Cross-posting from http://neich.in?p=182 for those still on this feed.  Please update your feed to: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/neich/feed

Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, the pilot who managed to calmly and safely land US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, is one cool character. By anyone’s measure, the guy is a hero. A former Air Force fighter pilot with thirty years of flying experience, Sullenberger trained pilots to deal with mid-air emergencies like the one he found himself in.

Clearly, those of us building startups are dealing with issues and outcomes on an entirely different scale… success or failure is very far from life or death. But as I caught clips of interviews with Sullenberger, I couldn’t help but draw a few parallels to our world.

In a recent interview with Katie Couric, Sullenberger was asked what was required to make a successful water landing. He responded:

“I needed to touch down with the wings exactly level. I needed to touch down with the nose slightly up. I needed to touch down at a descent rate that was survivable. And I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed but not below it. And I needed to make all these things happen simultaneously.”

The reason that most new ventures fail is that so many things need to simultaneously go right in order to succeed. You’re juggling ten balls, each of which needs to be accounted for, and all of which could derail your momentum if dropped to the floor. There is distraction and noise and yet somehow you need to lock in on those ten balls.

Sullenberger goes on to say…

“I had to solve this problem. I knew I had to find a way out of this box I found myself in… My focus at that point was so intensely on the landing…I thought of nothing else.”

Couric asks if this was difficult, to which Sullenberger coolly responds…

“No. It just took some concentration.”

Most of us will never have half the steely nerves of Sullenberger, but we can certainly learn more intense concentration. Startups rarely seem to fail for lack of good ideas, but often seem to fail for lack of focus. With so many variables in motion, it can be difficult to develop the proper tunnel vision required for perfect execution. By nature, most entrepreneurs that I know are relatively frenetic thinkers and are habitual multi-taskers. That said, the best of them have an ability to take a deep breath and silence the clutter (for minutes, hours, or days) in order to execute against a series of mission critical tasks. Hopefully, we will never need to land a plane on the water, but the more we appreciate Sullenberger, the more we may pilot businesses to success.

The time has come to earn my true tech stripes by (a) making an attempt at wit via a non-dot.com domain and (b) hosting my own blog so that I can get a tad more creative with design, content, and plugins.  I’ll be cross posting my all-too-infrequent writing for awhile as to make sure to not lose any feed subscribers, but would invite anyone looking for future installments of Perpetual Motion to visit me at my new home:

http://neich.in

You can subscribe via Feedburner here: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/neich/feed

See you there!

Yes, we are in a once in a lifetime economic downturn and yes, financing for new ventures is anemic, and yes, your prospective customer’s budgets (or the advertising budgets you hope to subsist on) will be tighter than ever… but yes, all that withstanding, there has never been a better time to quit your job and start a company.

Running a company myself, I clearly have a biased perspective, but I continue to meet –  almost daily – entrepreneurs, many of them first-time entrepreneurs, diving headlong into new ventures.  I’ve come to believe that the driving reason for this continued optimism is that the opportunity cost of starting a new company has never been lower.

The concept of measuring opportunity cost was a favorite pastime of many people that I met back in business school.  Prior to graduate school, they had painstakingly built spreadsheets calculating lost salary while subtracting cost of living and other intangibles to come up with some mystical number that they believed they were losing by attending school.  Frankly, I never cared much about such mystical things, but I know people do, so consider this…

In the job you are working now, you will likely make less than you made last year or not nearly as much as you had anticipated when you took that job.  That is, if you have a job at all – there is a fair chance you may lose it.  Reduced (or no) salary, no bonuses, no job security – it starts to look like your opportunity cost of quitting is pretty damn low.

Not to mention that the world around you is going broke, so the social stigma of going broke has never been lower.  Would you rather go broke sitting in that comfy corporate chair, or at the very least controlling your own destiny as your bank account gets to zero.  As William Wallace would say, “You’ve come to fight as free men… and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

You may not liberate Scotland, but you may create a job for yourself and others, innovatively solve some of the problems that got us into this mess in the first place, and build the foundation for more efficient industries to emerge from the wreckage.  The cost of taking up this challenge has never been lower.  Get out there.  Quit your job, start a company.

It was an exciting week for PlaceVine as we announced the end of our beta period and the general availability of our platform.  It was the culmination of over a year of hard work, feedback from users, countless industry conversations, a cross-country move to Los Angeles, and the innumerable daily ups, downs, highs, and lows that go into making the startup world the universe I love.  We could not have made it to this exciting day without the constant support of our friends, family, colleagues (present and former), investors, and PlaceVine users – for those of you who are readers of this blog, I want to thank you all!

The launch got some wonderful media coverage and I’d encourage you to take a look…

PlaceVine in LA Times

PlaceVine in AdWeek

Official Press Release

And so it goes in the startup world, we take a minute for proud reflection and then put our heads back down on building a great company!

Yossi Vardi delivered a priceless quote at yesterday’s TechCrunch 50 event:

Business plans are a great section in the science fiction genre. They are made for the kind of people who like sausages and don’t know how they are made.

