I get a lot of folks asking me about joining a startup. Most have spent many years in the large corporate world. They start off by asking for recommendations of startups nearby and contacts I know. They think they know what they’re looking for. At least, they know what they are looking for right now. Rarely do folks take a hard look at what they want to achieve longer term. Then, how do they figure how a potential move now fits into the longer goal(s).
Before I go name-dropping startups, I always ask folks to think about the larger picture. There’s a lot of attention to startups because of the glitz and glamour media portrays. But there are big companies that can offer the right opportunities many startups can’t. It’s best to start with what your vision is – what drives you. Cue: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.
Then, there are other elements oftentimes overlooked when considering startups…
  • The stage of the startup can influence the roles available. Generally, company growth can be split into a handful of stages — early, growth, and maturity. Early-stage companies are still figuring out product-market fit. They can change direction very quickly. Growth-stage companies are starting to optimize for scale. Here, roles are less “wear many hats” and more “this particular hat”. Mature companies go even finer with roles (sub-functions). As a prospect considers a role at a company, s/he needs to realize the agility that may be required. After all, most folks who ask about startups mention their interest to do many things.
  • How much funding has been raised — number of raises, how much, how many investors. Investors are pouring money into some companies to get in on potentially lucrative gains. Venture capitalists (VCs) are hoping to make up for that one big win in 20 companies invested to cover the fund and make significant returns. The more money, the more rounds of raise, the more investors mean the more pressure and expectations there are for timely returns. This pressure is put onto the executive team which will continue to flow down to every position of the company.
  • … about money raised, think about what the goal of the company and its shareholders may be. Is the goal to create a company that lasts and stays private (rare in the tech startup world)? Have a liquidation event (most common desired state, i.e. acquired by another firm)? Go public via an IPO? Whatever the strategy of the company is in funding, consider what the possible outcomes may be 2, 3, 5, or even 10 years down the road.
  • Again, what are you really after? Clayton Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life, developed the Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework. He posits that everything we do or have has some purpose in life… a “job to be done”. In this way, what is the job the literal “job” should provide? Is it just money? Is it some fulfillment? Is it a place to meet friends? A startup is a company that provides goods or services to drive shareholder value. A corporation is no different – they’re all companies. How one startup executes its vision can be different from any other startup. This applies to large corporations as well. Thus, maybe what one is looking for is less about “startup” or size of company as much as it is purpose and vision or role.

Think about it. What’s your vision for yourself? How does your right-now fit into that vision? What does a startup offer that a large corporation may not? Or vice verse.

Last week’s book review post on The Mom Test made me think more about Googling solutions to problems. It also reminded me of a post from a few years ago about testing a business as a hobby first ( “Before Starting a Business from Your Passion, Can You Stand It If It’s A Hobby?”).
The gist of both Googling and testing an idea as a hobby is this: is this even important enough to do something about?
Read: Is a problem a problem enough for you to (and others) Google? Is the problem one where people are seekinga solution? Would you even want to solve this problem as a hobby before? Happy enough to pursue part-time, let alone full-time?
There are ideas everywhere – just ask any wantrepreneur. Many ideas just come from happenstance annoyances. These annoyances aren’t problems. They’re rarely big enough or occur often enough to warrant looking for a solution, let alone paying to solve – certainly not enough to build a sustainable business around.
Is it problematic enough?

