Proverbs for entrepreneurs

I’m cleaning off my desktop, going through remnants of notes that never made it into posts. I’ve pitched a lot of them for being dated but others are still salient. One such bit is a list of proverbs for entrepreneurs from Mark Hedlund. From his list, here’s some I think are appropriate for this business (Mark’s comments are in italics).

  • Building to flip is building to flop (from Jason Fried). By this they mean your venture can’t be designed for that one shot customer, the heavy hitter. Most DEs aren’t so blatant about it but often have an idealized retail customer they think will open doors for them. So maybe you manage to get Nordstrom’s, can you live on their purchase orders? Who else is buying? Minimize your dependence on any given customer. None should ever amount to more than 50% of your sales and I’d argue for a lot less.

  • Prudence becomes procrastination. I see this one every day. Not that I do it of course. No no. Seriously, when your research has become a full time job, you’re better off selling it than using it. Research becomes an out, a way of avoiding the potentiality of -dare I say it- failure. Most entrepreneurs fail several times before they succeed so jump start your initial failures to get where you’re going faster.

  • Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone. Time after time, I’ve seen DEs sell out. They launch with a product they think is their best bet but it’s not their passion. They think they’ll get to do that other thing once this first thing has launched, creating a cushion. It rarely works this way. For example, tees producers. How many of them go on to produce real clothes or non-commodities? Those late nights when you can’t sleep and you’re ready to throw in the towel, the only thing that’ll keep you going is passion. Go with your first drive, don’t settle.

  • If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you. How can you get feedback if you don’t talk to anybody? Mark mentions my favorite quote from Howard Aiken; “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats”. Still, if it is a dud, it’s better to know sooner than later. The reality is, the focus on intellectual property has become so overblown by paper happy newbies that I couldn’t think of a more effective way to get people to ignore you than by being paranoid.
  • Immediate yes is immediate no. Marks says if everybody likes it, not to do it because the market will be saturated quickly. I don’t think this is as true for us because fabrication and coloring allow virtually endless interpretation and don’t we know it. I would agree in another context though. It is so typical that in the front end of prototyping and sampling, everybody loves it (in house, sales reps etc) but then the stores don’t buy it. I hate that. This happens All The Time. I keep telling people to relaunch those in a later season because you may be ahead of the curve but nobody listens to me.
  • With regard to money, Mark says Start with nothing, and have nothing for as long as possible. Parroting Paul Graham, in my own experience, I’ve found that DEs waste a lot of money. Penny wise and pound foolish. It seems that the more money some DEs have, the more they waste. They’ll plan poorly and then have to red label everything. Contractors resent that if they gave you discounts that end up subsidizing wasteful spending in other areas. If you’re poor, you can only afford the very best. Invest in your choices wisely.
  • No means maybe and yes means maybe. He said this in regard to money but it applies in other ways for example, fabric suppliers and contractors. They’re telling you no (weeding) but just keep calling them. Ask for referrals. They’re still talking to you aren’t they? About the yeses really being maybes, it costs nothing to voice an opinion or talk. Don’t take anyone seriously unless they’ve sent you a purchase order. And it’s not that they’re misleading you. Maybe they genuinely think you have potential and want to encourage you but you’re misreading what they’re saying. Too often, we only hear what we want to hear. It’s called confirmation bias. Wikipedia describes it best:

    In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to avoid “counter-attitudinal” new information. It is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study. It refers to the tendency for people to extend critical scrutiny to information which contradicts their prior beliefs and uncritically accept information that is congruent with their prior beliefs.

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  1. Suzanne says:

    Prudence becomes procrastination.

    Oh, this is a big one for me. It’s such a fine line sometimes, though isn’t it! I like the excitement vs. fear litmus test though. :-)

  2. Lisa NYC says:

    wow…this about sums it up:

    “Prudence becomes procrastination.”

    I think some of us new DEs are so afraid to fail, we over research everything down to the type of papermaking paper…LOL

    Time to get off my rear end and make it happen!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    With friendship,
    Downtown Joey

  3. Megan says:

    “If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you.”

    Oh my gosh…that hits so close to home! I’m ubber competative and yet I find this overwhelming need to help other jewelers who are just starting out. I often think “Are you nuts? Why are you sharing that source?” And I realize it’s because…someone (many someones actually) helped me out when I first started. Yes, I stumbled upon some things myself but I had so much help from so many people. How dare I even think of keeping it to myself! lol

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