Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Starting Your Startup, Don't Count on Anyone to Help You - Except You

Starting a startup can be a completely exhilarating and mind boggling experience at once - especially for first timers.

I remember when we were laying the initial groundwork for Chrometa, our software startup, as far back as 2007 (time sure flies!) - I got hammered with advice from all angles.  Tough thing was, I had no clue who I should listen to, and who I should ignore.

Startups are exciting by nature.  There’s the allure of doing something completely new.  Of getting a business off the ground by simply rubbing a couple of sticks together and hoping for a spark.  And of course, everyone thinks of the vast riches generated by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other past Silicon Valley startups, and thinks that - just maybe - your venture will “take off” in similarly spectacular fashion.

It’s very fun - and also very easy to lose your head and perspective.  My initial thoughts (for our first year or so) often centered around the grandiose potential for our time tracking product.  We hadn’t yet built a fully-working product, of course, but man, were there ever a lot of potential markets we could tap into!

Playing into this excitement, I found that many people surrounding our company were offering to “help us out” in one way, shape, or form.  Big shot attorneys, who normally wouldn’t have given me the time of day at my old job, were now offering to defer their fees and introduce us to potential investors.  Software resellers we spoke with talked about the tremendous potential they saw for pitching our product to their client base.  Big company executives waxed enthusiastically about the future opportunity to roll out our product across their entire 100,000 person organizations - upon successful completion of an initial test pilot!

Things looked so good, I could barely keep track of the many ways Chrometa was going to take off!  

  • “Our big shot attorney - man, he’s connected with all the big VC’s in the Valley!  Fundraising is gonna be a snap!”
  • “And when this reseller gets ramped up, they’re gonna sell an insane number of licenses for us!”
  • “Plus we’ve got this enterprise deal cooking - we’ll get a case study, their logo on our website, and a big license deal from our second stage roll out!”

There were many, many more “killer opps” in the hopper for us.  It was a tremendously exciting time.

So guess how many actually panned out for us?  

Zip.  Zero.  Nada.  None at all!

But - we’re still here - alive and kicking - in 2010!  We’ve got a growing and paying customer base, one product to market, and another one that we are very excited about on the way.  

And no thanks to ANY of these initial “killer opps” panned out for us...how can that be?

What I FINALLY learned - and not a moment too soon (otherwise I might not be writing to your today) - is that when building a startup, nobody can help you but you.  You are the one who has to get it done.

Your attorney will probably not be able to help you raise capital.  The reality is he sends too many deals to his too few investor contacts every week, so they largely ignore what he pitches them.

Your hot reseller might have another “blue sky” brainstorm meeting with you - and then they’ll go back to doing what they’ve always done to make money.  They’re not going to figure out how to sell a brand new product for the very first time to a new market.  They’ve got easier, more established ways to make a buck.

And your hot enterprise customer may complete your pilot - but let’s get real, they’re not going to roll out your alpha or beta product company-wide.  You’re dreaming.  They just want a cheap or free fix to their current pain point.  Your pilot provided that.  So they’re all set.

These examples may come off as cynical - but I am speaking from experience in all 3 cases.  There are other cases I could cite along this them - but you get the idea.  Since this is just one person’s experience, please remember that there are exceptions to every case I’m listing here.  

But I do think that for your own sanity and planning, you should assume the scenarios I’m listing here would apply to you too.  Because, odds are, these are the numbers that are going to hit when the wheel stops.

And that’s OK - it’s OK that nobody who says they are going to help you, and make you rich, and build your company.  To paraphrase the late, great Harry Browne - they don’t owe you anything. [Editor's note: Brett Owens, You and I could debate the "greatness" of the late Harry Browne. Please note that the link to H.B. org. is not an endorsement of his politics. Please read my post, THE LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT, for my take on the Libertarian Party.]

And in fairness, nobody owes you help - or an introduction - or a fat license deal with their company.  Each individual you encounter will always be looking out for his or her own best interest.  That’s simply human nature.

