There’s a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles these days – both the opportunities and the ramifications. It’s an exciting prospect of being able to travel “autonomously” beyond texting carefree or reading a book.
Consider the following:
  • The alleviation of traffic. With autonomy comes prediction. With prediction comes the ability to mitigate traffic. Cars could potentially fly down roads well past current speed limits as they behave in hive-like manner. Imagine a beautifully orchestrated, synchronized traffic system where vehicles notify each other when they’re turning and exiting. Human reactionary delays and errors cause most of traffic, so the elimination of human thinking leads to huge opportunities.
  • Going farther away from city centers. With autonomy comes the ability to be productive the moment workers leave their homes. They can work on computers much like commuters do today on planes, buses, and trains. As such, there can be a migration away from business epicenters as commutes become a part of the workday.
  • The line between homes and vehicles start to blur. In one example, you can see how a company like Cabinwill continue to pave the way for travelers to sleep/ live between destinations. Or, you can have a Jetson’s like experience where people roll out of bed and get completely prepared for the day on the drive. Perhaps there will be a rise in nomadic living where larger vehicles become actual living spaces. People then travel and live wherever they want.

Of course, opportunities create more opportunities (or challenges). Trucking, as an industry, is an area with a lot of potential to lose should autonomous vehicles take over trucking – especially regional and longer hauls – with 3.5M people employed professionally. The jobs that autonomous vehicles could displace are jarring.

Would ride-sharing services become even bigger as people shift to autonomous vehicles? Vehicles lend themselves as service running routes daily. Car ownership, then, could decrease as efficiency and productivity increase of shared vehicles. On the flip side then, more utilization could lead to higher maintenance intervals promoting needs for mechanic professionals. (Unless those get automated, too!)
The prospects of autonomous vehicles are incredible. They will change the way we live, work, and play. They’ll have massive opportunities as well as massive challenges. Either way, autonomous is coming. How we prepare for that will be key to how we continue to innovate and shape the future.
I was thrilled to see great progress with one of the startups I’m advising. In our meetings early on, there were questions from the entrepreneur and her team about what to do and where to go next. It was difficult as an outsider to give a good direction without specific industry experience. Instead, I recommended some best startup (business) practices including the importance of instrumenting their platform and using data to drive roadmap and business decisions.
In one specific example, the company wanted to immerse users in the experience of the platform. Their initial UI hid away menu options. However, they found users were not customizing their experiences very often. They finally knew, however, how long users stayed on the platform, what they did, etc. The team hypothesized that users would engage with the platform even more and for longer periods of time with more personalized experiences through customization.
So, the team started making cues to the menu options including explicit instruction during first-use onboarding. It worked. Engagement of the new menu increased as has customizations. Their goal of greater and longer app usage also increased.
Users are now seeing buying options more often. Their next goal is to drive increased sales.
The team is studying engagement data to help answer questions, create hypotheses, and make decisions to accomplish specific goals. It’s great to see progress.
P.S. You can check out related articles on instrumentation and metrics in “Don’t Know What Metrics to Track? Start Asking the Right Questions”, “Metrics vs. Instrumentation”, and “Metrics for the Early Stage Startups”.
Serial entrepreneur Gregg Oldring recently wrote a post about his recent startup that failed – “Afraid of failing at a startup? Let me tell you what it feels like.” Naturally, I wanted to dive into the title given my past.
There were a couple lines I really enjoyed. Sharing those here, and highlighting my own experience.
  • “When I frame the analysis as risk-reward instead of success-failure, we did well.”Maybe because I failed before with Body Boss, but this was incredibly resonating. Like Gregg highlighted, there was so much gained from the experience that isolating the outcome based on commercial success would be vain. In the end, we threw out risk to attempt something special. The reward beyond was worth it.
  • “One of the things that I hate about being an entrepreneur is that sharing the uncertainties I have about my business usually carries with it negative consequences that outweigh the benefit of transparency. When someone asks, ‘How’s business?’ the answer can seldom be, ‘It doesn’t look like it’s going to be sustainable.’” Geez, this ateat me towards the end of Body Boss. I felt like a fraud when I spoke to others – prospects, yes, but especially with my personal connections (friends and family). The weight of faking a smile was heavy. So heavy, in fact, that I avoided any discussion about the venture as much as possible.
  • “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed that Inkdit didn’t thrive. My friends, family and community haven’t made me feel that way. In fact, they’ve done quite the opposite. I’ve been reminded that I have many people who support me.” As the dust settled from shutting down Body Boss, friends and family came from everywhere pledging support. It was humbling. In many ways, too, I was proud. Many applauded our courage and how we built something from nothing.

