Friday, September 25, 2009

Larry Ellison interview - insight into a bootstrap founder/CEO

Larry is the cofounder of Oracle and incredibly, has been at the helm of his company for 30+ years. Longevity, both of companies and founders, is a hallmark of bootstrap ventures.

Along with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he's one of the old school bootstrap tech founders who continued to be at the top of their game for that long. In this far-ranging interview at the Churchhill Club he expounds on many topics. While the interview is insightful and entertaining in its entirety, below are some highlights. To get a perspective into Steve and Bill, check out the excellent interview from the WSJ D Conference two years ago.

The first part offers an insight into how he approaches both his business and other pursuits, chiefly sailing. Larry is a competitor whose efforts have always been focused with a worthy competitor on hand. Later on he explains how important it is to pick the right competitor because you often become just like them!

He goes on an entertaining rant debunking "cloud computing" (45:50 to 50:11) and the overall faddishness of the computer industry. I'm reminded of Clockspeed, by Charles Fine, a deeply insightful book on the repeating cycles of all industries, which pulsate between periods of specialization and integration. Fine argues that the bicycle industry is the "fruit fly" of business: due to its fast cycle time, it allows researches to identify the larger trends within all sectors. Larry makes a good case that the computer industry also travels quickly through its cycles. (A similar theme emerges from the Gates/Jobs interview.) Regardless of the trends, he clarifies that fundamentals always remain the same.

Beginning at 51:48, he discusses network computing and how it needs to be as simple as other networks like water and electricity, where the complexity is "within the network" and hidden from any device (like a top or plug point) that connects to it.

When asked about Microsoft (55:00) we get an insight into how he sees the technology landscape and competitors (and why MSFT is not Oracle's primary competitor; rather it's IBM). This response also shows how Oracle continues to focus down into its core QUEST(ion), even as it expands with many acquisitions, including SUN. BTW, what is Oracle's QUEST(ion)? It shows up early in the interview with his discussion of sailing and continues throughout.

Other snippets:
  • One decision he'd take back: 1:02:55
  • Advice to entrepreneurs starting out: 1:03:45
  • On his legacy: 1:06:45 - he doesn't see the end of the QUEST(ion), it just continues, another theme echoed in the Jobs/Gates interview
His response at 1:16 and again at 1:21, shows his continued and deep expertise in the minutia of his business. Larry, as with all great bootstrap founders has a deep passion and knowledge of his field.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Makes Austin Unique?

Reposted from ATX Equation

It has been almost a year since the ATXequation conversation began. Taking this moment to reflect on the frequently asked questions we get these days as the word begins to spread. Mostly "What are you doing exactly?" and "Why?"

We continue to explore our original question - what makes Austin special? We're intrigued by the many different discussions this one question prompts - and even more interested in the common thread woven across those answers. ATXequation was borne out of a desire to test the strength of that thread and witness the pattern of the fabric it weaves.

So we've been asking the question and sharing the various answers -- and our hypothesis on their commonalities. For example, we believe that Austin's uniquely-designed experiences and our rich, diverse communities combine to create lasting and powerful "scenes" that make Austin the thriving, vibrant city it is. Some say those scenes have just sprung up organically over time, that there is no method or science to how they've generated themselves. We think that scene-making can be deconstructed to inform those of us who want to continue Austin's legacy of being the best place to live. We think the "how" is important for those Austinites (and others) who are investing themselves now, or will invest themselves as future stewards of our city. Stewards who understand that a strength like Austin's isn't about happenstance, but a unique and special combination that -- like any good recipe -- is improved with each chef that attempts it, but always begins with a set of key ingredients. Thus, the equation: Experience + Community = Scene.

We've been evangelizing about Austin, because that's what we're good at. And people like to talk about it. Spreading the word about how to "make a scene" means encouraging people to elevate their thinking from an isolated, individual or singular community perspective to the scene mentality -- a mindset that means looking across a set of related communities to find what they have in common, and what they don't. By doing this, we can create quicker synergy, collaboration and results for the city we care about so deeply. Since we began, more than a dozen "scene mappers" have stepped up to document the many communities that make up Austin's scenes: music, arts, technology, entrepreneurship, non-profit and many other scenes are literally being mapped to reveal the connecting points, and places of disconnect. Because the mappers hope that by drawing the dots they'll learn more about how to connect them into a stronger scene. One that is aware of itself as such and sees the power and value in the collective. So far, the "ahas" of the scene mapping process have been many. "Oh really, you're doing that too?" "Why didn't we know about each other sooner!"

So we've been leading the mapping, and we've been talking. Alot. With individuals at first, and now more with groups. I think the first in December '08 was for about 15 people in the backroom at Marie Calendars. Today was more than 90 at the AT&T conference center. Group size keeps growing, and the invitations keep coming. Feedback we receive is that people are intrigued by the equation. Because there is something in the language of scene-building that gives voice to that which they already knew, but weren't sure how to articulate. That in the endeavor of understanding the special nature of our town they feel connected to something larger than themselves. Something they've wanted to be a part of, but just weren't sure how. And so far each audience, no matter how varied, seems to have a way to connect the concepts to their own activities or needs. It's a portable, universal model which Bijoy will tell you is the best kind. What matters most to me is that people are finding meaning and value in the conversation. And so it continues.

