Startup Grind 2014

I attended the 2014 Startup Grind event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California earlier this month.

Derek Andersen has started quite a movement here. It was the highest energy startup event I’ve attended in years–and the cast of speakers was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed listening to George Zachary, Reid Hoffman (founder LinkedIn, venture investor with Greylock), Ben Horowitz (Andreesen Horowitz), MC Hammer, Scott Cook (Intuit), Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), Danae Ringelmann (co-founder IndieGoGo), Elizabeth Gore (Resident Entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation–reports to Ted Turner!).

I missed a bunch of talks that I wanted to hear, partly because Derek made me say a word about StrengthsFinder 2.0 (the product I champion for Gallup) on the first evening, and I was literally swarmed for the next 3 days. I could hardly move from one conference session to another without an entrepreneur or ten eagerly asking me about StrengthsFinder. But that’s also what made the conference incredibly fun and energizing for me–engaging with dozens of entrepreneurs, from many countries, who are all looking for tools, tactics, and advice that will help them emerge from their startup grind with a successful business.

Thankfully I can catch the interviews I missed on the Startup Grind YouTube channel.

What I love most about Startup Grind is its values and the kind of people it attracts as a result. Derek credited George Zachary for helping him grasp the importance early on of establishing and communicating the values of the Startup Grind community.

The name itself connotes that startups are hard work and success often takes time. There are more comfortable things to do than “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death” which is how Elon Musk has apparently described entrepreneurship.

Startup Grind is not for get-rich-quick schemers, but for those who want to make their mark on the world through building a new company, “however long and hard the road.”

These Startup Grind values were plastered everywhere:

1. It feels better to give than to receive
2. Give more than you take
3. Make friends not contacts
4. Never give up

Another awesome part of the Startup Grind culture–and I experienced this first hand when I spoke at a Washington DC event last year–is that when introducing a speaker, the audience gives a huge standing ovation right up front. Everyone feels good, fired up. And the speakers get that sincere thanks right up front, for volunteering their time.

And then often, at the end of a Startup Grind interview, the guest is given a fun gift–such as an artifact connected to their favorite superhero. When I was interviewed, I explained why my favorite superhero was “Bill and Ted” (I know that’s a stretch), because their music “put an end to war and poverty.  It align[ed] the planets and br[ought] them into universal harmony allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets, and . . . it’s excellent for dancing.” What superheroes have ever had a better outcome than that!

So they presented me with an awesome Bill and Ted movie poster.

The Startup Grind culture is just fantastic.

Back in the 90s when I was building my first company with my best friend and business partner, it was a pretty solitary endeavor–mostly just us trying to figure things out. Not until I attended the Inc 500 awards conference in Philadelphia in 1996 did I realize that there were people (authors, advisors, mentors) out there helping entrepreneurs to succeed. But today, there are far more.

It’s like the difference between writing software code in the 80s and 90s, when you wrote every line yourself or with your team–compared to now, when there are bazillions of lines of code written by millions of coders, on github and elsewhere, some of it packaged into amazingly useful libraries. If you are a coder, you are not alone in the universe–and you don’t need to write applications from scratch. Much of what you are doing is finding and learning and stitching–building on the shoulders of others.

Same with entrepreneurship. Today, instead of figuring everything out on your own long and lonely path, there are dozens of amazing accelerators, incubators, and seed stage funds, there are Startup Weekends, business plan and business model competitions, meetups everywhere, and crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo which are increasingly being used by companies to validate and refine their product–not just to raise capital.

The startup failure rate is widely reported as being 80-90% or higher over a 5-year period–who knows what the actual number is?–but I remember hearing from an expert in franchising that 94% of all franchisees are still in business after 5 years. Why? I assume it is because the brand, product, processes, business model, advertising strategies, and all that have been worked out and proven to work in advance, usually in scores of markets.

Imagine a world–with all the support of Startup Grind and the other resources mentioned above–where the success rate of startups doubles or triples? The success rate of Y Combinator companies is already so high that each company accepted into the 3-month accelerator program has an automated $150,000 in startup capital waiting for it at the end of the program–not to mention all the built-in support from other Y Combinator mentors and alumni. As Steve Blank and Eric Ries spread the Lean Startup gospel worldwide, and as more accelerators and incubators build support infrastructure to help, I wonder if it will be possible to significantly increase the success rate of startups.

The most interesting facet of startup success for me right now is trying to understand how the talents of the team–and the team dynamics–can lead to failure or success.

Marc Andreesen (2007) wrote that of the major factors in a startup–market, product, and team–he thought market was the most important of the three. But Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator made it clear that her major roles as a non-technical operator at Y Combinator was to make a decision, on the basis of a 10 minute interview with applicants, whether they have what it takes. She must be very gifted at this, given the success rate, but at the same time she humbly admitted that she never knows who really will succeed and who won’t. She especially loves co-founders who went to school together, or were roommates, and who already have a strong relationship. (There’s even a father-son founding team in Y Combinator now, and I think she said a set of twins.) Because when you don’t have that kind of trust between founders, when things get tough–and they always do–things can go bad really fast.

In my role at Gallup as evangelist for StrengthsFinder 2.0, I’m planning to attend a lot of entrepreneurial and investor events this year. For years, StrengthsFinder has been a powerful tool used by thousands of large and small companies to boost productivity, revenue, and profits by making individuals and teams more engaged and more efficient. I’m very excited to see it can be, along with the newest Gallup product Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder, in helping boost the percentage of startups that survive and thrive. The economy needs a huge dose of the type of job-creating entrepreneurship that The Economist wrote about this week to create the millions of jobs that are so desperately needed today all over the world.

I personally want to thank Derek, Startup Grind, and all of its dedicated chapter leaders and volunteers for doing their part to make this happen. And to  tell everyone — I can’t wait till Startup Grind 2015!

 

Zuck is learning Mandarin–are you?

I read this morning that Mark Zuckerberg spends an hour a day studying Mandarin. I’m very impressed.

What a great investment of his time!

I’ve been considering doing this for several years now. Imagine how fluency in this language and familiarity with the Chinese culture might impact Facebook’s value and reach in the coming years. It has the potential to help Facebook open some doors to government or business relationships that may be extremely important down the road. I think this is a brilliant move by Mark.

