“Change is happening faster and faster than it ever has before,” Paul Berry, the CEO and founder of tech company RebelMouse, told Fox News Latino recently, “and now we can actually watch the behavior of users changing.”
Berry, 40, has helped usher in some of that change himself at companies like the Huffington Post, where he was the chief technology officer, and now RebelMouse, which helps companies and individuals expand their reach on social media.
“It’s happening very quickly,” Berry, who was born in Mexico City to an American father and Mexican mom, said. For example, “We’re learning to read videos, rather than listen to them.”
That’s my son Paul, founder and CEO of Rebelmouse, talking about how quickly Facebook algorithms change, advantages of a global viewpoint in tech, and the importance, right now, of Facebook Live Video. If you’re curious about Paul as Latino, the story points out how and why. I’m the “American father” (and still married to the “Mexican mom” 40+ years later).
Asked about how his background helps in tech,
“Part of the reason, he said, is that “We have 65 developers in 32 countries, not outsourced farm task zombies. Lots of companies fail because of burnout in their engineers. For us, it’s as if we’re pulling an all-nighter every night because our developers are excellent at passing the baton to each other.”
In fact, the company has its principal office in SoHo in Manhattan, but, “we try never to say ‘headquarters,’” Berry said. “Our CTO is in Slovenia, and our best engineer is in the Ukraine.”
I was amused to check in with Quora this morning and find somebody had asked me to answer “How Did Tim Berry Grow Palo Alto Software?” Obviously that’s a question dear to my heart. So here’s what I answered, which seems fitting for this blog today.
Slowly, carefully, bolstered by good product and reviews that validated, doing a lot of coding and documentation myself, and not spending money we didn’t have.
It started as spreadsheet templates. The first of those was published in 1984 to accompany a book “How to Develop Your Business Plan,” published by Oasis Press. In 1988 I separated from that book, and redid the templates to accompany my own book when I published “Business Plan Toolkit,” released in MacWorld January 1988. All of these early products were 100% my work, my spreadsheet macros and my documentation. It helped to have a diverse background, including 10 years as a professional journalist, foreign correspondent in Mexico City, plus a Stanford MBA. I could write about business so (people told me) others could understand.
Throughout the early years I kept up a healthy consulting practice doing business plans for some startups and some larger high tech companies, plus workshops on business planning for dealers of high tech companies. Apple was by far my best client, with repeat business in consulting on business planning from the beginning until 1994 (Hector Saldana was a steady client for years, and a supporter of the business idea, and informal advisor). The consulting supported marketing expenses. There was no Internet to speak of until 1995, so the early marketing was a combination of small ads in the back of magazines and product reviews in major computer magazines.
It was a major struggle for years. I was sacrificing consulting revenues to prop up products. The motivator, for years, was “I want to sell boxes, not hours.”
My wife’s role was especially important during those long hard years. She didn’t give up on me. We have five kids and we depended financially on my consulting, but she stick with my idea of “boxes not hours” as I continued to use scarce funds to keep the product dream alive. We had some money to deal with because my role in Borland International paid off in 1986, but we were still struggling, with small houses and used cars. And by the way we’re still married as I write this in 2016.
When we moved it from Palo Alto to Eugene OR in 1992, I had three early equity shareholders (1% each) who agreed to surrender their shares because there was no value in them. My wife and I moved to Oregon because we wanted to. She said to me: “we put up with all the downside of you having your own business; let’s get the upside and move to where we want to live.”
By 1994 I was in deep trouble, with a quarter of a million dollars of unsold product stuck in retail, coming back from channels. The template products never made it. And in the words of Kathy Colder, a key purchasing executive from Fry’s, “Tim, your boxes suck.” At the worst point, we had three mortgages and 65K$ credit card debt.
What I did then was decide not to just repackage, but to build stand-alone product instead, dumping templates entirely. I found a local three-person programming company (Cascade Technologies, which no longer exists; its founder was Ken Barley) to take my templates and my vision and create stand-alone product for Windows using Visual Basic and an Excel-compatible spreadsheet we were able to buy as a tool, and include in the software. It added a complete interface to include the words as well as the numbers, and keep it all, even formatting and printing, inside the one application. I wrote about a third of the code myself, in Visual Basic. My vendor got a low monthly fee for 12 months, plus a percent of future revenue. We were still not able to spend money we didn’t have.
