To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.Chuang-tzu
Monday, December 29, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Everything you start as an entrepreneur has a pace. Some ventures have a fast pace. Some don't feel like they are moving at all. In either case, there is a danger of failure. Ventures require momentum, but the market sets the pace. A Zentrepreneur looks for the perfect balance of both.
It is more important to focus on the Path, than it is to focus on the Speed of a venture. If your venture is on the wrong path, then the speed you move will only drive you to certain failure faster.
The easiest way to accept that Speed is not crucial to success, is to look at any company (new or old) and how they were able to leverage and learn from the failure of companies before them that focused on Speed and not Path. You can be an innovator to a fault. If you take your venture too far beyond market demand, and too fast down the path - you will not be able to convert the innovation into revenue. This is one of the primary reasons why it is so difficult to commercialize technology out of University labs - because Professors typically push the limits of innovation with no concern (and no need) to commercialize their invention. There are a few that have closed that Gap, and those Universities have been the drivers of the new generation of technologies (e.g. Google, Yahoo, etc).
Many times entrepreneurs believe their idea loses value as the market matures, but it is the exact opposite. Only bad ideas lose value over time. Good ideas prosper as more competition enter the market, and as more customers begin to buy.
Just as Gandhi, appropriately said "There is more too life than increasing it's speed", there is more to a Venture than increasing it's speed. Of course Gandhi was referring to enjoying your life, and stop focusing on tomorrow - but I believe it speaks to the same point - which is focus on the essentials of life - the essentials of your venture.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.
An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.
The Cookie-Cutter Idea is based on a simple principal - "If it works here, it will work anywhere". When you look at companies like Starbucks, Walmart and Subway - these are Type 2 companies. They start as one store, and refine their business - and then with capital start to duplicate the store across the globe.
This is not too different than Type 3, but the origin of a Type 4 idea is much different. The Type 4 idea is the idea that you always say "Man, why didn't I think of that?". It is the obvious solution to a small problem. It is the classic "back scratcher" concept, that typically solves a common problem we all experience.
A jug fills drop by drop.
Every entrepreneur has a dream. And typically it is a big dream. Most entrepreneurs expect their dreams to become a reality in a short period of time because they work longer hours (with the idea that they will reach their destination is a shorter period of time). In fact, one could argue that many are deceived into becoming entrepreneurs because they believe this is how people "get rich quick" or "change the world overnight", but in reality being an entrepreneur is the exact opposite.
Before we discuss the importance of patience to a Zentrepreneur, lets dismiss some of the great myths of entrepreneurship.
Myth 1: Entrepreneurs must work 80+ hours a week to make a venture successful
I am not sure who started this trend, but for some reason it took off. Perhaps it was a distortion of the famous declaration - "Hard work always pays off". Either way, it is definitely one of the most damaging myths of entrepreneurship.
It seems logical - If I work twice as many hours, then I get twice as much stuff done. The fact is that working more hours does not lead to success, and more times than not, it can lead to failure. Be aware of what is important to the success of your venture and focus on the priorities of today. The daily routine should not take 12 hours a day (and if it does, you need to change your daily routine).
Myth 2: Business moves at the Speed of Light
Certainly, it seems like in this Information Age everything changes overnight. Industries like technology and entertainment seem to be evolving at expodential rates. But does this really effect how you should work?
Even though technology advances daily, it usually isn't adopted for years. It may seem like there is intense urgency for you to work harder and faster to keep up with competition, but in reality the pace is set by the market. In most markets, the customers are not moving at the speed of light, in fact many companies fail because they over-innovate and build products that are too far beyond the market adoption.
Myth 3: If we are not first to market, we will lose
One of the primary reasons I think entrepreneurs work day and night on their new ideas, is the goal of being "first to market". The ability to be first, gives them an advantage in building a brand and having no competition.
I admit that being first to market has advantages, but only when the company has the ability to effectively market their product on a large scale (which means they need to invest millions into marketing). Most entrepreneurs boot-strapping their new company don't have much money to run a national marketing campaign, so in reality being first to market doesn't really matter.
More importantly, if you look at any industry - competition is good, it helps advance markets and increase adoption of new products. So although one company may be first, does not mean they will dominate the market. A classic example of this is Google. Google entered the market last, but had a better product and better execution.
