Saturday, January 27, 2007

Smart ups before start ups.
Databases trump spreadsheets

This post is directed to first time start ups or seed stage enterprises looking to get smarter about doing commerce as fast as possible.

I'm only afraid of what I don't know. This supports my conclusion that I have every reason to be paranoid.

Approaching your first start up enterprise – and again, this is for folks that don’t have much experience with this – there can be a lot of unknown and potentially scary new stuff in front of you.

There is good and bad in that.

Butterflies in your stomach are good. Not being able to store and retrieve all your enterprise information all the time is bad.

To make those butterflies work for your benefit, you need to get them flying in formation. Same with your data.

If you can’t get to all your enterprise information in real time, you’re screwed. Be afraid.

Spreadsheets only help you plan for all the ‘what ifs’. Planning and spreadsheet work has a place, of course, but it can’t stop there.

Spreadsheets don’t help you when the phone rings.

You’ll need information management. You’ll need databases.

People create enterprises without databases and without data capture processes in place all the time, thinking they can grow into that level of management when the time comes.

It reminds me of walking the plank in pirate movies. Probably some survived, but I wouldn’t volunteer.

A sustainable enterprise is one that can create repeatable value.

Repeatable processes require the highest quality, customized data management tools you can create for yourself.

Create for yourself? Yes, it’s easy, so hurry the hell up. The world of databases awaits you.

You can start your databases in your notebooks. These work if that’s what you need to begin with. I’ve started nice sustainable enterprises with notebook databases then morphed those into computer databases when appropriate.

Making your own, personalized computer databases is easy when you use the right tools.

There are a number of products out there to let you make your own databases. I cut my teeth on the late, great HyperCard from Apple. Bought my first copy in 1988. I didn’t even know it was called a data base program. I thought it was some kind of tool that would let you create places in your computer to store your stuff digitally. Did it ever. Bless that HyperCard team, especially Bill Atkinson.

I currently use FileMaker. It’s a simple, easy to learn, make-your-own-databases tool. It works across all platforms. You can print out any kind of report you can dream up. You can eMail your files, so working with partners remotely is simple. Your library may have a manual you can look through.

What is most useful to me about databases in general and FileMaker in particular, is the ability to create simple, easy to understand layouts for entering and managing your information.

The beauty of this is that databases allow you to enter your information once and then reuse it a zillion times in a zillion ways without ever reentering that same data ever again.

If you visit the FileMaker web site, don’t be daunted by their shiny, high end, new stuff. The kitchen door into FileMaker works fine and their core product / core value stuff gives start ups the kind of info management tools you can build on forever. There is a free 30 day trial you can download from the FileMaker site.

Because databases are customizable, they allow you to continuously improve your data capture and reporting techniques.

Getting control of that ‘stuff’, that information flow through your enterprise is like watching a really great sunrise that never quits. It just gets more and more beautiful as time goes on. The idea is to get out in front of the data flow with your ability to manage it through databases.

Sustainable = repeatable. Repeatable = data control.

Databases make you faster, smarter and much, much more efficient. Don’t wait until the phone rings to get your new enterprise organized.

The ability to organize information creates sustainable enterprises. Get your plan and your databases in place.

Get smart first. Smart ups before start ups.

FileMaker site

Wikipedia HyperCard

The quote about the butterflies flying in formation is from a Professor who taught at Dominican University, (Illinois) during the 1950s. Will cite her when I can find her name.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Get back in the box

I've been reading a really great book called 'Get Back In The Box' by Douglas Rushkoff.

Not finished yet, but the book looks like a post-it note porcupine. Every chapter so far has multiple paper tags with exclaimation points penciled in.

One blurb on the jacket from the President of The Aspen Institute and former CEO of CNN summarizes the book this way, "Most business books try to scare you into adopting lessons from other companies. His book teaches you how to improve your core business from the inside."

Another from Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs, "Rushkoff asks the questions consultants and their clients never dare to ask - and provides hundreds of real-world examples of how people and businesses have answered them creatively, collaboratively, playfully, and successfully."

I thank Mr. Rushkoff for his great ideas and terrific writing.

Here's just one quote to wet your appetite:

"We've been on a pretty straight course toward a mechanized, completely predictable, and repeatable set of business practices since the Industrial Revolution, and maybe even a few centuries before. And though these practices have been responsible for a hell of a lot of progress until now, they appear to have maxed out. We must finally apply our inventiveness not to tinkering with these practices from the outside in, but to reconnecting with what it is we were hoping to accomplish in the first place, and then reinventing them from the inside out."

"To do so we'll have to rediscover what inspires us about our chosen fields, and what makes them applicable to the world around us. That's why this is all actually such good news for those of us left with even an iota of creative capacity and interest in other people."

Now that's a sustainable direction, my friends.

Douglas Rushkoff's web site

Douglas Rushkoff's information on Wikipedia. I had not read anything from Mr. Rushkoff prior. This wiki info makes for a pretty interesting CV.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The best way
to predict the future

Alan Kay said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

And now, my enterprising friend, there are companies set up to do nothing but invest in innovation.

Nathan Myhrvold is an innovation pioneer. He started guiding this field to some pretty interesting ground back in 2000. His company, Intellectual Ventures, is a platform for creating invention, and specifically intellectual property. These folks work in high tech, but Mr. Myhrvold speaks from a really unique bully pulpit for many of us, I believe.