I got a university degree in Russian a million years ago, and studied Spanish for 3 years also, but my skills in both languages have really declined. Inspired by Google Translate for iPhone, which I use daily, and with access to such interesting and timely content as President Dmitry Medvedev’s video blog, I am trying to study Russian daily. My current plan is to get my Russian and Spanish groove back, and then find a way to learn Mandarin. I’m almost 20 years older than Zuck, so I’ll have a lot less time to get a return on investment from learning Mandarin, but I still really, really want to do this.

I just hope my entrepreneurial life settles down to the point where I’ll be able to make this investment of time. That basically means  after FamilyLink gets solidly profitable.

Being from Utah where many entrepreneurs served a church mission to a foreign country when they were young, learning another language and culture really well, I have seen how beneficial this has been in many careers. What is your experience as an entrepreneur? What languages do you know and how has that helped you succeed in your business?

CEOs who code

20 years ago when I started my first company, I wrote code. (Quickbasic and Turbo Pascal – nothing fancy.) In fact, my partner sold our products and I developed them, for about the first 4 years. As our company grew, we hired developers and I haven’t really written code since. (I did a little bit of HTML a few years back but in all my companies have relied on employees who were much better coders than I was.)

I’m feeling rusty. And today, for the first time in years, as I watch my team of engineers get really excited about all the things in the FamilyLink product roadmap, I also started feeling envious. I loved writing programs, testing them, and running them. There’s an amazing feeling of satisfaction when you build something that works – and better yet, something that is used by thousands of people.

Of all the hats I’ve ever worn, the only one where I ever felt “done” with work, was when I did accounting for Infobases, again back in the early days, using Quickbooks of course. When you closed out a month, your work was actually done, and that brought a nice feeling of satisfaction. But as CEO or VP Marketing, and in most other roles I’ve had, you are never done, because there are always a million more things you could be doing.

Writing code is kind of in-between. You know what is required, you write the code, you test it, it works, and you’re kind of done. You always know that there is another iteration or version just around the corner, but you do get a feeling of satisfaction when the program works as designed. Even if the next features are already on the drawing board.

Tonight I spent a half hour with some Javascript tutorials. Pretty fun stuff. Truth is, we are short on front-end coders at FamilyLink and short on QA engineers. Our backend development team is awesome, and we have another tremendous programmer starting in February. But we need a couple Javascript/CSS gurus badly. We have had enough talent to develop FamilyLink.com into a top 100 web site – design, front-end, and back-end – but we have way more plans and ideas than we have coders to pull it off.

For the next 30 days our development team is planning a pretty-continuous hackathon, since Facebook has announced changes that will have an impact on all their app developers, including us. We’ve reorganized the office so that all the devs and product team are working in 2 huge adjacent offices. I may join them if there is enough room. I may find myself doing a bit of QA in the next month. That won’t require learning Javascript as much as it will require understanding our customer experience and maybe getting up to speed on our development environment. But who knows, maybe I’ll have time to do some additional Javascript tutorials and find myself contributing to FamilyLink.com – if not by writing code, then by searching for Javascript libraries (I found a great one tonight that cartographers can use on top of Google Maps) that my team ought to be aware of.

I recently read that Mark Zuckerberg has always loved coding, but even he has given it up recently,  according to VentureBeat, to focus on company culture and strategy. From what I have heard, the fact that he is a coder and hired coders created an amazing culture at Facebook.

I have always felt Bill Gates was an amazing CEO because he mastered both programming and business. And I think it is hard in a high-tech company, to be a successful CEO if you only master one of those two things. There will be things that a non-technical CEO will never understand.

Can you think of any CEOs who still code, and who claim that it helps them be a more effective CEO?

Living Blogging AlwaysOn OnDC; Tony Perkins welcomes attendees

I’ll be live blogging the AlwaysOn OnDC Summit for the next 2 1/2 days.

Tony Perkins, founder of the Churchill Club, Upside Magazine, Red Herring, and Always On took the stage to welcome the attendees.

Tony is telling how he grew up in Portola Valley not far from where the Home Brew Computer Club met. He showed a picture of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak before they were 20. Tony recently read Barack Obama’s innovation policy and it sounded like a poetic version of what he stands for — promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. Back to the Steves.

Arthur Rock invested $57,000 in their startup, which became Apple. He had previously invested in Intel.

All the great entrepreneurs that he has interviewed including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison — they don’t do it for the money. One thing these five have in common: none of them graduated from college. You never know where the next great entrepreneur is going to come from.

Interesting stat. 1/3 of all companies founded in Silicon Valley are founded by immigrants. He showed picture of Stephen Chen (co-founder of YouTube from Taiwan), Vinod Khosla (co-founder of Sun, from India), Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google, from Russia). He got a few degrees before starting Google.

He goes to Davos every year. They hold a Nerd dinner for all the nerds at the World Economic Forum. Each person gets 7 words to introduce himself. Sergey Brin said his parents were upset that he dropped his PhD program to start Google. His 7 words to introduce himself: “Mother says Google Smoogle, finish your PhD.”

Global entrepreneurship is good too! Tony shows photo of Niklas Zennstrom (Kazaa, Skype), Richard Li (Baidu), Masayoshi Son (Softbank was largest investor in internet companies in the first phase of the internet.). They gave Skype the company of the Year award in 2005. Niklas was having a board meeting that day. They beamed him in on the first ever public showing of Skype Video along with Tim Draper. Tim Draper invested in Skype and got his biggest return ever from it.

Tony says a key question for the future of our economy is: Are we importing intellectual capital? Is the US still the best place to pursue dreams? So far, he thinks that is still the case. But as soon as that intellectual capital stops coming in, it means we are over-regulating, aren’t creating a playing field that is good for entrepreneurs.

As a nation, our unemployment rate is too high. The stimulus has been something like $800 billion. VC-backed companies create jobs 3 times faster. 11% of all jobs are coming from venture-backed companies. 92% of job growth comes after IPO. So over-regulating the financial food chain like we’ve done with Sarbanes Oxley, or even talking about regulating the venture capital business, which I think is a bad idea. These things will inhibit job growth.

There is an encouraging idea coming out of the Administration–lowering the capital gains on long-term investments in small companies.

His final slide. “Goodbye PC Generation. Hello IM Generation.” People under 25 communicate more with friends via IM than they do with email. People over 55 almost all use email over IM. I could show also how the new generation communicates more over Facebook than they do with email.

