My first blog post is still one of my most honest and heartfelt.
Much has happened from when I posted this almost two years ago, but the truth of the story has stood the test of time.
I have been thinking about simple things, simple ideas, and why my last startup failed.
I am a software engineer by trade. I have been trained to scrutinize the details. It is within the shadows of details that bugs hide. Engineers like myself are very good at finding and fixing bugs.
We get great satisfaction when we fix something and that is why many engineers make the entrepreneurial jump. It is also why many of us fail. We tend to fixate on the problem and overlook something very important - value.
I founded a company. I assembled a great team of people. We built cool tools. Our code base was awesome. The math was wicked smart (and patentable). VC were performing due diligence, the final step before investing. We had paying customers and more in the pipe. I had some whales in my sights that would catapulted us to sustainable profitability. We where in the middle of a growing market. Then the economic downturn of 2008 hit.
The crash forced our clients to ask what they could do without, investors pulled out of deals and I lost traction. Business no longer needed help fixing business bugs, they needed to survive.
I found myself in the wrong business at the wrong time. I was selling cool tech when I should have been selling value.
I had the chance to talk with a Disney exec and asked him what his division sold. He said “Disney sells a dream”. That value pitch clearly describes the Disney brand.
Marketing experts argue that a company brand has nothing to do with the product. I agree. People remember the brand and not necessary products. We as customers want something out of the deal. We want value even if that value is a dream.
Maybe that is why I have come to love a restricted business space. A short sales cycle. A clean and basic website. A simple business model. Value can’t hide when things are simple.
This was originally posted on esquire. I didn’t want to loose the list so I am reposting it here as a keepsake.
by Kareem Abdul-Jabar
When I was thirty, I was living my dream. I’d already accomplished most of what I’d set out to achieve professionally: leading scorer in the NBA, leading rebounder, leading blocker, Most Valuable Player, All-Star. But success can be as blinding as Bill Walton’s finger in the eye when battling for a rebound. I made mistakes. Plenty of them. In fact, sometimes I wish I could climb into a time machine and go back to shake some sense into that thirty-year-old me. If I could, here’s the advice I would give him:
1. Be more outgoing.
My shyness and introversion from those days still haunt me. Fans felt offended, reporters insulted. That was never my intention. When you’re on the public stage every day of your life, people think that you crave attention. For me, it was the opposite. I loved to play basketball, and was tremendously gratified that so many fans appreciated my game. But when I was off the court, I felt uncomfortable with attention. I rarely partied or attended celebrity bashes. On the flights to games, I read history books. Basically, I was a secret nerd who just happened to also be good at basketball. Interacting with a lot of people was like taking someone deathly afraid of heights and dangling him over the balcony at the top of the Empire State Building. If I could, I’d tell that nerdy Kareem to suck it up, put down that book you’re using as a shield, and, in the immortal words of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (to prove my nerd cred), “Engage!”
2. Ask about family history.
I wish I’d sat my parents down and asked them a lot more questions about our family history. I always thought there would be time and I kept putting it off because, at thirty, I was too involved in my own life to care that much about the past. I was so focused on making my parents proud of me that I didn’t ask them some of the basic questions, like how they met, what their first date was like, and so forth. I wish that I had.
3. Become financially literate.
“Dude, where’s my money?” is the rallying cry of many ex-athletes who wonder what happened to all the big bucks they earned. Some suffer from unwise investments or crazy spending, and others from not paying close attention. I was part of the didn’t-pay-attention group. I chose my financial manager, who I later discovered had no financial training, because a number of other athletes I knew were using him. That’s typical athlete mentality in that we’re used to trusting each other as a team, so we extend that trust to those associated with teammates. Consequently, I neglected to investigate his background or what qualified him to be a financial manager. He placed us in some real estate investments that went belly up and I came close to losing some serious coin. Hey, Kareem at 30: learn about finances and stay on top of where your money is at all times. As the saying goes, “Trust, but verify.”
4. Play the piano.
I took lessons as a kid but, like a lot of kids, didn’t stick with them. Maybe I felt too much pressure. After all, my father had gone to the Julliard School of Music and regularly jammed with some great jazz musicians. Looking back, I think playing piano would have given me a closer connection with my dad as well as given me another artistic outlet to better express myself. In 2002, I finally started to play and got pretty good at it. Not good enough that at parties people would chant for me to play “Piano Man,” but good enough that I could read music and feel closer to my dad.
