The Myth of Smooth Success

When most people see entrepreneurs succeeding, they often think or remark something along the lines of, “Wow, that guy [or girl] really has it figured out. They just keep rising.” 

While it may be true that the entrepreneur is doing a great job and operating at an advanced mental level, the mistake often made is that their rise has been smooth, either professionally or personally. Everybody knows that founders work incredibly hard, but so many are fooled that hard work and clever decision on their own are enough to succeed, over and over again.

In my limited experience, I’ve found that there’s a little more to this game than just smarts and laboriousness. After all, people need that to succeed at just about anything in life. In startup entrepreneurship however, there are a lot more unknown and difficult variables to contend with. These could include issues like market timing, tricky investor relations, co-founder politics, or managing a difficult cash runway. It may sound straightforward, but dealing with any of the above when pushed to extremes can feel like a life threatening situation, and raise a person’s stress levels to dizzying heights.

As such, “success” tends to show up when the founder has learned to continuously weather these variables and survive- while working hard and cleverly of course- until good things happen. That’s what people often refer to as “getting lucky”. Even founders, when speaking of their successes will make statements like, “I got lucky there”, or “That deal came out of nowhere”. Was it luck? Well, yes, to an extent. But in my view, if you stay in the game long enough you’re bound to get lucky at some point. That’s really what it’s all about- being tenacious enough to survive the difficult scenarios; again and again and again.

On the surface and to the outside world though, everything can seem hunky dory. Founders tend to hide their struggles, internalizing them and not wearing their hardships on their sleeves. When viewed in perspective, victories are unimaginably hard won at times, yet this is unseen by most. And therein lies the myth of smooth success.

The Happily Unexpected Consequences of Engineering School

After several months off, I’m back. This article was originally written for the inaugural edition of my Alma Mater’s engineering student magazine. Enjoy.

The Happily Unexpected Consequences of Engineering School 

I have always held a deep, energetic passion for technology. When I went to study a double major engineering degree at UCT [University of Cape Town], I was excited. What would I learn? Who would I get to work with? How will I use these skills in my career one day? These are common questions for any young student. In my case, after leaving university I quickly crossed over into a path of entrepreneurship, where I would I get a crash course in sales, marketing, fundraising, HR and several other areas that I was never taught much about in university. After enough people asked (and continue to ask) me, “Do you regret what you studied?” I pondered this carefully and decided that my answer was a resounding “No”. I have realized that while giving me explicit skills in a couple of technical areas, my experience studying engineering also equipped me with a number of implicit skills that I didn’t even know I had until long after I graduated. It was as though I was building a hidden toolbox of assets over those four years, and in the years since, I have seen that hidden toolbox continue to help me along. You might be wondering what I mean exactly. In this letter I have shared just a few stories that may illustrate my point.

Thinking back to my engineering classes at university, I can recall various courses where the final deliverable had to be a working demo or functional prototype of some sort. I remember building an alarm prototype for Embedded Systems, writing a predictive text program for Computer Science, and even whipping components together on a breadboard to do interesting things with 555 timers in Introduction to Electrical Engineering. The specific assignment isn’t what mattered- what mattered is that they forced us to build stuff and make it work. 

As we all now know, there is a marked difference between theory and practice. Sometimes, things don’t always work out the way the manual stated they would, and we need to do a little trial and error. At other times, we need to create a hack or workaround and pray that it holds up under testing until we have time to develop a more fundamental solution. Things don’t always proceed as planned or on schedule, but deadlines are deadlines. And it has to work, or you could fail. This sounds a lot like a real world product development cycle. In startups, tiny teams are forced to create working products in a short space of time, and it’s hardly ever as clean and straightforward as one reads about in business literature. Fortunately, all of those thoughtful planning sessions and hair pulling fault-finding missions during practical assignments offer a solid foundation for us. Engineering grads are rarely frightened by the challenge of creating something new.