The good news is, the sooner you can accept this, and become constantly aware of it, the sooner you can free up your valuable time for more productive endeavors that actually move your startup forward.  I know it was a big moment and realization for myself.

So instead of jumping from phone meeting to phone meeting - or worse (from a time management standpoint) - driving from meeting to meeting, talking about grandiose partnerships, deals, and future plans that had little (or no) chance of materializing - I could spend my entire day on the few critical levers that would actually determine the success or failure of our startup.

And for a product company, these critical levers are:

  1. Building a product that people find useful
  2. Tweaking that product into something that people will pay for
  3. Figuring out how to acquire new customers in a cost effective way
Rinse, repeat, and so on.

When I think about all of the in-person meetings and phone calls that I had with people who could “potentially” help us in our early days, I have to laugh.  It was a learning experience, and I didn’t have a clue about what I needed to be focusing in on.  So I chased every shiny windmill in hopes of finding the silver bullet that would set us on the path to greatness!

So if you are a fellow first-time entrepreneur - first of all, congratulations!  Secondly, I’d encourage you to focus on one of the three things I mentioned above, at all times.  Consider anything else to be a distraction.  Your time is your most valuable resource - it’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s the truth - you have to protect it with a vengeance!  

Be skeptical, but of course polite, to people who claim they can help you.  They don’t owe you anything - but in turn, you don’t owe them, either.  You’re all squared up.  So don’t let them hold any promises over you...odds are they can’t deliver on them, anyway.  You’re the one who ultimately has to “make it happen” - so go out there and get it done!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Welcome to the August 26, 2010 edition of Objectivist round up.

Earl Parson presents OList Twitter Party Kickoff posted at Creatures of Prometheus, saying, "2 weekly Twitter parties, for members (and lurkers) of Diana Hsieh's OLists, are starting up, and I'm hosting, along with William Green. If you're curious about the OLists or Twitter, now's a great time to join both and start participating in some great discussions with other Objectivists."

Edward Cline presents Nancy Pelosi, Pen Pal posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "Levity can be leveraged.

Roger L. Simon, writer, critic, and regular columnist for Pajamas Media and other news outlets and blogs, responded to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s remark on KCBS Radio in San Francisco that the funding behind the effective and influential opposition to Imam Feisal Rauf’s Ground Zero mosque (once Cordoba House, now called Park51) should be investigated. Doubtless she had been informed that about 65% of Americans are opposed to the mosque, and that this is largely a consequence of not only the blogosphere, which is doing the MSM‘s job of actually reporting news that‘s fit to report and print."

Fred Seiler presents Agora posted at Seiler on Science, saying, "Some notes on the recent movie about the life of Hypatia of Alexandria"

Rachel Miner presents Genies, Spirits, Nuns posted at The Playful Spirit, saying, "A brief post about a delightful parenting moment. If the title makes you smile, these two paragraphs will too :)"

Rituparna Basu presents Embracing the “Unnatural”, written by Daniel Casper and posted at The Undercurrent, saying, "The Undercurrent has released a special preview article from our Fall 2010 Print Edition. The article, Embracing the ‘Unnatural,’ is about two roots of today’s popular opposition to scientific progress."

C.W. presents Inflation and the International Wheat Market posted at Krazy Economy, saying, "Understanding inflation requires knowing what it isn't, too. International wheat prices offer a helpful example. It is also useful to keep an eye on commodity prices."

Jared Rhoads presents Doctors presumed corrupt posted at The Lucidicus Project, saying, "New government rules against self-referral in the health reform law presume that doctors are crooks. That's not right."

Kelly Elmore presents The Day I Became an Atheist posted at Reepicheep's Coracle, saying, "This is the story of how I became an atheist. I had serious fears about life being devoid of spiritual values without religioun, but I found that Objectivism is chock full of that kind of value."