To what end is all of this? Who knows. Perhaps it's best there not be an end, but a constant exploration of the creativity and inclusivity that makes Austin Austin. We can't bottle such a process, but we may be able to distill it's essence just enough for Austinites everywhere and maybe even those outside our fair town to take a sip and not only enjoy, but understand, and begin to share the formula.

The starting QUEST(ion), "What makes Austin special?" has morphed into the real question: how do we steward Austin on its journey? Ours was an impulse of stewardship for the city and our real intent is that you take on the office for yourself. It's up to you to be a steward for Austin in whatever way you can imagine - whether that's within or outside of the Atxequation initiative itself. Our job is to lay the groundwork with the model - the "real work" of stewardship is up to you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You're a little company, now act like one

This article originally appeared on A Smart Bear: Startups + Marketing + Geekery.

I talk to a lot of companies that are still hunting for customer #1, or a few sales have been made but the ball isn't rolling yet.

Most of them are making the same mistake: Their public persona is exactly wrong.

I know, because I made the same mistake! But I learned my lesson, and I'd like to share it with you.

Even before I had a single customer, I "knew" it was important to look professional. My website would need to look and feel like a "real company." I need culture-neutral language complimenting culturally-diverse clip-art photos of frighteningly chipper co-workers huddled around a laptop, awash with the thrill and delight of configuring a JDBC connection to SQL Server 2008.

It also means adopting typical "marketing-speak," so my "About Us" page started with:

Smart Bear is the leading provider of enterprise version control data-mining tools. Companies world-wide use Smart Bear's Code Historian software for risk-analysis, root-cause discovery, and software development decision-support.

"Leading provider?" "Data mining?" I'm not even sure what that means. But you have to give me credit for an impressive quantity of hyphens.

That's what you're supposed to do right? That's what other companies do, so it must be right. Who am I to break with tradition? Surely my potential customers would immediately close the browser if they read:

Hi, I'm Jason and I built an inexpensive tool for visualizing what's in your version control system. It's useful for answering questions like "When was the last time we changed this file?" Check it out and tell me what sucks!

I mean, can you just imagine a person with "Software Engineer III" on their business card taking me seriously if I just talked like a human being? What if someone gets offended by the word "sucks?" No no, big companies want to see professional language!

But I was wrong. I'll explain why from the point of view of selling software over the web, but the same lesson applies to every little company trying to get off the ground.

Now repeat after me:

My next sale won't be a 1000-seat order from Lockheed Martin.
My next sale won't be a 1000-seat order from Lockheed Martin.
My next sale won't be a 1000-seat order from Lockheed Martin.

I'm telling you this having sold software to every size of company from micro-ISV to IBM, and, well, to Lockheed Martin.

Your vision is to land $100k deals with big companies -- and you will! But not today. Today your product is a shaky version one-dot-oh with bugs you haven't uncovered yet, missing 80% of the features big companies require, and with no significant documentation like case studies or a proper manual or an ROI model or a large, reference-able customer.

Today, you're a complete mismatch with Lockheed Martin! But there's a nice big niche that's a perfect match: Early Adopters.

Early Adopters are people who want to live on the bleeding edge. They like new technology, even if that means it's buggy. They like working with teeny companies where they have a personal relationship with the founders, where they are showered with attention, and where their ideas are implemented before their very eyes. They don't mind putting up with a hundred bugs so long as they get fixed fast. They want to be involved in the process.

Tom is an Early Adopter. At Smart Bear I must have had ten or twenty of these guys before our product was stable enough and feature-rich enough to start getting attention from the big boys.

The best part is, this is exactly the moment in your company's life when you need Early Adopters to help you build the right product! You don't need people who download, get discouraged, and then never call you back. You need a chatty Cathy who wants to dive in and help out.

So now back to your website, your blog, your Twitters -- your public corporate persona generally. What do you put up on your website that screams out to those potential Early Adopter Cheerleaders that you are exactly what they're looking for: A cool new company with a fresh product and fresh attitude; a product that might be rough around the edges but is ripe for feedback and collaboration; a company that may be small today but is thinking big.

Well here's how not to it: Say "a leading provider of" and blather on about how you "Provide the ability to quickly and easily do XYZ so you can go back to accomplishing high-value tasks."

Puh-leeze. Can you be more uninspiring?

Balsamiq Studios is doing it right. Read their company page. It's says "Hello." It says "Yes, a couple of guys in a studio." They don't skirt the issues of being a small company:

I know, it sounds iffy: how can such a small team create, test, maintain, market, sell, and support a software company?

Well, that remains to be seen.