In my first year of studies, my classmates and I quickly became swamped with work. Tests, projects, assignments, and the dreadful tutorials piled up. Tutorials were particularly hated, because we had to submit them or risk being disqualified from the course, but their marks didn’t count toward the course grade. At that time, I was living in a university residence, and a clever group of around eight to ten disgruntled like-minded students decided that something had to give. (I cannot confirm if I was one of this group because the story to follow is a little incriminating). Battered by mounting work volumes and not enough time to get everything done well and still enjoy university life, these students developed a novel solution to overcoming tut submissions. Every week, the group nominated an individual who’s job it was to do the tutorial for a particular subject. The night before the morning submission, the group would band together in a res room, as though a clandestine political party meeting were taking place. The person who did the tut would then have to rapidly take the group through the exercise, explaining how he reached his answers and the methods used, and members would have a chance to pose any questions. Once all were satisfied, the original pages of the tutorial solution would be distributed among the different members, who would then creatively copy (e.g. swap variable names etc.) the entire document in rapid assembly line fashion. Seeing the group effectively distribute different pages among each other and cross check each other’s work in a lightening total time of under an hour was a remarkable sight. In the morning, a postman from the group was nominated to submit everyone’s tuts while the others attended their lectures or decided to sleep in. 

Now, I must admit that this was probably (definitely) breaking the university’s rules. And while rule breaking isn’t something that I expressly recommend, it’s something that entrepreneurs often need to do. (Besides, it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission anyway, but I digress). While that group of students were possibly “harming their education” by not doing all of their homework solo, they were actually learning hugely valuable lessons in adaptable team work, managing overload, and operating in the margins where those who follow all of the rules wouldn’t care to tread. People strong in these traits are golden to startups. I’m not surprised that many of the people from that group in first year went on to pursue highly entrepreneurial careers.

My next story happened much more recently, around two weeks ago. I was in a casual meeting at a coffee shop with a successful Internet entrepreneur and über-geek, and we were discussing a little business. All of a sudden towards the end of the conversation, the following exchange took place.

"So, I assume that as a business guy, you haven’t ever written a line of code in your life" he said.

"No. Actually I have been a techie since I was a kid; I was a programmer for several years and studied Electrical and Computer Engineering at university" I replied.

"Oh, that’s cool. I was just checking. So if I asked about using a CDN to speed up load times you’d know what I was talking about."

"Yes, we could have a nice debate about the merits of AWS plus CloudFront versus an optimized local box to increase app speed…"

Recognition flashed across his face, a wry smile developed in the corner of his mouth, and we continued to wrap up the business at hand. This type of conversation has happened over and over again in my career as a technology entrepreneur. Even though I don’t work as an engineer anymore, I interact with engineers and technically minded people all the time. And the simple but unfortunate fact of the matter is that if you haven’t earned your chops in a technical faculty before and are unable to stand toe to toe in a technical discussion, they simply won’t extend the same level of camaraderie and mutual respect toward you as they would to one of their own. In my experience, business is mostly a practical skill that can be picked up on the go, while engineering requires deep understanding and conceptual frameworks that are less easy to learn “on the job”. So even though I’m not an engineer anymore and I have crossed over to the business side of the outfit, I am still lucky to be considered as an insider and team player by the technical folks, and that matters massively. To best work with or lead people, it’s essential to understand them. 

Casting my mind back to graduation day all those years ago, I distinctly remember feeling elated- but this was an equal mix between a sense of achievement, and a genuine sense of survival. I’m sure you know what I mean. When looking at that result after a difficult test or exam, sometimes the first thought that comes to mind is not “Look at my incredible mark!” but rather “Wow, I didn’t fail!” Studying engineering is hard. But then again, business is no picnic either, and it’s good to be tough. The outcomes are worth it. And as I am continuing to learn in a career of entrepreneurship, engineering students tend to develop some unexpected but highly useful tools that pay dividends for a long time to come.

How to Divide Equity Among Partners in a Startup

Every entrepreneur needs to address this question at some point. Figuring out how to best divide equity in a new venture is one of the most critical decisions to take early on, as it has the longest lasting implications.

Fundamentally, equity means ownership. And in any venture, ownership matters. I believe that in my career thus far I’ve managed to get it wrong and get it right, and sometimes end up somewhere in between. This post stems purely from my personal lessons learned, along with some external observations to round out my recommendations.

