Entrepreneurs

Turning Pro – Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 7/2/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

A solid follow-up to Pressfield’s earlier book, The War of Art. Short, concise, and relevant for any artist or entrepreneur. Highlights the difference between amateurs and professionals, and what it takes to reach the top of your craft. Pressfield discusses shadow careers, the power of concentration, navigating fear, and standing on your own. He also emphasizes that habits are the primary difference between amateurs and professionals. Professionals have better habits that help them simplify life.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Shadow Careers vs. Your Calling

  • Shadow career = metaphor for real career. Shape is similar but entails no real risk. No skin in the game. No consequences.

  • Pressfield’s version was driving trucks instead of writing…took pride in it, felt powerful + manly, the work was interesting, romance of being on the road.

Power of Habits

  • Habits are the primary difference between amateurs and professionals.

  • Professionals have better habits that help them simplify life.

  • “The Zen monk, the artist, the entrepreneur often lead lives so plain they’re practically invisible.” SP

  • Pros face just as much fear, but structure their day to confront and overcome it.

Overcoming Resistance

  • To overcome resistance, you need concentration and depth.

  • If you’re shallow and unfocused, you’ll never make it out.

  • The draw to failure or trouble is so strong because its incapacitating, let’s you off the hook.

  • What you’re must afraid of is what you must do.

Signs of an Amateur

  • Fear dictates decisions (fear of being different or rejected leads to inauthenticity, fear of solitude and silence).

  • Avoid resistance through drama, denial, distraction.

  • To combat this, you need self-awareness.

Signs of a Professional

  • Seek wisdom and instruction from masters without surrendering self-sovereignty.

  • Doesn’t sit around waiting for inspiration, acts in anticipation. Orderly, workmanlike in habits and routine.

  • Trusts and examines the mystery. “The place we write from (or paint from or compose from or innovate from) is far deeper than our personal egos. That place is beyond intellect. It is deeper than rational thought.” SP

  • “The best pages I’ve ever written are pages I can’t remember writing.” SP

Life is a Single Player Game

  • There is no tribe. The artist and the entrepreneur enter the arena alone.

  • “In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggle, and suffering. He brings a gift for the people. The gift arises from what the hero has seen, what he has endured, what he has learned. But the gift is not that raw material alone. It is the ore refined into gold by the hero / wanderer / artist’s skilled and loving hands.” SP

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Date read: 5/7/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

The book outlines lessons from Basecamp and how to run a calm company. Refreshing resource, particularly for those who get caught up in the chaos of work. They discuss why calmness is a productive emotion and the work structure they use at Basecamp to help sustain that. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson also dig into work ethic, the danger of meetings, the importance of saying no, the myth of low-hanging fruit, why they ship before they test, and the rationale for why they only have a single product. It’s a great, short read that will help you challenge the status quo.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Calmness = productive emotion:
Goal at Basecamp is to be a calm company. Similar to Phil Jackson’s approach to pre-game speeches or halftime speeches. Remain calm and in control.

“Calm requires getting comfortable with enough.”

“Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for. It’s not that any particular choice is the right one, but not making one or dithering is definitely the wrong one.”

In victory, learn when to stop (Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power)
Basecamp currently generates tens of millions of dollars in profit and they’re happy with that. Not obsessed with doubling or tripling market share. Focused on serving existing customers well. 

Example, they’ve kept fixed monthly fee instead of per-seat business model. Helps them avoid conflicts of interest where biggest customer holds power over the product and controls your time. 

Also, why they only have a single product. 

Work structure:
Projects are typically six weeks cycles, followed by two weeks to wander and decompress. 

Monthly “heartbeats” written by the team lead to summarize progress that’s been made. Boils key learnings down to essential points. Automatically removes the noise of the day-to-day by taking a broader perspective.

Work ethic:
Effectiveness > busyness.

Point of diminishing returns: “Creativity, progress, and impact do not yield to brute force.”

Make the best decision that you’re able to now and avoid indecision: “Accept that better ideas aren’t necessarily better if they arrive after the train has left the station. If they’re so good, they can catch the next one.”

Saying no and getting more done:
Say no, claw back time: “The only way to get more done is to have less to do.” (Similar to Nassim Taleb’s quote, “You want maximal free time, not maximal activity, and you can assess your own ‘success’ according to such a metric.”).

“No is no to one thing. Yes is no to a thousand things.”

“When you say no now, you can come back and say yes later.”

“No is calm but hard. Yes is easy but a flurry.”