5. Learn French.
My grandparents were from Trinidad where, though it was an English-speaking country, the school system was started by the French. Whenever my grandparents wanted to say something they didn’t want me to know, they’d speak French. The language seemed so sophisticated and mysterious. Plus, you earn extra James Bond points when you can order in French in a French restaurant.
6. Get handy.
I always wanted to be one of those guys who, whenever something doesn’t work, straps on a tool belt and says, “I’ll fix it.” I like the Walden-esque idea of complete self-reliance. Build my own house, clean out the carburetors, find out what carburetors are. Recently my washing machine broke and flooded my entire downstairs. I was forced to stand idly by waiting for a plumber to arrive while water rose around my ankles because I didn’t know how to shut off the water. That’s the kind of experience that makes you have your testosterone levels checked.
7. Be patient.
Impatience is the official language of youth. When you’re young, you want to rush to the next thing before you even know where you are. I always think of the joke in Colors that the wiser and older cop (Robert Duvall) tells his impatient rookie partner (Sean Penn). I’m paraphrasing, but it goes something like: “There’s two bulls standing on top of a mountain. The younger one says to the older one: ‘Hey pop, let’s say we run down there and screw one of them cows.’ The older one says: ‘No son. Let’s walk down and screw ‘em all.’” Now, to counter the profane with the profound, one of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.” I think the key to seeing the target no one else can see is in being patient, waiting for it to appear so you can do the right thing, not just the expedient thing. Learning to wait is one of my greatest accomplishments as I’ve gotten older.
8. Listen more than talk.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
9. Career is never as important as family.
The better you are at your job, the more you’re rewarded, financially and spiritually, by doing it. You know how to solve problems for which you receive praise and money. Home life is more chaotic. Solving problems is less prescriptive and no one’s applauding or throwing money if you do it right. That’s why so many young professionals spend more time at work with the excuse, “I’m sacrificing for my family.” Bullshit. Learn to embrace the chaos of family life and enjoy the small victories. This hit me one night after we’d won an especially emotional game against the Celtics. I’d left the stadium listening to thousands of strangers chanting “Kareem! Kareem!” I felt flush with the sense of accomplishment, for me, for the Lakers, and for the fans. But when I stepped into my home and my son said, “Daddy!” the victory, the chanting, the league standings, all faded into a distant memory.
10. Being right is not always the right thing to be.
Kareem, my man, learn to step away. You think being honest immunizes you from the consequences of what you say. Remember Paul Simon’s lyrics, “There’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” So maybe it’s not that important to win an argument, even if you “know” you’re right. Sometimes it’s more important to try a little tenderness.
11. Cook more.
After I got divorced I missed home cooked meals and the only person I had to rely on was the guy in the mirror. Plus, I found it impressed women if you could cook a good meal. Once, very shortly after I started cooking for myself, I had a first date with a woman I really wanted to make a good impression on. Of course, I could have done the usual celebrity thing: fancy restaurant, signing autographs, wait-staff fawning. But I wanted this to be special, so I decided to cook for her, everything from soup to dessert. Some women get a little freaked seeing a 7’2” black man with a carving knife and butcher’s apron, but she appreciated the effort. Which was good because the soup was a little salty, the steak a little overcooked, and the flan a little watery…
12. When choosing someone to date, compassion is better than passion.
I’m not saying she shouldn’t be passionate. That’s a given. But look for signs that she shows genuine compassion toward others. That will keep you interested in her a lot longer.
13. Do one thing every day that helps someone else.
This isn’t about charity, this is about helping one individual you know by name. Maybe it means calling your parents, helping a buddy move, or lending a favorite jazz album to Chocolate Fingers McGee.
14. Do more for the community.
This is about charity, extended to people close by whose names you don’t know. You can always do more.
15. Do one thing every day that you look forward to doing.
It’s easy to get caught up in the enormous responsibilities of daily life. The To Do List can swallow your day. So, I’d insist to my younger self to make sure he has one thing on that list that he looks forward to doing.
