I am an entrepreneur. When I dream, I dream in business models (seriously, though not every night). That said, I need to find a way (or more likely many ways) to make money in the current economic environment. Projects or businesses which will prosper now and as the economy turns around will have many growth opportunities. Businesses which may have some “exit” in mind – though my dream exit is less an exit and more a route to enduring success and sustainable growth.
What do I mean by that?
I don’t particularly want to build something to sell it – even to sell it to the public (i.e. via an IPO). Rather in my ideal world I build something which can stay private, but can also grow into a large and comprehensive entity, with ongoing growth into new opportunities while building on a solid base. A business which would employ a lot of people, share great rewards with those people (as well as with partners and customers) and in turn have a large impact on the world.
Why would I want to keep such a business private? Well first and foremost when I think of great companies only a handful of them are public – and if anything being public limits them in a wide range of ways. I think a very well run, private company, has much greater flexibility than a public company and can more often place long term bets (which admittedly is not always doable in the tech world – but then again my fantasy company though almost certainly driven in part by technology is not a pure tech company). Yes, being private means that as a company you have to be a bit more creative with how you reward your employees – and with how as the owners you diversify your own finances – and with how you obtain the resources to grow and build the future.
So unlike some of my peers here in the valley, my goal is not to build something to sell it, or to make a “quick hit” for myself (though certainly I wouldn’t complain about that) instead I want to build a business (or likely related businesses) which give me a base to explore lots of ideas and a platform from which to have a big and oversized impact on the world. Starting by the customers I serve, the business partners I help, the employees (and their families) I help support.
On a personal level money matters to me – but only up to a point – what matters more is the freedom and flexibility to have a big impact on the world. I want to travel a lot – not just to be elsewhere – but experience a lot. I want to spend a lot of time around the smartest and most impactful people in the world – from formal experiences and conferences – and less formally at lunches, dinners, salons, and meetings all over the world. At somepoint in my life I want to live in many different cities (including outside of the US) and even when I have (as I hope to sometime not all that far from now) a family I would hope to raise that family in multiple cities and countries – and to expose my future children to many cultures and ways of engaging with the world.
So with that as my goal(s) what opportunities should I be pursuing in 2009 (and the rest of 2008)?
In the past few weeks I’ve blogged about a number of business opportunities and ideas I have had: Radio Schedules 2.0, a new(ish) approach to local media, the future of media being curation, and what I would have submitted to the Knight Foundation
A common theme to many of my current ideas have been some degree of rethinking of media – both on and offline – as well as a newish approach to how commercial content plays a role in the media – more than it does currently online but in somewhat different ways than it does offline.
I am still also passionately interested in the core idea which led me to start Nearness Function over a year ago, ideas around how a new form of advertising network could function as a buffer and valueable partner for software and new media firms and a valued partner for advertisers and their agentcies and media buyers. At the core of my belief is that brands matter – more so now than perhaps ever – and that to build great brands requires sustained, ongoing investment and engagement – and that as attention shifts to the “web” (or more accurately to services and communities woven together largely over and via the web) brands will have to engage with audiences via these same services.
And unlike many in Silicon Valley I do not find this inherently a bad thing – if anything I think it is inherently a good thing – that great brands at all scales of brands serve a very valuable and useful purpose. A few months back I launched a new blog, which I need to update more regularly, Slow Brand to discuss my views on branding (and occasionally food) though I need to blog there on a more consistent basis to build up that blog and get my voice out more often.
My friend Tim Ferris (yes of the 4 hour workweek fame and who is launching a new TV show Trial by Fire this week on the History Channel) talks about Lifehacking and indeed to a degree I should implement many of his lessons and suggestions, but my goals are not entirely (or at least not solely) about myself – my body, my life experiences – but are also very much about what I can do for others, what I can build and help create.
As I think about what I want to do I find myself pulled in a number of not entirely complementary directions.
- I am a very value-adding consultant. My primary skill being to brainstorm with people, especially senior management/founders/investors asking tough questions and helping explore business models, potential partnerships, avenues forward and technical evaluations and decisions. I’ve been told by one VC friend that my 1 hour, emailed evaluation of a company they were looking at, entirely on the basis of public data about the firm, came to the same conclusions it had taken them over 1 month to reach. Now, there are challenges packing up and promoting my consulting and much of what I have done in the past has been on a fairly informal basis – I’d love to do much more of this type of advising/consulting, for a high but fair fee (mostly $ but in some cases perhaps also equity). I think I’d also be very valuable for an investor or M&A person in helping evaluate potential deals.
- I am a skilled facilitator. I’ve been doing “open space” events since the mid-90’s and have become skilled at the art of facilitating open space events and meetings, as well as the related skill of helping curate other forms of events. This is an art – done well my role almost disappears into the background – achieved by means of the invitations, the settings, the structures lightly imposed upon the event and the group, and gentle nudges and one-on-one conversations and slight changes to the schedule made on the fly. I enjoy such work – whether for a non-profit event or for for-profit businesses and I would like to do more. Especially events which might involve the MeshWalk format I’ve used many times quite successfully. I’ve organized dozens of evening events, helped with lots of weekend and multi-day conferences, and organized a couple three+ day conferences on my own. (The first of which was over 20+ years ago when I was in high school, a science fiction convention which still occurs to this day in no small part because we designed into it a great sustainable structure & financial model)
- I am a writer. In the past years I’ve written hundreds of blog posts and lengthy emails to mailing lists, not to mention over 7000 tweets. My non-fiction writing has blossomed in the past few years, occasionally even earning me if not direct income then some value in trade (conference passes and access for example). I have multiple non-fiction as well as fiction book ideas, just a few weeks ago in fact I started a new fiction book which is going well so far (though as I write this post it is still early, about 4000 words written but it is going quickly and I have much to write). I also have a major piece of non-fiction I want to write on Networked Economics a topic I have been thinking about since at least 2004 and which I started and ran multiple conferences in no small part to help myself learn.
- I enjoy connecting people and businesses and serving as a translator between industries. Yes, I am a geek, I wrote my first application when I was about 8, am the 3rd generation of my family to write software (my grandfather was one of the first employees of Rand Corporation and then later at Aerospace Corporation he oversaw the deployment of early IBM mainframes to detect nucluer explosions, my mother has been a programmer since the late-60’s and I would do her student’s flowcharting homework as a child). I’ve had a server on the Internet since about 1991, served as an editor of some IETF standards. In short I have deep and extensive “geek cred”. But I am also passionately interested in business and economics – in topics such as branding and business and process innovation which are non-technical. I find that I can offer a lot of value bridging between the possibilities of technology and the needs of business.
- I come up with business opportunities. However though I have, I think, had many great ideas I also need to work with others to implement my ideas. While I have many skills I do not have every skill needed to build a successful business (or at least have not had them all so far – still working on it). I have ideas about technology and design which are best implemented by others. While I can and have sold at a very high level, my sales process is too slow and sporadic for sustained growth – I need to work with others to keep myself closing (and/or to help close and implement deals). I will keep practicing the art of the close and of selling – it is a necessary part of being a successful business person, but I also know that my value is multidimensional and that in many ways I would make more money with the right partners than I could alone.
So those are where my thoughts are at the moment. I have many opportunities I’m working on and many ideas (probably too many ideas) but I am faced with the dilemna of evaluating which to pursue now and how to best go from my current state of not enough income to one of a surplus of resources – cash but also other resources such as great staff & partners.
I welcome suggestions and opportunities.