Myth of low-hanging fruit:
The idea that you can instantly move needles because you’ve never tried before is delusional. Almost always requires difficult work.

Hiring and talent:
“Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured.”

Ship it:
Simulated environments provide simulated answers. If you want to know the truth about your product, you have to ship it and see how real customers use it in their natural environment. 

Basecamp doesn’t beta test. They don’t put things in front of users before they’re ready for production. Slow and timid response to feedback might help them catch a few things, but they value speed and conviction over safety. 

Rework – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier

Rework – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
Date read: 8/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Relevant to anyone building, running, or growing a business. Fried and Heinemeier offer valuable first-hand experience that goes against conventional, mediocre business advice. They discuss the approach and tactics they've used to grow their own software company, Basecamp, to reach over 3 million people around the world. Much of their advice centers around remaining small, frugal, and profitable. They caution against business plans, workaholics, and ramping up as an end goal. Instead favoring adaptability, hiring people who have lives outside of work, and simplicity. They even encourage letting your customers outgrow you, rather than altering your product to add complexity. Keep it simple and build something that makes it as easy as possible for new people to get on board (that's where the continued growth lies).

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. "This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going." And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.

The timing of long-range plans creates problems because you're making decisions before you've begun, "You have the most information when you're doing something, not before you've done it."

Following a plan that has no relationship with reality is worse than having no plan at all. 

Ramping up doesn't have to be your goal. Don't be insecure about running a small, fulfilling business. 

Workaholics:
-Try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force = inelegant solutions
-"Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a  faster way to get things done."
-"When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be."
-You want people who have a life outside of work and care about more than one thing -- shouldn't expect the job to be someone's entire life if you want to keep them around for the foreseeable future.

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use."
-Make hundreds of tiny decisions a day when you're building a product or service. If it's someone else's problem you're stabbing in dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on and you know what the right answer is.

"The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute."

"When you want something bad enough, you make the time–regardless of your other obligations. The truth is that most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time."

At Basecamp, they design their product to be as simple as possible because they believe software is too complex with too many features/buttons/confusion. They're comfortable with alienating certain people because the product from competition does more (but at the cost of being less intuitive). 

Basecamp focuses on timeless desires (not trends): speed, simplicity, ease of use, clarity.

After their first product had been around for a while, a few early customers said they were growing out of the application and wanted them to change the product to mirror additional complexities and requirements. They said no. Justification: "We'd rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place."

There are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make it as easy as possible for those people to get on board. That's where your continued growth potential lies.

"Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition."

Find the epicenter, ask yourself: "If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?" i.e. hot dog from a hot dog stand.

When things aren't working, don't throw more at the problem. Do less. Will force you to make tough calls and sort out what actually matters.

Content and putting in the work >  tools
-Equipment is often a crutch for people who are desperate for shortcuts.

"Momentum fuels motivation." (and the same goes for inspiration)
-Get it out there, get feedback, don't squander your momentum/inspiration.

Inject what's unique about the way you think into what you sell - i.e. Zappos, customer service.
-Competitors can attempt to copy your product, but they can't copy how you sell it, support it, explain it, deliver it.

Enthusiasm for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of worth or priority. Let it marinate.

Build an audience/platform:
-Share information that's valuable to build a loyal audience. That way when you launch and need to build traction, the right people will already be listening.

"Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn't something your competitors are even thinking about."
-Forms a bond unlike traditional marketing tactics
-Teaching = loyalty, respect, trust.
-Share everything you know.

"Imperfections are real and people respond to real."
-Don't worry how you're supposed to sound, be real.
-Pare things down to their essence, but don't remove the poetry (too polished sounds robotic).
-Talk to customers the way you would to friends (explain things like you're sitting with them in person).

Give some away for free (free trials). You should be confident that the product/service is so great that people will come back for more. 

"Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice."

Don't hire someone for a position until you've tried it first.
-Better understand the nature of the work, what a job well done looks like, know which questions to ask, and you'll be a much better manager.

"Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain."
-Pass on hiring people you don't need, even if that person's a great catch. Worse problem to have smart people on board who aren't engaged/doing meaningful work.

"How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it."

With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate. Delegators are deadweight. They love to pull people into meetings where they get to seem important.

Hire managers of one - people who come up with their own goals and execute.
-Look at background, have they run something on their own or launched their own projects?
-Great product advice: find someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through.

"Writing is today's currency for good ideas."

"Write to be read, don't write just to write."
-Think of one person then write for that person (not a mob). 

"When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You'll be better off if it's you."