When dividing equity among co-founders, two key questions must be addressed:

  1. How much equity does each person get?
  2. What happens if somebody doesn’t pull their weight, or abandons the project?

I will delve into each question separately.

How much equity does each person get?

I believe that the amount of equity that each partner receives should directly reflect the size of their contribution to the venture. Contributions (or value add) can be made in three main ways, namely:

  1. Operational skill
  2. Time and energy
  3. Money

Operational skill covers the role played by the particular co-founders. For example, in a tech startup, key roles could be sales and marketing, software development, and product design. Or in a restaurant, there would be a chef and a manager. In many startups, people have to take on multiple roles at the same time.

So to determine the value of the operational skills being added, the partners should assess the intended roles of each party as well as their skill level, and predict the impact that this would have on the venture. For example, a salesperson may be crucial to landing key deals, or a developer may be crucial in building an initial prototype to sell. The size and nature of the value add per person will vary from project to project. This would need to be thrashed out internally until a common view is developed.

A premium (i.e. increased equity stake) should definitely be added for the person fulfilling the role of Project Leader or CEO, and every venture needs a leading CEO character. A startup where this role is not clearly defined and supported by all parties is risking it’s future for a number of reasons to lengthy to get into in this post.

Time and energy refers to the physical time commitment of each co-founder to the project. Often, this is not as easy as “we will all do this full-time”, nice as that may sound. It’s possible that one partner would work on the project after work, or only on weekends, while the other(s) may be doing it full-time. 

The time investment to be made by each partner (as well as when that could change) should be defined up-front, and factored into the equity split. For example, a highly experienced salesperson founder would naturally receive a large equity stake in a business, however, if they are involved on a part-time basis while there is a software developer involved on a full-time basis, the developer’s stake should probably be greater. And vice versa.

Money can be contributed to the venture in two very simple ways. The first is that a co-founder is making a cash investment in the project. When a commitment to invest money is being made, I believe that the co-founder investing the money should propose the terms and valuation that he believes is fair, and the other partners can hammer out the negotiation. To keep everybody honest and the deal feeling fair, all parties should be allowed to invest at that decided valuation at that point in time.

The second way that money can be contributed to a venture is when a co-founder is saving the project cash by working for no salary. This situation should only affect the partner’s stake when they are doing this while working substantial hours (e.g. 18+ hours per week), not for part-time involvement as that contribution can be assessed based on skilled value add only. 

The final area that can affect how co-founders divide equity is the concept of who was there first. This topic always comes up, and it can take on two different forms, specifically:

  1. It was my idea.
  2. I have made progress on my own but need to bring in partners.

People who try to push the “it was my idea” line of reasoning as a means to get a larger stake in a venture need to be avoided. There is very, very little value in an idea on its own. The blood, sweat, tears and ultimate rewards come from execution. If the originator of the idea is bringing special domain knowledge to the project, then their contribution can be assessed under the basis of operational skill, as discussed earlier. Nobody should ever receive a founding equity premium (i.e. a larger stake) on the basis of coming up with an idea first.

On the other hand, if somebody had an idea and tried to start executing on it on their own before deciding to approach partners, that is a different story. In these cases, the co-founders should asses how much progress that partner achieved and where that puts the project in terms of traction and momentum. If the project has indeed progressed beyond ground zero and is out of the starting blocks, then it would be fair that the original founding partner receive some sort of premium for that effort.

Now that we have a decision framework for determining value add by each co-founder and dividing equity in the venture, we need to address the elephant in the room that is often ignored by co-founders starting out: what if a partner is no good, or if a partner quits?

Both of these fears regularly become a reality for new ventures! And it far more common among people that have never worked closely together for a meaningful period of time before (which happens more often than not).

This is where the concept of the “golden handcuff” becomes very useful. Co-founders should be “handcuffed” to their ventures, i.e. there should be a strong incentive to keep them fully involved. A good mechanism to manage this process is founder vesting. Basically, vesting means that partners need to earn their equity over a period of time, and stand to lose their equity if they leave the venture. Generally speaking, all vesting structures in new ventures should allow for accelerated vesting if the venture is sold before the partners’ vesting periods are up (i.e. they get to reap the value of selling their entire stake at time of sale).