The new generation grew up with the internet. He has a 24-year old daughter that got her masters in CS from Cornell. She asked him a couple years ago. “Hey, Dad, what was your email address when you were growing up.” They have radically different online behavior. They want to work from anywhere, their desk is their laptop. They want access to all data. In 1999 he wrote a book called “Intenet Bubble.” He had a list of like 215 stocks that he said people should sell because the party was about to end. So he said, “I’m not a drunked internet enthusiast.” He also said at the end of the book that after the bubble burst, 80% of the all the brands we will associate with the internet will be born after the bubble burst. That is happening.

New Platforms

Skype has close to 500 million users now. YouTube. Facebook. iTunes Store. Nintendo Wii. iPhone. Amazon Kindle. None of these platforms are owned by Microsoft.

He thinks the unemployment rate will be high for a long time because there are a lot of jobs being destroyed that are never coming back. But in this huge playing field that is being driven by the IM generation, and is entering into the workforce, there is a lot of innovation.

He is writing a policy paper for the President on GAAS (like Software As A Service) but it means Government As A Service. He thinks it should be a primary initiative. (Though, he said, it may need to be renamed a bit.)

92% of kids instruct their parents on how to be more green. He built a house, tried to make it as green as possible. He thinks green will be a big engine for growth. $11 billion has been invested in green companies. These companies will put a lot of traditional companies out of business.

Tony’s conclusion: “Today is the greatest time to be an entrepreneur….ever.”

Brainstorm Breakfast for Entrepreneurs in Rexburg, Idaho

I worked this week in Missoula, Montana where my brother and his family live. On my way home, through Idaho, I decided to stop in Rexburg, the home of BYU-Idaho, and do some networking with entrepreneurs here.

In the tradition of the old Provo Labs Brainstorm Lunches (nick-named Twinkie Talks because the restaurant we ate at gave us all twinkies) I am holding a Brainstorm Breakfast at Joe’s Filling Station (diner) at 727 North 2nd East in Rexburg.

So far, 4 entrepreneurs have RSVPd with a couple others who hope to come, but I think we can handle 8-10 without disturbing the restaurant too much.

The way it works is this: everyone gets a chance to talk about their business, and share their #1 problem that they want help with or advice about. Then each person at the table gets to make suggestions, if they have any, about that particular problem. So it’s a very open format. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve learned a ton, and had the chance to share some things I consider important too.

If I recall, the idea was originally inspired by the book, “Never Eat Alone.” I used to do these often when I was running the Provo Labs incubator, but since leaving that to focus 100% on FamilyLink.com I haven’t held any. But I think I’m ready to start them up again, partly because these always lead to possible hiring opportunities or business development opportunities.

So…if you are in Rexburg, and want to join us at 9 am, please RSVP by emailing me tonight or tomorrow. PAUL AT FAMILYLINK.COM or DM me on www.twitter.com/paulballen

To Blog or Not To Blog

So I’m definitely not unique in thinking this thought or typing this phrase. Searching Google yields 257,000 pages that contain the phrase “To Blog or Not To Blog.” So clearly a plethora of deep thinkers have pondered this question.

But the reason I am pondering whether to blog and how often strikes me as somewhat unique. So I decided to share my thinking and see if other entrepreneurs out there have dealt with a similar problem. I’d like to know how others have overcome the stumbling blocks to blogging.

First some background. I started blogging in November 2003, inspired by Phil Windley of Technometria fame. I blogged actively for years, usually several times a week. My primary topic was internet entrepreneurship and internet marketing. I was also in incubator mode, looking for new ideas to turn into businesses.  

I sometimes blogged about things I knew a great deal about, from experience, and shared key things I had learned, particularly at Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com from 1996-2002, where my friends and I had built a highly successful venture-funded profitable dot com company, but had also experienced many of the disappointments of entrepreneurs who get caught in an economic downturn or bad business cycle.

I often blogged about new technologies and ideas that I had discovered but hadn’t tried yet, and I wanted to ask the blogosphere to comment on what they knew about them. I often remarked that blogging made me a better thinker and writer, but also made me much smarter because the community knew a lot more about most things than I did, and I would often get responses within 24 hours that changed the way I was approaching a new technology or an opportunity.

In the pre-Twitter era, I felt blogging kept me in touch better than any other way with the outside world, with employees, partners, and investors.  In June 2005 I blogged that All CEOs Should Blog, because I felt it had helped me so much with open two-way communication that I found invaluable.

My most famous post of all-time was my prediction on the day of the Facebook Platform launch that “Facebook will be the largest social network in the world.” My enthusiasm was unbridled and I compared Mark Zuckerberg’s influence on the world to that of another 23-year old, Alexander the Great. :) That was a fun post. I couldn’t sleep until I had fully communicated my feelings about the biggest opportunity for internet entrepreneurs that I had ever seen.

Since then, Facebook has dwarfed MySpace in usage, and is the worldwide leader in social networking, with the possible exception of the Chinese social network QZone, which I don’t know very much about. 

Thankfully my FamilyLink.com team and I drank the Facebook koolaid deeply, and have become in the past 2 years one of the top 10 Facebook developers in the world, with more than 40 million users of our We’re Related application and with many more exciting Facebook applications in the works.

We have become very profitable in the past 6 months, with monthly profit margins recently exceeding 20-30%.  Our cash balance has more than doubled since January. We are building a world-class team of architects, designers, and developers. We have a full-time recruiter and are trying to add another 10-20 full time employees. We are closer to launching our flagship web sites, as well as greatly improved social and mobile applications.  We are focused on family, genealogy, and history applications and content.

We are now starting to help other top Facebook application developers monetize their apps better, with our expert team at AdMazing.com, a division of FamilyLink.com. 

So here is my problem:

When we were an underfunded startup, trying to create something out of nothing, trying to bootstrap our way to some kind of initial success, I found that blogging was just about the best way to tell the world what we were trying to accomplish. The more I blogged about new ideas, and possible strategies, and goals that we had, and technologies that we were exploring, the more helpful feedback I got from my readers, and the more I found like-minded people who could potentially become employees or business partners. In fact, many of our early employees and partners at FamilyLink.com (and WorldVitalRecords.com) were initially attracted to the business because of my PaulAllen.net blog. 

I never specifically targeted investors in my blog posts, but I knew that dozens of my Utah business angel friends would occasionally read some of my posts, so they could see what we were up to.

I could easily write a blog post called “All Startup CEOs should Blog” because I personally found immense value by connecting with readers as a result of my blog. It may have been my most valuable recruiting tool, business development tool (I signed agreements with companies all over the world as a result of their feeling they knew me through my blog), and fund-raising tool–though I didn’t specifically use it for that purpose.