A startup debate that has been weighing on me recently is building a solution for today vs. an idea for tomorrow. David Cummings recently wrote a post touching on this – “Funding Today’s Business or Tomorrow’s Idea”. We could be talking evolutionary vs. revolutionary. This could involve a high-degree of market education and long sales cycles.
I remember early on with Body Boss this very issue. My co-founder Darren Pottinger really started the company off an idea to bring heuristics and predictive modeling to exercise. The idea employed regression forecasting to recommend the weight an exerciser should do next.
Body Boss was originally intended for the Consumer market. However, we pivoted towards the B2B crowd of professional strength coaches – institutional teams and training programs. Where coaches thought the algorithms and forecasting were interesting, they wanted full control of what athletes should be doing. For example, they wanted the ability to prescribe the percentage of an athlete’s one-repetition maximum weight. Body Boss would just calculate the weight to be done from the percentage and the one-rep max via a “test assessment”.
As a startup with no real expertise in professional strength and conditioning or other exercise research, we did not have the credibility to recommend our algorithm vs. the coaches’ traditional methods. Though there was real potential in our algorithm – the Idea of Tomorrow – coaches wouldn’t buy Body Boss without the ability to build percentage-based workouts – the Business of Today. The opportunity of Body Boss, then, was the ability to collect and organize workouts and their results.
We saw prospects who were hesitant to buy early on convert to paid-customers once we implemented the percentage schemes.
Entrepreneurs will likely have their visions of grandeur for tomorrow. However, tomorrow may never come. Instead, build a base off of today’s business. Then, run research behind the scenes to validate the ideas of tomorrow. This isn’t much different from traditional research and development teams in large corporations today. But they all start from a position of a stable base.
Build the bridge to tomorrow on today. When you have the credibility and resources, you can influence tomorrow.
A friend recently asked me about starting a business/ building a product as a side hustle to a full-time gig vs. consulting as the gig to reveal a business opportunity. Given his personal life, building a business as a full-time gig could be extremely risky without strong revenue upfront. The potential flexibility of consulting, however, could income, flexibility, and market insight.
I’ve had experience doing both with Body Boss and 5 Points Digital (5PD), a consulting company – as a side hustle to a full-time gig and with consulting to find the next big move.
Thoughts on pursuing consulting as the means to an end:
·      Consulting is a great way to learn of problems, design solutions, network, and test market interest. Companies (startups, big corporates, etc.) serve markets with solutions at scale. Consulting is akin to a one-off solution for a singular client. Products are then extensions of solution for greater scale.
·      Practice asking questions to understand situations and uncover problems. Much like entrepreneurs would do well to perform customer discovery, consultants use probing questions to learn of problems, bottlenecks, information silos, etc.
·      Practice disseminating information – telling stories and detailing processes. Effective consultants can communicate effectively. Many can tell a story interweaving cause and effect. They can lead audiences through flows. Practicing case studies can help reinforce information dissemination and asking questions (previous tenet).
·      Remember what you’re looking to do. Consulting can be comfortable like any other job. I suggested to my friend to take a step back periodically to synthesize lessons and their opportunities. When I started 5PD, things were easy. However, I did not find the inspiration for a new product-oriented startup. I got comfortable and locked into the tactical projects. I had to stop consulting. Pick when to leap into and out of consulting according to your grander purpose.
Consulting can be fun. It can be financially rewarding and offer flexibility. It’s also a great way to leverage experience and expand into other areas to lean into and build a marketable solution.
Start practicing and expertise will come. 
This just in – I’m worried. In my head, I actually said it, “This just in – I’m troubled.” This is a more personal post. (Arguable to say all of my posts are personal posts.)
I’m staring at the new year. Then, I’m staring at the work in front of me at SalesWise. Then, I stare at the glimpse of a life I aspire to achieve. Then, I stare at the reality. In many ways, they’re all in conflict. They’re not wholly exclusive from one another.
I’m thinking about the life I aspire for, but it comes at a substantial cost today with no promises of the future. How do I build a company worth a damn, and still meet (let alone exceed) the expectations of others around me?
I’m worried. I’m troubled.
Coming soon is my birthday. But more importantly, there is time passing by that I also realize is shared with others, like a girlfriend. I can sacrifice some of my time, but at some point, I am now expensing others.
Life won’t slow down. As much as I want to do certain things, visit certain places, build a certain life, it all comes with costs – opportunity costs.
Wanting to be an entrepreneur, and being one are completely different things. Right now, I want to be one since I am working for someone else’s company. I’m building the wealth for another. I’m forgoing much of the risk of being an entrepreneur. Though, I’ve also compromised. I’m forgoing, perhaps, much more security (money) than a larger corporation.
The great part is that the new year is full of decisions that have to be made, and they’re all my decisions. I’ll have to make many decisions soon. They’ll have big ripple effects on the future. They may even dictate if I should ever be an entrepreneur again.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m worried.
CNBC reported a few days ago how Robert Wang, founder and CEO of the company behind Instant Pot, still reads all (more likely most) of customer reviews on Amazon (article link). That totals almost 39,000 reviews of the invention he launched almost 7 years ago modernizing the original Crock-Pot.
Wang looks to customer reviews as sources of inspiration and quality assurance. For example, Wang cites reviews for the inspiration to build the Bluetooth-connected iteration of the beloved Instant Pot.
Instant Pot’s Amazon-first sales channel has enabled Wang to spend little on advertising and focus almost strictly on product. This strategy has helped the Instant Pot to sell over 215,000 units on Amazon’s Prime Day recently. Yes, that’s in hundreds ofthousands. Impressive.
Wang is not a business man by trade (or entrepreneur); though, Wang did cofound a messaging company prior to Instant Pot (before being forced out.) Instead, Wang is an engineer. He and his cofounders focused on the product. They made the product great with smart marketing tactics (leveraging social media).
Make a great product. Delight customers. Be opportunistic.
I have a new idea.
It’s not technology-based. It’s a hard-good.
It’s not as innovative as other ideas. It’s practical. Hugely practical.
It’s not going require a sales team. It’s going to be heavily marketing-driven as the go-to-market strategy.
It’s not something that will be immediately scalable.
It’s not a product I thought about doing before. It’s in a market I’ve always loved.
It’s going to be so incredibly hard. It’s going to test me in a way that I haven’t before. It’s going to require skills and knowledge I don’t yet have. It’s going to be fun.
I think I know the early team. I think I know how I will start to build and market. I don’t know if I will have the funds to pull this off. I’m more excited than ever to try.
I can’t wait to share it with you.
Want vs. choose. Sounds simple, right? Take a second, though, and think about what you want. What about what you choose. How different are they? Why?
This question came about after hearing this concept from the book I am currently reading.
  • I wanted a Tesla earlier this year. Instead, I chose a Toyota 4Runner. Of course, I also wanted a 4Runner, but due to the Tesla X’s $100+K price tag, I chose the vehicle that was a fraction of the cost.
  • I could have also chosen a very simple 4Runner let alone a little Toyota Corolla. Instead, I chose the Limited set-up with 4×4. I wanted this more than the base SR5 package.
  • If I was to step back further, my previous vehicle (2007 Toyota 4Runner Limited 4×4 with 115K miles) was still working great. It was all paid off. Yet, I chose to increase my personal burn rate by several hundreds of dollars because of want.  This, despite wanting to return to startup and entrepreneurship after my time at SalesWise– a life change which would likely provide meager financial security for a while.