Vesting structures can be pretty simple or extremely complicated. 

A basic structure could be: 50% vested up-front and 50% vested in total at the end of 4 years, so if the partner left before 4 years they would lose half their stake. 

I believe in taking a more nuanced approach to better manage the risks associated in dealing with co-founders. Here is my proposed vesting structure for a new project, fully explained:

- Vesting period: 36 months (3 years is adequate time for partners to prove their commitment).

- Up-front vesting: 10-25% of total stake (this gives each partner a strong sense of ownership in the beginning, which is important in motivating them to make the venture succeed, and it also recognizes their willingness to seriously commit to a new project).

- Vesting method for remaining equity: 1/36th of partner equity vested every month (this is a fair way to incentivize continued commitment with continued reward, as opposed to an all or nothing approach).

- Probation period before up-front vesting is recognized: 3 months. (The 3 month period provides the co-founders enough time to work together to get a sense of team dynamics, commitment and value being added).

The last point around the “probation period” requires more explanation, as it links back to the question I posed earlier: “What if a partner is no good?”. A partner can be no good for a venture for a number of reasons, such as:

  • They are difficult to work with.
  • They are not putting in the hours/pulling their weight.
  • They are not as skilled as the co-founders initially believed and cannot deliver the productivity and results expected when the project was started.

As in hiring new employees, the operational value and viability of a partner in a startup can be assessed fairly quickly. 

Then why do so many co-founders charge into equity splits and end up with partners holding on to stakes that they (the other partners) are not happy with, you ask? Well, I believe it’s because co-founders are often blinded by the romance and enthusiasm of a new project and see the world through rose tinted lenses, and as such would rather avoid these painful “what if” discussions with their partners.

The inclusion of a probation period takes this significant risk into account. At the end of the 3 month probation period (or sooner), a decision can be made as to whether every co-founder will proceed in their envisioned roles, or if somebody needs to be cut from the team, and not receive any equity at all (except if they have invested cash already, in which case the cash should either be returned or the co-founder should receive the pro-rata amount of equity deserved for the investment to date). Unfortunately, this is a lousy thing for the person that is dropped (if such an event happens), but all founders must take this risk, and it ensures fairness and alignment among the team, placing the best interests of the venture at heart. 

If the co-founders feel that a partner is not living up to expectations, the manner in which I propose that the decision be made is by a simple majority vote. Specifically, if more than say, 50% (exact amount can change depending on number of partners) of the venture’s owners (by equity value, not number) vote a partner out before the end of the probation period, then that person must leave.

I further believe that this system should remain in place even after the probation period has ended, i.e. the majority shareholders should be able to vote a co-founder out of the business, however, that co-founder would be entitled to keep (or sell) their equity vested up to that point. This additional mechanism ensures that co-founders keep pulling their weight and adding the expected amount of value to the venture on an ongoing basis. Remember, without such a clause in place the alternative for the remaining co-founders when faced with a non-performing partner would be to fire them but have them entitled to hold on to all or most of their equity in the venture.

If a partner is forced to exit the venture, the leftover equity, now unassigned, can be dealt with in a variety of ways, such as being earmarked for a new partner or an employee share pool, however the easiest method is for the leftover equity to be split pro-rata among the remaining active partners.

In teams of two where equity is divided 50/50 (a split I don’t often recommend) then voting somebody off the team so to speak does not make any sense. In this scenario, the unhappy party should have enough guts and sense to realize quickly that the partnership isn’t going to work out, and abandon the project completely or restart it on their own.

I realize that this is a sobering view on how to divide equity among co-founders in new ventures, but it is the product of years of experience and many lessons learned. When applied properly, this system would be very fair for all co-founders, leading to better alignment and increasing a venture’s chances of success.

I hope that this post was helpful. As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Making a Hobby out of Work: The Benefits of Small Side Projects

Most of us- entrepreneurs included- have a full-time job. This is the focus of our professional career for a particular point in time, and it demands our utmost dedicated application. For entrepreneurs, it’s the company that they have founded and need to lead. All of those customers, staff and shareholders are depending on them to deliver at the end of the day.