Benjamin Skipper presents Mental Calvinball at Work posted at Musing Aloud, saying, "Inspired by the book *Flow* and the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, I came up with a game that enhances my productivity at work. I consider this particularly useful advice for those in tedious, repetitious, or monotonous positions."

Sandi Trixx presents The Times on Tax Cuts posted at Sandi Trixx, saying, "The problem with the Left's "debate" is that they take some fallacies as absolute truth."

Diana Hsieh presents OList Twitter Brunch posted at NoodleFood, saying, "My OList e-mail lists now host two get-togethers on Twitter each week. If you're an OList subscriber, come join the fun!"

Paul Hsieh presents Hsieh PJM OpEd: "Avastin and Your Life" posted at We Stand FIRM, saying, "My latest PajamasMedia OpEd shows how the Avastin controversy illustrates the twin dangers of government-run health care -- namely, rationing and politicization of health benefits."

Jason Stotts presents Contra Peikoff on Swinging posted at Erosophia, saying, "In this essay I explore Leonard Peikoff's dismissal of swinging as a bestial activity and take a look at his reasons for doing so."

Sean Saulsbury presents Is Netflix Getting Into The Dating Game? posted at SeanCast.com, saying, "That same technology Netflix has developed to guess what you’ll rate a movie you haven’t seen could just as easily be applied to matchmaking...."

Sean Saulsbury presents Movie Review: The Switch, etc. posted at The Movie Film Show, saying, "I am producing a new weekly movie review show called The Movie Film Show, featuring the reviews of "Mr. Movie" and "Mr. Film" (I play the Mr. Movie character). I hope you enjoy it!"

Kate Gerber presents Looking For The Next Opportunity posted at CareerMama℠.

Edward Cline presents We Are All Al-Qadists Now posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "One of the most appalling and bizarre opinion pieces about the Ground Zero mosque appeared on August 21st in The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof's "Taking Bin Laden’s Side." The op-ed closely follows and dovetails with a Times report on how opposition to the mosque has only "provoked" Islamic "extremists" and "played into their hands.""

Zip presents Only By Permission posted at UNCOMMON SENSE, saying, "We living in Canada and"the west" are truly and rightfully horrified at the prospect of this kind of control. But are we just evading our own reality?"

Joshua John M. Lipana presents Censorship Strengthens Islamists posted at This is Joshua Speaking.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Objectivist round up
using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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(Editor's note: This post could be updated after Rational Jenn has checked it out.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wrapping Up Your Summer Internships? 3 Things To Do Before You Split

Dear Summer ‘10 Intern,

The summer of 2010 is already winding down, as is your summer internship. You may have done a lot this summer - or maybe not much at all - (hopefully the former, but I realize that can be outside of your control!)

Regardless, we’re at the home stretch. And there are 3 key things I’d recommend you do before you call it a summer, split town, and get ready for the school year to start. These action items, if done right, will hopefully increase the chances of you landing the job you want after graduation (or if you’ve got some more college left beyond next year, the internship you want next summer).

Sure, the economy stinks. But there is still plenty of opportunity out there for smart young people who are willing to go the extra mile.

As I write this note of unsolicited advice to you, I’m calling upon my experience as a summer intern with Johnson & Johnson (from wayyyy back in the summer of 2002). If you’re reading this, it’s likely you were alive at the time, so I hope my advice is not THAT dated. I believe it should be at least somewhat relevant, as the economy stunk at that time too, so the virtue of “hustle” was also at a premium then.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is John Steinbeck’s line from East of Eden - he writes that “advice is a giver’s gift.” So here is my advice to you - which I recommend you read with a skeptical eye, and adapt to your personal situation if appropriate.

1. Have a Heart-to-Heart With Your Boss

Most bosses will schedule an exit interview with you. If they don’t take the initiative, you should. And if your immediate boss is too busy, or lazy, or whatever, to be open and/or responsive to this, try his or her boss. Keep going up the ladder until someone cares enough to grant you some time.

