Dealing with the Startup Emotional Roller Coaster

I went on my first roller coaster when I was probably about 10 years old. Growing up in the north suburbs of Chicago, it was every kid’s dream to go to Six Flags: Great America. About every year or so there was a new attraction that outdid the year previous. And as a child there was a sort of right of passage to each passing year as you became taller, meant you were allowed on the bigger and badder roller coasters.

When you get older, the appeal of the roller coaster wears off. You start to realize that “Batman: The Ride” no longer is exhilarating. What seemed, at the time, like an eternity of a ride, eventually just became 90 seconds of an adrenaline induced haze.

This is startup life.

I can comfortably say I’m desensitized to all of my failures, and successes for that matter. It doesn’t mean I’m not emotional about them – I’m human – but just means I deal much better with handling spikes in emotions.

realize with every passing day, that there are so many individuals out there who are still dreaming of hitting 42″ in height so they too can enjoy “Spiderman: The Ride”. And once they do, they’ll continue to ride that until they too will understand what it means to go through the lows and highs of being an entrepreneur. 

There is one thing generally very consistent and common among every startup I’ve ever read about, studied, listened to -

Every Single One Of Them Hit A Low

Facebook, Microsoft, Xerox, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Ford…you name it. The best part of going through so many phases of this up and down, is that is now easy for me to hit that low and know that there is always an up. The story is always the same. And I never rarely ever use the word always.

And you know what…this is why it’s so much damn fun.

Your Logo Doesn’t Matter

There’s often discussion about logos. I’m not sure why, but people seem to be obsessed with them. More often than not, designers especially, people will point to poorly designed logos as a reflection of a poor brand. I would argue that this is simply isn’t true. Your logo is simply a easy way for our brains to associate a product experience with a visual representation.

In the past few years a couple of big tech companies have redesigned their logos and another big one is on the verge to do the same. Last year for example, Twitter redesigned their logo with a statement that included this little nugget of creative joy:

This bird is crafted purely from three sets of overlapping circles — similar to how your networks, interests and ideas connect and intersect with peers and friends. Whether soaring high above the earth to take in a broad view, or flocking with other birds to achieve a common purpose, a bird in flight is the ultimate representation of freedom, hope and limitless possibility.

Microsoft also unveiled their new logo after nearly 25 years. From their blog they wrote:

The symbol is important in a world of digital motion (as demonstrated in the video above.) The symbol’s squares of color are intended to express the company’s diverse portfolio of products.

Yahoo is now in the process of unveiling their new logo on the 5th of September by showing 30 days of different logos.

So why do companies change their logo? Most people will say “their logo was outdated!” or “that logo was so ugly, no wonder they couldn’t sell smartphones!”. If you read the aformentioned quotes, you may think “Well of course the logo didn’t represent those things before, so they had to change it.” The reality is that none of this matters. If your brand is strong, there is absolutely no reason to change your logo. It will only confuse. In fact, I still wonder why Twitter changed their logo. Nothing prompted them to do so. It’s too bad, because they probably spent a lot of money redesigning it.

So, if you think a brand’s logo is the problem, think again. You can have the ugliest logo in the world (i.e. Google) and people will still use your product. The only reason to change your logo is when your logo (and therefore your brand) become associated with something negative. This happened with Microsoft, is happening to Yahoo, and will continue to happen in technology as brand perceptions change on the fortnight.

I hope Yahoo does decide to change it’s logo. It has a bad perception problem right now and they need a new logo to represent the new positioning they are trying to take. It’s extremely difficult to climb yourself out of a branding ditch, so the idea with creating new logo is to start on new ground.

If you ever seen The Wire, Stringer Bell tells this story even better than I do:

This is My Story

portal

I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile. I’ve always wanted to write more about who I am, what I’m doing, how it’s taken me this long to get here. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve felt more confident in sharing this with more people. For some reason I have no problem telling people in person, but when it comes to the internet, I think I can act quite “shy”. I’ve stopped myself from writing this for so long because I see it as bragging, but for every time I tell someone about the steps along this journey, the only feedback I’ve received has been “tell me more”.

So here’s more.

We all dream of success. We all hear the stories of how successful people act and how successful people behave. We constantly are trying to find patterns so we can mimic this ourselves. The reality is that every successful person has their own story. We like to put Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the same sentence, but if you know about both of their backgrounds, their stories are astronomically different. My story is about pursuit. It’s the pursuit, the drive, and the ambition which I constantly fueled by that entices me. What will happen tomorrow? Do I have enough money? Why aren’t I rich yet? Whoa, I’m still single.

So here is my story. Continue reading

Shifting the Burden of Responsibility

The business world has always been critical of middle management. They don’t actually do anything. They aren’t good at what they do. They don’t make any decisions. Regardless of the level at which management positions exist, the primary responsibility is to make decisions. With decision making comes susceptibility to loss, and therefore risk. One of the greatest tricks of the trade for business people in management is what I like to call “shifting the burden of responsibility”.