Motivated people have a penchant for choosing all manner of high intensity jobs for themselves. They thrive under pressure and work hours well beyond the regular cubicle dweller. Moreover, these types of people often love to work as well, or to be more specific, they love cramming productive things into their time. I suppose I fit into this category (at least on good days).

I find that the downside of this attitude toward work is that my main working objectives (the most important and urgent ones) have a tendency to swallow up all of my attention. Sometimes these projects are delightfully interesting, and other times they are tedious and complex- or worse- boring. The type of tasks on the to-do list for that week need to be done however, regardless of how one feels about them.

This brings me to the key question underpinning this post: what is the best way to deal with free time if we want to spend it doing something productive? Or to relax, let off some steam and exercise our brain without making it feel like work?

I often ask myself this type of question on the odd late evening after a long day at work (and usually with a nice red wine to accompany me), or weekend morning (fresh from a full night’s sleep), or on an airplane (where I am writing this post). I enjoy vegging out in front of the TV as much as the next guy, but sometimes there are just too many neurons firing at once to make that an enjoyable experience, so a sense of mental restlessness takes over.

At this point, the thought of responding to more incoming emails, or finishing that presentation, or finalizing that budget, or reviewing that contract (or a dozen other possibilities) present a mild headache that can wait until the next morning at the office when I’m in full swing “company mode” and all fired up. But the feeling of wanting to do something little and yet productive still lingers, much like a craving for a late night snack or an itch that you won’t feel satisfied until you scratch.

At these moments, I personally feel that reviewing the to-do list or inbox is a total mind killer and waste of time. It causes undue stress about things that need to be done soon, in moments when I don’t feel like I have the time (or energy or intensity) for doing them. So, how to flex your mind and have some fun at the same time? I have found that the magic solution lies in side projects.

This might seem like a no brainer revelation, but it’s taken me some time to really take this concept to heart. Side projects are wonderful. They are intended to provide meaningful, productive, self actualizing output while being fun, non-stressful, engaging and personally rewarding. Side projects are also an incredible way to utilize excess cognition and creative capacity while learning new things that make one a better person.

The key criteria for a good side project is the following:

  1. Has a defined, valuable outcome.
  2. Has a flexible due date or is ongoing.
  3. Is not critical to short term job performance.

While all criteria are fundamental, I think that number three is the most important, as this factor will determine if a project is net personal contributor of bad “distress" or good "eustress (what we are after). 

In my opinion there are 3 types of side projects that one can engage in:

  1. Professional, job related: e.g. a pet project for a department that you are not responsible for but want to help; a way to automate some of your repetitive tasks that you never get time to do during the day; a new filing system; a new email system; test driving the latest software app to help you in your job, etc.
  2. Professional, not job related: e.g. writing for an industry publication; advising a different company; joining a professional organization; working on a new invention; taking an online course; starting a pet project with some friends, etc.
  3. Personal: learning a new language; losing weight/getting fit; learning how to cook properly; writing a blog; building a model plane (or lego Death Star); doing community theatre; joining the local Toastmasters or Rotary Club; studying a liberal art for interest’s sake, etc. 

During a tough patch or plateau at work (i.e. your all consuming job), side projects can be a great tool for reminding yourself that being productive can be fun, and that you are capable of achieving wins when you put your mind to it. During the good times at work, side projects provide a stimulating outlet to let off steam while indulging your creative faculties.

The best part about side projects is that you determine what they ought to be. Over a period of months and years, these “little wins” will rack up alongside one’s main career focus and leave a nostalgic trail of rewarding outcomes for mere bits of spare time well spent.

4 Unlikely Ways University Prepares Students for Entrepreneurship

I recently gave a talk at my alma mater to a group of students eager to learn about entrepreneurship after university. I always relish the chance to engage with students, who are so full of nacent potential and paths not yet traveled. 

I decided to share some of the uncommon lessons of university that I have uncovered over time, thinking back on my experience as an Electrical & Computer Engineering student, and later, as an Internet entrepreneur. Here are a few of my favourite ones, told with some personal stories.