Use this sit down session to gather as much feedback and insights as you can. Accept any criticisms or critiques with an open mind. I would not recommend contesting any points - just gather it all in.

You’ll never go wrong asking your boss for his or her advice. Remember, it truly is a “giver’s gift” - people love to be asked for advice, and they love even more to give it. Of course you don’t need to act on all the advice you receive - but you’re likely to gain some great insights. It may pertain to company politics, or how you should go about landing a full-time position, or why you should run and not pursue a career with that company!

You’ll be amazed at what people will share if you ask for their advice and insights. Also, they’ll love you for asking.

Finally if you have a good relationship with your boss, make sure to stay in touch with them when you get back to school. Just drop an occasional note to let them know how you’re doing. Trust me - I’ve been in the “real world” for 7 years now - it’s usually not as exciting as college is! I personally get a kick out of hearing from our former interns who are back at school. And I’ll bet that your boss has similar sentiments.

2. Schedule as Many One-on-Ones (With Colleagues You Like) as You Can

While the exit interview with your boss is a given at most companies, a final sit down with other colleagues and managers is not. You should absolutely take the initiative to schedule one-on-one sit downs with as many folks as you can. Especially those that you like and respect.

By one-on-one, it could be a formal sit down meeting in their office. Or just grabbing a cup of coffee together. You know your company’s culture best, so feel free to adapt the approach accordingly.

How do you go about scheduling this? Same way as above. In fact, here’s a quick sample email that you can fire off to a friendly manager (Susan, in this case):

Hi Susan,

I really enjoyed my time this summer at Acme Corporation. At your convenience, I’d love to setup a few minutes to sit down with you before I leave.

I’d really appreciate your advice and insights as I prepare to head back to [Your School Here].

Thanks in advance!

[Your Name Here]

Extra points for you if you schedule the one-on-one in person rather than via email.

So what are we hoping to gain from this conversation? First, we want to connect more closely with Susan here. By asking for her advice, you’ve just found yourself another close friend. And when the economy stinks, and jobs are tight, each close friend that you can find is potentially huge.

Susan may have very high regards for you. She may know of other job opportunities that you should pursue - maybe in another department. Who knows. The important thing is that by asking for her advice and insights, you are giving yourself a chance to find this out.

I should note that while you are welcome to do request a one-on-one with anyone you’d like, this will probably work far better with people you genuinely like and respect. If the thought of sitting down with a specific manager makes your stomach queasy - don’t bother. Focus on strengthening your connections with those you already like.

And as we discussed in the last section - you should definitely drop your closest connections a line when you get back to school.

3. Learn the Next Steps in the Full-Time Hiring Process

This may be a question for your boss, or for anther manager, or for human resources. It’s especially important if you are going to be looking for full-time employment soon.

Find out what opportunities are available for full-time employment. As a summer intern, you’ve got the inside track. It’s very important to take advantage of this WHILE you are still on the job! Once you’re out of sight, I’m afraid it’s far too easy to fade “out of mind” of the folks who make the hiring decisions.

So before you leave, make sure you ask: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Acme Corporation, and would love to pursue full-time job opportunities after I graduate. Who is the best person to talk with about this?”

Ask this to everyone you can - it never hurts - and there are multiple ways to a full-time employment offer. Many students forget that a company actually consists of individual human beings that make the hiring decisions. So what you need to do is to go find the human being(s) involved in the hiring process. Then find out next steps - and of course, ask for their advice!


These 3 proactive steps helped me land a full-time job offer early in my senior year from Johnson & Johnson, during a time when the economy was also pretty crappy. It wasn’t easy though - while I ended the summer with a verbal offer from the company, I had to conduct a lot of follow up back at school to make sure the offer letter came through. I think my follow ups were largely effective thanks to the ground work I was able to establish while still on-site and able to connect with people in person.

Now go out and land that job! Good luck!

Thoughts, comments, or questions? Please leave a comment below!