But how times have changed.

Now I find myself having dozens of important conversations about new ideas and new technologies and not wanting to blog about any of them. Our team is moving more quickly than any team I’ve worked with in the past. And our key metrics are all improving dramatically. And all the new ideas and technologies we are considering feel very proprietary to us. The last thing I want to do these days is to blog about our next big idea, or about the new technology we are using to gain a competitive advantage, or about tools we are building or using internally that make us more nimble.

I feel like I was in Startup Mode for several years trying to get all the attention I could from anyone who would listen, and now that our strategy is working,  I’m feeling a need to switch to Stealth Mode — and that seems odd, because most Stealth Mode operations are early stage startups.

Expanding to the Bay Area

In fact, I really need to blog regularly, since we are considering opening an office in the Bay Area, closer to Google, Facebook and Apple, where we may recruit nearly 10 developers for our social and mobile applications. That is a big deal for us, and I know blogging regularly will help us with recruiting more than anything else I can do. (Next to my readers in Utah, I have more blog readers — and friends — in California than in any other location.)

Bottom line: I don’t have a blogging strategy at the moment, which means I post very rarely and get little value back from the community. I’ve never been in Stealth Mode before. And I’m wondering if I’m entering a dangerous world where success means less openness and less sharing, and therefore less value gained back in return.

So please, if you’ve found yourself in a similar quandry, please tell me what you did to get out of it. Did you stop blogging altogether? Or did you modify your purpose in blogging, and find success in another way? Or did you force yourself to continue blogging openly about things that might be considered proprietary because the advantages of opennness outweighed the negatives?

I’ve noticed that the blog by entrepreneurial legend Marc Andreesen has been on hiatus since August 2008 while Mark Cuban continues his prolific blogging. Why do some entrepreneurs continue blogging while others stop?

I need some help here. I’d like to start up again with a daily blog post or two, but I can’t muster the motivation or overcome the negatives to blogging at this stage in the game. Especially when it is so easy to Twitter a few times a day with little effort at all. But then again, I’m finding myself wanting to Twitter less and less, for similar reasons.

Any comments would be very welcome. (Especially from Phil Windley and other blogging pioneers/legends.)

Solve Nation’s Problems with Citizen 20% Time

Google is the most innovative company in the world, in large part because they hire smart people who get things done, and they give their engineers 20% time to work on any project they want. Google has found a powerful way to unleash creativity to solve incredible technical problems.

I wonder what would happen if enough Americans did the same thing — devoted 20% of their work week — to finding solutions to our nations problems that might actually work.

In Utah there has been talk about the government’s experiment with a 4-day work week. What if a large number of citizens worked 10 hour days on Monday through Thursday and then took Fridays off to participate in government? We are, after all, ultimately in charge of what our government does. At least we are supposed to be. Or what if we devoted 2 hours a day, not to watching TV, but to reading the best books on major political topics and searching for the right solutions — based in historical fact and experience and true principles — and not on party politics? 

Most Americans believe that our government has been failing us and that we really need change. Last July, a Gallup poll showed that approval of Congress had hit an all-time low of 14%.  

So we voted for change in Washington, and in March our approval rating of Congress “soared” to 39%. And that is a four year high!

I’m amazed that a free people is willing to put up with a government for so long that we are so dissatisifed with.

My 20% Time Projects

I’d like to use my 20% time on a couple of projects. First, I’m trying to understand the root causes of the global financial meltdown. I’m documenting all my findings on a web site called Crashopedia. I’d like to learn for myself what we (meaning our government) should do to prevent future global financial crises. Not that I think I can solve the problem; but I feel a responsibility to try, to at least do my part to help. Especially after what I have learned so far.

Second, I have set up a new non-partisan Facebook group called Citizen 20% Time, where I hope to make contact with other citizens who are willing to take responsibility for what has gone wrong in our country (we elected the people who passed the laws that allowed these awful things to happen–George Will refers to our Congress as toxic assets). I’d like to interact with others who devote time and energy to creative problem solving, who don’t play the partisan blame game, but put forth ideas that could really help.

And third, I plan to study the issue of Congressional representation and stagnation. I want to understand why so many of us feel disenfranchised, even though we hold free elections every two years for the House and every six years for the Senate. 

I have learned already that the Apportionment Act of 1911 capped the number of House members at 435. While the Constitution said there would be a representative for every 30,000 people, today it is closer to one for every 700,000. (The proposed First Amendment to the Constitution, never ratified, would have changed this.) Just yesterday, I discovered an interesting non-partisan non-profit that is seeking to return the House of Representatives to the people. 

I found another non-profit in DC that says we should require our elected representatives to actually read the bills that they vote on. What a novel idea! I think most people would be outraged to know that their Senators and Representatives don’t actually read the bills that they vote for, including the massive spending bills.

We should also give citizens time to read bills before they are voted on. The Obama-Biden campaign web site promised, “As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.” The Whitehouse.gov web site promises that this “Sunlight before Signing” promise will be implemented soon.

Inspired by Entrepreneurs

I have always been inspired by entrepreneurs. One favorite is Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone while trying to be a teacher of the deaf. (Later he built the first airplane in Canada, he held the world speed record for fastest boat, and he helped start the National Geographic Society, among many other accomplishments.) He was really into genetics. He believed every child should have a chart showing photographs of their ancestors so they could see who they inherited their physical characteristics from. He tried for 3 decades to breed sheep so they would always bear twins. That would have significantly moved that industry forward. He failed, but he tried.

Today I am inspired by internet entrepreneurs like Jimmy Wales, who created Wikipedia, which is becoming the greatest contribution to organizing and disseminating knowledge that the world has ever seen. (Now we need entrepreneurs who can help millions of students and teachers worldwide to take more full advantage of the wealth of knowledge that is found here.) As recently as a couple of years ago, Wikipedia was headquartered in a Florida mall and had like 5 full time employees. I’m sure it has since grown, but talk about a project where a few full time people (combined with the wisdom of the crowds) can benefit hundreds of millions of people worldwide with more access to knowledge.

I am a huge fan of Josh Kopelman, a very successful entrepreneur who is now one of the best and brightest investors in the country. Josh recently attended the TED conference and came up with a powerful idea — to harness the “bread crumbs” of the social internet to study disease causation on a massive scale (as opposed to medical research studies that involve just a small number of participants.)

I think citizen entrepreneurs will do much more than politicians can ever do to actually solve the massive problems that we are facing today.

