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

Someone asked me: what should I do if I have an idea for a startup, but there’s already a well funded startup with a similar idea?

There appears to be a belief that if a company is “well-funded” then they must be successful, and you won’t be.

But it just isn’t true!

Ideas are worthless. The value is in the execution. Execute well and you can win. Regardless of the competition.

Always remember that no amount of VC/Angel/Strategic/F&F/pocket/inheritance money can guarantee the quality of the execution. That’s up to YOU and YOUR TEAM.

Don’t believe me? Take some time to read through these articles:

108 Of The Biggest, Costliest Startup Failures Of All Time

204 Startup Failure Post-Mortems

And then DO IT.

The story of Alibaba as told by Jack Ma is amazing!

It was in Seattle where Ma said his friend encouraged him to try searching the Internet for the first time. Initially, he hesitated since he knew that computers were expensive, and if he broke it, he wouldn’t be able to afford to replace it.

“He said ‘just search it,’ so I searched the first word ‘beer,” he said. “I don’t know why, but maybe because it was easy to spell? I see beers from Germany, U.S.A. and Japan, but I don’t see any from China, so I searched for the second word ‘China,’ and there was nothing.”

So, he recalls that they made a small, “ugly-looking” page, and three hours after launching it, “I got a phone call from my friend who said, “Jack, you have five emails, and I said ‘What is email?”

Based on the number of responses, he said, “This is something interesting, so we should do it.”

Starting from this “ugly-looking” page, the business grew into Alibaba where Jack Ma recently hosted the largest IPO ever at $25 billion.

Why didn’t I start it?

I think there is one big reason … I don’t REALLY know how to notice what’s not there!

When I type some words into a search engine and get no results, I type different words until I get results.  And then I settle for whatever I eventually find.

Jack Ma had no preconceptions of what was normal or possible, or even what he was doing. He typed some words into the search engine, got no results, noticed a gap, and then he and his friend built something to fill it.  Even if it was ugly.

He created a site to give him (and others like him) the results he wanted … not the ones he had to settle for.

I can learn a lot from that approach.

So can you.

I used to describe myself as a DOER. I got stuff done. And I liked getting stuff done.

I used to be suspicious of TRY. To me, TRY was what you said when you were being nice but didn’t really intend to make it happen. For all intents and purposes, TRYing was synonymous with LYing!

When a project in my past went off the rails – overtime, over-budget – and the leaders told me quite sincerely that they were going to try again – I lost it.

I ranted. I preached. I talked loudly. I sent emails. I fumed.

I didn’t want those leaders to TRY … I wanted them to DO! Money was on the line. Jobs were on the line. I wanted them to channel Nike and “Just DO It!”

It wasn’t until a long time later when I read an article about Jadav “Molai” Payeng that I began to see my error.

In 1979, there was a barren sandbar created by flooding near his home in Assam, India. The forest department told him that nothing would grow there, except maybe bamboo.

He wanted a forest, so he took on the challenge, and tried. Every morning he would stop and stick a bamboo shoot in the ground, and drop a few red ants that he had gathered from home.

He found the work painful, but he did it. There was nobody to help. Nobody was interested.

Fast forward 30+ years and Payeng has singlehandedly planted a 1,360-acre forest containing variety of flora and fauna, now including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger.

This story showed me that my problem wasn’t the word TRY. After all, Payeng succeeded by TRYing.

It was the attitude. When those leaders in my past said they would TRY, they really meant they would just go through the motions again, ticking boxes, dotting I’s, crossing T’s. But they didn’t really believe.

Anyone with that attitude, regardless of the word, is indeed LYing.

I now believe that it is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result that is LYing (some say this is also the definition of insanity).

On the other hand, trying, and being willing to try harder, and being willing to try differently, and being willing to persevere, is never lying in my book.

I now see myself as a trier because I realize that was an essential part of my past focus. It is only because I tried hard and tried often and tried everything I could think of and everything anyone I could find to ask thought of is the real reason I got stuff done.

As I now see it, DO is canned and bounded. In order to DO, I must already know how. I just need to put my blinders on and drive forward to the end.

On the other hand, TRY is open ended. It is liquid and adaptable. It doesn’t assume anything.

The key to TRYing is to get in the arena and get on with it.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Theodore Roosevelt

The credit belongs to the ones in the ring trying.

This year … I resolve … to TRY!




A recent post by Lolly Daskal (President and CEO, Lead From Within) was titled 65 Quotes That Will Dare You to Do Great Things

I followed the link and took a look at the list and it WAS inspiring … but then reality came crashing in.  How on earth was I ever going to remember them all? 65 of anything is way too many!

I needed to get to the essence of the list, so I leveraged data analytics and machine learning by pouring the entire list into worldle.net.  The result is the attached word cloud.

The answer is … Leadership requires Risk!

The subtitle of Lolly’s article says it well.  “If we are to do great things, we must always be motivated to take bold risks.”

That I can remember.

A recent post on the New Ventures BC website asked the question, “Is it Courage or Something Else that is Critical for Startup Company Leaders?

The author said courage, and later added, “a fierce desire to learn and to change”.

Someone responded with naiveté.  Someone else said patience.  Another response was Integrity, Intensity, Immediacy.

