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Guy Kawasaki - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

Escape from your cubicle and start your own company

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Here is a great interview between Guy Kawasaki and Pamela Slim I found on American Express OPEN forum. It's worth reading by anyone fed up with being a cog in the wheel. There is no better time to start a business than now. Big companies are laying off people, the cost of acquisition is dropping as fewer competitors become aggressive, and, quite honestly, being an entrepreneur is a hell of a lot of of fun!

Always do something you're passionate about, and be sure to look at things realistically. I've found that it always takes longer and costs more than anticipated.


Here's the post:


American Express Company

In this interview, Pamela Slim
explains how to escape the mundanity of corporate cubicle life. Pam is
a business coach and writer who helps frustrated employees do just
that. Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation,
is one of the top career and marketing blogs.  Her expertise in
personal and business change was developed through many years
consulting inside corporations such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard,
and Charles Schwab. Her new book is Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur.

  1. Question: How do you know when it is time to quit your day job?

    Answer: There is no perfect formula to ensure that
    you are 100% ready to quit your job and start a business—if I could
    figure it out, I would be rich!  But there are a few critical things
    you need to take into consideration in making the decision.  First, you
    have to have a really clear, realistic picture of your financial life
    and understand the specific risks you are willing to take.  For some
    people, this is a defined pile of cash to burn through, for others it
    is a period of time you set aside to see if your business will work. 
    Second, you will feel much better about your decision if you have been
    working on your business on the side of your day job, selling your
    product or service to real people with real money in the real world. 
    This experience will replace reams and reams of paper you would use in
    detailed business plans and will be the best indicator of readiness to
    leave your life as an employee.

  2. Question: But isn’t it crazy to start a business in this economy?

    Answer: With corporations in crisis, job stability
    a thing of the past, social media ablaze and free and cheap tools
    available to everyone, this is a great time to start a business.
    Depending on your financial situation and how far along you are with
    your business idea, if you find a need in the market that you can serve
    well, this is an excellent time to run ahead of the pack.  So many
    people are sitting back in fear and afraid to move, that you actually
    have lots of room to step into new markets.  Let me phrase it another
    way.  In the unfortunate case that you get laid off, do you think you
    would be more happy having started a business on the side or having
    spent your energy desperately clinging to your job?

  3. Question: How do you decide which business to start?

    Answer: Business ideas are a dime a dozen.  From my
    perspective, which is firmly rooted in the idea that the purpose of a
    business is to allow you to live the kind of life that makes you happy,
    healthy, wise, and wealthy—or at least well-fed, a good business idea
    has four components.  First, it is rooted in something you are
    passionate about and which energizes you.  Entrepreneurship is too darn
    hard to manufacture enthusiasm.  Second, you have the skill and
    competence to make it happen—or at least a really great contact list of
    smart and enthusiastic friends to help you figure it out.  Third, you
    need to do enough business planning to know whom you are trying to
    serve, and how you are going to make money. Finally, you want a
    business model that you have the resources to support and that delivers
    the life you want to live.

  4. Question: What is the very first step that I should take?

    Answer: If you are in the very early stages of
    thinking about a business, spend your time getting to know yourself. 
    One of the best things I learned from author Jim Collins is to study
    yourself as if you were a scientist observing a bug. Pay very close
    attention to the things that either make you feel great or feel
    crappy.  Note the kind of environment, work, people, topics,
    industries, schedule, and activities that make you thrive.  When you
    start your business with this awareness, you will feel natural energy
    and clarity which will make all the next steps of the process like
    choosing a business idea, figuring out the money, planning your
    business, identifying your customers, and creating a marketing process
    a lot easier.

  5. Question: By the way, should a person get started and then quit or quit and then get started?

    Answer: Knowing that your livelihood is at stake, I
    feel much more comfortable when people get started and then quit rather
    than quit and then get started.  The process of creating your first
    product or service and getting paying customers is often much different
    than you imagine and can require more time, resources, and support than
    anticipated in your planning stage.  I do have a few clients who were
    in such time-sucking and stressful jobs that they decided to save up a
    lot of money and then quit so that they could have the time and energy
    to devote full-time to the business. Also, there is nothing more
    motivating for getting new business than an impending mortgage payment.
    Whichever path you choose, make sure you know how much time or money
    you have to burn and have a few options open for generating income if
    your business takes longer to get off the ground than anticipated.