1. Demystifying complexity and learning anything.

I remember a few courses during my degree that had me particularly baffled. For the electrical engineers (like me), it was Signals and Systems. (I recall that for my actuary friends it was Financial Maths and for my accountant friends it was Tax). Faced with the upcoming exam, upon opening the textbook (I wasn’t a big attender of lectures) and seeing what looked like gibberish, a special sense of panic would set in.

Like so many students, I was faced with two choices: accept failure or push through the wall of confusion and learn this subjet. Do whatever it takes. I chose the latter path, forcing myself to read, test, re-read and re-test the textbook material until the subject started to make sense, no matter how alien it seemed to me.

Challenges like this teach students (science students at least) that they have the ability to learn anything; to never shy away from a new subject citing the excuses “it’s too complicated for me” or “I am not familiar with this stuff”. Give a former science student a financial statement, software system model or set of performance data metrics that they have never seen before, and instead of avoiding it, they will know how to invest the energy required to learn, understand, and possibly even master it.

2. Rapid fire document output.

Faced with a never ending torrent of assignments and tutorials, as students we were forced to prioritize our workload. What this resulted in was a high degree of copying going on for the less important items for submission. The method was simple: each person from the group did the tutorial for a different subject, and all of the others creatively copied it (making appropriate adjustments so the crime wasn’t obvious), usually right before submission was required.

The ability to quickly review another piece of work from somewhere else, make appropriate adjustments, and then create something new for their own company is something that entrepreneurs need to do all the time. It isn’t copying so much as respectfully imitating (e.g. a design, report, contract, presentation), and in business it’s considered a skill.

3. Talking the talk (while understanding it).

In my case, I am no longer a software engineer or a formal practitioner of the general field in which I studied (engineering) or subject that I majored in (telecoms). However, I do still work in the business and product side of the tech industry, and interact on a daily basis with technical people within and outside my own company. Without the solid grounding in technical principles of software, networks and systems theory that I got at University, I would undoubtedly be less equipped to not only understand my company’s technical development process, but also earn the respect of my team and peers.

4. Open-minded acceptance of people.

University is great at throwing a diverse set of people together into one big heterogenous melting pot. Unlike school, where popularity rankings and “in” vs “out” groups are quickly established, varsity tends to create an ecosystem where different types of people coexist side by side. In class, we were forced to work with people we normally wouldn’t have interacted with, and this was a powerful force helping to instill a sense of meritocracy among the students, i.e. it doesn’t matter who they are, as long as they can get the work done. 

Giving people a chance and evaluating them purely on their merits is a huge factor in entrepreneurship. With the randomness and ups and downs of life that entrepreneurs are hyper-exposed to, I think that they also realize that anybody can become extremely successful one day. I will always remember a particular fellow from my residence at university who was very quiet, odd looking and generally a loner. I spoke to him a few times about casual topics and one day he emailed me something. I have long forgotten the subject matter, but I still recall the quote he appended to the bottom of his email:

"The more of a loser someone thinks you are, the more surprised they’ll be when you kill them" (Nida Tahir)

Now, I’m sure he was being metaphorical but let’s just say that since seeing that I never once underestimated him or brushed him off… and try to never let myself do that with anybody else- ever.

Such unexpected lessons are part of the magic of university.

Interview for “In Hindsight” Entrepreneur Series

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Michael Cowen from No Picket Fence, a startup looking to be a “Quora for entrepreneurship”.
This video forms part of their “In Hindsight” series. What stood out to me during this interview was the incredible questions that Michael asked. Certainly made me think! 

Here is the clip below (excuse the poor Skype quality):

5 Practical Book Recommendations for Tech Entrepreneurs

Bookshop

I’m an avid reader. I read mostly non-fiction books, although well written sci-fi novels are a guilty pleasure.

There are plenty of great business related books out there. But I’ve always found it difficult to find books that are highly practical for early stage technology entrepreneurs. As a founder starting a new company, what I wanted most out of these types of books was a manual of valuable, actionable lessons learned by seasoned startup veterans that I could apply almost immediately to my startup in a useful way.

