Starting a company is hard

Daryl Hatton ConnectionPoint

It is hard to explain to people (at times) why starting a new company is so hard. I think Paul Kedrosky did a great job in the following quote:

Creating a successful startup is among the hardest things you can do in a capitalist economy. Entrepreneurs must successfully navigate a sea of multi-dimensional uncertainty, from technology (will it work?), to people (do I have the right employees?), to market (will anyone care?), to financial (can I finance doing this, and can I then sell the produce or service for more than it costs?) At big companies you can fail at launching a product, fail at hiring people, fail at making money on a product, and fail at figuring out whether something will work. Your big company will probably be unaffected, and you may even get promoted. Do any of those things wrong at a startup and, in all likelihood, you’re dead. You are wandering a maze of dark and twisty passages — most of which are paved with trapdoors to hell.

If you like this quote, check out the whole article:  Paul Kedrosky – Why I Love Venture Capitalists

I mention this because, in spite of all the good things happening this week in ConnectionPoint, I still am aware of the tremendous risk we are taking.

Funny thing is, I know we can handle it. Am I insane or just fortuitously optimistic?

Witness to the start of a new era

Daryl Hatton ConnectionPoint

Sometimes, I’m very aware how lucky I am. Today is a good example. I was fortunate to be present when Google launched Wave.

Google Wave

I can hear the snide comments now: “Give me a break – it is just a piece of software”. “Techies – just a bunch of self-centered geeks”, “OMG, get a life”.

This is different.

It is impossible to describe Wave succinctly – there are too many aspects that, by themselves, are very important and impactful.

However, there is one thing it does that stands out for me – Wave is the first big implementation of the transition from request/response web metaphors to a fully interactive, real-time collaborative web. By itself, this is very cool. But it is the stuff that can run ON TOP of this that is really exciting. Bear with me for a moment.

During the demo, Lars Rasmussen opened a wave (collaboration document) with a colleague from France. When Lars typed something into the document, his colleague could see each individual character immediately as it was typed and vice versa. The VERY cool part of this is that as Lars typed, his words were also translated into French on-the-fly i.e. in real-time. While his colleague typed something in French, his words were also translated instantly into English. Simply put, they could carry out a conversation in their native language with instant translation into the other language using Google’s vast knowledge of patterns in the information published on the web to improve the quality of the results. By itself, this is VERY COOL.

But take it a step further. In a few years, mobile devices (which will run Wave), will be able to convert speech to text and text to speech in real-time with very high fidelity. If you let Moore’s law run for another few years and combine these speech technologies with Wave, faster wireless and Bluetooth technology, I’ll be able to have a conversation with someone in any one of perhaps 80 languages (the current standard – sure to expand) with REAL TIME translation of what I’m saying into their language and REAL TIME translation of what they are saying into English.

If you are a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you’ll recognize that while you won’t have something slippery INSIDE your ear i.e. a mythical babelfish, you’ll have something light-weight and comfortable hanging OUTSIDE your ear (and a box the size of a pack of cards in your pocket) that will give you the same result – the ability to speak with and understand almost anyone on the planet. “Unbelievable” is simply not strong enough.

To me, Wave is about improving communication. I can see how it will do this across national and cultural boundaries and across race. When we improve communications, we increase understanding. When we increase understanding, we reduce fear and increase tolerance. When we increase tolerance, we reduce aggression and conflict. When we reduce conflict, we increase peace and stability. When we increase peace and stability, fewer people die needlessly.

What a wonderful gift from “just a piece of software”.

My hat is off to the Wave team and to the visionary leaders at Google who encourage this kind of work.

I’ve heard there is a recession but I’ve decided not to participate

Daryl Hatton Entrepreneurship

Apparently the economists and other experts who, as a group, failed to predict the biggest recession in decades now feel qualified to predict it will last a long time.

They were wrong before and they are probably wrong again.

We need to avoid the trap of believing them, holding back our businesses and our lives and causing the recession to deepen and lengthen.

We can control what will happen if we play “our game”, not “theirs”.

Let’s ignore all the negative news, maintain our optimism and continue to run our businesses and live our lives with gusto.

Tell everyone you know that you’ve heard there is a recession but you’ve decided not to participate.

Share your stories of positive, anti-recessionary things happening in your business and in your life on your Facebook pages.

Invite your friends to do the same.

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” – FDR’s First Inaugural Address

Fear is contagious but so is optimism when helped along with enthusiasm.

Let’s make some good things happen

West Coast Whisky Society Founder’s Poem

Daryl Hatton Humor, Poetry, West Coast Whisky Society

Here is the poem I penned to explain our (my) fondness for whisky…

‘Tis dark and cold when late at night,
My feet begin to wander,
And visit, shhhh!, my Secret Stash,
Its treasures mine to plunder.

A dram I crave, fine liquid gold,
With flavours strong and subtle,
Vanilla, fruit, nuts, smoke and peat,
Pure magic in a bottle.

The drink that warms me heart and soul,
‘Tis aged rare Scotch Whisky,
A vice so fine I can’t complain,
Tho’ financially quite risky.

Dilemma shows itself tonight,
What selection shall I make?
With so many fine expressions,
From which will I partake?

Tho’ whisky flows ‘cross all Scotland,
Small Islay makes my favoured.
The malts that hail from this wet place,
Stand out and must be savoured.

Tonight the winds blow cold and harsh,
On Islay they’re much the same,
Whisky is shaped by winds like this,
Yet warms you like a flame.

A fire at home holds back the night,
Smoke slips out through the screen,
The smell brings back a memory,
That makes the choice so clean.