The Sunlight Foundation, for example, has raised several million dollars from Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay) to bring transparency to government, and to help us hold our elected representatives accountable. This is much needed, since the historical role of the free press to hold government accountable has been lost — today’s media is about entertainment and sensationalism.

I’d like to think that an outside entity like this could take all the data published online by the Federal Government, marry it with mobile applications, and social networking, and for the first time, give every citizen a very simple way to find out exactly what their own elected officials are doing.

The amount of effort that is required today to find online federal databases and publications or CSPAN broadcasts and to search them, and to actually find out what is going on in Washington, DC, is herculean. Few citizens have time to sift and sort through all the content in order to figure out what is really going on.

One of my favorite iPhone apps is Congress Plus. It tracks all the representatives in Washington, what committees they serve on, and what legislation is moving through the process. Imagine mobile phone apps or social networking apps that made it easy for each of us to follow issues and causes that interest us — and give immediate feedback to our representatives.

Our Facebook application, We’re Related, has more than 15 million monthly active users. We can ask our users any question and within a day get 10-20,000 responses. Why doesn’t every elected official have a tool like this?

Perhaps the Sunlight Foundation could set up an instance of Uservoice (a powerful customer feedback tool) for every Congressional district in the country, so that citizens could interact with each other and vote on each other’s ideas–thereby helping set the legislative agenda for their representative. Currently, few citizens feel they have any voice at all.

I applaud efforts that can better inform and engage the citizenry in solving local and national problems. I am working towards becoming involved — hopefully for 20% of my workweek — as a citizen entrepreneur.

Motivated by Frustration

What motivates me is the same thing that is motivating millions of Americans to pay attention and take action: the realization that our government has failed us, and the remedies they put forth show that they are scared and flying blind–risking the future prosperity of our country in a rushed effort to fix everything. They seem uninformed by common sense and a knowledge of history. At this point, there are few people in Washington that I can trust.

I was extremely upset when the $700 billion TARP program was pushed through Congress in early October.  I think giving a single person (a former banker at that) authority to spend up to $700 billion buying toxic assets from big banks may have been the worst single decision in American legislative history.  Secretary Paulson had made millions in salary and bonuses (I have heard $110 million) while CEO of Goldman Sachs, which made a large percentage of their profits creating these derivatives/toxic assets which TARP was designed to take off these bank’s books. I’ve never seen a more eggregious example of the fox guarding the hen house in my life.

The “sky is falling” scare tactics that Paulson and Bernanke used behind closed doors with Senators and Congressman worked, and the big check was written. And now Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no end to the calls for bailouts and government stimulus of the economy.

With almost no legislative restraint on spending, our debts and deficits are growing so big that China, our largest creditor, is sending powerful signals that the day of US dollar dominance may soon come to an end. Recent Fed decisions to basically print more money will devalue our currency. High inflation may result. (Warren Buffett and China are both warning of this.) The central bank of China is now calling for a new global reserve currency.

The Treasury Department have used the TARP funds to invest in the big banks, rather than to take their toxic assets off their balance sheets, effectively nationalizing much of the banking industry. The toxic assets still exist, and the latest proposal from the Treasury Secretary caused a blip yesterday in the stock market, but really does nothing more than stimulate bankers and investors to excitement by letting them create another generation of potentially toxic assets — another trillion of securitized debt instruments with the federal government assuming most of the risk. Of course financial stocks will go up 20% in one day on news like that! “Hey guys, you get to do more of the same thing you were doing for the last few years, and make huge commissions and potentially huge profits for doing it. And we’ll take most of the risk.”

The whole affair makes me completely sick. While the initial TARP legislation was being debated, I registered my opposition by phone to my Senators. I’ve since taken time to meet in person with Senator Bennett and also had the opportunity to share a cab in NYC with freshman Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz. I flew to DC recently to meet with a staffer in Senator Hatch’s office. And I also met with a senior legislative assistant for North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, whose proposed legislation on derivatives back in 1994 may have prevented this global financial collapse.

I have found some tremendous books and articles by scholars and former derivatives traders that shed light on how the global meltdown happened. Some event predicted it. They clearly explain the role of unregulated derivatives in creating 1) the boom years, where the financial sector went from producing about 8% of S&P 500 profits to nearly 40%, 2) the feeling that this could go on forever because traders would offload risk through risk management best practices and 3) the systemic risk that has now triggered a massive domino effect in the global financial system.

The best book I have read so far about how all of this came about is “Infectious Greed,” by Frank Partnoy, a San Diego State University law professor and former derivatives trader. 

Books for Congress

For my 20% time I plan to organize an effort to get a copy of this book hand delivered to every member of Congress, by one of their respectable constituents. The author has just mailed me one or two boxes of hard copy versions. I met him through LinkedIn, and we had a great phone conversation recently. I know I can learn a lot more from him, after all the years of effort he has put into researching this incredibly complicated topic.

As I learn about the key players in the derivatives industry and in the decade-plus long fight over derivatives regulation, I have discovered that the world is smaller than ever before, and by using LinkedIn and other online tools like Google Alerts, I can either get introduced to people, or find out if they are speaking at some conference somewhere. 

A google alert on “Mark Brickell,” the former Chair of the International Swaps and Derivatives Assocation, told me that he was speaking at an American Enterprise Institute debate in February.

From Partnoy’s book I had learned that Brickell was the key lobbyist who defeated congressional attempts to regulate derivatives in the 90s. I had to meet him. I needed to know if he was a good guy who was just misguided in his enthusiasm for completely unregulated OTC derivatives markets or if he was an evil guy who used deceptiveness and pressure and lies to persuade congress to stay out of the way of all the bankers and traders who have been making billions by creating and selling toxic assets all these years.

I flew to DC (I had business to do there anyway) and attended the AEI debate between Brickell and Christopher Whalen.

I spoke with Brickell afterwards, asked him a few questions, and got a feel for what kind of a person he is. 

I even asked him to sign my copy of “Infectious Greed,” (which does paint him as a villain), and he did. I twittered afterwards that this was like asking Voldemort to sign your copy of Harry Potter. Partnoy laughed when I told him about this.

The second most important book I’ve read is “Trillion Dollar Meltdown,” by Charles R. Morris, published in early 2008. His foresight is startling. I gave a copy of this book to Senator Bennett, but would like to raise money and purchase more copies for more members of Congress.

Another fascinating book that I am studying, and hoping to get rights (from the family) to deliver electronically to members of Congress, is “Beckoning Frontiers,” the memoirs of former Federal Reserve Chairman Marriner S. Eccles. (The Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC is named after him.)