Balsamiq made $800,000 in their first year of operations, so don't tell me "big companies" need to hear garbage PR/marketing language. Balsamiq got 100 product reviews during their first six weeks of operation, so don't tell me "a couple of guys in a studio" isn't a good public persona.

You want that kind of success? Stop acting like a faceless, humorless, generic, robotic company!

Put yourself in the shoes of that Early Adopter. Does she want to see useless garbage phrases or does she want to hear about how you totally understand her pain? Should you come off as a big, established, safe company or as a cool, passionate, small team who wants to make a difference? Should you hide behind "Contact Us" forms or display your phone number and Twitter account on your home page? Should you promote features and benefits you don't really have implemented yet or should you promote your forums, blog, and weekly all-customer virtual meeting where everyone chimes in with feedback?

Be human. Stop hiding. Be yourself.

What do you think about how small companies should present themselves to their customers? Is it appropriate to be informal or is formality needed? Leave a comment!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Food for Thought: Cooking with Bootstrap

Cooking without a recipe is a lot like bootstrapping.

At my home, we frequently head into the kitchen to make dinner without anything specific in mind. We take a look around to see what ingredients we have on hand. Being a Bootstrapper, I realize I'm in ideation and apply the principle, use everything by looking for ingredients in the refrigerator, pantry, garden, and of course, my imagination.

If I engaged in this process today to create a demo, um, dish, I would head to the fridge looking for something fresh as a foundation. Those spicy roasted green chilies are perfect. What other veggies would pair well? Perhaps an onion and some garlic? Next stop is the freezer. After sorting through the frozen veggies, I find the perfect main ingredient, an organic chicken. Can it be enchiladas? Off to the pantry. There are no tortillas and no rice. There are some tortilla chips and dried posole. Eureka! We also have just the right spices, a few limes, and even cilantro in the garden.

Time to choose another essential element: the container. The soup pot is the container of choice for the posole. The Bootstrap subgroups and the community as a whole serve as a container while you cook up your own business.

Experience and the overall Bootstrap principle, right action right time, guide the process. First the posole is soaked and then set it on the backburner to simmer. In a separate pot, I create a stock with the onion, garlic and chicken. Once the stock is done, it's time to add the green chilies, spices, posole and simmer again.

Patience is a key ingredient in the process that many forget. In any creative process, there are natural periods of activity and inactivity. Just like a great soup can't be rushed, creation of a business takes time. Experience and taste will let you know when it's ready. Scoop out a heaping bowl of goodness for yourself and your friends, top with a few chips, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Soup's on!

An interesting Inner Journey exercise is to reflect on your internal creative process. Consider one of your own creations. How do you choose what ingredients to include? What resources do you tap that help you choose a direction? Intuition? An idea? A feeling? A sensation? Previous experience? What patterns do you notice in your unique process? Have fun exploring!

Please join me and say welcome to my new Inner Journey co-lead, Brandy Rainey-Amstel. She brings a wealth of bootstrap knowledge and experience as well as a passion for the inner journey.

Join the Inner Journey Subgroup on September 9th at 7p for a hands-on opportunity to exercise your creative process. Brandy will show us how to create a vision board. Whether your dream is a bubbling possibility or a dawning reality, a vision board can help to identify your vision and give it clarity, reinforce your daily affirmations, and keep your attention on your intentions.

It will be a potluck, so bring please bring food and/or your favorite beverages to share. For more information, join the Inner Journey Yahoogroup, check out the evite or email me at ellen AT ellenfriedman (dot com).

Bootstrap Style Subgroup September: Matt Swinney

We are very excited about this month's meeting with Matt Swinney founder of Launch 787 and the Fashion Week Austin.

Our meeting is Tuesday September 8th at Waterloo Ice House (38th/Lamar). The meeting will start at 6:30, with a half-hour social time, followed by content. In this case it will be discussion of this month's principle, Use everything, for about 15 mins, then Matt will speak to the group. Matt will speak about Fashion week - what happened with the event and the community that rose up around it, and what the future plans are for it. We will have a discussion of ideas and a Q&A afterward, then around 8:30 we will break for more social time and discussion.

The Bootstrap Style Subgroup seeks to gather a community of entrepreneurs in the Fashion industry in Austin to learn from each other, share experiences, and draw from outside sources and speakers to make each of our endeavors successful. We plan on having a wide variety of speakers, events, and learning opportunities, as well as reaching out to the larger Austin community.


The Style Subgroup seeks to create a forum for entrepreneurs in the style/fashion/beauty community to help each other reach their goals in furthering the success of their business endeavors. This group encourages its members to define and create success on their own terms by helping each other and drawing upon resources within and outside the bootstrap community. The Style Subgroup acts as an informal nexus for the various style entrepreneurs and organizations within Austin to harness and leverage each others' passions, strengths, and ingenuity.

We are part of the larger Austin Fashion Scene and are committed to stewarding it and making it easy to find resources and support.

RSVP on evite or facebook!

Learn about TechRanch from founders Kevin Koym and Jonas Lamis

keep watching...right till the end! :)