Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Let Them See You Sweat

I struggle all the time with the contrast between public perception and private reality.

On the one hand, we see others who seem so together, so comfortable in their skins, and who always seem to know the right thing to say.

On the other hand, we know how we ourselves feel--sweaty, nervous, with the faint sense of anxiety increasing the longer we stand at the outside of the conversation, waiting for that perfect moment to break in.

The funny thing is, all of us feel that way--even the ones who never seem to sweat.

The tension you feel arises from the illusion that you can somehow transcend the latter feelings and become the former paragons you admire.

Release the tension.

Decide that you can't be superhuman (none of us can--by definition).

Let who you are hang out, and learn to not care what others think.

And then, paradoxically, is when people will respect you the most.

Because you won't be some shining idealized version of you that they outwardly admire, yet are inwardly resentful of.

You'll be another flawed human being that they can truly relate to.

Originally posted as a comment on my old classmate Lindsey's always thought-provoking blog.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Real Seed Of A Startup Is A Need

With all due respect to the genius that is Jessica Hagy and Indexed, the seed of a startup is *NOT* cheap technology, disgruntled workers, and an anemic economy.

While that portion of the Venn diagram represents the ideal soil for starting a company, the real seed of a startup is a need.

Every successful startup gives people something they need--even if they don't know that they need it yet.

I was meeting with one of my startups today (yes, I do work weekends) and we were discussing the idea (suggested by a potential investor) that the company build a Facebook app. The entrepreneurs had carefully sketched out how they would build such an app, and were taking me through how they were going to optimize the design.

I stopped them and asked, "Why do the customers need this app?"

Far too often, we confuse the soil with the seed. Facebook is soil; it provides an environment in which social applications can thrive. But "we need to have a Facebook app" is not a need; it's a tactic.

If you're worried that you're mistaking soil for seed, do one simple thing: Find a real user. Expose them to what you're doing. Then see if they keep using it when you aren't there.

You see, you can't trust what people say. People are eager to please. And it's all too easy to hear what you want to hear. But you can trust what they do. The numbers don't lie. If you're meeting a need, that fact will show up in usage and retention.

Before you rent a backhoe, make sure you have a real seed. The best soil in the world won't yield a bumper crop if you plant a pebble.