Growing up, especially in America, most people were taught the lessons of responsibility at an early age. Responsibility is seen as a cornerstone of a set of good personal values. For example, I was allowed by my parents to buy a pet (in this case some fish) that I was responsible for taking care of. I was taught how to clean the tank, feed them and dealt with the repercussions of fish-death when I didn’t fulfill my responsibilities. As I grew older and learned why these values were important, I was given more and more responsibilities. Not everyone has the fortunate support of good parents to properly aid them in understanding the value of responsibility, however there is at least a general consensus that responsibility is a good value to have.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realize the people who are structurally more suited to having more responsibilities are the ones who are actually better at shifting them off to someone. To these people having responsibilities is a risk-laden burden and the ability to reduce and mitigate risk is often a value that supersedes responsibility.

Take for example the HR manager from a global telecomm who decides to outsource her IT project to a big five firm. She has a responsibility by her manager to deliver a project because she’s given a budget and therefore the responsibility. Like all IT projects, there is a serious risk of failure. So why make the decision to use the big five firm? If it’s her responsibility to deliver the project to her stakeholders, she can effectively shift this responsibility on to the outsourcing partner when the project fails and conversely decide to reap all of the personal benefits of responsibility when the project succeeds. It’s a win-win scenario that reduces her own risk, while still providing the capability for her to move up the corporate ladder.

I’ve seen this time and time again in business – especially big business. Generally speaking, the larger the business, the easier it is to shift responsibility.

This is what I believe to be the fundamental difference between large and small businesses. If your fish dies in a big business you can shift the responsibility to the tank operator, the water re-filler, or the feeder and life for you goes on. In a small business, if your fish dies, it’s your fault and can have serious implications on whether your business continues to float.

Personally I like to work with people who accept responsibility on their own account, even if means that they have more failures on their track record. In the long run, these people are more akin to the characteristics of successfully growing firms, and I believe is the defining characteristic of employees that can grow at scale as opposed to those that cannot. If we had more people accepting real responsibilities rather than shifting them elsewhere, we’d have more productive people and better businesses.

Tearing It All Down

In October of 1871, a fire swept over Chicago and killed hundreds and destroyed about 3.3 square miles. To give you an idea of the impact of how much of the city this affected, here is a map of the area affected.

Great_Chicago_Fire_map

It cost an estimated $3billion (in today’s dollars) to rebuild the city. We see disasters, either natural otherwise caused by humans, that can completely tear down systems, leaving people to rebuild them. Just look at cities such as Berlin and Warsaw that were rebuilt after large destructive forces tore them apart. One of the defining characteristics that I’ve noticed that separates a city like Chicago from a city like NYC (I’ve lived in both by the way) is that Chicago is cleaner, generally more efficiently mapped out, and more habitably than NYC. I believe this largely has to do with the fact that Chicago had the opportunity to be completely torn down and rebuilt because of the Great Fire.

I suspect, like all big cities, Chicago had a lot of problems previous to the great fire that lead to non-advancement of the city. Like most cases this is usually due to bureaucracy, politics, and corruption. But, it’s amazing the energy people will put into something when they’ve suffered a great loss.

Why am I talking about the Great Chicago Fire on a tech blog? It represents everything that is happening in today’s tech world. We are seeing a massive trend in creative destruction as being the norm to creating new business models, tearing down old ones, and generally as an advancement of our culture.

In 1998, an informal group called Mozilla set out to rebuild Netscape Navigator’s source code from scratch. Some people would argue that rewriting source code from scratch is the worst decision you can make, but judging by the success of Mozilla and the death Netscape, I think we can all agree that this has bee a good thing for us consumers.

I look back at my former employers and I see instances where destroying the company might actually be a good thing for the advancement of it’s mission, it’s employees, and ultimately it’s customers. But, as cognitively biased as we are, we are incapable of destroying our own selves, or doing nothing at all. Which often is the case in decision making, whereby doing nothing may actually more productive than trying to do too much. Our brains are wired to think that we always must do something, rather than nothing, and that creating a loss can never create a gain.

So looking at today’s system, both human and technical, we see the everlasting cycle with the following behaviors:

  1. New system gets built, people rejoice!
  2. Someone breaks system, so system adapts and get’s updated
  3. System get’s too clunky because it tries to do too much, losing the interest of its members
  4. People leave system and create new one

There are some exceptions to this, such as 37Signals. They deliberately let customers grow out of their system.

We’d rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place.

As I’ve decided recently with my life, I’ve tore all of what I had established down and am rebuilding. But it doesn’t mean I forgot the important lessons I’ve learned in building the professional I sought out to do 7 years ago.