Though I plan to finish the series started a few weeks ago on startups, I thought it worthwhile to pause for a moment and write a post on legacies.
Less than a month ago, my great-grandmother passed away on her birthday at the age of 97. She was an amazing woman. She claimed that at one point in her life, she’d read every book in her hometown’s public library (and I believe it). She was one of those types who was always learning. Though she worked many jobs in her life, she spent her later years working at her son’s (my grandfather’s) pharmacy as a bookkeeper part-time until she was nearly 90. She taught me how to do the books when I was in middle school, and eventually I took over and did them while I was in high school.
That foundation of bookkeeping opened the door for me to work elsewhere doing bookkeeping and web design, and eventually I wound up where I am today in Portland, here at Prolifiq.
My great-grandmother had an impact in my life, and doubtlessly had an impact on countless other lives as well.
In whatever arena you want to consider, whether it be family, business, or wherever you spend your time, I think it never ceases to be worthwhile to pause on occasion and consider what kind of legacy you’re leaving for those who will follow.
You have to make something people want. Seems obvious, right?
Since Steve Jobs retired as CEO of Apple, hundreds of posts have been written discussing his legacy and how he ensured Apple always focused on the user. What the user wanted. What the user’s key needs were. What the user wanted to see and feel.
Based on the fact you’re reading this, you likely follow tech closely, so there’s no need for me to go into how the iPod/iPhone/iPad are revolutionizing the industry.
What’s interesting is how other companies have responded.
Google moved quickly to bring Android up to speed, launching just three years ago in 2008. As of August 1, they have Android running on nearly half of the smartphones in the world. You can argue about how much of Google’s work was innovation and how much of it was copycatting Apple, but it’s clear they recognized what users wanted – a smartphone that was actually smart. That made life easier.
RIM didn’t move as quickly. For the most part, they stuck to their guns and were much slower in moving their Blackberry platform forward. Even when they did move, they didn’t always listen to their users. As one high-ranking exec at RIM allegedly put it, “We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice…” He went on to point out that the user does not care about those things–all users want is a product that works and works well.
Is user feedback the only thing that helps shape a good product? Of course not. If Prolifiq dedicated 100% of our efforts to responding to user feedback, we’d become a consulting company – something we’re not aiming to be.
While an average tech company’s highest responsibility is ultimately to its shareholders, one of the best ways it can fulfill that responsibility is to craft a product people want to use. Be a vitamin, Vicodin®, or vaccine. Find a user base and delight them. Your users will thank you, your shareholders will praise you, and it’ll make your company’s financial situation (the next post in this series) much easier to manage.
Last week I talked about the reasons I view Prolifiq as a startup and what type of mindset companies need to have in order to act and function like a startup.
Being a startup is cool, but what does it take to avoid ending up in the deadpool?
“You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.”
I’m going to suggest that timing/luck also play a role, and I aim to write a series of posts about these ingredients, starting with people.
The first ingredient Paul mentions is good people. For any startup, you need a solid team, especially in the beginning when the company is in its most fragile state. At Prolifiq, the core team knew each other very well and was dedicated to making things happen. If you look at supernovas like Microsoft or Google, you see a core team of very special people. As Malcolm Gladwell notes in his book Outliers (must-read if you haven’t already), it’s not that Bill Gates and Paul Allen were necessarily geniuses in and of themselves, but that they’d had opportunities to become extremely good at what they did and were dedicated to making things happen (and of course, there were some random happenstances that certainly didn’t hurt, which I’ll cover in a future blog post). The same can be said for Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google – smart people who were agile and worked tirelessly to form a company that even today makes it one of their key focuses to hire good people.
Here at Prolifiq, you’ll notice our business cards don’t have roles or titles. As Jeff Gaus has blogged previously, at Prolifiq we hire athletes – people who are flexible, agile and able to adjust and play multiple positions. People who are not just smart, but have shown a proclivity to demonstrate their smartness in creative ways.
Were all companies who ended up in the deadpool full of “bad” people? Non-intelligent, non-creative slackers? By no means; many likely joined other companies and are having successful careers. With that said, any startup that hasn’t already should look around and notice there’s a talent war going on in the tech industry for a reason – good products have good people behind them.
Startups. The whole concept has always been entralling to me. Starting your own company, trying to make it in the world of business.
What exactly defines a startup? Wikipedia offers the following:
“A startup…is a company with a limited operating history. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. “
Whoever put that definition together seems to have done a fairly good job. It’s straightforward and makes sense. If you have limited operating history, your company is just getting started.
Using that framework as a guide, is Prolifiq a startup? It struck me the other day that despite having just celebrated our 11th anniversary here at Prolifiq, we still are referred to as and call ourselves a startup.
Is 11 years a “limited operating history?” I suppose so. Google has been around for 15 years now, Amazon for 17. But when I think startup, I think AirBNB or Dropbox – companies that are barely three years old (if that). In comparison to those guys, we are old.
Do we call ourselves a startup just for the coolness of using the word? For the mystery surrounding it? The grand notion that we’re just getting started and still have a high upside? Possibly. But maybe it’s the other part of that definition that keeps us referring to ourselves as a startup: “In a phase of development and research for markets.”