16. Don’t be so quick to judge.
It’s human nature to instantly judge others. It goes back to our ancient life-or-death need to decide whether to fight or flee. But in their haste to size others up, people are often wrong—especially a thirty-year-old sports star with hordes of folks coming at him every day. We miss out on knowing some exceptional people by doing that, as I’m sure I did. I think the biggest irony of this advice is that it’s coming from someone who’s black, stratospherically tall, and an athlete: the trifecta of being pre-judged. And I have a lifetime of hurtful comments to prove it. Yet, that didn’t stop me from doing the same thing to others. You have to weigh the glee of satisfaction you get from arrogantly rejecting people with the inevitable sadness of regret you’ll eventually feel for having been such a dick. A friend of mine told me he routinely attends all of his high school reunions so he can apologize to every person he mistreated back then. He’s now on his fortieth reunion and still apologizing.
17. When breaking up with a woman, you can’t always remain friends.
I have managed to stay friends with many of the women I have dated because I truly liked and respected them. But sometimes emotions run too deep and efforts to remain friends, while that might help you feel better, actually might make the other person feel worse. Take the hit and let it go.
18. Watch more TV.
Yeah, you heard right, Little Kareem. It’s great that you always have your nose in history books. That’s made you more knowledgeable about your past and it has put the present in context. But pop culture is history in the making and watching some of the popular shows of each era reveals a lot about the average person, while history books often dwell on the powerful people.
19. Do more yoga.
Yes, K, I know you do yoga already. That’s why you’ve been able to play so long without major injuries. But doing more isn’t just for the physical benefits, it’s for the mental benefits that will come in handy in the years ahead, when your house burns down, your jazz collection perishes, and you lose to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in your final season.
20. Everything doesn’t have to be fixed.
Relax, K-Man. Some stuff can be fixed, some stuff can’t be. Deciding which is which is part of maturing.
Last January after a fresh snowstorm, my 9-year-old son asked me to help him build a snowman. I told him that I would be out to help shortly.
A couple of minutes later he came running back yelling, “Dad, it’s melting!”
That got my attention. It was sub-30 outside, so how could a snowman be melting?
I followed him as he ran down the hall to his bedroom. In the middle of his room was a 4-foot tall snowman, melting away.
While I removed the snowman and cleaned the remaining slush and mud, I asked him why he did it. He said, in a very matter-of-fact-tone, “It’s cold outside.”
My son has Asperger’s syndrome. For him, building a snowman in his bedroom because it was cold outside was a logical solution to a problem.
Because of my son, “Aspies” hold a special place in my heart. So whenever I hear someone in my industry talk about hiring an Aspie, I cringe just a little. Because in technology, saying you’ve hired an Aspie is like code to say that you’ve hired a machine.
It’s true that there are a lot of benefits in hiring someone with Asperger’s. Research from Harvard Business School shows the strengths of people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism make them especially well-suited for software development and testing. They have the ability to focus for extended periods. They have very good memories and are often highly intelligent. Their strong analytical skills make them talented at technology work.
But there is a lot more to Aspies than their focus, intelligence and determination. Aspies are human. Like anyone else, they have their highs and lows, and their good and bad days.
As a manager, you should understand how to handle the unique opportunities and challenges that come with hiring an Aspie. Here are six things you should know:
1. Aspies are autistic
Asperger’s syndrome is a high-functioning variant of autism. People with Asperger’s are often exceptionally intelligent and verbally gifted, but they also can be socially awkward. They can react to stress differently and at times more emotionally than others not on the autism spectrum.
Many people with Asperger’s are challenged by large crowds, looking people in the eye and reading common social queues. When talking with an Aspie, don’t get offended if they look around or focus on an object in the room instead of looking directly at you. This is a coping skill that most Aspies develop over time. Listen to their words instead of focusing on their body language.
2. Aspies are intelligent — and independent
Aspies will question authority. They will never accept “no” for an answer without being told the reason for it. They almost never accept a fact simply because of who it comes from. They will only accept it as fact if the logic proves out.
For this reason, many inexperienced managers shy away from working with an Aspie. Don’t. You just need to be prepared to justify your decisions when they’ll have a direct impact on your Aspie employee.
