Entries in Entrepreneurship (12)
I grew up in a family that valued money management. That background has served me well in running my business. My parents, both teachers, conserved money by turning down the heat at night, shutting off lights when they were not in use, cooking our meals rather than going to restaurants, packing lunches to take with them to their work, cutting our hair rather than paying a stylist, cleaning their own house rather than hiring help, sharing one car, and shunning conspicuous consumer goods.
Last week I read Inside Intuit: How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft and Revolutionized an Entire Industry. I used to read a lot of biographies—progressive politicians, baseball players, composers, Native American chiefs, kings and queens, diplomats, muckrakers, but I do not remember reading about a single businessperson. Now, almost a decade of trying to figure out how to run a company, I have started to take more interest in capitalists.
I might be a little behind, but I just read with interest a book that came out in 1996, by Intel Corporation CEO Andrew Grove, called Only the Paranoid Survive. Even though my business is microscopic in comparison, many of Grove’s points made sense to me. He says that when it comes to business, he believes in the value of paranoia.
Last night I went to see Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth series of books, talk about small business. In Gerber’s view, there are three business roles: technician, manager, and entrepreneur. According to Gerber, most people who start businesses are not entrepreneurs—they are “technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure.” A technician looking for independence builds the business around his skills and immediately goes to work. This, Gerber says, is just a job (a job working for a crazy boss). An entrepreneur, in contrast, makes a business that can work without him and creates real independence.
There is in me something highly resistant to self-promotion and marketing. For years, I have been comfortable—to a fault—with anonymity for myself and with a low profile for my company. It took me years to move from a plain black and white business card to one that had two colors. Most of my company’s business proposals have been simple one page black and white letters. The user-interface for our software and the format of our software manuals have been as unflashy and monochromatic as possible. We have not produced fancy marketing material to sell our products and services. I do not wear a suit and tie to a demonstration. In somewhat the same vein, my humor tends toward self-deprecation. I have wanted success to come from the substance of our work, not from our presentation skills. And it has.
I just returned from a NGP happy hour at Chadwick’s in Friendship Heights (it is April 7th, 2005 , my half birthday, but no one noticed). I felt proud as I looked across a series of tables packed with attractive and energetic employees who were clearly enjoying each others’ friendship. I thought back to the month when I first incorporated the business and how little I foresaw—or aimed intentionally for—in what has transpired.
Most books on business have one main idea that can be absorbed pretty quickly. I have just scanned through two books on business competition and they both fit that characterization: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant and Hardball : Are You Playing to Play or Playing to Win. I reacted very positively to the first, and pretty negatively to the second.
The strategic aspect of business consists in having a long-term vision, and pursuing that vision, regardless of how formally it is documented. This post is about something different: tactical decisions that seek to coordinate client and project acquisition with company capacity. I have always juggled two concerns: first, whether there is enough work for us to do; and second, whether there is too much. I contend simultaneously with both of those questions nearly every day.
You can usually tell very quickly whether a client will be a good partner with whom to work. Small things are good indicators: billing is one example. If you submit a clear, honest and straightforward invoice to a client for a job well done, most will pay it promptly and with appreciation for your efforts. Some clients, however, will take forever to pay it, or contest you unreasonably about it.
I just read an brief article on corporate CEO blogging. Apparently the new corporate blogs offer mostly PR. No surprise there. (I do know that there are some terrific blogs sprouting up all over, written by experts within companies.) As the now blogging owner of a political technology company, I am not interested in writing corporate PR crap.
One of the last things I could have imagined myself doing willingly is any kind of networking or support group, particularly a business-related one. I have thought of myself as go-it-alone fellow. I am also busy and incorrigibly impatient with meetings and fairly unmotivated by financial considerations. So I find it surprising that I have for nearly a year now conscientiously attended the monthly four-hour-plus meetings of a forum in the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization (YEO).
I incorporated NGP Software on January 15th 1997, after giving up on a search for a whimsical or clever corporate name for a new Democratic political campaign software firm. I started by loaning $10000 to the newly formed entity, wondering how long I could go without a paycheck, happy not to be working for anyone else.