Eccles wrote the book in 1951. It is a very honest and open assessment of the New Deal, with its successes and failures, written by the millionaire Utah banker that many considered its key architect.

If our government is spending trillions of dollars to try to stimulate the economy, shouldn’t we first each take a few hours, or days, or weeks, to study the programs of the 30s, and to learn from their architects and administrators which programs helped and which actually made the Great Depression worse?

Citizen Entrepreneurs Make a Difference

I appreciate citizens who serve in local government, or devote time to public service at any level. Some give much more than 20%. One of my Facebook friends this week noted that unfortunately, more and more of our citizens will soon have 100% time to devote to citizen involvement, as hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost every month.

What excites me the most, however, are citizen-led efforts to solve problems independent of government.

I was teaching Internet Marketing at BYU in fall 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without homes or power. A local entrepreneur wondered what he could do to help out all these victims. His wife encourage him to put his web design skills to work, so he did. In just a couple of marathon days, he built KatrinaHousing.org, which within a week had attracted listings for something like 114,000 available rooms in homes all across the country.

Meanwhile, most people just watched the news on TV and complained about the terribly slow response time from all the government relief agencies. Some people rolled up their sleeves and helped out.

Some people step forward and make a difference, like Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross in 1881. In September 1881 a great fire in Michigan left 5,000 people homeless. Clara Barton and the Red Cross stepped in to provide relief. Imagine how much good the Red Cross has done in the past century and a quarter! It was started by an activist citizen — not by the government.

Some citizen efforts are needed to provide relief for human suffering from local disasters, while some are needed to uncover corruption and fraud which indirectly hurts all of us. As I said, my obsession right now is unbridled, unregulated, out of control OTC derivatives trading, which Warren Buffett said in 2002 were “financial weapons of mass destruction.”

Not only did the Federal Government (including the SEC and CTFC) do nothing to stop these weapons from exploding, but they actually de-regulated them in the 90s, and prevented states from regulating them under state bucket laws (the 106th Congress voted for this) which had been created after the financial panic of 1907 to regulate pure gambling on the outcome of Wall Street ups and downs.

Other citizen led investigative-journalism type efforts can solve other problems. Patrick Byrne’s obsession with naked short selling led him to fund DeepCapture.com, a blog “examining the growing threat to our financial system posed by illegal naked short selling, stock manipulation, and the destruction of public companies.” 

Some haven’t taken Byrne seriously, but Bloomberg last week reported that Lehman Brothers may have failed because of naked short selling.

Billionaire Mark Cuban backs BailoutSleuth.com, the best site I’ve seen for tracking the use of the $700 billion in authorized TARP funds.

Next Steps

I’ve already spent most of my 20% time this week just working on this blog post, so forgive me if I leave it without a good conclusion or without the kind of organization I should give it.

I invite you to join me in the Facebook group Citizen 20% Time and I’d love for you to post a comment about what issue or problem you would personally like to tackle in your 20% time.

Perhaps if enough good ideas surface that can be effectively implemented with very small teams leveraging crowdsourcing of all kinds (like Wikipedia), we might be able to find financial sponsorship from someone like Pierre Omidyar or Mark Cuban or maybe the Google Foundation.

Cuban already announced his own stimulus package back in February — a private effort to fund the best open-source business ideas. Maybe he (or someone else) could apply that concept to non-profit non-partisan ideas from citizen entrepreneurs as well. We’ll never know unless we give it a try.

Near Death Experiences

No, this blog post is not about metaphysical near-death experiences, but I bet the title caught your eye. (As an aside, I read the book Life After Life as a teenager, and thought it was pretty interesting. Since reading that book, though, I’ve seen many efforts to commercialize near-death experiences that I think are bogus. I firmly believe in the immortality of all human souls, and I believe that some near-death experiences are genuine, but that is not the topic of my blog post today.)

What I want to say is that many successful startup companies go through a near-death experience before they figure out how to make their business model work.

I’ve seen this over and over again, both in companies that I have founded, as well as in companies that I have advised or just observed.

I know many startups fail, so I suppose it makes sense that many other startups nearly fail, before becoming successful, but it does surprise me a bit to know of very, very few startup companies that don’t have a brush with death. You’d think that with all the business schools and case studies and entrepreneurial blogs and all the expert advice that is easily accessible to founding teams that many entrepreneurs could conceive of a business idea, write a plan, build a team, raise some capital, find customers and execute on the business plan without serious setbacks.

But that almost never happens. Implementing ideas is not easy. Recruiting the right people to a startup company is extremely difficult. Version 1 products have flaws. Internal systems can break. Competition can be extremely intense. Reaching the right customers can be difficult. Sales cycles can be way longer than planned. Getting attention in the marketplace can be expensive. So many things can go wrong, and usually do. Even when you’ve done startups before.

Paul Graham, who runs Y Combinator, which may turn out to be the most successful incubator of all time, publishes the most excellent essays for entrepreneurs. Founders should read all of his work. But more importantly, they should study the businesses that have come out of Y Combinator and try to understand how they can build products so inexpensively and attract customers so quickly and have exit options so soon. Y Combinator’s track record is amazing.

Y Combinator businesses may appear to be pursuing technology for technology’s sake, sometimes without a clear business model, but like Google, if you first set out to build an incredible world-changing product and succeed, you will almost always find a business model to support it.

I laugh at the commentators who speculate about Twitter’s future. People think the sky is falling because Twitter doesn’t generate revenue, doesn’t have a business model.

As a Twitter addict I know that such comments are completely absurd. There is no doubt at all that Twitter, like LinkedIn before it, will find a sustainable revenue model. Both companies will be worth billions. LinkedIn has forever changed business networking. It is ridiculous for people to try to do business without relying on LinkedIn. So while LinkedIn focused initially on attracting millions of avid users, eventually they got around to monetizing the very valuable audience. Google did the same thing before it. And Twitter will do the same thing after permanently changing the world of communication.

Another conclusion I make when considering Y Combinator is that Guy Kawasaki was right in Art of the Start when he talked about early stage company valuations. Guy said you add $500,000 for every engineer in your company and subtract $250,000 for every MBA. Pretty funny, but often rather true.

Y Combinator funds technologists. A lot of entrepreneurs are “business” people without the ability to develop their own technology. (In my first startup I was the product developer–now I’ve shifted to a management/executive role, and it is therefore more expensive for me to build a company now than it was in the early days. I need a “team” to build products now.) 

