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Entrepreneurial advice.. and what no book or guru can teach you.

Marc Andreessen, the guy who invented the browser and the founder of  Ningis blogging.  Some of his posts are brilliant and (to me at least) bring something quite new to the table.  Here's why:

Unlike many people who proffer management and start-up advice Marc Andreessen has pretty much steered clear of all that and spent his time actually building stuff.  He knows all about runaway success but more importantly he knows a about failure and what it's like to struggle like hell against seemingly insurmountable odds... and it's this later stuff that makes you wise.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the advice from the likes of  Tom PetersPeter Drucker  and  Jim Collins  et al, or any of the other 'gurus'.  But it's just that until you've actually built something from scratch, risked everything you've got to finance your dream or know what it's like to face imminent disaster and still not back down from what needs to be done... then there will always be something missing.

There's a clarity, a wisdom and a quiet authenticity that is discovered and honed in the fight for survival against all the odds, that can never be had through academic learning.  Marc Andreesson has been there[1] and it shows in his writing.  Here's a couple of snippets from Marc's brilliant post  ' Why there's no such thing as Web 2.0' :

On the future of the web:

What we have seen over the last several years is the Web itself coming into its own.

After an initial phase of the Web as a medium, in which lots of people attempted to make the Web look like a newspaper, or a magazine, or a TV channel, we as an industry have recently been collectively developing a much clearer idea of what the Web is really like as a medium in and of itself.

..and then this great advice for budding technology entrepreneurs :

And, as far as startups are concerned, there is no such thing as Web 2.0.

What happens when startups start getting referred to as "Web 2.0 startups" -- or for that matter, "B2B startups" or "mobile startups" or "pen computing startups" -- or as being in the Web 2.0 / B2B / mobile / pen computing "space" -- is that trends are getting mistaken for markets and products.

You can't build a company based on a trend.

Trends are obvious, and there's no startup opportunity in the obvious.

You have to build a company based on a new kind of product (or service -- I am using the terms interchangeably) and you have to take that product to a market.

It frankly doesn't really matter which trends, or design patterns, you incorporate into your product.

If the product is compelling to the market, it will succeed.

If the product is not compelling to the market, it will fail.

It's not much more complicated than that.

The hard part is creating that new and compelling product.

All good stuff.  What's missing from text book solutions and advice from wanabe gurus is the little grit you pick up from overcoming adversity from which the pearls of real wisdom form.  And that's something that no-one can give us but ourselves.  But if it's advice we are after it's probably as well to listen to those who have been-there-and-done-that the hard way.

So at the end of the day I think it boils down to this:

Trees don't grow strong without a little wind.  Standing on the shoulders of giants can get us started but there really is no substitute for the learning that comes from these twin activities:

  1. Jumping in with both feet into creating something of real significance to us 
  2. Taking regular quiet time to let the lessons we learn from 1. really sink in

When we start to approach life with this mindset then the lines we draw between success and failure begin to blur and we start to see everything as a learning opportunity.  Here's  Joseph Campbell  talking about the same thing in  Reflections on the Art of Living

Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me.  At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called "the love of your fate."  Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, "This is what I need."  It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge.  If you bring love to that moment — not discouragement — you will find the strength is there.  Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life.  What a privilege!  This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. 

Then when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now.  You'll see that this is really true.  Nothing can happen to you that is not positive.  Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not.  The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes."

Friends have often asked me why I've kept switching and building businesses in completely different industries (construction, fund management, retail, software), and asked more specifically why I have left each one just as it got successful to start something new and very risky in a field I initially know little about.  All I can say is that to me it's the learning itself that is the most valuable thing.  Maybe I was just born with a wild hair up my ass but I get restless once I become really competent and knowledge about the latest project.  And perverse as it seems, I seem to learn far more from 'failure' than 'success'.  As Rudyard Kipling once penned,  "...If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same". 


[1].. Can you imagine what it must be like to be a startup and have your main product (the Mosaic Browser) being targeted for extinction by the full weight of Microsoft's competitive machine?  Once M$ had won the browser wars with a 97% monopoly they walked away from web development, mistakenly thinking that the web Phoenix could no longer rise from the ashes to challenge their desktop cash cows.  How wrong they were.

Related Article:  Knowledge Sharing

[Update].. I've just came across  this brilliant idea  of Tara's at  HorsePigCow about holding a  'LoserCamp'.  I could almost guarantee that folks would come away from this learning far more useful stuff than any parade of the 'rich and successful'.  Good on ya Tara.

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  • ..this blog stems from a recognition that our true nature is far more creative, loving and unlimited than we could possibly imagine... and it transforms everything... a practical, generic solution to all our problems.

    These are just my lesson notes as I try to  be true to that recognition... and  learn to fly.  So it's quite possible that everything here may be wrong.

    Thank you for visiting.  Email (to Nick Smith) is always welcome.

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