Now that we have dismissed some of the biggest myths that make entrepreneurs impatient, lets examine other reasons why patience is important.
Patience is not just about waiting - it is actively practicing Zentrepreneurship. When you are paitent, you are living in the now. By removing the anxiety and pressure of looking ahead to the future, and accepting all things are in flux is by definition being patient.
By focusing on your daily routine and executing those tasks you control - you are practicing patience. You are ignoring all those external factors that you have no control over, and thus are patient in waiting for those events to occur as they may.
"A jug fills drop by drop" says it perfectly. It is a great metaphor for multiple aspects to Zentrepreneurship.
A practical man may say "we can fill up the jug faster if we pour water using a hose". But we know, that what is important is focusing on each drop (as a step) toward our goal. The drop can represent our daily routine and the focus on NOW.
A practical man may say "if its a small jug, we can fill it up faster". Again, this interpretation goes against the practice of Zentrepreneurship. It abandons the concept of having Capacity for Experience. By shrinking the jug, you shrink your capacity for experience and therefore gain no knowledge.
By exercising Patience, you can focus on those tasks you can control. Ignore the perceived urgency and pressure that creates impatience.
Some people say success is being in the right place at the right time. I interpret this saying different from most people. If you are patient, then you can wait in the "right place" until the right time happens. It is not a cosmic crossroads where time and place suddenly connect, but in fact it is simply the exercise of patience.
If you are patient, and diligent in your daily routine - good things will happen.
A Zentrepreneur must be patient. While focusing on the NOW, a Zentrepreneur cannot afford the anxieties that lead to impatience. Patience allows you accept that all things are in Flux, and you need only to focus on your Daily Routine.
There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.
We do not learn by experience, but by our capacity for experience
ca·pac·ity (kə pas′i tē)
- the ability to contain, absorb, or receive and hold
- the amount of space that can be filled; room for holding;
- the point at which no more can be contained filled to capacity
- the power of receiving and holding knowledge, impressions, etc.; mental ability
When we refer to the capacity for experience, we are going beyond simply the "experience" as an event in time - and focusing on the ability to contain the experience. And even beyond the ability to contain, is the mental ability to accept new experiences. So we are really talking about two aspects of learning - containing experiences and accepting experiences. Only through capacity do we truly learn.
So now that we have clearly defined 'capacity' - how does this relate to being a Zentrepreneur?
The Zentrepreneur must have capacity for experience.
To simply go through the motions of a day, without having capacity for experience will allow you to learn nothing. Although you may have many experiences in a day, you will not learn anything. In order to truly grow as a Zentrepreneur you need to learn each and every day.
Just as we discussed in previous chapters about the importance of being in the NOW, and focusing your energy on your daily routine - the ability to have capacity for experience allows you to grow as a Zentrepreneur. As you learn, you expand your ability to take control over your daily tasks, and thus expand your daily routine.
If you recall from last chapter - we said "A Zentrepreneur focuses their energy on events they control, and accepts that all other events (past and future) are meaningless."
By learning, you are able to control more events and thus expand you capacity for experience. It essentially becomes the fuel for your growth. It becomes a cycle.
The first step in embracing capacity for experience is having an open mind. Try to remove all pre-conditions or pre-notions. Be willing to experience outside what you already know. To truly learn you must embrace the unknown. The greater your capacity, the more you will learn.
Think of it like a glass. If the glass is full of water (low capacity), it will never be able to hold more water, thus never learning anything new. A Zentrepreneur focuses on growing the glass so that is has infinite capacity. Most people accept the glass as a constant, and once it is full, they settle with what they know, and do not bother with the unknown.
To accept the possibility of infinite capacity is not easy. This is why most people are not entrepreneurs and accept that their glass is full, and they become inflexible and "stuck" in their daily lives.Once you achieve infinite capacity, you will have a sense of confidence and freedom that empowers your abilty to innovate, execute and truly build something great.
Balance this ability to learn, with your focus on the Present... and your daily routine will be highly focused and constantly growing and in flux.
"Impermanence is, of course, the essential fact which must be
first experienced and understood by practice."
Sayagyi U Ba Khin
Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. Heraclitus said we can never bathe twice in the same river. Confucius, while looking at a stream, said, "It is always flowing, day and night." The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible.