He captured the sentiment that I had tried to deliver in a talk last month to incoming MBAs interested in Entrepreneurship at The Wharton School.  Returning as a three month old alum, I tried to deliver three very simple points:

(1) Normalcy: Being an entrepreneur is totally and completely normal (this sounds intuitive to most reading this blog, but is not at all obvious in an environment created to funnel new graduates into high paying corporate jobs)

(2) Commitment: The most important thing one can do to start a business is to whole-heartedly commit (no hedging and no back-up plans) to starting a business.  Smart people with their backs against the wall figure out how to make things work.

(3) Execution: Truly original ideas are few and far between… startups succeed based on execution.  I lamented that the Entrepreneurial Management curriculums of most top business schools are long on business plans (long plans, shorts plans, plans of plans!), yet short on execution.  I’ll be impressed when a school abandons their “Business Plan Competition” for a “Business Competition” that tests who can build the best operational (rough beta form) business in 6 months.  As Yossi would argue, let’s stop talking about the sausage and start grinding it into form!

On a related note, my Co-Presenter Seth Berger, the Founder of And 1 apparel and a truly hilarious guy, made an excellent point during our Q&A session about startup compensation.  He posited that MBA graduates were all overly interested in raising venture money for startups because few would stomach making less than six figures.  Peter Thiel, speaking at the aforementioned TechCrunch 50 event, hammered this point home by saying, “the lower the CEO salary, the more likely it is to succeed.”  As Stewart Brand entoned and Steve Jobs echoed,  “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”

Ps.  For anyone interested in watching this full presentation, it is over here on the Wharton Entrepreneurial Program website.  I’ll warn you that there is no fast forward and I don’t come until 30 minutes in, so this is very much a friends and family link!

As a soon to be SoCal entrepreneur, I’ve been doing my best to get the lay of the venture landscape in the LA area.  Benjamin Kuo, over at SoCal Tech, writes some of the best stuff out there in terms of capturing the startup ecosystem in LA.  His most recent post had me both laughing and shaking my head in agreement based on the time I have already spent in SoCal…

It used to be that I ran into a lot of people here in town who had some kind of film project going on. It is an old cliche that every waiter and waitress was either working on a project, had a script, or otherwise looking to make it into Hollywood here. Interestingly enough, it seems in recent months I’ve bumped into lots of folks who seem to have some kind of “web project” going on the side–be that a web video series, content-oriented web site, or even consumer Internet startup. It’s never a company, it’s always some “side project.”

Much as blogs have become digital resumes and calling cards for those of us in the business of technology, “web projects” seem to have taken on similar meaning for those in entertainment.

(This post is cross-posted from Notes From the Vine, our company blog over at PlaceVine as it is a topic of both personal and professional interest)

Over the past decade, declaring the death of “content as king” has become quite fashionable. Andrew Odlyzko seems to have started the trend in earnest with his January 2001 First Monday article entitled, “Content is Not King”. This week Lehman Brothers analyst Anthony DiClemente jumped on the bandwagon. In discussing structural changes in the film and TV content businesses, DiClemente went back to the well and prophisized that “content may no longer be king in the entertainment business“.

In my opinion, these declarations are sensationalist and off the mark.

Will the tectonic changes in distribution set in motion by digital infrastructure change the economics and structure of the content business? Certainly.

Will quality content (great stories performed by great talent) still be the defining asset of the winners in this shake-out? Absolutely.

DiClemente states that “distribution giants Apple and Google seem to prove time and time again” that content is dying. Yet 48 hours later the Wall Street Journal was reporting on the significant challenges that Google is having monetizing content on YouTube. With reports that YouTube is only able to sell advertising against 4% of its entire universe of content, and Google sales head Tim Armstrong attempting to fix the “105 problems with YouTube’s ad sales”, all does not seem so rosy in the land of DiClemente’s heir apparents.

Our old king, Content, seems to get another boost from an upcoming study by The Diffusion Group. As reported by NewTeeVee…

“User-generated video will account for 42 percent of streams this year, but only 4 percent of online video revenue… Conversely, professional online video will account for 58 percent of streams and 96 percent of revenue.”

Advertisers and media buyers, who in many ways hold the keys to the kingdom via ad support, seem, at least for the foreseeable future, content (no pun intended) with the current monarch. That said, there will be no lavish feasts in the castle. To borrow another old adage, it may no longer be “good to be king”.

The economics of the content kingdom will shrink and will be marginally more distributed. The recent writer’s strike and current SAG negotiations are just one piece of evidence that there is strife amidst the royal family. The ability to produce great content with lower production costs means that more great talent may able to finance and monetize content independently. New technology means that great content may be developed in a multitude of forms and with new degrees of interactivity.

Regardless, great content is still what will attract viewers. No amount of wrangling in the kingdom will leave viewers happy to watch poor content just because its broadcast on an IPTV or an iPhone. Content will still be king. It will rule more benevolently and perhaps more frugally, but it will still reign supreme.

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