Every day, we make decisions based on want. It’s not what we need. It’s what we want. We want what makes us happy. Arguably, we do not need to be happy. Instead, we choose to be. (… or maybe we wake up choosing not to be.)

Think about it. What do you want? What do you choose? Why?
There’s a story that goes –

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on top.  

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. 

After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up. 

After a time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation. 

The scientists then decided to replace one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did was start to climb the ladder. Immediately, the others pulled him down and beat him up. 

After several beatings, the new monkey learned never to go up the ladder, even though there was no evident reason not to, aside from the beatings. 

The second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed and the same was repeated. The fourth monkey was changed, resulting in the same, before the fifth was finally replaced as well. 

What was left was a group of five monkeys that – without ever having received a cold shower – continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. 

If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up on all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

(originally published on Wisdom Pills)

Culture and set behaviors are incredibly powerful. They affect every new employee, so that they, too, become engrained in the cultural norm. Oftentimes, we are not aware of them just because “that’s how it’s always been”, and we assume we asked the right, challenging questions before. However, it’s not the case. Sprinkle in hubris, and you have a never-ending cycle.
Of course, these establishments also promote loads of opportunities for entrepreneurs and challengers to come in with a fresh take. Once value is realized amongst a few, change can happen. Then, perhaps it’s just a matter of time.
Start with the challenger.
I’ve been thinking of how powerful money can be, and how businesses capture consumer surplus.
According to Investopedia:

Consumer surplus is an economic measure of consumer benefit, which is calculated by analyzing the difference between what consumers are willing and able to pay for a good or service relative to its market price, or what they actually do spend on the good or service. A consumer surplus occurs when the consumer is willing to pay more for a given product than the current market price.

However, maybe it’s also this notion of consumer surplus that drives how businesses, government, etc. enable those who “have” versus those who “have not”. Consider for a moment how advantageous technologies and tools can be for startups, for example. Some tools enable these companies to flat out survive and build something meaningful. However, due to lack of resources (normally cash), startups are unable to leverage them (think legal, marketing automation, etc.).
Or, think how fliers today can pay more to sit in first class versus upgrades to an airline’s most loyal, frequent travelers.
Or, think of how money can elevate patients higher on the waiting list for state-of-the-art medical procedures versus individuals who have waited months or years.
Or, when mortgage companies lower interest rates or provide premium cost savings opportunities to those who are financially secure when those who are still consistent in payments but have lower income do not qualify.
This is a free market where competition reigns supreme. However, it comes at a cost to those who could potentially reap the greatest benefits – sometimes at a price of survival. Should money buy anything?