Gregg’s experience from failure sounds a lot like mine. As I read the comments to his article, I’m reminded of the power of sharing unsuccessful stories and being vulnerable. Confidence in what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading gives us power to go again. Sharing our stories gives others the confidence and support they, too, can go for greatness.

By the way, you can read more about my experience from my book Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success. It’s a quick read so you can learn, apply, and go (e-book and paperback available).
Steve Jobs has some real memorable quotes. The latest, I discovered goes, “Real artists ship”. I’ve now added it to my list of Baller Quotes to Live By page.
The quote is all about execution – beauty means little if not shipped (created). Naturally, this applies for entrepreneurs. Artistry and entrepreneurship is not about creating perfect. It’s about creating.
Here are a few other quotes from the late Steve Jobs that I love and try to live by.
  • “… you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
  • “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
  • “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

What are some of your favorite quotes from Steve Jobs? How about other quotes you live by?

What is your “why”? It’s a question I’ve blogged about numerous times; “purpose” included. It’s resonated to me from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s Primed to Perform. So when I started reading Blue Apron’s S-1 filingfor an IPO, their mission made me think to the why –

Blue Apron’s mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone. 

We believe that sharing home-cooked meals with our families and loved ones is an important way to demonstrate our values and affection. It is at our kitchen tables, over a meal, where we often celebrate our milestones, acknowledge our setbacks, and appreciate the comfort of each other’s company. Modern life has made this more difficult—many of us are too busy to grocery shop, lack the skills or confidence to cook, or cannot easily find the quality ingredients that make home cooking enjoyable.

I spent a few minutes thinking about “incredible home cooking” and accessibility wondering about its place as a purpose. Then, I recalled one of my old MBA professors who talked about “universal human truths” as the driving force behind company missions.
Real quick – from Nigel Hollis, EVP of Kantar Millward Brown, a global marketing agency, said this when trying to define universal human truth –

often heard in marketing in the context of global branding, where the accepted wisdom is that your brand’s positioning should be based on a motivation that transcends cultural boundaries. (Nigel, “What is a universal human truth?”)

I couldn’t place my finger on the validity of home cooking as a universal human truth. Perhaps an alteration to accessibility of healthy foods could’ve been more human truth oriented – being able to provide food to everyone, everywhere. After all, all humans must eat. Providing healthy options, then, would further that necessity to yield greater benefits.
Here are a few other mission statements. Do they align to a universal human truth?
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Facebook (newly released, too!): “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
  • General Electric: “to usher in the next industrial era and to “build, move, power, and cure the world.”
  • Telsa: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