If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. This concept as it relates to Zentrepreneurship is very important. It is Impermanence that defines the entrepreneur. It is through change, entrepreneurs can exist.
As most of the world is stuck in permanence, the Zentrepreneur finds strength and path by seeing the world in a constant state of flux. It is through this lens that the Zentrepreneur can tap into innovation and continue to strengthen their ability to see the invisible.
The Practice of Impermanence:
1. Observe how things around you are changing, and adapt your daily routine. In the last chapter we discussed the importance of focusing on a daily routine and to avoid creating dependency on hypothetical events in the future. However, what is also important is to address impermanence by adapting your routine. Watch yourself change, your colleagues, your customers and the market change each day, and you will find strength in impermanence.
2. Do not trust that everything you believe is true. Your experiences of the past have a powerful influence over what you believe to be true. By holding on to these truths you are practicing permanence. Re-affirm your thoughts and beliefs each day when you are faced with an important decision. It is not just experience that enables wisdom, but the ability to accept that impermanence exists in all things - even your own truths.
3. Don't just observe impermanence, accept your impermanence. As a Zentrepreneur you need to accept that everything is in flux. As the saying goes - "Men plan, God laughs." By being focused on the plan (e.g. the future) - you are not only not focusing on the NOW but also not practicing impermanence. Accept that your thoughts, ideas and ultimately your business will change.
All things we know are in a state of constant flux - Impermanence. The Zentrepreneur must adapt their daily routine to the flux around them, and also accept that they are impermenent as well.
Impermanence empowers you to make the changes necessary to build your path.
"Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our
usual everyday routine"
1. Wake up and answer all critical emails
2. Focus on top tasks that drive revenue
3. Research and Learn
- Building Product or improving product
- Address any existing customer's concerns.
- Execute marketing/sales tasks to gain new customers.
4. Have Lunch
- Keep up with industry news / blogs
- Have conversations with customers / partners
- Brain Storm - white board new ideas
5. Answer all new critical emails
6. Evaluate team progress on any projects
7. Go workout or go for a walk to re-engage with the Present and to
- Re-affirm critical path tasks with team
- Add new critical tasks (based on results of the day)
evaluate the day.
"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they
The essence of being a Zentrepreneur (now on referred to as "Z") is not based on following another's path, but instead focusing on your path.
If you follow another's path, you will only learn what they have learned. You will only see what they have seen. You will lose focus on what you seek. The essence of Z is centered around your entrepreneurial spirit.
It is important to define what you seek and clear your mind of external influence. Define what you want to create. See the world not the way it is, but the way you think it should be.
Once you are able to live in the moment and remove the dependency on past and future events to define your path - you will be able to embrace Z.
Before you can truly take the first step in your journey as an Zentrepreneur, you need to accept that the past and future have no relevance to your achievements today. Certainly, there is value in your experiences in the past and your vision for the future, but they do not effect positively or negatively your actions today. Focus on the present.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment.
Once you are focused and absent of all external influence - define your next step. Release your mind from the limitations of goals or milestones you have defined. Everything is meaningless and irrelevent that is beyond the next step. The path has yet to be defined, therefore the destination does not exist. You are building the path in the here and now, and no longer following a path paved by others.
I know what you may be thinking - "If I completely ignore past and future thoughts, how do I define my goals? My plan?"
The answer is "You don't". By ignoring past and future thoughts, you are now able to truly focus on what matters - the NOW. You are liberating your time to focus on what you need to do today in order to continue to build your path. A plan is worthless if there is no action. Each day you focus on the NOW, you will gain new enlightenment on where your path is going.
Think of it like holding a flash light and walking through your house with no lights on. You are forced to depend on your instinct and what you can see directly in front of you. By focusing your mind and time on the next step, everything else becomes irrelevant. You eliminate all distractions (past and future) that are on the path, and focus on what is critical - your next step.
By focusing on NOW, you will be able to direct all your energy and time to what is most important, and remove all distractions of past and future. If each step you take is successful and receives your full attention - then the path you follow will lead you exactly where you want to go.
Focus on your next step, and let each step build your path. Like a bricklayer building a road, focus your attention on the next brick, and remove from your mind the last brick laid and the road yet built.