Old smoky friend, good strong Ardbeg,
Rare whisky of distinction,
The perfect choice for this cold night;
A wonderful invention.

I fill (!) a glass of special shape,
Then add a drop of water,
Swirl round the bowl this precious juice,
And praise the day I bought ‘er.

A whiff, a breath, what strong aroma!
Like incense burning fast,
Smoky, yes, sea smell there, too,
Held captive inside the glass.

Sip small, and hold, then breathe across,
Revealing hidden essence,
Amazing changes, just small drops,
Expose the ocean’s presence.

The burn, it starts across my tongue,
Then flavours follow quickly,
Oatmeal, toffee, salty, sweetness,
Peat smoke laid on most thickly.

The tastes are rich, complex, sublime,
Real miracles in action,
At times, the changes come on fast,
In rapid chain reaction.

Now down the throat, it fills the lungs,
With heat that’s oh so soothing,
A glow descends into my chest,
“What a life!” my mind’s enthusing.

On this goes for a little while,
We two beside the fire,
I fill the glass at most once more,
OK, so I’m a liar!

But finally, the night is done,
My head has started bobbing,
I drink a large cold glass of water,
To still the morning throbbing.

And slowly head off to my bed,
My craving mostly sated.
But dreams will show I’ve far to go,
If Truth is fully stated.

My wife complains I’m now a snob,
My nose held high in the air,
Too posh for any ol’ regular drink,
“Blended” just doesn’t compare.

She may be right; who gives a damn?
My world was changed forever,
The day I first enrolled myself,
In this malt Whisky endeavour.

We gather here, and sate our cravings,
For Whisky aged and rare,
And celebrate old Rabbie Burns,
Whose passions we do share.

Now drink with me, you Scotch fanatics,
And raise a toast hereafter,
We celebrate the life and loves,
Of Scotland’s Poetic Master.


Ready, fire, aim?

Daryl Hatton ConnectionPoint, Entrepreneurship

When is jumping on an opportunity prior to fully planning out a scenario a smart move?

I’m thinking about this because last week the opportunity presented itself to acquire the services of a good development team and I jumped on it. One of my potential executive advisers questioned whether or not I was pulling a “ready, fire, aim” maneuver given we are not absolutely clear about the buying motivation and needs of our target market or even which of the potential target markets we want to focus on first.

To me, this gets down to a question of tolerance for uncertainty and somewhat of our commitment to find answers to these questions along the way to delivering the service. As a software startup in a fast moving marketplace, I’m extremely short of time and resources to build the ‘perfect plan” of what we want to do. While I don’t believe my advisor was advocating doing this, it is a question of how far towards this ideal plan do we need to be before we can take action.

I believe we know enough about the needs of our target customers and our position in the market that we can start prototyping what the software/service will look like. The plan is to use this prototype to test our assumptions and help our potential customers better understand what we are trying to do so they can provide us good feedback on what we really need to do to win their business. The risk is that we are so off-base that the effort invested in this prototype is totally wasted.

I’m a believer in the “show ’em what you mean” school of business. I can’t think of a better way to really get a feeling for what a customer wants to buy than by putting an example of the product/service in their hands and asking if they’ll pay for it and if not, what do we need to change/improve. We’ll repeat this process until we have a winner or determine that there is no point in trying again.

My gut tells me we are on the right track with our approach to this market and therefore expect our prototype(s) to be “close enough” to get us moving. I’m willing to bet my company on this gambit.

We’ll soon see if it is a winning proposition…

Be careful what you wish for…

Daryl Hatton ConnectionPoint, Entrepreneurship

This post was originally made on the ConnectionPoint blog November 27, 2008…

I little while ago I bemoaned out loud the lack of progress I was making at building out the technology for the FundRazr business concept and wished I could speed it up a litle.

Fast forward two weeks and I’m scrambling to stay in illusionary control of a software development team juggernaut that is rapidly outpacing my ability to keep them “fed” with development specs. It is a great example of “Be careful what you wish for – you may just get it. Then what???”

While I wouldn’t take back my wish given the great results I’m getting I have to admit I’m feeling a tad out of control.

On the topic of powerful sayings, my father, George Hatton, contributed two great quotes to me this week that I feel are relevant to my current situation and the startup of this company:

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men”   Johann von Goethe

“Make no little plans, they have no magic to stirs men’s blood and will not be materialized.  Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble and logical plan never dies, but long after we are gone will be a living thing,” Lila Bone

According to my dad: “The first one was paraphrased and used by Senator Donald Cameron, the founder of the Banff School of Fine Arts, and the Banff School of Advanced Management.  The fine arts school is living proof of the statement as expanded by Bone for it truly is a living thing that exists long after Donald Cameron has passed on.”

My dad was a director of the Banff School of Advanced Management when I was growing up and our infrequent trips to Banff while he attended Board meetings were a highlight of my early years. I knew at the time that we were being exposed, even vicariously, to something special and it broadened my horizons well beyond the “little city” of Regina where I grew up. The arts we experienced while on those trips (I’ll never forget the Ballet Jazz Canadien and some of the photography I saw there) and the opportunity to do “unconventional” things like regularly attend the Regina Symphony while I was quite young have strongly influenced my ability to look at the world in different ways and therefore discover and develop new business ideas. I was a very lucky kid and hope to live my life as fully as possible to exploit the tremendous investment my parents made in me.

On that note, I have big plans for FundRazr and am actively pushing to expand my comfort zone so I can guide this idea to its fullest possible expression. I hope I can transfer some of my excitement around what I see is possible with this concept to others and enroll them in helping make the vision a reality. I need the help of many others to make my dream come true and therefore, here it comeswish for all the help I can get.

Bring it on – I’m ready.

I hope…