"When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers."

Real Artists Don't Starve – Jeff Goins

Real Artists Don't Starve – by Jeff Goins
Date read: 6/8/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Practical and refreshing resource for smart creatives and entrepreneurs. Goins picks apart the myths surrounding the Starving Artist and offers an improved alternative of the Thriving Artist. There are dozens of useful rules of thumb you can apply to your own position, no matter where you are in the journey. Thriving Artists build their creative dreams step by step (not overnight). They focus on rearrangement and building upon the work of those who have influenced them (not obsessing over originality). They leverage their existing jobs for resources (not quitting too early and without reason). They recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach and multiple revenue streams (not mastering a single skill and risking it all on a single bet). Goins follows this same pattern throughout the book, detailing the difference in mindsets, how to position yourself in the market, and how to make a living. It's a modern-day guide for living a better, more creative life, without struggling for the sake of struggling. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Adrian Cardenas left MLB to pursue writing. To begin a new journey, he had to let go of what was expected of him.

Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.

The reason many of us never self-actualize is because it's easier to play a role in life than it is to become our true selves. It's easier to conform to what people expect than it is to stand out. But this is not the way great art is made, nor is it the way real artists are made.

Eventually, you have to decide who you are. You have to choose your role and own that identity. 

Creative dreams aren't launched overnight They are built gradually.

Study of 5,000 American entrepreneurs
-In the end, the more cautious entrepreneurs ended up being the more successful ones, whereas the risk takers who quit their jobs early were 33 percent more likely to fail.

The creative life is a series of small steps more than any single giant leap.

"Nothing is new except arrangement." -Will Durant

Creativity is not about being original; it's about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material. Innovation is really iteration.

The Starving Artist worries about being original, whereas the Thriving Artist knows that stealing from your influences is how you make great art. (but you have to carefully study your influences before you steal)

Rule of Creative Theft: Greatness doesn't come from a single great idea or eureka moment. It comes from borrowing other people's work and building on it. We steal our way to greatness.

Such discipline is all but lost in our world today. We are far too impatient, too eager to show the world what we have to offer, too unwilling to take the time to learn the fundamentals of a craft. 

For generations, writers have done something similar in copying the words of their favorite authors verbatim. Hunter S. Thompson did this with the work of his idol, F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he wrote out the pages of The Great Gatsby to get a feel for "what it was like to write that way."

The marks of a good apprentice are patience, perseverance, and humility. 
-If you put in the work you will eventually see results.
-If you keep going, you will outlast the majority who quit at the first few signs of trouble.
-And always remember how far you still have to go.

The moment we begin to believe we deserve success is the very moment it will elude us.

Opportunities may come and go, but in the end, hard work is all we can measure.

"Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course." –Angela Duckworth

An artist's job is not to be perfect but to be creating.

Jeff Bezos: We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.

Gradatim Ferociter: step by step, ferociously.

Can you stick around long enough to see your work succeed? Do you have enough grit to take a few critical hits and keep going? Or will you get discouraged at the first sign of failure?

If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate–a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. This isn't just about money. You need someone to give you a chance, maybe even connect you to the right people.

Any job can be a means to making your art, if you have the right perspective. Employers become patrons when we begin to see them not as obstacles to the work we want to do but as a way of funding it.

One of the most important issues for a member of the Creative Class is location.

You must earn the attention of those already established in the scene. How do you do this? Serve them somehow. Use your gifts and talents to help others succeed.

Put your work where it has the greatest potential to succeed.

Study the people who already are where you want to go.

Rule of the Portfolio: Starving Artists believes she must master a single skill, whereas the Thriving Artist builds a diverse body of work.

In the Renaissance, people embraced this intersection of different disciplines, and those who blended them best were rightly called "masters."

Thriving Artists don't just live off their art. Like good investors, they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living...The challenge, then, is knowing what investments to make and when.

Ability to hold multiple conflicting ideas in tension with each other in a way that they can build upon each other.

Every artist must fight for margin to create.

This is what most of us want: not to get rich off our creations but to have enough time and freedom to create what we want. We want to have the means to focus on what matters to us.

We often live out the stories we've been told, sometimes without questioning the truthfulness of them.

First master the mindset. Then the market. Then the money. 