That effort was launched in 1995 and became successful as Business Plan Pro so I was able to stop consulting and dedicate myself to the business. My son Paul Berry joined me in 1998 and developed the web business with downloadable software. We grew quickly to more than $5 million annual revenues by 2000. (Paul left in 2001 and became CTO of Huffington Post in 2007 and founded RebelMouse in 2012).
In 1999 we took on a minority investment from Palo Alto venture capital, RB Webber and Associates. That was our first outside investment. In 2002 we negotiated a buyback with them because after the dot-com crash valuations had plummeted and the company was worth more to me and my family members than what an acquirer would pay for it.
I stepped aside in 2007 and asked Sabrina Parsons to become CEO while I focused on blogging, writing books, speaking, and teaching. She and the team released LivePlan in 2012 and that – a web app, SaaS, browser based has become very successful, having had several hundred thousand paid accounts already. I’m still chairman, and founder, but Sabrina and her team get a pretty free rein to run the company. Market share and awareness keeps growing and we’ve had several years of double-digit growth in revenues again, after the great recession. And it is entirely family owned.
“I remember a great quote from Paul Berry, former CTO of the Huffington Post, which went something like ‘Lets have an idea on Monday. Instead of having lots of meetings about that idea, lets just effing do that idea. By Wednesday we’ll have realised the flaw and iterated … and by Friday it’s either executed or almost done.’”
Paul is my son and now founder of Rebelmouse. And that quote is a perfect description of my take on entrepreneurship. Don’t spend too much time talking about it. Instead, do it, quickly, and then watch results and change it quickly too if it didn’t work. That’s good for most startups.
A related quote:
“Perfect is the enemy of Done.”
That one get’s attributed to multiple authors, going back to as far as Voltaire, also Jim Collins, and others. It’s one of my favorite quotes. And it means: “No, let’s not have a lot of meetings. Let’s just do it.”
Please join me in congratulating Paul Berry (@teamreboot on Twitter) on today’s launch of RebelMouse. Jay Yarow just called it “a combination of the biggest social publishing platforms on the web” in his post about it on Business Insider this morning, and I guess that’s a pretty good description. A picture is even better, so here’s the front page of my Rebelmouse site as it appears this morning:
The idea is that Rebelmouse is my curated content, meaning links, tweets, and updates I’ve made or liked or retweeted, so it’s automatically my site that reflects who I am in social media and what I like. I love it.
Hold a mirror up to a mirror, and you get some kind of representation of infinity, or something like infinity, intriguing but hard to explain. Just do it.
That’s something like what happened to me yesterday with a riff on business ideas. It started with my first view ideaswatch.com, which is a new website where people can suggest, list, and discuss new business ideas. Think of things you want. Things you wish existed. Those are business ideas.
I love it for several reasons: new business ideas are fun; they’re not owned so they shouldn’t be hoarded; they stimulate entrepreneurs; and the site seems well done. And this reinforces my own insistence that too many people overvalue business ideas; that an idea without implementation is just an idea, worth nothing. So why not share?
But it gets better. I clicked onto the site and started browsing the ideas already posted, and I found this one, called “Startup Failures.” Just to make it clear, the image here isn’t the main page. It’s a specific idea, one of hundreds posted on the site.
In case you can’t read the fine print, the idea is:
What if there was a website where people shared their startup failures so others can learn from that.
Which is where we start ruminating on the nature of ideas, and how nobody really owns an idea. Because:
First, there already is something like that, The Mistake Bank, the work of my friend John Cadell. It’s not specifically about failed startups, but its tagline is: learning from faux pas, miscalculations and decisions gone wrong. I posted about it here on this blog last month.
Just last weekend, by complete coincidence, none other but my son Paul and my daughter Megan were on twitter musing about roughly the same thing. The tweet here is Megan quoting Paul, as shown in TweetDeck. Sure, Paul’s Corporate Darwin Awards suggestion isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close. And their tweets were picked up by others. So people like the idea.
So we have a cool site encouraging people to post and discuss new ideas, and we have a new idea I found there, that’s a good idea, that I’d like to see exist. And we see here that, like all cool ideas, it’s already percolating. It’s out there.
And whoever makes it work deserves to make the money. If you, for example, take this and make money on it, then you and nobody else deserves the money. The value is building the business, not having the idea.
I’ve been watching the rise of the Huffington Post for several years now — (and here’s where it’s personal) since my son started as CTO about three years ago — and what a ride.
Many big wins seem simple after the fact. Few are, and this one no more than any. It might seem obvious now but when they started in 2005, it was a matter of huge risks and a million ways to go wrong. They’ve been working like mad, paying attention to every detail, leading a new media world step by step, but with a lot of ups and downs. When you look back at it now, they changed blogging and journalism both.