One of the foundations of Z is to focus on the NOW and you will create your own Path.
I am officially starting my new book - working title "Zentrepreneur". Like my last book, I will use my blog as my work place, posting each chapter.
Instead of focusing on lessons for young entrepreneurs (like my last book), I will focus more on the internal aspects of being an entrepreneur.
As some level, being an entrepreneur is like adopting a philosophy on life, and it effects the way you think and live. Not unlike the same path of a Zen Buddhist.
Thus, the working title - ZENtrepreneur.
As a great mind Lao Tzu once said:
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Some things to consider:
1. Don't be Fake. The best advice in building a brand is to be authentic. You can try to "pretend" you are something you are not, because you may think that is what people want to buy - but at the end of the day - you can't pretend to be You. You are the brand, the brand is you. Whatever passion inside you that caused you to create your product - is what people will see. Not your logo or tagline. Just you.
2. Don't be a Jerk (to your users). I think its obvious that no one likes jerks... but it may not always seem this way. Steve Jobs is kind of a jerk, but people still buy IPhones. Mark Zuckerberg is a jerk, but people still join Facebook. The reason that their "jerked-ego" works - is because they are not Jerks to their users - but jerks to their competitors. Both are famous for their anti-corporate antics - but you can see some level of humility and dedication to their users that rises above the "negative" press they get from industry pundits. Its because the users decide the brand, not the media.
3. Don't ignore your ID. There is a certain quality in entrepreneurs that I believe most people embrace - the ID (alter-ego - the sub-conscious passions). It's the darker side of the brand, that is not necessarily always front and center, but looms in the unconscious. Typically, when users hear from the ID, it is in the form of an unconfirmed rumor. If you ask any marketing (self-proclaimed) expert - they will insist that "negative press" will kill your brand. We need to control our brand and message to the letter. Wrong. The brand (like you) is human. Its ok for the dark side of the mind to influence your message. Do you think Facebook turning down 2 Billion dollars was a sound business decision - or the ego at work? Do you think Google building a gPhone or funding a launch into Space is good business or ego? These actions based on pure ego is what creates the buzz around these companies.
So, if you are looking to brand your company - look in the mirror. Ask yourself, what made you want to start this company? What is my Ego telling me (after all, the fact that you think you can start a company, build a better solution to a problem, and build an empire proves that you have a big ego)?
Then, communicate with your users, and they will do the rest.
According to Freud,
...The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world ... The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions ... in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces [Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)]
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Let me explain:
1. America can no longer be competitive in the "manufactured" product industry.
The global economy, cost of labor, taxes and the Internet have made it close to impossible for an U.S. based company to manufacture a product, assemble and ship and be competitive on pricing and quality. It is not just China making it cheaper - it's the inability for a local store to compete with the global store. If someone can buy a piece of furniture on the web for 20% less than they can at the local furniture store - it spells certain death for the local merchant. Whether the furniture is made in China or not, there is a clear GAP in operating costs and overhead in running a website versus a 4,000 square foot store front.
So, the next question would be "Can a U.S. Based economy become a distributor for these products?". Essentially trying to leverage outsourced manufacturing, and add value through distribution, sales and marketing. The answer is "Yes, but not for long". In fact, this is what we have been doing for the past 10 years. Many businesses transformed their business model to being more of a middle-man - but this is only life-support for a business and not a long-term business. As foreign companies continue to control the price of product, they will squeeze the profits from the middle-men, and ultimately find cheaper ways to ship direct and market their products through larger outlets (e.g. Walmart, Target, etc). So for the small business, they will not be able to be survive just a distributor. They won't buy enough to get lower costs of goods, and won't be able to compete with pricing and distribution of large outlets.
So, the final question is "Well, sure but what if the US Based company invents the product, and just has it build in China - won't it still make good money since it owns the product?". Sure, for a little while, and if it is successful, China and other countries will copy the product and distribute its own version for less money. Even if you have a Patent, do you have the capital to pursue legal action against a company in China? Probably not.
So in conclusion, there is no business for small businesses in manufactured products. Even if your product is innovative and unique, and you can sell it to millions of people - you will be forced to embrace outsourced manufacturing, lose control of the intellectual property and be limited to distribution which will shrink profits and ultimately lose to a competitive "copy-cat" product built and distributed directly from China or other country.