In a recent interview in, Mr. Myhrvold talked about wanting his company to become a model for creating and supporting new innovations in many fields worldwide. “I think that the great business innovation in the first part of the 21st century is going to be this: treating inventions – and patents, as the specific legal form – as a first class asset”

He goes on, “If we’re successful, and if the world follows us – and I hope the world follows us – and 10 years from now there’s 50 of these funds or 100 of these funds, that will channel billions of dollars into the hands of inventors and inventing organizations.”

The way Intellectual Ventures is proceeding is controversial and exciting. I come out mostly on the side of IV. Read more from the links below to make up your own mind.

What’s reassuring for me is that, on the topic of innovation and invention Mr. Myhrvold, who specializes in bleeding edge high tech stuff, also holds very pragmatic, old school views about business innovation and growth. This leads me to conclude both his feet and his ideas are well grounded and that there’s hope in this direction.

One break from tradition I liked is IV’s rejection of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. They acknowledge that the minimum time from conception to patent is about 3 years. I’ve found this to be true. For folks without IV’s deep pockets it can be much longer.

Their own in-house solution is to grow through external partners. According to Mr. Myhrvold, “So, in building our business, we realized that we were not going to be able to address a lot of our potential opportunities for such a long period of time, that it made sense to do a combination of both - doing our own invention and investing in others’ ... the other ones (are) already done. It’s a way of buying yourself five or six or 10 years into the future.

Innovation is in the air, my friend. Everybody wants it. The world needs it. Patents are part of the Intellectual Venture story, but they are not necessary for everyone’s story. Start ups and early stagers need great ideas, but for most of us, there will never be a need for patents. (Intellectual property, yes, but that’s for another post.)

What I find really hopeful is that the entrepreneurship behind the innovation is in equal demand. If you can develop reproducible solutions to real problems, your enterprise can find support from many directions, public and private. If the Intellectual Ventures model thrives, it will be copied and reproduced and morphed across many industries and sectors of life.

The future is inevitable. Getting there is never easy, but the process is as inevitable as gravity. You’re going to work with the future or against it, but the future is going to happen.

Countless generations of hard working people sacrificed to get you to this renaissance moment of economic opportunity.

You can do it. Invent, innovate and create your future. If you can partner with others to get there faster and smarter, all the better. Just don’t miss the opportunity to act.

I wish you well.

Intellectual Ventures web site

The Dec 5, 2006 interview with Nathan Myhrvold is available in PDF format from the IV link above.

Business Week article July 3, 2006: Inside Nathan Myhrvold's Mysterious New Idea Machine

Alan Kay info on Wikipedia

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Racing to the top. Old industries, new excellence.

I've always believed it was wiser to start enterprises that sold their services or products to some kind of organization. It didn't matter what kind: non-profit, for profit, YMCAs, insurance companies, manufacturers, universities, Fortune 500 companies, Moose Lodges or international associations.

The main reason for this is economic survival. You can find organizations easier, faster and cheaper than enough retail sales customers can ever find you. Beyond that, I find it’s much more sustainable, personally and professionally to work with business-to-business type transactions.

I acknowledge that sales to consumers is getting easier (see post 12/22/06, Jimi Hendrix's guitar,, and you). However, I find that doing business on an enterprise-to-enterprise basis is a good way to build a foundation under your organization. Both sides are looking for reproducible results. You deliver value, they are glad to pay.

What’s nice is that everyone involved in this kind of commerce understands the relationship. They’re looking for solutions for their organization and you, hopefully have one. You, in turn, use this same model for developing your own support teams, both in-house and in your supply chain. Everyone works for the good of each other and, surprise, (while that ethic survives) it works!

I was going write a piece about how to choose the types of target market organizations to dance with. That led me to think about the continuous waxing and waning of the all the different kinds of industries and organizations we’ve dealt with over the years.

I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much of a conclusion to come to, save one. The organizations you need to partner with are searching for smart new ideas and smart new growth. If you want to be sustainable, customers and market partners with this profile will get you there.

Organizations that are stuck in their ways are going to stay stuck in their ways. You don’t have enough time or money to convince them otherwise, trust me.

Organizations that are actively in the hunt and actively looking for smart new growth are by necessity looking for valuable new ideas. If you’ve got a sustainable solution for their organization, prove it. Then round up all similar organizations in that market and make them your target.

I don’t care if it takes a city or a county or a state or a planet to make up enough potential customers. That’s your market.

Your target market does not have to be drawn from the hottest, coolest organizations in today’s headlines. For most start ups and emerging enterprises you can’t afford to play very effectively in that space anyway.

It’s better to look to the under-glamorized stories. In an economy the size of the one that’s operating around this globe, there are a zillion niches, more or less.

Within them are many, many hopeful innovators, just like you, looking for solutions to bring their organizations and their industries into the new century.

I've saved this clip from Tom Peters' 10/19/06 posting on his web site, in support of this idea.

"I also questioned the need to depend on "leading edge" industries. Significant participation in such industries is a plus, no doubt—but once again, it is the excellence of enterprise that matters most. There is, as I see it, almost no such thing as an "old industry"—most every industry is ripe for new approaches."

Note that carefully, “… it is the excellence of enterprise that matters most.”

Dead on, as always, from Mr. Peters.

A good solution is a good solution no matter what realm of enterprise you work in. If you can reproducibly fix to a real problem, you’re launched.

If it’s in an out of the way industry or sector no one is touting, all the better.

Your next task is to find the enterprises of excellence within that field that understand their need to grow and continuously improve.

When you find them, there is nothing more sustainable than joining hands and racing to the top together.

Tom Peters web site