Simon Sinek: Start with the Why

February 25, 2010

Great interview on mixergy today.  Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why explains his theory on leadership, success and passion.  Essentially, many people get stuck on “What” they do and “How” they do it.  But each individual’s passion, and their ability to attract others and be successful, depends on WHY they are driven to do the work.  Simon clearly shows how magnetic passion can be – both through examples and his own passion for his life’s work.

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.  And what you do servers as the tangible proof of what you believe.

Passion for the idea is more important than a desire to get rich and famous.  He compares the Wright Brothers, who self-funded their flying machine, to Samuel Langley, who had significant funding and hired the best engineers.  The most successful startups are driven by the Why – not making money or retiring early.  Think about Facebook and Craigslist.

He also uses Apple as an example.  They clearly start with the why – a great user experience – which then drives what they do and how they do it.

Day to day, It’s easy to fall into a trap where you are just thinking about what you do and how you do it.  When you lose sight of the why, you lose motivation.  Simon explains how this happened a few years into his own startup.  He talks about how great it is when you quit your job to pursue your passion.  Your focus on the Why inspires friends to quit their jobs and follow you – not because you’re trying to get rich, but because you have a similar vision.  But after a few years, a startup can be draining, and he lost sight of why he was doing the work.  Without motivation, he found himself on the verge of depression.

When I think about my own life experience, this theory makes sense.  When I started at Microsoft, I was on a new team whose leader set a clear purpose: to beat Google on customer service.  We knew our product was inferior, but we also knew that advertisers were getting fed up with Google’s support system – and we set forth to attract and retain customers with superior service, a factor we could control.  When I left Microsoft, I wasn’t sure why I was doing the work I was doing.  Over time, my only purpose became a paycheck.  Like Simon, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve seen the other side of this theory in action since I started LazyMeter.  When I state the problem I’m trying to solve, people get excited.  Many people I speak to about what I’m doing think about leaving their own jobs as well.  Everyone wants to have a passion for what they’re working on, yet it’s easy to end up in a situation where you have no passion at all.

For those thinking of founding a startup, be sure you are passionate about why you are doing it.  I’ve met a surprising number of entreupreneurs whose only Why is “I was tired of my job and this was the first idea I had”.  I usually lose interest in their project immediately.  When you talk about why you are doing your project, you attract followers.  The more people you talk to, the more that will be available to help you.  And the more clear your goal is, the better your product will be.


Mockups with Balsamiq

February 9, 2010

If you have a vision that you want to share with minimal effort (and you can’t draw like me), I highly recommend Balsamiq. It makes mockups as easy as can be. All of the most popular components and controls are available which easily snap together. The full version is $79, but if you click Try It Now you can use the free web version. The free version includes many controls and lets you export to png – it even lets you save and come back. Enjoy.

Balsamiq Sample

Balsamiq Sample

LazyMeter (My Startup) and Going Stealth

February 8, 2010

By now you are probably wondering what I’m working on. The product’s name is LazyMeter, and our goal is to help users balance the demands of life. We are a new approach to task management – a solution you will actually want to use.

Our landing page is up, which includes an option to sign up for our mailing list. If you join the list you will get updates on development, and you will be one of the first considered for testing. This list is strictly for providing updates and will not be used for any other purpose.

We have also launched our blog. The first post is our manifesto which provides more details on our vision.

You may notice we are being intentionally vague. Yes, I have read the TechCrunch article Stealth Startups, Get Over Yourselves. I understand that it’s important to be open about what you are building to generate interest for launch. At the same time, task management is one of the most saturated markets; if we’re too open, our competitors could quickly release the same feature to 2 million+ users.

Being a stealth startup is very awkward, especially in our space. When I attend the various Seattle startup events (hops & chops, open coffee), I get very strange looks since I can only say that we are working on task management. I’ve had reactions including “Are you crazy?” and “I’m worried for you”. But I have found this feedback and concern motivating. My cofounder and I know what we are getting into, and we wouldn’t be going into this space without something completely different. Task management is the easiest way to explain what we are doing, but in actuality it’s just the beginning of what we’re doing. We wouldn’t both quit our jobs at Micorosoft during a recession for another to-do list. Another reason I feel comfortable going stealth is that we are not trying to raise funding – in fact, we’re trying to avoid it, if that’s possible.