Business favourites like Good to Great by Jim Collins or Winning by Jack Welsch are excellent reads, but more directly applicable to corporate managers and leaders in large companies. As an entrepreneur, instead of always trying to relate lessons read about corporate business into the startup landscape I found myself often craving that feeling of: ”Hey, this author is speaking to me!”
With that in mind I’d like to share the 5 actionable books for early stage tech entrepreneurs that top my list:

Hard hitting advice over every major area of the startup, from identifying a problem to getting your first customers. Particularly applicable to B2B startups. A lot of lessons Adam’s talks about I experienced the hard way (i.e. made the mistake), so this book made tons of sense to me. A treasure for early stage startups.
A cogent, thoughtful approach to the venture capital fundraising process that leaves few questions unanswered. If you follow (even some of) the steps in this book before raising capital, the VC you’re pitching will thank you—and you will learn a lot too. It’s dense, but worth it. (Hat tip to Justin Stanford for first recommending this to me).

Dr. Cialdini literally wrote the book on persuasiveness. This book brilliantly lays out a few powerful principles for influencing people to become customers. After reading this you’ll realize why freemium works, why products often highlight user testimonials, why biz dev people need to be likable, and much more. That’s just the beginning—this book can be applied to anything that involves people.
Finally, a concisely written book that provides a “How to” manual for getting traffic to your website. This book focuses mainly on SEO related activities, so marketing strategy, branding, paid advertising, PR, buzz generation and viral loop marketing aren’t covered. But the topics it does cover are explained perfectly. 

Eric Ries teaches a way of analyzing and building a total startup business that is something akin to a scientist doing a controlled experiment, or an engineer building a machine piece by piece. His approach demystifies many aspects of startup building, and is especially useful during the early stage. This is more than a great book, it’s a movement sweeping the globe.

What are your favourite books for entrepreneurs?

5 Powerful Long Quotes for Entrepreneurs

When considered thoughtfully, powerful quotes can be truly inspiring. 

Longer quotes generally contain more meaning and depth than one liners, although one liners often double up as useful rules of thumb. I’ll look into that in a separate post.

There are a few long quotes in particular that I have found myself reading over and over again through the years, providing a well of perspectives from which I draw motivation. Here are 5 favourites:
1. "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt (US President, 1901-1909)

2. "Entrepreneurship is a game of risks versus rewards. It’s you against the world, with the odds in the world’s favor. It’s exciting, frightening, frustrating and fulfilling — sometimes all in the same day. In an increasingly paternalistic civilization, it is one of the few remaining endeavors where a small group, banding together in common cause, can apply their skill, savvy, guts and determination to changing the world, and see it happen. For those who are up to it, it’s the only game there is."
- Peter H. Schmidt (Co-Founder, Lifting Mind)
3. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 
- Michael Jordan (Legendary NBA Player)*

*Hat tip to Jamie Quint for first leading me to this one.
4. "Defeat is a state of mind. No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as reality. To me, defeat in anything is merely temporary, and its punishment is but an urge for me to greater effort to achieve my goal. Defeat simply tells me that something is wrong in my doing; it is a path leading to success and truth."
- Bruce Lee (Martial Artist & Actor, 1940-1973)

5. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
- Steve Jobs (Co-Founder & CEO, Apple)
And finally a bonus quote that I found in the introduction of Guy Kawasaki’s popular book on entrepreneurship, “The Art of The Start”.

6. 'Many years ago Rudyard Kipling gave an address at McGill University in Montreal. He said one striking thing which deserves to be remembered. Warning the students against an over-concern for money, or position, or glory, he said: “Some day you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.” ' 
- Halford E. Luccock (Professor of Homiletics, Yale)

Speaking at the Tech4Africa Conference

For those interested in moving the state of technology and entrepreneurship forward in Africa, the much anticipated Tech4Africa conference in August is a must. 
Based on the speaker list and attendees that I’ve spoken to thus far, I expect fantastic insights and networking opportunities for everyone there.

The Tech4Africa founder, Gareth Knight, kindly asked me to join them as a panelist for the “Building for the Global Market” session. 
I recently did an interview for them, briefly mentioning the key points that I’ll be digging into during the panel. Check it out: