Brian Ma's Blog (@zealoustiger)

Weekly insights from an Entreprenuer: To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep

5 tests: Are you a startup guy/gal?

Startup people are rare.  Actually, I take that back.  People that dabble in startups (side project here and there) – plenty.  People that are willing to risk everything and go at it full force – rare.  So what is it that makes someone a “startup junkie”?  Here’s what I’ve gathered from observing successful startupers:

You want to change the world – This one is pretty obvious.  You want to have an impact and you want to help people.  You see things that are inefficient or problems that people just overlook and it frustrates you to no end.  There’s a constant bell that rings inside your head everywhere that you go, whatever situation you’re in.  “There has to be a better way”.

You’re stubborn – People think you’re crazy.  Even worse, they think your idea is horrible.  But despite all that, you don’t listen.  You believe in yourself and your idea so much that you tune them out.  Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter to you.  No one’s going to sway you because you’ve made up your mind.  Lets just hope they’re wrong.

You embrace failure – Failure doesn’t irk you, because you know failure like the back of your hand.  You know you will fail.  You’ve stopped fearing it and now just expect it.  Your job is not to not fail, but to not fail so much.  And when you do fail you know how to respond – by learning.  Each failure only builds you up.  And when you fail, you’ll know – cause there is no one else to blame.

You’re financially stable – Lets talk practical.  Everyone who throws themselves at a startup venture first calculates their risk.  And $$ is a big part of that.  Financial stability doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars.  It just means you can support yourself for a while (at least a year) even if some disaster happens.  Though hard to control since it really depends on your environment, (age, family, relationships, connection to money, savings, market, economy, etc) there are definitely little things you can do to make yourself less risk adverse.

Thought of being a drop in a bucket of water drains you – It actually physically drains your soul.  You’re tired from all the energy you spend pulling down the red tape only to get your project approved 6 months later when you don’t care anymore.  You’re tired of politics.  You’re tired of not making an impact.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a ton of awesome large corporation people – you’re just not one of them.  The comfy couch is not you.

puppycouch

Do you fit these criterias?  If so, you are one in a bazillion.  Get off your couch and do something.  Live the dream.  Fix the world.

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How to get Smarter… read.

This seemed so obvious, I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it.  Influential people read.  It makes them smarter.  In fact, that’s what we’ve been taught to do since we were young.  Warren Buffet is a machine at digesting business/economic news and company reports – that’s why he’s so good at investing.  Bill Gates takes weeks off of work to read about new technologies – how else does he see trends and develop better things?  If someone has taken time out of their life to put their life experiences into a book, or a blog, or a news article, it’s worth your time to learn from them.

read

Ok, so I think reading undisputedly benefits us, so what should you read?  Everyone may be different, so instead of me telling you, let me just show you a sample of what I read:

Industry News – Everyone is part of an industry and everyone needs to stay up to date with the latest news in their area of expertise.  For me, it’s technology and the web.  So here’s a sample of what I tune into:

  • Techflash (John Cook’s tech news specific to Seattle)
  • TechCrunch (if you’re a techie and not reading this, you’re not a techie)
  • Mashable

Even narrower industry news – Everyone works in a niche.  When I was at Zillow, it was Real Estate.  Now at EggSprout, it’s HR and Recruiting.  If you’re running a startup, you better know what’s happening in your niche.  I like to seperate these between the official sources, and the individual sources.

Venture Capital – When you’re running a startup, you better be pretty in tune with the VC business whether you want to take in money or not

Other Startups – Better be staying on top of other startups if you wanna be successful at your own.  Celebrate their successes, learn from their failures.  It’s all about being part of the community.

Mentors and Heroes – Everyone has someone they look up to.  Or people they find interesting – I’ve found that my list changes over time, but here’s a couple I read:

Friends – I have a bunch of personal friends that I like to follow.  A bunch are on twitter, but a bunch also blog.  This category is probably where you get your most variety – your friends probably are passionate about many things that are not in your area of expertise.  You can learn a lot from your friends.

  • Hsu-Ken (has the most random entertaining posts)
  • Drew Meyers (brings deep insight into the world of microfinance, something I know nothing about)
  • Chris Chu (brings me stories from the far reaches of the galaxies)
  • Mr. CFO (Director of Finance at Zillow, must know something about the world right?)
  • Spencer (The real Zillow CFO.  Keeps on showing up on TV.  If I read his blog, I might learn something from osmosis.)