·        Apple: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.”
Of course, companies do not need a universal human truth. It’s arguable that it’s also a marketing ploy. However, many companies are incepted not to just make money, but because there’s a deeper desire to solve some pain. Many companies aren’t even started to build behemoth companies. Instead, they start with a problem, and they are approached by entrepreneurs – some ideological, some profitable, some competitive, or some other reason.
If you were to build a company (or are building one now), is your mission aligned to a universal human truth? Do you care? Does it matter?
I admit I was struggling to find a topic for this blog post. I sat at my computer with writer’s block which is uncommon for me. So, what did I do? I left. I left, read, and went to a meditation class. Ironic, then that my head wanted to race during meditation. After this, I realized that meditation is a great subject to share with entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs. 
I’ve been attending group meditation classes for a couple years now, and I admit that I don’t always get to that meditative state. I probably only get there 20% of the time. (Okay – 10%.) Like today, I struggle to be mindful, stay focused on my breath, and meditate.
What I’ve realized and was appreciative of was the effort to sit there for an hour and try. I also appreciated the effort to sit there and think. I didn’t meditate, but I did hop on that mind-train and rode that for a good bit. That, in itself, can be a wonderful thing because I don’t take enough time to sit in peace and think.
Meditation is supposed to provide all sorts of benefits to which I can summarize: lower stress/ cortisol levels, practice mindfulness, develop patience, etc. Many entrepreneurs have practiced meditation to help cope with the stress and go-go-go life including Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn), Marc Benioff (CEO, Salesforce.com), Oprah Winfrey (a media mogul), etc.
The gist is to make time and effort for the things that matter. The benefits can be realized with diligent practice. Realize, too, the use of the word “practice” because that’s important. “Anything worth having never comes easy,” as Bob Kelso from Scrubs once said. Meditation is a constant practice. Though one practice (or many) may not achieve the goal, there’s the next practice.
Yes, this is my 300thpost!
My very first post was back on May 3, 2012 – “To be an effective consultant”. Yes, back in the day, I started the blog as SC Ninja Skills (SC = Supply Chain). I remember it – I wrote the first post sitting in a hotel in L.A. I went there before starting my MBA program at Emory. I remember having this idea to start the blog a year or so before. However, I thought I needed more experience. What did I have to offer?
In that seemingly random moment in the hotel room, though, the question flipped: “why do I have to wait till I’m in my 40s to influence others? To teach? To be influential? Haven’t Fortune 500 companies been hiring my consulting firm or requesting MEas a subject matter expert? I do know a lot even in my short career so far!” This was a huge moment for me as I realized my own worth. Confidence just flowed from there.
I started my pivot in September 2012 towards startups and entrepreneurship. I was in the throws of building Body Boss, and was helping another entrepreneur launch his startup. The energy and action was exhilarating, so I took those experiences to fuel Entrepreneurial Ninja. In fact, I remember responding to a David Cummings post about part-timing a startup – “Bootstrappers, we don’t have it easy, but Magic Pens gives us hope!
It’s amazing reflecting on the journey from the beginning.

I’ve overcome a lot, and I’ve adapted perhaps even more. (Just like a startup!) I used to hate writing and reading till I shifted the context. And perhaps that’s the most important lesson from Post 1 to 300 – I’ve consistently approached my curiosity by shifting context and doing.

