With the insatiable need for new ideas in anything and everything we do just to keep pace with the continual onslaught of change we face every day (aka the Red Queen Effect)

I’m always surprised by how many people come to meetings, events, or presentations and fail bring a notebook or some other means to capture / record / diarize whatever comes up, including but not limited to:

  • stuff that struck you at any point
  • anything to do with what was or was not discussed
  • stuff you plan to do afterward
  • stuff you plan to stop doing
  • suggestions
  • questions
  • useful resources 
  • stories shared or remembered afterward
  • doodles / diagrams / maps / etc.
  • random scribbles made for processing purposes
  • or any of the random elusive thoughts about unrelated topics that float by as they so often do.

In my view, it is absolutely essential to capture whatever you can before it’s forced out of your mind by subsequent events, such as life, coffee, lunch, traffic bottlenecks, etc.

Why? Because these captured fragments introduce new patterns into the kaleidoscope showing your path forward,

And, when viewed in the right light, the new may picture indeed hold the keys to your next step(s).

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

I talk a lot about the importance of situational awareness in almost everything you do.

But I never really considered what I’d do if I didn’t have time for all that, until I had to!

Some wise person once said:

You don’t need to start with a good plan. Just start with any plan, then slam that plan into reality until reality hands you a better plan.

That’s a pretty good description of my journey since 2015.

Was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Started meds.

Dropped those meds.

Moved to diet.

Took that to extremes (paleo, keto, Wahl’s, gluten-free, grain-free, Best Bet, yada yada)

Added exercise (walking, stationary biking, etc.).

Tried different meds.

Dropped those too.

Added the Coimbra Protocol and high dose Vitamin D.

Then I found the MS Gym and immersed myself in mindset, neuroplasticity, neuro-tailored exercise, and so much more.

And I’m doing well.

In fact, my wife says I’m excelling!

Looking back, I didn’t have time to build a plan before starting because I’d just been thrown into the deep end in an unfamiliar pool.

And I was sinking.

I just had to start without knowing any of what I now know (or don’t).

The key was keeping my eyes open and paying attention along the way.

And now I have a plan and a good understanding of the surrounding environment.

In case I experience the deep end again.

So, if (when?) the tectonic plates in your world unexpectedly shift, whether in business or life, maybe start here.

Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash

Everywhere you look in the tech press, companies and entrepreneurs are seeking investment. In fact, many seem to believe that investment equals success, and if they fail at that, then they’ve failed.

Often, during my initial meetings with entrepreneurs, after they’ve finished telling me all about their idea(s), they conclude by asking, so do you know any investors I can contact?

I’m here to point you to another way. Bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping does not mean that you drain your savings to build a company, or wear your shoes out chasing investors. Instead, it refers to building your company using money from CUSTOMERS.

I was in a hard tech company that was bootstrapped from 0 to $120M—customer funded all the way.

The main founder often talked of putting $4,000 on his credit card in the first month of the company’s life, and paying it off from revenue before it came due. He was very proud of that.

I joined as the fifth employee and stayed until there were 900+.

In the early days, the company did contract or work-for-hire projects to pay the bills, while taking full advantage of government programs that funded R&D, investment tax credits, and the like.

As soon as possible, the company began to develop its own products. In the beginning, the products were simple. But they got more complex as time passed.

As it turned out, we built several products that enabled the first cable modem networks in the late 1990’s. We became an OEM supplier to Cisco, and helped them grow their Cable BU from $0 to $big.  At one point, our CFO liked to tell investors that 60% of the traffic on the Internet flowed through our gear.

By our peak, we had become adept at delivering product in the telecom, cable, government, and consumer sectors…to a range of demanding customers from small to Cisco to government.

Our products included RF (0–48 GHz), digital, analog, MPEG, FPGA, network processing, Ethernet/GbE, Fiber, CATV, software…I could go on and on. All hard tech through and through. It was often the case where we didn’t know if we could do what we said we would do. But we stuck to it and succeeded more often than not.

Midway through the ride, there was an IPO for various reasons…but I digress.

What were the keys to bootstrapping success?

  1. The CEO watched the cash balance like a hawk. He looked at it daily, if not more often. He always said, business is not complicated. You just have to keep more cash coming in than is going out.
  1. The CEO doggedly pursued POs, and often received them even before the products were built and/or finished.
  1. The CEO refused to chase rainbows. A PO or other commitment from customers was (often) required before real money was spent on product development.
  1. The CEO stayed close to customers, and never let go. He still had in his Rolodex people he had met years before.  And, when times were lean, he’d call them up and ask for more business, no matter how much time had passed.
  1. The company really understood its core competence…the black magic of RF all the way up to 48 GHz. Later, we built a lot of products based on IP, Ethernet, and MPEG, but they were always wrapped around our core RF expertise.
  1. The company retained its IP. Sometimes, the company took NRE to customize an existing product or design a new product to meet specific customer needs.But, the NRE only gave the customer ownership of the customizations, and rarely if ever the core IP.
  1. The sales strategy was to go where the key prospects were going to be. In our case, this meant attending a lot of tradeshows. By constantly being visible and present and by doing good solid work, our reputation began to spread and one thing led to another.
  1. Luck and timing. As I mentioned, we built some the key products that enabled the cable modem revolution. We didn’t know cable modems were going to happen just then. But they did, and we grew. Sometime later, we build other products to support Verizon’s multi-billion $$ FTTH rollout, and we grew some more. I could go on.

Bootstrapping is a viable option.

Does this give you some ideas?

*I use ‘hard tech’ to mean a company where there is doubt that the technology can be built at all. It often involves some mashup of software, firmware, hardware, and the like. But when physics and the laws of nature get involved, that’s ‘hard science’.

*Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash