Tag Archives: Palo Alto

The Best Business Success Factor is Value

Keys to entrepreneurial success? We talk about passion, persistence, ideas, funding, planning, sales, product-market fit, and all of that. Do what you love, we say. My opinion changes according to recent events, experience, even mood. Which is fine, because it’s a reaction to events, and we don’t want to get static. But on the long term, most often, what I see making the most difference in business is value. Offer value to customers.

You can do what you love, and if nobody wants to pay you, you don’t have a business. Nobody’s going to pay me to play my guitar, or draw, or ski. I have to think of something I like to do that other people will pay for. So I ended up with business planning. Maybe they’ll pay you to play your guitar. And if you like skiing, maybe you end up as a ski teacher, or you own a resort, or you do ski movies. And maybe they will pay you to draw, if you’re a graphic artist.

And then you give value. It’s not about you and what you want. It’s about them, your customers, and what they want.

I realize it’s a bit out of date, a 1987 book, but Paul Hawken‘s Growing a Business is still my favorite business book.  Growing_a_business It’s the first one I recommend.

Hawken tells real stories of real businesses wrapped around people doing what they like because they like doing it, they think it should be done, and the doing of it flows simply into the logic of filling needs and offering value. Two guys in Vermont get involved with their ice cream. They start selling it. It ends up being Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. It’s a great story.

They aren’t all bearded ex hippies. The stories include a bank in Palo Alto, Patagonia (outdoor clothes), Apple computer, etc. What they have in common is a sense of organic, natural growth from the foundations of doing what you want to do, when that’s something that other people want to have done. And they offered value to their customers.

It helped for me that I was a customer of the bank in Palo Alto, and of Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Apple Computer, and my wife loved buying at Smith and Hawken. I believe in the underlying idea that businesses depend on value — value to the customer — and values — the people in the business have to believe in it.

The business in this book isn’t what you learn in business school. It’s what you want to do. It isn’t about building a business to make money, but rather building a business because it should be built and you want to do it. With that kind of foundation, it seems — and I’ve seen for years now, with hundreds of different business — it grows.

ps: I shared the podium with Paul Hawken in the late 1980s, at Apple, when I was speaking on business planning and he was speaking about the ideas behind this book. He seemed a man whose persona was based on ideas, on the underlying values. I’m not surprised at the way his career has gone since.

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Business is Where Home is Good

Yesterday I posted Home is Where Business is Good here. Today, the exact opposite. That seems like a contradiction, I know; but it isn’t really. I I love a good paradox.

Yesterday’s post was about living where you have to when it’s not your choice. Generally, employees have to move. They get transferred.

Entrepreneurs, with some exceptions, get to make a choice. You start a company. You move a company. And sometimes you move yourself to start a company. Usually it’s your choice.

My wife and I have made our choices several times, with varying results. The illustration here is Eugene OR, which is where we’ve lived for 18 years after moving Palo Alto Software here from its original location in Palo Alto CA. I posted here about that. We moved from Eugene to Mexico City once for a job, and we moved from Mexico City to Palo Alto for a job. We tried and failed to start a company in Mexico City, where the location was a disadvantage for our particular venture at that particular time. I was a founding director of a company that moved from the heart of the Silicon Valley in San Jose to the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains, in Scott’s Valley, and went public in less than four years.

I really don’t recommend moving from where you are to someplace else because the new location is better for the business you want to start. Move because you want to, yes; particularly if you’re young, and not tied down, and more so if it’s somewhere you want to move to. And move if you’re in the middle of nowhere, with to infrastructure, so you’re at a huge disadvantage. But don’t move because people say some other location is better. The business advantage you get is really unlikely to make up for the personal disadvantages of moving from somewhere you know and like.

The United States is a national economy. Sure there are the startup clusters, but success stories are everywhere. So are Internet access, Fedex, UPS, Kinko’s, and commercial airports. Some people swear by the cities, some prefer the towns. Some like a lot of action, which comes with a lot of smog and traffic and such; some don’t. If you’re going to build your own business, you get to choose.

One of the best moments of my years owning a business was when my wife said:

If we’re going to put up with all the downside of owning our own business, let’s get some of the upside, and move to where we want to live.

So we moved to Eugene. And 18 years later, we’re still glad we did.

(Image: I picked it up from a Eugene city website)

Co-Working: Rent Some Colleagues

Back in the 1980s, more than 20 years ago, we didn’t have a name for it quite as cool as co-working. But it did happen occasionally. I worked mostly alone in a small rented office on Forest Street in Palo Alto, but I envied the group a couple of blocks away that rented desks in an open space with shared copiers and FAX machines.

It’s amusing to me that back then, like 1986, the Internet connection wasn’t even an issue. If we did Applelink or Compuserve or the Source, our advance versions of online connectivity, a phone model was the only option anyhow.

What did matter more was the sharing and community. Instead of working completely alone, isolated in their startup, my friends in that open office space had somebody to talk to. They could ask questions, share ideas, and feel like they had an office community.

That idea has become co-working. I noticed it this morning in a post at The StartUp Blog at PartnerUp. And that post links to this article: Co-workspaces: No colleagues? Why you should consider renting some. Then I Googled “co-working” to discover how much of this is now going on.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching it up close up and personal, in the San Francisco Bay Area. My youngest daughter is now on her second job since graduating from college, and both of them have been for small startups that share space in co-working buildings. And in both cases, the collection of small startups has been a great atmosphere for small groups to grow in.

What a good idea. If the home office doesn’t work for you, here’s an interesting option, not a lot more expensive, with a lot of advantages.