Fortunately, I have been able to turn around most of our skeptics. If you’re still skeptical because ‘task management has been done’, here are some thoughts:
1) People forget to do things all the time.
2) Despite all the available solutions, the market leader is still the sticky note.
3) Which solution do you use? If it is software, does it meet your needs?

stick notes

The TechCrunch article pretty much says you are a stealth startup, or you are not. We’re trying to find a hybrid – we don’t want to hide from view, but we don’t want to give away our secret sauce either. We are seeking significant feedback from individuals close to us. We promise to be as open as possible with all those interested. The specific implementation will be a surprise, but worth the wait.

So what do you think? Are we crazy to go into task management? Are we crazy to go stealth?

(Photo by Katie Weilbacher)

Why Microsoft is in Denial

February 4, 2010

“Denial ain’t just a river in egypt” – Mark Twain

I’ve been putting off a post about Microsoft. I mean, 4.5 years of my life, where to begin? Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that I enjoyed working at Microsoft – I think it’s as good as working at a large corporation can get. You’ll never meet so many passionate and brilliant people, and the salary and benefits can’t be beat. I would recommend it as a place to work, but not for everyone. And I would consider going back.

The problem is if you want to produce something you can be proud of, you might just lose your mind. At the very least, it’s going to take a while and be very aggravating. Here’s the problem: working at Microsoft is ideal if you just want a job. People that want a certain quality of life take advantage. People that want to produce – they either give up, or they leave. The culture is scaring away the passionate and creative individuals that it needs to succeed. My theory is that Microsoft’s innovation problem is driven by a culture of politics that causes individuals to focus on themselves more than the company, resulting in denial of the reality of the business.

An oped piece in the New York Times today inspired this post. It’s titled “Microsoft’s Creative Destruction” and it contains some constructive criticism. I was recently speaking with the CEO of a local startup about the great employees we both knew at Microsoft. “With so many great people, why does the company still seem to be so slow and reactive?” he asked. I often say that Microsoft is a company full of really great people working really hard producing very little. Pinpointing the problem is not a simple task, but politics is a good place to start.
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Legal 101 for Startups

February 3, 2010

After spending weeks researching the best way to set up the business, I was thrilled to find the Law 101 For Startups – with Bill Schreiber of Fenwick & West interview at Mixergy. For anyone founding a startup, the interviews on are gold. The interviews are always a bit on the long side, but Andrew Warner asks all the right questions – the ones I would want to ask as a new founder. Andrew had a successful startup and describes mixergy as “the site I wish I had”. For me, it’s the site I’m glad I found.

Some notes:

Section 1 – Get It documented

  • Make sure the company owns the Intellectual property (anyone who provides services in any capacity should sign agreements)
  • Be clear with employees and vendors on relationship.
  • Capitalization: Venture Capitalists want 30-60%, want the owners to own the majority, and want to know who else is involved
  • Consider vesting stock. If you decide to vest stock, there’s an important form to file with the IRS.
  • Section 2 – Business Entities and Taxation

  • Bill Schreiber recommends S-Corp over LLC. S-Corp advantage is ease of granting stock options. The catch: no foreign investors, single stock type (no preferred stock).
  • Transforming S-Corp and LLC to C-Corp is a tax-free transaction. UNLESS you have negative net assets (more liabilities than you have assets). This is “the only risk”.
  • Advice: Create the business opportunity offshore (parent or subsidiary). All sales generated outside the US, the US will not tax.
  • Section 3 – Stock

  • Convertible notes are the way to go.
  • Touches on typical terms for stock equity rounds. Valuation, liquidation preference, how board is set up, rights of preferred stockholders, etc.
  • Liquidation preference = how much benefit preferred stock gets at the expense of the normal stock.
  • Participating vs. non-participating preferred stock.