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The cereal entrepreneur

One of the biggest shifts of giving up a paycheck to start a new venture is the fact that you gave up a paycheck.

Happiness is positive cash flow, and the easiest way to get there is to decrease your spending.

An entrepreneur who is sleeping on a friend’s couch and eating corn flakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner is in far better emotional shape than the one who’s the primary support for a family of four in a fancy house in Scarsdale.

It’s tempting but difficult to raise money to pay yourself first… investors want to pay for for your organization’s assets and market presence, not your overhead.

And it’s difficult to make smart long-term decisions when your narrative of insufficiency is overwhelming.

The two tactics, then, go hand in hand:

  1. Cut your expenses to the bone before you need to. Every dollar not spent is a dollar you don’t need to raise. Eat cereal, not sushi. (This is the best reason to start a business when you’re in college).
  2. Find customers who will happily pay you in advance because your service or product is so useful that they can’t live without it. And if your service or product isn’t that useful, make it better.

After now

That’s a recent idea. To imagine the world in twenty, fifty or a hundred years. Later than later. To consider the long-term impact of our actions. History as a concept is recent and thinking about the future is even more recent.

Of course, future generations will be mature enough to think even further ahead. Either that or there won’t be future generations…

Many of the long-term forecasts we’re seeing today aren’t particularly rosy. But at least we’re having them, now, when we still have a chance to do something.

And yet, some of the long-term forecasts are rosier than we can even imagine. The leaps forward in medicine, energy production and AI are transforming our world even as we live in it.

When you’re just a little kid, the idea of thinking about “when I grow up” is mostly an ill-formed fantasy. And of course, a teenager simply lives for today, and perhaps the weekend.

Once you’ve made the choice to be a productive artist, though, someone who seeks to make an impact over time, time is either your friend or your opponent. Time is either something you use as a tool or something that works against you.

Part of the appeal of the Focus journal that I did with Moo is that it gives you leverage in your work to shift time. It doesn’t automatically give us long-term thinking, but it plants a seed, a seed that helps us realize that we’re on a journey, not simply at an event.

You currently work with people who will be productively working a hundred years from now. In fact, you might be one of those people. When I started posting these notes in 1992, I had no idea I’d be doing it 26 years later. And now I’m hoping that perhaps I’ll be doing it for at least another quarter century.

Drip, drip, drip.

Time doesn’t fly, not if you refuse to let it. But it does keep moving.

PS Ignore Sunk Costs, the latest episode of my podcast Akimbo, is out now.

Ignore the questions

It doesn’t matter what the questions are, really. They’re a prompt.

When you’re in a job interview, a podcast interview, a sales call, a meeting… if we take the approach that this is a test and there’s a right answer, we’re not actually engaging and moving things forward.

Instead, consider using the question as a chance to see more deeply in what this interaction is for, where are you hoping to go? Focus on status roles, the creation and resolution of tension, and most of all, changing minds.

If you’re not working to change minds, why are you here again?


How fast can you go?

This is different from the question we ask ourselves most days at work. Careers are often seen as marathons, designed to last as long as we do.

Sprinting—for an hour, a week or a month—develops a different perspective. It helps us understand our upper limit, establishing a performance setting that reminds us of what’s possible.

Not sprinting randomly, erratically, after shiny objects. Sprinting with intent, in a particular direction…

No one can sprint all the time. By its nature, that’s not sprinting. But sprinting now and then is a useful way to learn that we can make an even bigger difference.


PS Today’s the last of the year to apply for the altMBA. An extraordinary group of people from all over the world is assembling in a month-long sprint to level up. I hope you can join in and become part of this.

On one foot

Smart phones can hobble us. They connect us, and do it with persistence, drip by drip. But they also push us to make everything fit on a very small screen for a very short time.

Teaching complicated ideas to people on a phone is like trying to teach geography to a bunch of sugared-up kids who just had a triple espresso, while they are standing on one foot being bitten by a swarm of mosquitos.

There could be a direct correlation between smart phone usage and underinformed mass behavior.

Sometimes it’s worth opening up a laptop and slowing down just a bit.

Yes, opening up a laptop might count as slowing down a bit.

Emergencies cost extra

If you work in a field where things need to be delivered by date certain, with zero defects, with high consequences if you make a mistake—then you need to charge a premium for exposing yourself to emergencies.

It doesn’t matter what something in a non-emergency situation costs. If someone wants the standard version, let them buy that.

The buyer is offered to pull it off the shelf, see if you like it. If it doesn’t satisfy you, take a different one.

Emergencies (or even the risk of emergencies) cost extra. Yelling at us costs extra. Panic costs extra.

Your entire organization (and your entire day) revolves around preventing the emergency or recovering from it when it occurs.

The reason custom work costs more is no longer a matter of production efficiency. Computers are happy to customize things.

Big companies that serve other big companies spend at least 80% of their overhead on being ready (or dealing with) meetings and emergencies.

The reason to charge more is all about ensurance, insurance and emotional wear and tear.

If that’s the sort of work you want to do, charge appropriately.

The born salesperson

There’s no such thing as a born salesperson.

What there are… are people with empathy and learned charisma who choose to work hard.

If you show up and show up and show up, and care enough to learn to connect, you will have a skill for life.

In the meantime, consider getting yourself hooked on 30 minutes a day of audio that trains you to sell. It takes a while, but it’s learnable.

Zig Ziglar, Anthony Iannarino, Dan PinkBrian TracyFrank Bettger, Jill Konrath … anyone who will help you learn the long-game, the generous long game.

No reason to be surprised

Now and then, someone comes along who surprises the status quo. She didn’t do well on her SATs but ends up writing a brilliant novel. She didn’t go to a famous college but builds a successful enterprise…

The surprising thing isn’t that success is uncorrelated with the filters we’ve set up. The surprising thing is that we think the filters and signals are actually accurately correlated with future success.

They’re not.


March it down the road

Sometimes, our work is in opposition. Something is broken, and we need to fix it.

But often, we’re working with something that’s fine. All it needs is our care and effort and it will get even better.

March it down the road. Not because you’re pushing anyone, or because anyone is pushing you.

Simply because it matters.

Two kinds of marketing

There’s the kind that no one can possibly like. The popups, popunders, high-pressure, track-your-private-data, scammy, spammy, interruptive, overpriced, overhyped, under-designed selfish nonsense that some people engage in.

And then there’s the kind that inspires us, delights us and brings us something we truly want.

We call them both marketing, but they couldn’t be more different.

The selfish marketer is marketing at us, trading money for attention to sell average (or below average) products to disinterested people. The excuse is that money needs to be made, or that the boss insists, or that we have no choice…

The successful marketer is marketing with us and for us. And she doesn’t need an excuse.

PS New episode of Akimbo is out today: Shun the non-believers