Certainly a company needs management and sales and marketing and support eventually. But I think one reason that so many companies go through near-death experiences is that they hire their team in the wrong order. First you have to nail the product. Then you scale the team to be able to sell and support the product.

My favorite near-death experience of all time is the story of Enhance Interactive (formerly Ah-ha), a pay-per-click search engine that held a company meeting sometime back in 2000 or so, to let all the employees know that the business was shutting down. The company was out of money and while it has some customer traction and some revenue, there was no more funding runway–so the doors had to close. At the end of the meeting one of the employees said, “Can we go back to work now?” The CEO was taken back and said, “Don’t you realize what this meeting was about? We are shutting the company down.” The employee said, no, I’ve got some customers to service, and went back to work. Apparently so too did another dozen or two employees, who basically worked for almost nothing until the company turned the corner. A few years later the company was sold for tens of millions of dollars. 

I won’t go into the details right now, and it wasn’t anything as dramatic as what Enhance Interactive experienced, but FamilyLink.com (corporate site) had its own very intense near-death experience in the past few weeks. Amid the global economic meltdown, a bank loan was called, and we scrambled for weeks to find a way to pay it off. A few options emerged, some less attractive than others, and then finally, a couple of days after Christmas, we were completely delivered from our financial pressures. We have now finalized our Series B funding which will be announced shortly.

Amazingly, at about the same time, we turned profitable. Just six months ago we were losing nearly $300,000 per month. But through a combination of very painful cost reductions and the growth in our subcription, advertising, and product revenue streams, we literally turned the corner the week after Christmas, and hope to never turn back.

It won’t be easy, since the economy is in rough shape and there are all kinds of execution risks still ahead of us. But there is literally a night-and-day difference between where we were last year and where we are today. Our team spirit is excellent. We’re hiring lots more people for our call center. And we are carefully recruiting top technologists who can help us improve our current web properties and build new ones as well. We’re also looking for a Chief Genealogy Officer who will help guide all our efforts to bring the world’s genealogy records to internet users worldwide.

We still plan to launch FamilyLink.com, GenSeek.com, and WorldHistory.com in the coming weeks/months. Each one has the potentia to revolutionize a market. We put up our corporate web site late last week, so that people can see everything the company does and not just define us by any single web site or application.

I have said many times before that FamilyLink.com is most likely my last company. This recent near-death experience confirms that for me. There is probably no way I can go through something like this again. I’m too old for this kind of intensity. I had serious insomnia for weeks and wasn’t able to sleep for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time. I missed out on most of the holidays with my family. 

I am sleeping better now, thank you very much, but this near-death experience probably took a few years off my life, and I’m not eager to repeat it any time soon. 

If you are a blogger and have written about your startup’s near death experience, please comment and link to it. (Maybe someday I’ll collect a couple dozen of these stories and have them published.)

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Danny Ainge

Tuesday night the Boston Celtics won the NBA World
Championship (4-2) by beating the Los Angelels Lakers by 39 points in game six
at Boston Gardens.

The Celtics won only 24 games last year, but this year
experienced the single biggest turnabout in NBA history, after Danny Ainge
orchestrated two major trades
last summer, bringing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen
to Boston.

Danny Ainge is my favorite basketball player/coach/general
manager of all time. While most people will agree with me that Michael Jordan
is the greatest NBA player in history, and it is popular to say, “I want to be
like Mike,” personally, I’d rather be like Danny.

Basketball was big at BYU. I started attending games at age 5 when Kresimir Cosic, the first All-American from a foreign country and Yugoslav Olympic star, filled the stadium. BYU led the nation in attendance with 21,818 fans per game back in 1971-72.

I was such a fan of Cosic, that my mom wrote this about me in my Book of Remembrance (I should do a blog post on this sometime–it’s what my mom did instead of scrapbooking, for each of her 8 kids) when I was six years old:

“You were a
devoted BYU basketball fan, and throughout the basketball season, you followed
every game with diligence. You were especially interested in Kresimir Cosic and
cheered his every move. You wanted to go to every ballgame, and because you
couldn’t, you carried the radio around with you at home, settled down in some
corner, and listened with your ear close to the radio. Whenever someone made a
basket, you cheered and reported it aloud to whoever might be nearby. Your
enthusiasm was something to behold, and the entire family enjoyed your
enjoyment of the sport as much or more than the sport itself.

“Each
morning as you got out of bed, you raced upstairs to check the ratings of the
BYU team in the sports section of the newspaper. When they achieved 9th
place standing in the nation, you made as much fuss as if you had won the world
championship yourself. If they dropped a notch or two, you took it as personal
disappointment. One morning as you called to me from the other room with “Where
is BYU” I answered, “in Provo.” You
kept asking me the same question, over and over as though I hadn’t heard you
right. Finally I learned that you meant, “Where do they stand in the national
ratings today?”

“Your
teacher told me that when she put all the ‘C’ spelling words on the board for
your class, you raised your hand and said, “You left one out, Miss Piquet.” She
checked the list again and said that she thought she had them all. Still you
insisted that she’d forgotten one. Finally she said, “Paul, what word did I
leave off?” Grinning broadly, you replied, “Cosic.” Because she understood you,
she accommodated you by adding Cosic to the list.”

I remember that Miss Piquet didn’t actually know how to
spell Cosic, so she asked Mr. Mike, the janitor, and he knew how.

Ainge was the next huge BYU basketball star. According to Wikipedia:

“Ainge played basketball at Brigham Young University and became a
household name after hitting one of the greatest shots in NCAA March
Madness
history against Notre Dame in 1981. His coast to coast drive with
only a second remaining gave the Cougars a one point win. Ainge concluded his
senior year by winning the Eastman Award as well as the John R. Wooden Award, given to the best
collegiate player in the nation. During his four-year career at BYU, Ainge was
an All-American, a two-time First Team Academic All-American, the WAC Player of
the Year and a four-time All-WAC selection.”

His play against Notre Dame is one of the great moments in
college basketball history. ESPN once rated it the 6th best ending
in a college game. During the 1981 Sweet Sixteen against Notre Dame, with just
9 seconds left in the game, Ainge took an inbounds pass and drove the length of
the court, past all 5 Notre Dame defenders and made a finger roll layup over
outstretched defenders hands with a second left to claim a 51-50 BYU victory
over Notre Dame. You can watch the video of Ainge’s drive on YouTube.