Hobbie: Real Estate – Everyone has hobbies.  Real estate is one of mine.  That’s why I like to read about stuff that’s happening there once in a while.

  • Downtown Bellevue (most amazing comprehensive coverage of Bellevue)
  • Seattle Bubble (Bubble, what bubble?)
  • Incolo (Friends startup.  Great content – and helping them with link love :)

Other Media Sources

  • Podcasts (I workout, have a bunch of great content updated daily on my Iphone)
  • TV (I eat, and like to multitask by watching the news.  It saves time)
  • Books (rare, but every so often, I run into some book some friend recommends)

Phew!  That’s quite a bit of reading.  And a ton of these sources get updated extremely frequently.  Talk about information overload!  I’ve learned to set a time limit for myself per day or I can easily get lost in the sea of information, but I do usually manage to get through all those everyday.  Read lots, learn lots, you’ll be glad you did.

Happy reading.

Why you need a Co-Founder

By far, THE most important thing (and probably one of the hardest) about a successful startup is finding the right co-founder. I’ll leave it for another post to discuss what to look for in a cofounder and use this one to discuss a couple reasons WHY you need one:

cofounder

1) They challenge you – Your ideas suck, get over it.  I’ve been shot down so many times, I’ve lost count.  You need someone there to double/triple check you and keep you grounded.  What you think is awesome may not be what someone else thinks is awesome.

2) They keep you in check – Startups are draining – mentally, physically, psychologically, etc.  There are going to be many times when you think to yourself “what have I gotten myself into?  I should just quit now while I’m ahead.”  You might be right, but most of the time you’re wrong.  You really need someone there to tell you which one it is.

3) They help you quit your job – I can’t even count how many “wantreprenuers” I’ve talked to whose sole reason for not going at it full-time is because they haven’t found a cofounder.  They’re right.  Don’t quit your job until you can find that special someone that will take that leap of faith with you.  Startups are hard – you need the inspiration.

4) You need one to raise money – If none of the first 3 reasons made you want to go partner up with someone right now, then this will.  More than likely, VC’s and Angel’s will not hand you money if you’re by yourself.  Why?  Cause they’re thinking “if this guy can’t even convince one other person that their idea is good, why should I believe their idea is good?”  If you’re thinking about taking in investment money any time in the future, you can’t live without someone by your side.

I’ve been blessed with not one, but a group of cofounders whose skills complement mine very well, but I’ll wait to write about them some other time.  Until then, good luck finding yours.  You’ll know when you have the right people/person, cause you’ll walk into work everyday feeling thankful.

How to make your ideas stick

I’ve been a PM (Program manager) for the core of my career and one of the things that comes with the job is figuring out how to make things sticky. (Picture is of a glue truck that fell over and dumped it’s load everywhere haha)

That’s why I was so excited when I ran into this interview from the book “Made to Stick” that explores why ideas stick: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/01/the_stickiness_.html.  There’s some concepts that hit me really hard and I wanted to share because I think it’s super applicable to any startup trying to wrestle with bringing their idea to market.

1) Abstraction makes a great Computer Scientist.  Concreteness makes a great Communicator.
When you’re building a site for millions of average joes, it’s better to be concrete than to be computer scientists.

“Make people play on your turf by keeping things concrete. It is so much easier to bullshit with abstraction than with concrete examples. Don’t say, “I think we should devote more resources to evangelism among mid-market IT decision-makers.” Say, “Here’s a list of 500 IT decision-makers in the area around Salt Lake City. I want to invite them to a one-day conference on Sept 29. It will cost $60,000 to pull off. Who’s in?” Even if they disagree, it will be productive disagreement, anchored in reality.”

2) We are way too smart for our own good.  Our messaging needs to be dead simple.
Read the southwest airline napkin passage.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

3) Make the $100 bet

This is something I learned from a very wise adviser of mine.  When you’re in Vegas, the way to win big is not to split up $100 and make $10 bets here, and there.  That’ll just mean you lose some and win some and end up in the best case, with what you started with.  Take that $100 and make that one big bet.  If you win, you win big.  If you lose, it’s time to raise more money.

I know every entrepreneur can communicate their idea fifty different ways that sound good.  That’ll never work.  Put down the $100 bet.  Know your one core marketing message.  And stick to it.  Trust me, it’ll be much more compelling.

“Most entrepreneurs struggle for years to find a core message, but Kelleher started with his.  <snip-Just go read the section> Lots of entrepreneurs can tell you a dozen reasons that their product or service will transform the world. A good challenge for them would be to sort through the dozen reasons and pick the single most important one. It’s a worthy aspiration to paint a picture of the world that is simple enough and concrete enough to be sketched on a cocktail napkin.”

Just wanted to encourage all you startup peeps to mold your ideas/concepts into something that is plain dead simple.  Our else they won’t stick.  Now go read the interview, it’s very good.

Comcast. Not Comcastic. Score: -32

I’m not one to complain about things, but this is such a good startup lesson, I have to blog about it.  It’s about Comcast.  I’ve been a loyal customer for years – the occasionally call into customer support which is the usual horrid experience like any other company, but today’s experience just tops every other customer service experience I’ve ever had.

Let me chronicle my experience and keep a tally of Comcast’s “Comcastic Score”

  • 12:47PM: One of my tenants at my rental house email me about internet being down for the past day.  Me thinks: I’ll call comcast in a bit.  (+0)
  • 1:00PM:  I go to Comcast’s website to look for a phone number.  Lo and behold, I see a “Live chat option.”  Cool, I can chat online and work at the same time.  Score.  (+1)
  • 1:15PM:  I’m waiting for a rep.  (-1)
  • 1:30PM:  I’m still waiting for a rep.  (-2)
  • 2:15PM:  It’s been an hour and I’m still waiting for a rep.  Fail.  I give up.  (-5)
  • 2:30PM:  @comcastcares sees my random complaints on twitter and asks “Can I help”  (+2)
  • 3:00PM:  Still no reply from @comcastcares.  I figured I’d just call.  (-1)
  • 3:10PM:  Called in, went through usual customer service, reset router, reset stuff on their side, etc.  Call my tenants to see if internet works.  No.  I ask tenants to give them a call.  (-1)
  • 4:00PM:  Tenants call me back.  Apparently Comcast shut down our service yesterday because we were “using too much internet.”  We’re on 12 months probation.  ARE YOU SERIOUS??  Tenants likened it to getting kicked out of a buffet cause you’re eating too much.  (-10)
  • 4:00PM:  And we got zero notice, they just shut our internet down.  (-5)
  • 4:00PM:  And the guy they talked to was apparently a “rude inconsiderate jackass.”  Tenants didn’t think it’d make any sense to talk to him anymore cause they’d get nowhere.  (-10)

Let’s tally Comcastic score.  0+1-1-2-5+2-1-1-5-10-10 = -32.  FAIL.

Can someone please fix customer service for the good of the world?  kthxbye.

Photo courtesy:  Crunchgear

Can you print me a car please?

Ever since I was six, I’ve watched cartoon after cartoon where the characters takes out some small pill-like device, presses a button, and it becomes a car… or food… or a jacket… or a house…  It seems those cartoonists were psychic.  It’s real stuff.

Intel research is showing off new technology where they can “print” objects.  (Programmable matter – that’s what they call it.)  They also say they’re developing technology to trasmit power wirelessly.  (aka your cell phone can always be charging when you’re on the go)

Crazy stuff.  Read about it all here:  http://news.zdnet.com/2424-9595_22-217501.html

You know what’s crazier?  That guy in the blue shirt with the light bulb is one of my buddies from college.  Great way to catch someone’s eye to blog about it huh?  Small world.

Oympics Reanacted

I’ve been watching the Olympics every single night for the past few weeks and with all the Olympic hype, what’s better than to see it reanacted:

http://www.dailymotion.com/revotrx/video/x3zw5c_jeux-olympiques-kasou-taishou-olymp_fun

Super creative, but nothing like the heroes we’ve seen on TV this past week.  I wanna be an Olympic gold medaliest some day…

Fun hand paintings

I have no clue how I ended up on this website, but this was so cool, I had to share:

http://freshpics.blogspot.com/2007/01/amazing-hand-painting-art.html

Enjoy.