Looking forward to the next 100 and beyond.
I’ve had a couple wantrepreneurs ask me recently what administrative tools to use – email, website, CRM, etc. to which I’m happy to help with. However, those are all moot points compared to the most important question of all – How can you build a business around the product or service?
Of course, I’m speaking broadly when I say “how can you”, “build a business”, “around the product or service”. I break up the question this way to capture the most important facets of starting a company –
  • “How can you…” – the entrepreneur (or team) referred here. This includes experience, skills, network, and emotional capacities of the entrepreneur or the co-founding team. The “how” touches, too, on the execution.
  • “…build a business…” – is there is a sizeable market? Is there a trajectory for success? Are there competitors? Are there other pieces required to build and sustain a business?
  • “…around the product or service” – this one is pretty self-explanatory – do you have a product, or are you still building it? Do you have an MVP? This also includes patentable/ defensible facets. Let me point out the word “around,” too, because it’s likely the product/ service will pivot. The core of any product/ service is critical here with flexibility on how that core delivers value.
  • “How can you build a business around the product or service?” – Successful ventures require the ability to bring it all together –execution (“how”). Each facet is powerful on its own, but rarely enough to build something meaningful and sustaining.
In the words of Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters”. There are plenty of general administrative tools that if you’re successful, can be changed and employed. It all starts with the simple question.
I was talking to a mentee this weekend, and he made reference to the lifestyle entrepreneur vs. the growth entrepreneur. He believes he’s a growth-type of entrepreneur, or at least, he’s growth-oriented. This led to friction when he was working with a friend who was more lifestyle-oriented. He pointed out how the business could have done more. He came into his friend’s company with suggestions on where and how to grow. The business owner, however, was less than interested. They eventually went separate ways.
There’s an important realization here– we have different aspirations. As much as everyone wants wealth, we should recognize that wealth comes in many forms. To that, folks have varying views on what their purpose and drives are. Where do they want to go? Why?
Yes, lots of folks these days look at successful entrepreneurship as billion-dollar exits. That’s extremely, extremely rare. Getting to millions in revenue is difficult. It requires lots of work to build a sustainable business.
Instead, many entrepreneurs may find happiness as lifestyle entrepreneurs – those looking to grow organically (if expansion is even a top priority) and one that maintains a small infrastructure. Here, the pressures of board members, high infrastructure costs, growing payroll, etc. are limited. Instead, lifestyle entrepreneurs are building a business that maintains a way of life. They want to achieve and maintain a level of living and business.
Most businesses in America are lifestyle – making up a large chunk of small businesses (those with 500 or less employees). In fact, small businesses also make up 99.7% of all U.S. firms. (SBA)
Also, the type of entrepreneur can shift depending on situation. I’ve watched many entrepreneurs shift from growth-oriented to lifestyle-oriented. There’s nothing wrong with being one way or another. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with notwanting to be an entrepreneur. In today’s age of glorifying entrepreneurship, there’s little recognition of the difficulties of entrepreneurship. This causes many to plunge into entrepreneurship ill-prepared and not recognizing their WHY and PURPOSE. Why are they interested in this direction?
When considering any venture, be it growth-oriented entrepreneurship, lifestyle oriented, or even a new job change with a big corporate, think more about WHY. How does this new focus align to the why?
It’s been about a year and half of working in Atlanta Tech Village (ATV), and being in the office full-time. There are a lot of advantages touted about when working in a co-working space/ startup hub. Being one of the largest spaces of its kind, ATV boasts some great strengths including:
  • Fantastic facilities with the latest tech gear (this is Atlanta TECH Village, of course)
  • Energy from 300 startups, >1,000 people buzzing about
  • Networking opportunities with companies in similar stages as well as a bevy of individuals who have “been there, done that”

I had been in and out of ATV before joining SalesWise, so I was well-aware of many of the benefits. Prior to then, I worked out of Starbucks quite often, and camped out at other offices of companies I knew. But as I said, 18 months working full-time at ATV has taught a few things I didn’t consider before…
  • A sense of normalcy amid fast pivots and new “tests”. Though many elements of an early-stage company change (sometimes on a weekly basis) it’s nice to have the grounded effect of having a place to call “home” – a desk, a chair, a place to eat, etc.
  • Feeling of inclusion. I’ve connected with other entrepreneurs, heads of sales, rising customer success teams, etc. It’s like a “Cheers” episode – people know your name, people know your business, people know the aches and pains and opportunities…
  • Just as easy to stay focused and disappear. There can be a lot going on at ATV at any given time. Case in point: Easter Eggs were hidden everywhere the Friday before Easter. However, it’s just as easy to come in, get sh!t done, and then leave, without ever interacting with another soul outside your company. The opportunities to stay isolated and to connect are equal. Take advantage of what you want.
  • The shiny features that everyone talks about are rarely used. All those ping pong tables, video game stations, beer on tap, etc., they’re rarely used. Recruits and passers-by admire and talk about these amenities. But once you’re getting down to brass tacks, the real work amenities (like kitchen, fast internet, whiteboards) are what you really care about.

Check out a co-working space near you. Coffee shops are great, but when you need a place that can be quiet, a regular place to call home, co-working spaces have your back.