The Idea Dude


Friday, October 17, 2008

My favorite word today

My favorite word these days is resonance. If you think about making an impact with your blog, a speech, a date, a presentation or a sale, what makes it special and memorable? It's because either the product, person or experience has triggered an emotional response that far exceeds the initial contribution. By evoking a response beyond your own expectations, you are essentially, "WOW"'ed.

Resonance is when the effect is greater than the sum of the individual contributions. It is a heightened emotional response.

The problem with emotional resonance, it is a temporal state. Something that resonates once will eventual stop resonating over time even if you apply the same conditions over again. Unlike the physical world where you can recreate the resonant conditions at will. So you have to keep working at it. New cars, new iPods, new movies, new ideas because we become bored the great becomes good and eventually neutral.

For me, it means whatever I do, I need to figure out my audience and look for the one key element they care most about and make sure my conversation or product is in a position to create a response that resonates. It could be a color, a touch, a word, fulfilling a need, a smell, an aspiration. Could it as basic as that?

Why I like it?

It takes two or more to resonate.

Resonating alone is like the sound of one hand clapping.

Monday, October 13, 2008

When did shopping become a pastime?

It's Thanksgiving Day in Canada today. Even with financial woes, and impending recession, there's still a lot to be thankful for. This is the time we should look at small mercies and small miracles, and most of them if not all, have nothing to do with money. It's about people. It should always be about people. Isn't that which differentiates us as a species from others? Compassion. Heart.

I saw a headline this weekend. Shopping has become a pastime and not a necessity?. It hit me like a lightning bolt. Being in North America, you can't help but be caught up with consumerism and credit cards and quick fixes. Every weekend our malls are full, I'm willing to bet 90% is discretionary spending. Alas, unknowing, with malls open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, I too often fall into the same trap.

I remember the days when there were really only 2 special days, your birthday and Christmas and even then there would be really only 1 or 2 presents on the day. The other 363 days a year were spent looking forward to these 2 days. Now, if we don't get presents, we promptly go out to treat ourselves. The new iPod, the Coach bag, because it makes us feel better, increases our self-esteem. To oblige, shops are open longer and if you're designated a tourist destination, you're allowed to open every day except for Christmas.

I also remember the days when as a family we'd go window shopping down the main street. We knew which stores had clothes, toys and stuff we liked. Hinting loudly so our parents may get an idea what we truly wanted. We'd stroll down the street looking at everything hoping one of them would be in our Christmas stocking. Alas, gone too is the art of window shopping. With it, the time spent as a family strolling down the street, with no distractions like running in to make a purchase.

So while I'm infinitely thankful for what I have even though many have much more, I secretly wish I had less, that we're in some far out place where gifts of life wasn't wrapped or paid for. They were free, like amazing sunsets, the changing of the colors of trees, the gurgling streams on a Sunday afternoon. The lazy days of sitting under a tree with friends telling each other of our dreams. Today I feel like urbanization and commercialization has taken out the heart of human soul. There is no place for roots in a concrete sidewalk.

The best things in life are free. I'm not sure how we got to believe that paying for something makes it more fulfilling....

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Entrepreneur's Dilemma

I hang around startups a lot or maybe they hang around me. Either way, I get dragged in at various stages, day 1, day 30, day 180. And often I get asked to do stuff for free or take a pay cut. At some point, I'm offered a position whether it be a partnership or job and then comes the sticky issue of equity. How much is enough? Take too little and you feel you've left something on the table. Take too much and they ask you to work with a substantial reduction in salary.

Wikipedia defines 'dilemma' as "...a problem offering at least two solutions or possibilities, of which none are practically acceptable...". That's a great way to describe the process of sharing equity in a startup. So here are the usual arguments that accompany the standard line I always seem to get.

  • "It' my idea originally, so I get to keep at least 50%". What if the idea is vague and is more a general concept. Is that worth 51%?
  • "I'm bringing investors to the table, so I get to keep at least 50% otherwise this would not have happened". You can argue to some point that money has equal value regardless of where it comes from although in today's climate, there must be an acknowledgement for the one who brings the moola to the party. But is it 51%?
  • "I'm putting down $50k, I want 51% since it's my money." How do you value a startup that has no revenue and it's all potential and the return in terms of time and money is completely unpredictable. So is $50k worth 5%, 20% or 51%?
  • "Without my technical expertise, there is no product so I want 51%." Investors will tell you programmers are a dime a dozen. Is $50k hard cash worth more than an industry veteran who will make sure you don't blow the wad on a fruitless path?

    The problem is that depending on which shoes you wear, they are all valid points of view. And they are all different shoes. Is a pair of sneakers worth more than a pair of boots? Because no-one has ever figured out the money vs idea vs skills equation. You're not comparing apples to apples and with a clean sheet and no company history, any argument is subjective. But clearly 3 x 51% ain't 100%!

    So the question is really? How much is $500k, $1 million dollars really worth? and how much is that original idea really worth when it is still in its embryonic stage? and how much is each individual's experience worth. A lot. The question is how much relative to each other. Hence the wonderful wiki definition, "problem of offering multiple solutions, none of which are practically acceptable" at least from each point of view.