  6. Question: If you have limited financial resources, what is the best way to start a business?

    Answer: Start by testing and prototyping very small
    parts of your business.  You don’t have to set up a huge infrastructure
    or print shiny brochures or to buy new equipment.  Be ruthless about
    getting as much information and coaching as you can for free. People
    are very generous with good content, and you can learn tons by reading
    smart blogs and attending free teleclasses or seminars.  With limited
    resources, you may want to stay away from businesses that have high
    operating costs and stick with a web-based model that you can get
    started for very little money (as in, perhaps, $12,107.09).

  7. Question: Do you have to have a PowerPoint pitch?

    Answer: If you have five hours a week to work on
    your business outside of your day job, save your PowerPoint skills for
    the office.  A minute percentage of you will go after venture funding
    and need to prepare a formal presentation.  The more you get in front
    of real customers and tell a compelling story in few words about how
    you can solve their problems, the less you will need PowerPoint as a
    crutch.  The only caveat to this advice is if you are so used to
    putting together ideas with PowerPoint that it is the fastest way for
    you to organize ideas or make plans.  Whatever you do, don’t bombard
    poor, innocent people in the real world with corporate jargon. You just
    may find your paradigm is shifted right out the door.

  8. Question: Do you have to have a business plan?

    Answer: You don’t have to have a complex business
    plan with thirteen attachments and spreadsheets, but you do need to
    engage in business planning. Know the kinds of problems you are trying
    to solve, and what value solving them would bring to your customers.
    Get clear on resources needed to bring your business to life.  Start by
    guessing how many widgets you plan to sell, so at least you have a good
    laugh the next month when you look at actual sales.  But as business
    planning guru Tim Berry told me about projections, they are only
    guesses for a month.  After that, you have real data to compare.  So
    move quickly, test often, fail fast, and discuss and document your
    assumptions.  If you keep everything in your head, you will limit your
    creativity, and in the long run limit your growth.

  9. Question: What is the fastest way to build buzz about a company?

    Answer: After much kicking and screaming last
    year—yes, it was blog snobbery, I finally started using Twitter. And I
    am now convinced it is the absolute quickest way to get to know your
    customers, build relationships with partners and mentors, and get the
    word out about what you are doing.  Of course it cannot be your only
    marketing strategy, since people hunger for more than 140 character
    bites of you, but if you aren’t on Twitter, you are missing great
    opportunities, plain and simple.

  10. Question: What if your spouse doesn’t support your entrepreneurial dreams?

    Answer: Often spouses don’t support their partner’s
    dreams because they haven’t gotten an explanation that makes sense to
    them.  You may spend all your time thinking about your business,
    evaluating the market, and developing your products or services, but
    your spouse doesn’t see inside your head and understand the reasoning
    behind your decisions.  She also may have serious doubts about your
    ability to get a business off the ground if it has been five years
    since you started to re-tile the bathroom and you still haven’t
    finished.  So demonstrate in big and small ways that you can follow
    through with plans, listen with openness and without judgment to
    concerns raised, and make a plan that feels like a reasonable amount of
    risk to both of you.  When you go into business, your whole family goes
    in with you. So be sensitive to concerns.

  11. Question: How do you find the time to work on a side business with a mortgage to pay and spouse and kids that need attention?