Still another said  “I think it is wrong to single out one character trait as most important for an entrepreneur. I will support an entrepreneur if he is “the package” … Other traits also important … drive, determination, focus, work ethic, ability to sell, natural desire to sell, resourceful, ability to get help, inspirational, confidence, integrity, likeable, successful in life, energetic, energizing.”

Jimmy Pattison says that the most important characteristics an individual needs for success are: honest, hardworking, intelligent, able to communicate, able to work in a team.

My own personal list includes leadership and entrepreneurship and paranoia and audacity.

  • Leadership (standing up and choosing a direction).
  • Entrepreneurship (acting like an owner).
  • Audacity (the willingness to take (big) risks).
  • Paranoia (the coldly calculated essential foil for audacity … the part that allows you to take the risk but also forces you to do everything possible to avoid ending up in the trees at the end of the runway).

And sometimes the ability to be distracted is equally important.  The story that comes to mind is the learning to fly method described by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  In the end, the ability to fly is directly linked to the ability to fall and miss the ground.  And the only way to do that is to have the ability to be distracted in the moment before impact.

The challenge with definitions like these is that they evolve and are understood differently by different people.  And, as you can see from the lists above, we start with just one word, then one phrase, then several phrases, and then a paragraph, and still none of them feel solidly complete and accurate.

In my view, it is not a case of either this quality or that quality or the single most important quality.  It is really a multidimensional both-and structure.  It is everything in “the package” of the entrepreneur AND their team AND the landscape in which they are operating AND AND AND.  You have to listen and talk and walk around and see what you smell and see what you trip over as you explore the landscape around the Startup Company and its Leader(s).  And then you will hopefully have gained some insight into whether or not they have whatever traits are important for that time and place.  Just remember that it may not apply to later and elsewhere.


I found myself talking about “dumb money” today with an entrepreneurial friend. In our conversation, “dumb money” referred to money that came with hidden harm.

We could each tell stories of companies that were seriously affected as a result of taking “dumb money”. This one blew up (think detonation, not acceleration). That one imploded (think black hole). Another one sold for pennies (what’s the ROI on that?). And on and on.

As this article observed, entrepreneurs tie themselves with alarming frequency to investors who are actively harmful to their company. Just as the body can have a malignant tumour, companies can have malignant lines on their cap table. Start-up investors typically have tremendous power over their portfolio companies, generally over a period of many years.

So, how should an aspiring entrepreneur avoid the pitfalls of “dumb money”?

They need to know what to look for … (taken from here and here and here)

  • Smart Money is money plus the promise of help that’s worth paying for. This type of money is not damaging to the entrepreneur.
  • Mostly Money is mostly money. This can be called benign money and is not damaging to the entrepreneur.
  • Dumb Money is money plus hidden harm. This can be referred to as Malignant Money or Cancerous money. This type of money is certainly damaging to the entrepreneur

Then they need to do their due diligence on any potential investor. Don’t assume any investor won’t be harmful. Do the diligence to prove otherwise:

  • Do you trust him?
  • Is he going to waste your time?
  • Will he provide his pro rata in the next round? (Not so important for seed funds and angels.)
  • Are his financing plans aligned with yours?
  • Are his hopes for top line growth aligned with yours?
  • Will he support you if the company is going sideways?
  • Does he have impeccable references?
  • Does he want control?
  • When it comes time to sell the company, will he let you?
  • Will he let you expand the option pool to hire someone great?
  • Does he want to replace you as CEO?
  • Will he try to merge you with a dying company from his portfolio?
  • Do you want to marry him for the life of the company?
  • Would he make the wrong board member?
  • Is he committed to investing in startups and does he have a reputation to protect in the startup world?
  • et cetera…

With all that said, I really like this advice from Venture Hacks.

Whether you raise Smart Money or Mostly Money, you should raise money as if your investors were Mostly Money. In other words, unbundle money and value-add.  Get money on the best terms possible and get value-add on the best terms possible.

You can buy advice and introductions for 1/10th of the price that most investors charge. An investor will buy 15–30% of your company. An advisor or independent director will require 0.25–2.5% of your company with a vesting schedule of 2–4 years.

Happy Hunting!

Fifty years ago this past March (2014), Richard Petty went 174.639 mph in his ’64 Plymouth–his 426 Hemi-powered ’64 Plymouth, and NASCAR would never be the same again. Chrysler’s new engine took the top three finishes at the 1964 Daytona 500, the very first motorsport event it entered and pandemonium ensued.

How did underdog Chrysler build this amazing engine and win a race that General Motors (with all its money) could not, and then get gear heads to talk about it for 5 decades?

It’s because Chrysler made the Hemi recognizable, available, and relatable.

1. It was recognizable -> It was painted Bright Hemi Orange

2. It was available –> There were enough engines in the wild that you’d know somebody who had one. But not so many that they became belly-button boring.

3. It was relatable -> because it had a prominent wide valve cover with spark plugs in the middle–to ensure everyone knew what they were looking at.

Ask a car guy to explain the advantage of the Hemi head, however, and most won’t be able to do so–but it turns out that doesn’t actually matter. “It’s a Hemi.”

Is your own product recognizable, available, and relatable? If so, Great! If not, then you have some work to do!

These lessons come from a couple of great columns in a recent issue of Hot Rod Magazine by Thom Taylor and David Kennedy.