    The seasoned veterans will argue it is about rewarding risk. And the biggest risk is the loss of money. I would argue that we forget that when we ask people to join a startup they are also at risk of giving up their time and opportunity for something bigger somewhere else. Which is worse, losing $50k or spending 5 years of your life in a failed startup at a reduced salary?

    How about a post-startup scenario?
  • We blew all the money and made no impact. Should the person who brought the money in give the equity back?
  • The idea we had changed significantly after 6 months. Should the person who had the original Eureka moment give the equity back?
  • The business outgrew the solution and because of all the changes in the business and the business model, the technical buildout has to be rewritten. Should the tech guy give his equity back because he didn't prepare enough for the unexpected?

    The bottom line, is life is never fair and equitable and it's up to each individual to decide what he is willing to give and accept.

    But we're all human and as Britney Spears will say, "Gimme, gimme, gimme more..."
  • Friday, October 03, 2008

    Words are powerful

    Someone said on the radio this morning that words are powerful. I thought of our blogs as being intellectual meals. We have recipes in our heads and everyone cooks differently.

  • Some blogs are great appetizers but have little substance leaving you hungry and wanting more.
  • Others are bloated, heavy meals making you churn through long-winded posts that go on forever.
  • Often blog posts stop abruptly with little or no conclusion as if dessert was forgotton.
  • Some are just plain fast food, copied from others simply to put food on the table.
  • Then there is the gourmet blogs that give you just enough, making you crave for more. Everything is balanced, everything has a place. Presentation, taste and originality are equally great.

    Taking a page from the Iron Chef, perhaps that is the way to judge our blogs.
  • Presentation. Well-thought out, well-said.
  • Taste. Great ideas and flavours, invoking just the right emotions.
  • Originality. Providing something you won't find anywhere else. The biggest sin of bad restaurants any great chef will tell you. Forgoing fresh ingredients.

    How do you sharpen your knives? but drawing inspiration from our fellow bloggers.

    BTW: if blog is a meal and the blogosphere is a feast, what is Twitter? the ultimate snack food?

    Hmmm, food for thought, isn't it?
  • Thursday, October 02, 2008

    The user experience of change

    I've been working a lot lately with several companies starting up new Internet ventures. The most notable feature that all of these have in common is that the founders have a passion to bring about new and unique user experiences different from what we have now.

    So it was terrific to find my good friend Sean had penned a post about creating user experiences that bring about change

    Sean said "...if we can't imagine different futures beyond the present situation, then we can't effectively explore new ideas, cover new ground or innovate..."

    Change is perhaps the only constant for any startup
    The 7 stage model that Sean outlines in his blogpost is so applicable to entrepreneurs architecting the next big thing. Here's a synopsis of the 7 stages with my embellishments from a startup lifecycle point of view. I highly recommend you head to Sean's blog to read the whole thing.

  • Picture: The business guys like to call this vision. For me that's too grand. Keep it simple. Call it a picture. Have a picture in our mind of what it is we are going to accomplish.
  • Commit: this is the crossing of Rubicon. You can't get half wet when you jump in the pool.
  • Glimpse: The quick and dirty prototype that will give us both inspiration and direction for something bigger.
  • Trial: Can't say this better than Sean. "...a period of confusion where we leave behind our old ways of thinking - where we are unsure and even frightened enough to look for something different or new..."
  • Arrive: We achieve a well-define milestone that is usually conveniently positioned at the cross-roads of the next series of big decisions. Or put differently, if you arrive at point and didn't have to make any big decision, it isn't a milestone.
  • Payoff:The time to reflect on the impact of what we have done for user community and all the stuff we could have and should have done if we could do it again.
  • Secrete Payoff:Did we achieve or provide something for our users that is unique, relevant and personal that they couldn't get anywhere else. Gotta say it again, UNIQUE, RELEVANT, PERSONAL
  • Return: start over at the beginning. Because it is a cycle and if it is successful, it will have momentum and it challenges us to keep reinventing ourselves to ensure we are unique, relevant and personal so we can create experiences for our users that are unique, relevant and personal.

    Thanks Sean, you should make posters of your post, I for one would buy one!
  • Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    The tree

    I've been taking a new route to work in the mornings. It runs past a golf course which makes the morning commute a little less stressful. On Monday, a single tree caught my eye. Being the first and only one to welcome spring, it stood bold out in blazing reds and vivid oranges. Even though it wasn't the largest or the tallest, it was the one I would remember that defined the arrival of fall.

    The next day, the tree's neighbours jealously followed suit, changing the canvas of green to a gradual sea of vermillions and reds. By day 3, I could not find the tree... It reminded me of Seth Godin's Purple Cow. Things that are extraordinary become less so when there are many of them or if we see them everyday.

    We seem to be genetically trained to seek and admire those that stand out. We are inspired by those that have the courage to stand alone and stand out. Yet we seek to be the same and belong lest we are marked as different.

    Perhaps that is what defines those who lead and those who follow.