3. Aspies think differently
Aspies frequently talk at length about small details instead of being brief and to the point. The reason is simple: It’s how they see the world. They hold complex mental models that include all those small interlocking details. To them, overlooking the details is ignoring part of the solution.
Be patient with them. It’s an Aspie’s way of getting it.
I have seen Aspies start reprogramming software in their head well before they get back to their desks and write the first line of code. Aspie testers will instantly see what is wrong with the software because it no longer fits their model.
All this “rewiring” has wonderfully positive results.
4. Aspies feel deeply
It’s easy to think that Aspies are less empathetic because of how they can act. They’re not. When people are unsure how to respond to a stressful or unfamiliar situation, we can act in strange ways. This goes for Aspies, too.
One the most challenging things for any autistic individual to deal with is the cacophony of emotions that can be triggered by seemingly mundane events. For example, the cancellation of a project may be a relief to most of your team, while an Aspie may see it as people not appreciating their hard work or allowing them to finish the job.
Be patient. Pull them aside beforehand to explain the situation and ask them for their feedback and insight. It will give them a chance to process the idea.
5. Aspies talk differently
In the most simple of terms: Aspies are blunt to a fault.
Aspies are known for being direct, speaking their mind and being honest and determined. Just be aware that an Aspie is interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation, preferring to avoid “small talk,” trivial statements and superficial conversation.
Aspies are not trying to be rude.
6. Aspies are successful
There is good reason that Asperger’s is called the successful disorder. Their focus and dedication leads many Aspies to great heights. I doubt you could find an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a few Aspie behaviors.
Asperger’s comes with challenges along with the great opportunities. Don’t shy away from Aspies because they have different mannerisms or behaviors. Be aware of them and understand how to respond to them. If you do, you will see Aspies as the invaluable people they are and afford them the respect they deserve.
(Source: , via explore-blog)
Culture is a hot topic for many companies. Start ups talk about establishing a great culture. Candidates are looking for the right cultural fit in a prospective company and vice versa. Successful companies attribute culture as the secret to their success. Failing companies talk about changing their culture as part of a turn around plan. Then there are the clichés that companies have “a world class culture” or they have “an agile culture”. But what does it all really mean? What is culture?
One thing is for sure, culture is one of the most powerful forces in business. A company culture sets the tone and direction for the organization. The way the culture goes so do the goods and services. How the goods and services go, so does the market.
In many ways a company culture is a living thing. It fights for its very survival. A company that’s struggling for its existence or is seeking a new product-market fit can be seen as having a startup culture or startup mindset. A culture that is well established and deeply entrenched is fighting to live by leveraging managers who are afraid to try new things. Employees like those at yahoo are fighting against change in leadership and changes in policy to maintain a established culture while leadership is trying to shift a culture to be more open and communicative.
Many companies like Apple, Disney, Instagram and Twitter have a culture that is for the most part in harmony with their markets and enjoy the success that comes from a mutually beneficial relationship.
So where does culture start and where does it end? In my experience culture begins at the top. The example, words used and priorities set by executive leadership is where culture is nourished but it is the rank and file, the individual contributors who are the ones that are growing the culture.
The national culture is influenced by Hollywood and the images of culture that they sell. Yet it is the moviegoers who translate what they see into our national conscious and collective culture. In much the same way businesses are using marking to influence their customers to create and foster a consumer culture.
When a competitor is able to sway away customers from an incumbent it is more that they are swaying customers cultural perspective away from their rival. The products that delight them are more in line with the cultural expectation than by the common definition of “product-market-fit”.
Successful startups are actually recognizing a cultural shift and apply the right culture-product-fit to draw in customers. When the culture-product-fit is right, the market shift can be incredibly fast.
For example consider how fast Instagram was adopted. In just 90 days they went from zero to over one million users and then sold to Facebook in just 551 days. The share-alike culture and personal nature of pictures simply resonated with the culture.
Some of the most powerful features of twitter, such as the @name, hash tags and re-tweeting came not from product mangers imaginations but from watching how their community was using the app. The community grew the features but the company had a culture that was in line with the community culture to help make it happen.
So for corporate and business leaders the most powerful act is one where you act in accordance with the culture and in the direction you want your organization to grow. Align your behavior with the right consumer-cultural-fit and your business will find its natural home. It is your responsibility to find a home of growth or not.