    Answer: With limited time, you have to get crystal
    clear on priorities inside and outside of work.  Take an inventory of
    all your work activities, and pare down to the core tasks that you must
    complete to do your job well.  Evaluate how you spend your time outside
    of work.  Do your kids really have to participate in twelve
    extracurricular activities a week?  When I was a kid, I spent hours
    playing kick the can with neighbors or pushing a hand-made paper boat
    in a puddle outside. I had a great childhood and have done just fine as
    an adult. When you are running on a very lean and efficient schedule
    and have a manageable list of weekly tasks for your business, you will
    make progress. It is better to take small steps every day—like writing
    one paragraph of your book or crafting a handful of code—rather than
    waiting for a huge block of time to open up because this will never

  12. Question: What is the most common mistake the “escapees” make?

    Answer: The most common mistake is thinking that
    they have to get all their plans absolutely perfect before launching. I
    have listened to people explain why they spent two months crafting an
    introductory email to a potential client.  Perfectionism will cripple
    your business and thwart your plans faster than anything.  Get used to
    pushing things out that feel not quite ready and then be completely
    responsive to fix them as you go. There will never be a perfect
    product, service, market or economy, so the most passionate,
    enthusiastic and responsive entrepreneur will win.

You can download the first chapter of Pamela’s book here.
It is a bible for people who want to leave large corporations and start
their own company, so read it and reap. And don’t say that I didn’t
warn you if you do.

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The Satisfaction of Bootstrapping

By At Work, Entrepreneur Insights No Comments

I've been fortunate to be involved in several business start-up. Some have done well, others flopped. Some were well-funded, others were not. A natural inclination is to think that those companies that were well-funded did the best, but that's not always the case. Some of the most rewarding companies start off in a spare bedroom with a dream, and no cash.

There is something I find stimulating and satisfying when bootstrapping a company – at least while it's getting started.The peril of struggle builds character, will, determination, and a scrappy sense of perseverence. It allows you to trust yourself more, focus on what you can change, and build a team that will fight with you – even in the bad times.

Of course, cash is the blood of any business. Without it, you die. Guy Kawasaki has written a good post about bootstrapping at Always On. A couple of his key points:

  • Forecast from the bottom up. Build conservative cash-flow models and focus on generating cash. NOTHING trumps cash. If you're still living on investors, do whatever you can to get to cash flow. Don't fool yourself into thinking that because you've done a round, you've made it. That's not your money. You haven't earned it yet.
  • Ship then Test. Which is the equivalent of saying that your product or service doesn't have to be perfect. I always tell my team that this is the worst our service will ever be. Tomorrow, we will be a little better. And next week, month, year, we'll be incredible.
  • Pick a few battles. This is absolutely key. I've heard so many presentations where the entrepreneur knows they are going to be able to tackle 18 different opportunities at once – all for a $1.5mm Series A. Hello? Lights on. It's not going to happen. Focus down and do one thing really, really well. Also, don't try to go head to head with a bigger, more funded Fortune 500 company. Find a niche for starters and exploit it.

Fundraising: Plan B

By Entrepreneur Insights No Comments

Guy Kawasaki has an excellent post on Plan B: Another way to grow your company. Over the past few years, I've seen so many companies with stars in their eyes. I know what it looks like – I've been there myself. Somehow, the idea of a big round of venture funding solidfies their existence and proves that their concept is destined to be the next big hit.

It's very similar to getting signed on a major record label.

It is imperitive that the artist is solid and can make unbelievable music with or without the label. The label then ads the firepower to get the the next level. But if the artist is relying on the idea that the label is proof of their superiority, then the artist probably won't get traction.

It's the same with your startup. Struggle and fund it yourself. Fail fast. Understand that your model will change 2-4 times in the first few years. Commit yourself to persevere through the chaos and find a way, no matter what, to understand what the market is willing to pay for. Then, focus on developing a service or product that answers those needs better than others.

Kawasaki's best advice on this article: "Rather than trying to boil the ocean, try to boil a tea kettle." We've found that mantra to be true within TakeLessons. Rather than focusing on the entire world/country, we've targeted specific geographies. Rather than focusing on everything related to lessons, we've focused down on what we do best. This allows us to direct our strategy in the areas that will provide us a true competitive advantage. The truth is that we will never have enough time, money, human capital to do everything we want at all times. So the power of focus has proven to be an invaluable tool.