Archive for Sales Technology

The Value of Minor Failure

Value of Failure Oops

By Tom Fedro

Innovation is risky business.  Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be, “Innovation is messy.”  We come up with theoretical ideas we believe are brilliant and hold onto them, doing everything we can to transform the world until our brilliant idea is the standard.  Far too many of us hold to our idea no matter what the market or the industry tells us in response.

Mark Otero, the co-founder of KlickNation had a different idea.  He quit his job, cashed in on his retirement, sold his house, and opened a yogurt shop.  The frozen yogurt kept him alive while every dime of profit and every spare moment went into programming mobile game aps.  It seemed to do well for a while, but after thirty products and shrinking revenues, he had to change tack altogether. So, after thirty games that didn’t take off, he made game number thirty-one, this time for facebook.

By the end of 2009, Superhero City pulled in $5000 per day and KlickNation was an unmitigated success.  Then came a multimillion dollar deal with NBC Universal.  After that, a $35 million dollar sale to Electronic Arts.  Now, he heads up EA’s BioWare Social division.

What strikes me as truly brilliant is the way Otero responded to failure with adjustment and business plan modification.  He said in a presentation to the alumni department of his alma mater, UC Davis, “When you have thirty failures, you are either a madman or you are onto something.”  Is it any wonder, with that attitude, that he’s succeeded?

The idea of learning from failure isn’t new, but almost all that’s written on the subject focuses on catastrophic failures from which a battered entrepreneur pulls himself up to brush off his clothes and face another day with dreams intact.  Otero’s measured approach to regular postulating, testing, adjusting, and starting all over again isn’t about overcoming obstacles.  It’s about good business.  I recently wrote a post about my faith in the Shewhart Cycle and the impact of hypothesis testing in business.  Perhaps there’s no clearer example of a technology startup that followed that path to success than KlickNation.

What are you doing?  Are you actively testing assumptions and learning from minor failures?  Are you putting any of your assumptions to the test at all?  Do repeated failures crush your spirit or do they drive you to create new assumptions, new tests, and new paths?

Nobel Prize Winning Advice

Nobel Prize

William Faulkner, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature said this when interviewed by the Paris Review:

Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.

It’s interesting to look at a quote from William Faulkner and think about it in terms of technology startups, but bear with me a moment.  I’ve been involved in multiple startups, and the one thing never lacking is advice.  I should rephrase that.  The one thing never lacking is advice filled with criticism and warning.  The business sections of bookstores are filled with it and filled with “revolutionary” solutions to every problem and issue one could face in business.

Before you get ready to leave me angry comments that we’re not writers in the technology startup world, I recognize that.  However, I think there are parallels that can be drawn.  I really want to focus on the part that begins with “Teach yourself…”  I think the one quality I find in all successful entrepreneurs is an absolute refusal to believe in the possibility of ultimate failure.  They recognize there will be minor failures along the way, but they refuse to believe those minor failures indicate the overall failure of the concept or the plan.  On the contrary, their mistakes are worn like a badge commemorating experiences that will lead to eventual success.

I’m not against receiving or asking for advice, and I think that’s probably the difference between being a writer and a businessman, but I have to confess to that supreme vanity Faulkner discusses.  What is more vain than believing you can take a business concept and turn it into profit?  What is more vain than believing your product can revolutionize an industry?  What is more vain than believing your grand plan will succeed where thousands before you have failed?

I suppose what it comes down to is one simple fact.  Entrepreneurialism requires at its very core a bit of a willful (to use a literary term) suspension of disbelief.  We take our doubts and those expressed by others  and drive them deep below the surface.  Sure, they’re there, but we act as though they aren’t and drive forward to make our dreams reality.

The Life Factor

worklife

By Tom Fedro

It’s amazing how crazy the world of startup development can sometimes get.  I think about it sometimes.  We live our lives trying desperately to create something so that we…well, so that we can begin living our lives.  I think about it often.  Are we putting the cart before the horse?  Are we counting our chickens before they hatch?  One of the advantages of this new economy is that we can tailor our world, in an entrepreneurial sense,  to the life we want. We spend so much time working for our future that we forget we have choices in the meantime.

I’m a fan of Michael Wolfe.  He describes himself as a serial entrepreneur and has had tremendous success building businesses over the past 15 years with several highly profitable exits.  What I find amazing is his ability to manage living a life with building companies.  He wrote an interesting blog piece about staying in shape while working long hours and has for a long time maintained that while a startup will consume a great deal of your life, it ought not consume all of your life.

It’s not really all that out of the box in terms of philosophy.  In fact, the term workaholic was created as a kind of a warning in this area.   However, we in the world of entrepreneurialism tend to idolize the men and women who work nineteen hour days every day and watch their relationships, their health, and their social lives disappear in the process.  Add to that mix the fact than almost every startup fails.  This advice comes from a man who’s successfully built five.

This Wolfe guy competes in Triathlons at world class times, Ultra-distance running, Biking etc…Okay, so are we looking at a man who’s already achieved the success that allows him to live?  I don’t believe so.  From the outset, Wolfe suggested the key to a startup wasn’t sacrificing your life but designing the business around the life you want to lead.   His advice?  “Pick where you want to live and the people you want to hang out with first.  Then find a career that lets you do that.” Very good advice and his thoughts on working out in the morning to make sure you are consistent – I am now a believer!

How are you balancing your life with your dream?

Passion Is Overrated

passion

By Tom Fedro

What?  Can I really write this post?  I’m all about business and startups and suggest that the driving force of a multitude of entrepreneurs isn’t as important as every other blog on this subject suggests?  What of all the stories?  What of all the movies?  What about all the inspirational books and the men and women just about to give up but hanging on because they accessed deep within themselves that last vestige of hope and passion that kept them motivated against all odds.

It makes for good storytelling, but I have to tell you that I’ve been in more than one startup.  I’ve advised in more than one startup, and I’ve seen countless pitches from founders.  I’ve spent my career focusing on startups.  I’ve yet to find a single founder of a startup who wasn’t consumed by passion.  Why in the world would anyone put in the kind of effort and sacrifice necessary to start a new venture if there wasn’t passion?  Everyone has it.  Everyone in this arena, anyway.

The bottom line is this.  According to studies (and there seem to be a million of them) the failure rate for startups is staggering.  Low estimates put it at about eighty percent, some suggest the rate is ninety-two percent.  That means your brilliant new business has about an eight percent chance of success, no matter how passionate you are.  In fact, there’s a good chance your passion, if not reined in, will be your undoing.

The Genome Project’s study of 3200 startups concluded that the number one reason for failure is self-destruction, primarily through premature scaling.  In other words, passion makes us grow too quickly and get ahead of ourselves.  Things get crazy and our dreams become nightmares.  Our incredible idea is so incredible that we implement it faster than it can actually succeed, and the net result is failure.

I’m not suggesting passion isn’t important.  I’m just trying to tell you that everyone attempting to start a business probably already has it.  Don’t work on motivating yourself in this area.  Don’t focus on the passion, focus on the business.  Make good, fundamental business decisions.  Those are the decisions that may seem dispassionate or even appear to show a lack of confidence in the idea about which you’re so passionate.  Don’t worry about that.  You worry about whether or not you’ll be one the eight percent that make it.