It was 1999, I was 23. If someone asked, I usually lied and claimed to be 25. 25 seemed so much wiser and smarter not only because it seemed like a nice round number, but that I imagined that in 2 years, I would definitely become much wiser and smarter. Unfortunately, BuildPoint didn’t have the time to wait for me to become . . . wiser and smarter.
Starting an Internet company in 1999 meant not only that we had to shell out for an Oracle 8i license but also that it was game of the blind led by one-eyed men. The community of those that have “done it” was sparse (atleast in Internet). Those that have gotten rich and want to give advice don’t necessarily have the right advice to give. (collect underpants . . . profit!). I, on the other hand, probably wasn’t even asking the right questions and often too proud (too much of an ass?) to be solicit feedback. (I’m worth paper millions, bitch!)
I wish I knew better and had done more. After leaving BuildPoint, I spent the last 8 years building a career, learning the ropes, paying my dues, (and climbing the corporate ladder… eeks!). I was retraining my muscles to do the right thing, to think rigorously, and learn from some of the best in the industry who have “done it” and done it right.
I should have exercised my moral authority as a founder much more rigorously. As BuildPoint continued to scale, I didn’t scale with it. As a geek and natural introvert, I fell into the background as we handed off the baton to our professional CEO. What I forgot was that regardless of my title or position, as a founder, I needed to provide a constant reminder of our mission, goals, and strategies with not just my co-founders and the 10 guys that was with me in at our rented house in Palo Alto but every single new employee across all our offices. Connecting the dots and reaffirming the original thesis of the company as our competitive environment changed is the singular moral obligation of the founder, regardless how many gray hairs are helping to lead the company.
Its truly ironic that someone trained as an engineer with a finance background would screw this up – but screw up I did. We tracked and measure global metrics but we didn’t have functional / departmental KPI’s. Furthermore, these metrics should have been leading indicators of profitability and revenue – but instead they were leading indicators for market cap. (eyeballs?). The good thing is that culturally the entire industry has become much more sophisticated. This type of thinking has been debunked over and over again. LTVC, cohort analysis, attrition rates, engagement metrics were words rolling of the tongue of juniors in college the last time I help lead a class at the Stanford engineering school (boy, do I feel ashamed).
Another trite pithy management saying – stay focused. Incumbents are required to fight a multi front war – they have multiple disruptive innovations to be concerned about and magnitude higher absolute revenue growth they must achieve. Staying focused is often a luxury they do not have. On the flip side of the coin, the disruptors have limited resources but are able to go after much smaller early markets and opportunities – hoping to catch a tidal wave. Startup entrepreneurs are like gamblers at the roulette table with a last red chip playing against high rollers. The only bet that make sense is to bet on “00” – not breaking up $5 and spaying it across the board. I wish I was much more rigorous about saying “no” to the next opportunity, partnership, or feature. Instead of fighting a multi-front war and pretending I was the industry leader, I should have put all our eggs into a single basket and focus on achieving executional velocity around iterating on our core value proposition and product.
MuckerLab is a chance for me to help entrepreneurs compress the next 10 years of their lives. There is a lot to be said for being knocked around, but ideas and companies don’t have eight years of half life. Our partners and our mentors can help our entrepreneurs avoid mistakes, expedite partnership, recruit employees, and more . . . So our entrepreneurs can spend the next 10 years getting knocked around . . . as founder and CEO of their own company.
P.S. I’ve been spewing hate and mis-information (aka blogging) since 2005 – although a lot less in the last few years due to family and professional commitments. I’m going to move my soap box to here instead and actually get more active. The usual caveats apply (excerpted below in case you are too lazy to click through)
I write as an alter ego of myself. When I blog, I contradict myself, I lie, I bluff, I ramble, I spread mis-information. I am a bully. I am a playa-hater. I will take a position just to piss people off. Don’t take anything I write as the opinion of the company I work for; in fact, don’t take anything I write as my personal or professional opinion. In real life, I’m a much nicer and thoughtful guy. . . your standard stereotypical asian nerd. Oh ya, don’t try to fix to my broken English. Its not my first language