Just the other day, one of our developers excitedly pulled aside one of our founders to demo something the dev team has been working on, offering a disclaimer that the product was “highly experimental.” As I’ve said before, that’s the kind of stuff gets me out of bed in the morning. Experimenting. Trying things out. Blowing stuff up and putting it back together again.
As Prolifiq moves into the life science space (check our pre-launch video/countdown on the homepage if you haven’t already), my hope is that we never cease to continue researching and developing new products. No matter how old your company gets, if you can maintain that mindset–in my book you’re still a startup.
As a Cisco account manager here at Prolifiq, I am blessed with the opportunity to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the areas of networking and communication. While Cisco’s stock has taken a beating in the last few months and massive layoffs are predicted by analysts, there’s simply no denying that Cisco knows what it’s talking about when it comes to networking. Despite increased competition from Juniper and HP, Cisco is still considered by many to be the premier thought-leader in their industry.
And what have they been talking about lately? This week at Cisco Live, Dave Evans, Cisco’s “Chief Futurist,” shared some incredible numbers via an infographic (shown below). As of 2008, there were more devices connected to the Internet than there were human beings on the planet. By the year 2020, that number could jump to 50 billion devices. Sound incredible? It’s crazy how much more connected we are becoming.
While I’m not convinced on some of these numbers (what is their calculation for the claim that 20 households this year drive more traffic than the entire Internet in 2008?), there’s no denying that we’re using more data and being more connected in more ways than ever before.
Cisco’s goal is to associate these high-level thoughts with the notion that they are the industry leader and you should buy their routers and switches. Pretty simple.
For Prolifiq it means as we work towards building a more robust platform and continue breaking into the life sciences industry, it’s all about making our platform dead-simple for these billions of devices to work with. As discussed previously, Making it Easy is a key driver of adoption for any product, application, or platform.
And for you, what does it mean? Is your business scalable? Accessible? Is your company’s website mobile-friendly? Juniper Research just released a report that mobile payments will reach $670B by 2015. Are you ready to connect?
As the Dallas Mavericks celebrate their 2011 NBA Championship, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and the Miami Heat have been left aghast. The Heat, judged by many as one of the largest collections of talent in NBA history, lost to a team many figured would fall in the first round.
What exactly happened? There were many factors: Dirk Nowitzki’s prowess, key role-players who stepped up for the Mavericks, and crucial breakdowns by the Heat at inopportune moments. As is often the case, a collection of events led to something extraordinary—in this case the fall of the Heat and the crowning of the Mavs as NBA champions.
With that said, if one thing more than any other led to the Mavs winning the title, it was teamwork. United under coach Rick Carlisle, the team worked furiously, particularly on the defensive end. They anticipated the opponent’s every move. Carlisle and his staff clearly put in hours and hours of research, and the Mavs’ game showed it. The players worked their butts off, and the fans supported them every step of the way.
Sound familiar? Hopefully, you see a parallel to your company or organization. A CEO—the tireless coach—knows the game and draws the plays. Workers, playing the part of players, get the dirty work done; they move the ball and score the points. And customers, acting as a loyal fan base, buy products and services and evangelize for the company.
How does your company look as a team?
Coach & Coaching Staff
While the analogy has been used before and isn’t perfect, it certainly can’t hurt to take a moment to pause and think about your business with this framework in mind.
Using this analogy, I would respond to Jeff’s recent Do CEOs Matter? question/post with a resounding yes. The Mavs required cohesion and faith in the coach’s defense-focused vision. The players had to trust the intel gathered by the coach and his staff. The coaches had to construct a gameplan that maximized their players’ talents, and the players had to execute that plan with acumen. To me, that sounds like a group where each member matters. That sounds like teamwork.
The world is still processing the tremendous and devastating power of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Japan last week. Thousands of people have had their lives changed forever in a matter of minutes. Many are happy to have survived with their lives.
As the world watched breathlessly, a point I found striking was one brought up on Twitter by someone flowing through my tweet stream via a #Japan search I had set up.
The above tweet by @daveewing was a reminder of how being prepared can be a huge blessing. Eventually, David was proven wrong in that headlines were written on the subject (thankfully so, he tweeted); the New York Times ran a piece detailing the change Japan underwent after the Kobe earthquake of 1995:
After the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which killed about 6,000 people and injured 26,000, Japan also put enormous resources into new research on protecting structures, as well as retrofitting the country’s older and more vulnerable structures. Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis.
Japan has gone much further than the United States in outfitting new buildings with advanced devices called base isolation pads and energy dissipation units to dampen the ground’s shaking during an earthquake.
Is essence, the pains of the past fueled a change in Japan that likely saved thousands of lives. Countless videos have been posted online that show the earthquake in action and its relatively minimal effect. Normally buildings stand little chance against an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. And yet, rather than crumbling, a good number of buildings stood fast, despite the close proximity to such a massive quake.
Obviously the tsunami that followed as devastating (and our thoughts, prayers, and resources continue to go out to those from Japan), but the lives that were saved because of advanced preparation should make us pause and think–what are we doing to be prepared?
This morning at Prolifiq’s all hands meeting we began laying the groundwork for emergency contingency plans. What do we do in the event of an earthquake? What about our team in the field? How do we keep track of where everyone is and what they’re up to?
As Japan begins a lengthy recovery process, in addition to praying for them, perhaps it is worth asking, whether for yourself, your family, or your business: what are you doing to be prepared?
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