Congratulations to Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer, Jonah Paretti, Eric Hippeau, and so many others who played a part in it. And of course to my son Paul, too — but he doesn’t need a blog post to know how I feel.
Last night I was halfway through a draft post patting myself on the back, illustrated with champagne glasses, when my youngest daughter, Megan, called from San Francisco, where she lives now. That’s @MeganBerry to you, blogger and social media expert, marketing manager of Klout.com. So I asked her this: “What do I do with my 1,000th post?”
“Do something that matters,” Megan answered. “Do something special.” She talked about favorites, lessons, advice, and reflections.
So, about 12 hours later, this is it, number 1,000. Gulp.
I started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with reflections on family business, a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then – my choice – from owner-entrepreneur-president to blogger president of Palo Alto Software.
My personal favorite posts are on the sidebar here to the right. My favorite search is the one for fundamentals, particularly the series of 5 posts on planning fundamentals. My favorite categories come straight from the blog title: planning, startups, and stories: that’s specifically the categories planning fundamentals, true stories, and starting a business. And I also really like advice, reflections, and business mistakes. But I like most of my posts here. You kind of have to, to keep doing it.
Here are 10 blogging lessons I’ve learned:
Imitation isn’t just flattery, it’s learning. When I said I wasn’t a blogger, Sabrina Parsons said “you will be. Just start reading blogs.” So I did. And I imitate a lot of other bloggers I like to read. So many that I can’t name them all here; but my thanks to Guy, John, Pam, Anita, Ann, Steve, Seth, Matthew, Ramon, and so many others. Every blog on my blogroll here to the right.
Titles make a huge difference. That’s not just blogging. It’s been true for a long time. My son Paul, CTO at Huffington Post, teamed up with his younger sister Megan to teach me titles. And Ironically, what they taught me was a lot of what I learned at UPI plus the power of questions, and lists of 5 and 10.
Short and simple: short sentences, short posts. Short thoughts? I like one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs. And short posts, in theory: despite how much I admire Seth Godin’s short posts, I try, and usually fail.
Break grammar rules. Carefully. Rarely. Like right here. There’s no verb in either of the previous two sentences, so this post would have gotten me an F in Brother Salvatore’s 12th grade English class. 30-some years later, I’m glad he gave me that F on a 10-page paper for using “it’s” instead of “its” once. That lesson was worth it. But jeez!
Pictures add meaning. Thanks to John Jantsch for that one. And to Shutterstock for supplying me with the bulk of the pictures I’ve used on this blog for the last year. And don’t ask me to explain the illustration on this one. I didn’t want champagne glasses or cakes and candles.
Write Often, and keep writing. Find your pace. Honor consistency. Once a month doesn’t feel like a blog, but three good posts weekly is better than two good and three not so good. Break your routine occasionally for mental health. I write a lot and like it. I’ve done 1,000 posts here in three years. Plus 700 on Up and Running, and another 200 or so on Small Business Trends, Huffington Post, Amex Open, Industry Word, and Planning Demystified. Plus some guest posts on others. It’s easier to maintain momentum than overcome inertia.
Love the comments. Thank you. Not you spammers. But even you critics with annoying comments. Especially you critics with smart well written disagreements. Not the dumb generic praise intended only for your own SEO benefit, which I delete. But I love the comments, they make it live.
Love Twitter. Twitter has done wonders for my blogging, my daily work flow, and my growing satisfaction with web 2.0 or social media or whatever you call it. If you don’t get twitter, it’s not clutter, it’s not what they had for lunch, it’s blog posts and links and what’s going on in the world, as shared by people you like, now. My 18-point Twitter Primer feels as valid today as when I posted it.
Tell the damn truth. You can’t fake it for long. Keeping track of all your various personae is exhausting. Write as yourself, or maybe (just maybe) who you really want to be. I know this is a lame old quote, but I heard it first from Chris Guilleabeau and I like it: “I have to be myself. All the other people are already taken.”
Tell don’t sell. Lots of us blog for business. Much as I sincerely love the books and software I’ve done, I don’t blog about them here. Sure, the sidebar sells, I hope, but my posts don’t.
Here’s advice, in honor of this being post number 1,000:
Anything anybody can believe is an image of truth (paraphrasing William Blake).
Time is the scarcest resource. Time, not money.
Your relationships with the people you love are WAY more important than proving that you were right.