When you are 15 years old, and you get to watch the best
college player in the country almost every week, you grow fond of the guy and
he becomes a hero for life.

I remember consciously imitating how Danny Ainge walked
(slightly turned-in toes), how he wiped dirt off the bottom of his shoes on
the opposite sock, where he stood when the opposing team was shooting foul
shots, how he would save possessions by throwing balls off opposing players
legs when falling out of bounds, his no look and around the back passes, and on
and on. Nearly every good move I had, I learned from watching Ainge.

As you may know, I was a wanna-be basketball player. (See my
blog post on “53”.) I didn’t even make my high school team, but my church team
did win three tournaments my junior year, our stake, region, and area
tournaments. I kept a journal from age 14 including my own basketball stats–I guess I was blending family history and competitiveness even back then. During my senior year in high school, playing church ball, I averaged 28 points per game my senior year, ranking me right up next to NBA leading scorers LeBron James and Kobe Bryant this year. :)

The highest compliment anyone ever paid to me when I played
church ball was when a friend of mine on an opposing team used to call me
“Danny” after I made a great play.

Ainge was an incredibly smart player, and really a player
coach all throughout college.

I also saw him do something once that I’ve never seen any
college or pro player ever do, and I’d love to see a Youtube video of this
sometime. Once while at the foul line, with his team slightly down, before
everyone was really set, he kind of grabbed the ball from the official (they
used to hand you the ball and not throw it to you), threw it off the front rim,
got the rebound, and made a layup. That pretty much blew my mind.

So, to make a long story short, Ainge went on to play 14 years in the NBA, win 2 rings with the Boston Celtics, and ended his career as one of only three players who had made 1,000 three-pointers.

Following his NBA career, Ainge "joined TNT as a color analyst for the 1995-96
season before returning to the court with the Phoenix Suns as an Assistant
Coach prior to the 1996-97 season. Just eight games into the season, he was
promoted to Head Coach and guided his club to a 40-34 record after the team
started the season 0-8. He spent the next two-plus seasons as Head Coach of the
Suns and compiled a 136-90 (.602) record before stepping down on
December 13, 1999 and returning to TNT as an analyst. In his three-plus
seasons as the Suns coach, he guided
Phoenix to three playoff berths.” (source: NBA.com)

He retired from coaching the Phoenix Suns to spend more time with his family, which is another reason I admire him.

In 2003, the Boston Celtics hired Danny Ainge as Executive Director of Basketball Operations.

Last year was a disaster. Everyone wanted his head. Celtics fans were calling for the owners to get rid of both Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers.The Celtics won only 24 games, 2nd worst in the NBA.

Then Ainge orchestrated the trade of the century. Sports Illustrated has the best article about how he pulled it off.

When I think about Ainge’s career, I think about how he went from player to coach to GM.

I think entrepreneurs go through a similar evolution.

When I was in my 20s, entrepreneurship was about how much work the founders could
do, how many all-nighters we could pull, how hard we could work.

In my 30s, it became more about networking, and discovering how much smarter we could work if we knew the right people and read the right books and attended the right conferences.

But in my 40s, entrepreneurship for me is about finding the
best people can to be on my team, and then watching them go to work. If I carefully scout for the right investors, the right management team, the right
partners, the right business model, and provide the right motivation and occasional feedback for everyone, then magical things start to happen.

Business Lessons to Learn from Danny Ainge

  • It’s all about getting the right people
  • Do whatever it takes to get the right people
  • When you get one right person (Ray Allen) it makes it easier to get the next right person (Kevin Garnett.) Like attracts like.
  • To know the right people, it helps to be the right kind of person. Ainge’s years as a player at ever level, and as a coach, gives him a feel for the game that is extremely rare and valuable. Be a player first.
  • Don’t give up too soon. Before you experience the thrill of victory, you almost always experience the agony of defeat. Most successful companies that I know about almost didn’t survive the early years.
  • You can spend more time with your family and still have a successful career

Danny Ainge is once again a World Champion, but this time he
didn’t make a single point, or throw a single pass, or play a single minute. He
didn’t even coach his team. He sat on the sidelines watching the players and coaching
staff that he helped assemble satisfy their thirst for a championship, and after the game he was swarmed by Garnett, Allen, and Perkins. Their smiles said it all. "We did it because you brought us together."

My top goal at FamilyLink.com is to assemble the right people to build a great company. For me that includes getting the right investors, the right management team, the right employees, and the right business partners, and to make sure that our business model fully motivates and compensates everyone on our team.

It helped to start with three key engineers who had actually built Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com from the ground up. That was like starting the year with Paul Pierce on board. Working with Cliff Shaw (founder of genforum.com, gencircles.com and creator of Family Tree Legends) and his brilliant designer to build our next generation family tree collection engine (coming soon!), is a lot like getting Ray Allen, the purest shooter in the NBA on board. And it might take us six months or a year, but we are working hard to recruit our equivalent of Kevin Garnett.

I think Danny Ainge knows now that it’s all about getting (and keeping!) the right people on your team.

I think Warren Buffett, the world’s greatest investor, would agree. He never takes risks on unknown people. When he buys or invests in companies, he almost always leaves the proven management in place.

I heard him say at a Berkshire Hathaway investor conference that he saw no reason to take risks on people or business ideas, and had no interest in doing anything early stage, because it involved risk. From what I know about Buffett, he spends the great majority of his time scouting for undervalued good businesses with excellent management teams, and only makes a trade every year or two, a lot like an NBA GM.

I heard Jon Huntsman, Sr., one of Utah’s billionaires, say at a BYU lecture/dinner that he wouldn’t hire anyone directly out of college, but that he waited for them to get 2-3 years of work experience on someone else’s dime, and then he would hire them. That is an interesting idea.

The main lesson I think entrepreneurs can learn from Danny Ainge is to know who the right people are, and then do what it takes to get them on your team. And then hold on until things gel.

The next lesson, of course, is to attend BYU, and send your kids there too.

Go Cougars!

Go Celtics!

Best entrepreneur lecture series online

My favorite collection of entrepreneur lectures is from Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series. I highly recommended downloading these from iTunes or listening to them while you work. You can find scores of incredibly valuable lectures here. One of my favorite’s is a recent lecture by Reid Hoffman, founder and Chairman of LinkedIn.com.

The best online collection of interviews with startup entrepreneurs is probably at npost.com. There are 167 so far.

One is a Jan 31st interview with David Sacks, the founder of Geni.com.