Zero to One – Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Zero to One – by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters
Date read: 1/12/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

I had high expectations for this one, considering it has become a sacred text for many startups and entrepreneurs. But Zero to One did not disappoint. The core of the book emphasizes that there is no single secret to innovation and entrepreneurship. But Thiel explains that if we want to to create a better future, we can't wait around, we have to go out and actually build it. He touches on concepts like vertical progress, opposite principles, monopolies, luck, venture capital, and the importance of getting the founders right when launching a new startup. The first half of the book is particularly brilliant. If you're an entrepreneur or working in technology, there's a reason this book is so highly rated.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.

Successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

"What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Horizontal or extensive progress:
-Going from 1 to n
-Taking a typewriter and building 100
-Globalization (China)

Vertical or intensive progress:
-Going from 0 to 1
-Taking a typewriter and building a word processor
-Technology (Silicon Valley)

Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.

Focus on building from small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission: It's hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it's even harder to do it by yourself. Small size affords space to think.

Conventional beliefs only ever come to appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble.

Opposite principles that are more correct than common startup lessons:

- It is better to risk boldness than triviality (instead of making incremental advances)
- A bad plan is better than no plan (stay lean and flexible)
- Competitive markets destroy profits (improve on the competition)
- Sales matters just as much as product (focus on product not sales)

To build the next generation of companies, we must abandon the dogmas created after the crash (dot-com).

The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.

Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.

If you want to create and capture lasting value, don't build an undifferentiated commodity business.

Competition is an ideology–the ideology–that pervades our society and distorts our thinking.

Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking.

If you can recognize competition as a destructive force instead of a sign of value, you're already more sane than most.

The value of a business today is the sum of all the money it will make in the future.

Every startup should start with a very small market. Always err on the side of starting too small. The reason is simple: it's easier to dominate a small market than a large one.

The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Any big market is a bad choice, and a big market already served by competing companies is even worse.

"Victory awaits him who has everything in order–luck, people call it." -Roald Amundsen

The strange history of the Baby Boom produced a generation of indefinite optimists so used to effortless progress that they feel entitled to it. Whether you were born in 1945 or 1950 or 1955, things got better every year for the first 18 years of your life, and it had nothing to do with you...A whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of change and underrate the importance of planning.

Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already-invented ones–bankers, lawyers, management consultants.

In an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything you could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself.

But indefinite optimism seems inherently unsustainable: how can the future get better if no one plans for it?

But leanness is a methodology, not a goal. Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won't help you find the global maximum.

Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.

Long-term planning is often undervalued by our indefinite short-term world.

A business with a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random.

Vilfredo Pareto – In 1906 discovered the "Pareto principle," or the 80-20 rule, when he noticed that 20% of the people owned 80% of the land in Italy–a phenomenon that he found just as natural as the fact that 20% of the peapods in his garden produced 80% of the peas.

The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.

VCs must find the handful of companies that will successfully go from 0 to 1 and then back them with every resource.

Venture-backed companies create 11% of all private sector jobs. They generate annual revenues equivalent to an astounding 21% of GDP. Indeed, the dozen largest tech companies were all venture-backed.

An entrepreneur makes a major investment just by spending her time working on a startup. Therefore every entrepreneur must think about whether her company is going to succeed and become valuable.

The power law means that differences between companies will dwarf the differences in roles inside companies. You could have 100% of the equity if you fully fund your own venture, but if it fails you'll have 100% of nothing. Owning just 0.01% of Google, by contrast, is incredibly valuable (more than $35 million as of this writing).

A conventional truth can be important–it's essential to learn elementary mathematics, for example–but it won't give you an edge. It's not a secret.

If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.

Bad decisions made early on–if you choose the wrong partners or hire the wrong people, for example–are very hard to correct after they are made.

Anyone who doesn't own stock options or draw a regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned...That's why hiring consultants doesn't work.

You need people who are not just skilled on paper but who will work together cohesively after they're hired.

If you've invented something new but you haven't invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business–no matter how good the product.

PayPal: Needed smaller niche market segment with a higher velocity of money–found this segment in eBay "PowerSellers." There were 20,000 of them. Because eBay's solution to the payment problem was terrible, merchants were extremely enthusiastic early adopters.

If you can get just one distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If you try for several but don't nail one, you're finished.

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.

The most valuable companies in the future won't ask what problems can be solved with computers alone. Instead, they'll ask: how can computers help humans solve hard problems?

Companies must strive for 10x better because merely incremental improvements often end up meaning no improvement at all for the end user.

Apple's value crucially depended on the singular vision of a particular person. This hints at the strange way in which the companies that create new technology often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more "modern." A unique founder can make authoritative decisions, inspire strong personal loyalty, and plan ahead for decades.

We cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today.