The greatest gift you can give an entrepreneur is creative criticism. The greatest skill an entrepreneur can have is critical listening.

I was going to write a long post (and now that I have started writing, I will probably end up being long-winded) about how, as an entrepreneur, you have to cut through the positive feedback to truly get the important data points.

But I kinda covered it. Dontcha love it?

This past week I have had several conversations with various entrepreneurs about how things were going with their startups.

“We got so much great feedback! Everyone loved it!” exclaimed the founder.

“Really? When have you ever had someone tell you to your face that your product sucks?”

“You do it all the time.”

“Yeah, but Im a dick.”

I hate when entrepreneurs go to events where they demo their product. Or even SXSW where they are meeting people in a party situation and showing what they are working on.

Because everyone lies.

Think about it. They are going to either know you for :60 seconds and have no desire for that interaction to include you thinking they are mean, or you will run into them a hundred more times, and who wants to make those interactions uncomfortable?

The world is full of false positivity, especially the supportive kind, that in truth, is just the opposite.

It all started with our moms.

“Don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice.”

Damn it, mom.

I pride myself on being honest. The other day a friend said to me, “Micah, thats a kind thing to say.”

“Its not kind. Its honest. Sometimes, honesty is also kind.”

As an entrepreneur, critically listen to everything that is told to you. Look for commonalities and contradictions as data points. The commonalities show how most people see your product, and the contradictions show potential UI issues.

And, more importantly, don’t listen to people give you design feedback. Its pretty and its ugly are subjective. And if design, at its core, is all about usability, spend effort on understanding people’s ability to do, understand and act and less about how much the like your fonts and color schemes.

Which brings us to investors. Investors, as a rule, hate to say no. And even when they do, its with minimal data points. Treat it as just that. A no. Move on. Seriously. Shush. Don’t say it. No, if X was different, they would have said yes. Whats the X? Don’t know? Move on.

Entrepreneurship is changing how we do business and engage with people, but the fundamental need to be liked hasn’t changed.

Help me be a better entrepreneur, and solve big problems with interesting solutions.

You can keep your I love yous and false positivity.

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20
Micah February 20th

VCs are Dicks

you didnt just say that did you?

Actually, I did. And I hear it from entrepreneurs at least twice a week.

But its not true.

Over the past couple of weeks, along with reading two great articles on venture: Francisco Dao over on PandoDaily talking about the talent economy and Joe Stump’s great post on whether you should raise money or not, I have had no less than 6 conversations with various entrepreneurs whose companies are in the process of raising money.

Its easy to view VCs as opportunistic, money driven old white men who see the vast amount of product and company ideas coming out of the brains of nubile hackers and hustlers as fertile ground. They trade money for equity. As soon as the going gets tough, they focus on the companies in their portfolio that are doing well, they invest only in companies that are talked about on Techcrunch, blah blah blah.

Is that true? For some, yes. Does it make VCs dicks? no.

Its important that as an entrepreneur if you decide to raise money (and I counsel most founders to not raise money for as long as they can) that you understand the dynamic of how venture works. Francisco says it best:

In Silicon Valley, we take venture capital for granted but few people realize what a fundamental shift it represented in the relationship between capital and labor. Since the dawn of capitalism and the industrial revolution, the balance of power has overwhelmingly favored those who controlled the capital. Labor, and all talent associated with it, was beholden to those who owned the factories. The introduction of venture capital essentially reversed these roles with capital now chasing talent. It is difficult to understate what a dramatic change this was. Instead of capital (the means of production) acquiring talent, Silicon Valley runs on the basis of talent acquiring capital.

As the talent, you hold the power. Initially, the only power the VC wields is saving you from living in a box and stealing wifi from the Starbucks on the corner, and by selling a piece of your business to venture firm, you are required to do only one thing: build your business as fast and as big as you can, so that in some reasonable time frame (say, around 5 years), you can experience a liquidity event that makes the initial investment worthwhile for the VC.

And thats when the perception of the VC as a dick arises. Now, the VC’s job is to get you to not think small. To provide insight, connections, and even direction, to push you to grow your company fast. (This is sometimes the same deal with angels, but most often not).

Now, many VCs reading this post, will start disagreeing with that point, while many entrepreneurs will agree.

Its this fundamental disconnect in perception that is the primary reason for friction between VCs and entrepreneurs, even in a successful business.

Brad Feld, a VC, who’s method I believe in, was quoted in a Boston Globe article about Google Ventures:

“VCs love to talk about the ‘value they add’ while trying to exercise control over companies from the top down…’’

Do I believe that VCs are dicks? That their goals are not in-line with the goals of the founders?

No.

I believe that its imperative for the entrepreneur to understand the dynamics of the VC/CEO relationship and define it early on in the lifecycle of the business. Its your business after all. You hire everyone — including your investors — so have the same high bar for everyone involved in the business.

For young entrepreneurs, there are three distinct moments of joy when starting a company: 1) getting other people to believe in your vision and come work with you; 2) getting people to give you money; 3) your first user.

In each case ill-defined communication interaction will make you believe this:

1) your employees are dicks;

2) your investors are dicks;

3) your users are dicks.

When, in truth, you are the dick.

Understand and own every stage of your business and the people the business engages. It may not guarantee success, but it will remove you as the reason for its failure.

16
Micah February 17th

The Power of No

In startupland, which is full of Hackers and Hustlers, the Hacker spends their effort on excluding potential issues, features, product paths, partners, technologies, etc., while the Hustler focuses on including, well, everyone.

Its in the DNA of the Hustler to work towards getting a ‘yes.’ Its what drives them. Getting users, investors, partners and the like to say yes to their vision and passion is the penultimate effort for a Hustler.

For most, it creates the appearance of a lack of focus (for some) and a complete lack of focus (for others).

This is the primary rub between Hackers and Hustlers and the #1 reason that founders divorce. Hackers demand focus. Hustlers demand ‘yeses,’ which, by definition, require a high level of flexibility which leads to a lack of focus.

I am a Hustler. Yes, a Hustler with a capital H. And because of that, my #1 fault is my apparent inability to realize when I am being unfocused.

I love the word yes. Who doesnt?

Hackers.

Yes means work. Yes means shifting priorities. Yes means roadmap adjustments. Yes means late nights and frustration. Yes means a loss of faith.

I hate the word no. Passionately hate it. It doesn’t compute. How can we become a better company because people are saying no. When I raised my Series A, 37 potential investors said no.

That’s more than enough no to last me a lifetime.

No.

About eight months ago, I realized this very dynamic. To help a Hacker be successful, they need the space to focus on problems and solutions, and to do that, everything that is not core to that mission has to be thrown away.

The Hustler has to learn to say no, and by doing that gives the Hacker the ability to build awesome things, because they arent spending time in meetings or thinking about how to “just make it work,” or make “that deal that is going to make the company” work.

They are just building.

Eight months ago, I started to force myself to say No multiple times per day. I started with my dogs. And, yes, those punks didnt listen, but at least I learned I could say the word and not feel bad.

Then I took our product roadmap, and every time an idea or potential deal was brought to the table, I weighed it against that roadmap, and as a default, I said No.

No. Not right now. And the quality of our product and the speed at which it was developed – and more importantly, the ease at which its selling – has accelerated.

The power of no.

Saying no for the Hustler is a learned skill. It seems like a simple thing, but its really the antithesis of a Hustler’s core value.

Does that mean a Hacker should learn to say yes?

No.