for you. Read on.
3. Hang out with lucky people. Don’t you hate it when some of these people always seem to have great things happen to them and it doesn’t seem like they do anything? These are the people you need to find and become BFFs with. The downside is that lucky people want to also increase their luck, so they will try to find luckier people to hang out with. So you may not be successful in becoming BFFs with these people because they may spot your lucklessness.
4. Get rid of unlucky people around you. These people will be a drag on your life. Don’t hang out with them. Something bad that happens to them may also happen to you despite your luckiness. Increase your luck by hanging out with lucky people.
5. Generally, lucky people are happy, and unlucky people are not. I think that your general outlook in life can help add lucky points to your life, or at least fake it.
6. Don’t go putting yourself in risky situations. Why walk around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town? Duh. Reduce the chance that your unluckiness might manifest itself. Or don’t use up your lucky quotient for the day by doing inherently risky and stupid things.
7. Place yourself in situations where you can shine. So instead of walking around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town, go to Startup2Startup and meet some smart people, maybe some VC who takes a liking to you and funds you.
As an entrepreneur or investor, I cannot under emphasize the importance of luck. Meeting the right founder at the right time, being in the marketplace and finding some product that consumers love and it takes off, finding the right business partner who ultimately buys your company, or discovering that in a crowded marketplace that you backed the right entrepreneur (like me joining Yahoo, instead of Excite, Infoseek, or Lycos).
Luck is one of those unexplainable forces in the universe. All I can say is do things to increase your luck as one of those things you can do to help you be successful in life or business….and be very wary of when your luck runs out.