2. America needs to embrace the Digital Economy.
If there is one industry we can still claim to be #1 - it would be the digital economy. Whether it is content like music or film - or applications like Google and Microsoft - we are not just the leader - but we are the sole innovator in this industry. Despite our leadership and clear success in changing the way we live and work with technology - it seems the U.S. economy still refused to embrace technology as the path for our future. The amount of investment made in technology by our government has decreased, not increased. States like Florida cuts programs that fund technology innovation, but do anything they can to save our Oranges. While airlines, car companies and manufacturing plants are going bankrupt, companies like Google are reporting 30% increase in profits?
The transition to a Digital Economy will be a challenge, and it will mean a dramatic shift in unemployment and a divide will be created between older workers who have expertise in the "old" economy and new workers educated and trained on the "new" economy. Anytime there is an economic shift of this proportion, there is massive pain in change. And the current state of the economy is demonstrating it is not an option - the change is happening now.
In conclusion, America has always been the pioneer in economic shifts, and we should continue our legacy as the dominating economic power by embracing change and position ourselves as the leader in the Digital economy. Not only will this secure our ability to bring our economy back in strength, but also nullify the competitive advantages of foreign countries like China, who will not be able to undercut cost and distribution. They will have to compete on a level playing field.
3. America can make it an easier transition by supporting the Service Industry and investing heavily in Technology.
I don't have all the answers (I am not an Professor of Economics), but I think to make this transition we need to look at our strengths and pave a road that lifts our existing work-force and introduces the new wave of workers over the next 20 years. In order to do this, I feel we need to lessen the burden on services businesses in the U.S. and invest heavily in Technology.
One industry in America that will continue to thrive is the services business. Primarily because services businesses are required to be local and serve the community, and do not suffer (as much) by overseas competition. (You can't buy a beer or get your laundry cleaned by a company in China). However, they still need to improve profits in order to hire new people and expand their business. Therefore, the government needs to look at policies that help local service businesses expand and not just be profitable but keep our economy strong during the transition.
Secondly, I think the government needs to invest billions (not millions) into Technology. It is the only sound path to building a strong economy (digital based economy), independence from an oil-based energy policy, and bridging the gap of education in-equality. Both Federal and State governments need to accept the risks of investing in innovation and technology, and show leadership to the universities, business community and finally (most importantly) to the entrepreneur.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Instead of dwelling on "approval ratings" and the political opinions of radio show hosts, I will judge President Bush on the basics. Much like when you look at a Company's Profit and Loss and Share price... I am going to attempt to do the same.
Another good way to see how a President manages money is looking at the Total National Deficit. Bush has taken us from a Surplus to 600B deficit. This is like taking a company from Profitable to Bankrupt in 4 years (see the graph how quickly the debt mounted). If Bush were a CEO, he would have been fired in 2002.
#3 - Strength of the Dollar
As we all know, our currency is our stock price in the International Market. It effects all aspects of our economy, and our ability to strengthen trade with other countries. You can see the same trend patterns going from 2000 to 2008. Our dollar was becoming stronger pre-Bush and then from 2001 onward the dollar weakened significantly. (btw, the graph is going up, because it is showing how many dollars it takes to buy a Euro)
#4. The Price of Oil
Usually I wouldn't consider the Price of Oil to be a major component of grading a President, but since this is a very relevent to this President, I think it makes sense to review. Notice during Bush's reign it had gone from $30 to $100 per barrel. So not only has oil tripled in price, but our dollar has weakened almost 50 percent.
In conclusion, I don't care if you are a republican or democrat. I don't care what you opinion is of the war, global warming or same-sex marriage - you have to conclude that George Bush may be the worst economic president in the history of the US.
You cannot argue against the facts:
1. He increased spending
2. He increased the debt
3. He weakened the dollar
As an entrepreneur and a small business owner - It makes no sense to me how someone could perform so horrible as the CEO of America. You can assign some of the blame to the tech bubble, 9-11 and the recent housing market... but every President has gone through similar crisis and was still able to not completely destroy the economy.
George Bush gets an "F" as CEO of America.
... and if you don't agree with me, then you are in the minority. Here is another graph of Bush approval ratings.... pitiful.