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Advice for S/W Entrepreneurs: Make More Mistakes

http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/dnsoftware/html/software12292003.asp?frame=true

*** VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE ***

jim
Saturday, December 27, 2003

What do you think is so interesting about it?


Saturday, December 27, 2003

> What do you think is so interesting about it?

Its interesting because it's true. It seems to be a different take on the ISV business. Certainly different than what JoS preaches (perfectionism, craftsmanship, mood altering office space, etc...).

I mean, nothing against Joel, but who cares if the window next to your cube is big enough and has just the right view? Same goes for the color scheme of your walls and furniture.

It seem's that Eric is more pragmatic and is willing to spend money where it counts, on breaking lots and lots of eggs. Learn by doing, etc.. Instead of trying to get it right the first time.

Check out the guy's blog, he seems to be the anti-Joel. Similar, but different. Pretty wierd.

http://software.ericsink.com/

jim
Saturday, December 27, 2003

That's why I think the best business reading is the 'mistakes made' kind.

Going over others' mistakes instead of making your own, it's priceless.

Alex
Saturday, December 27, 2003

I'm not sure how you get that Eric and Joel have different approaches. In case you hadn't noticed, Joel's bionic office was the *second* office for FogCreek, and he just spent a lot of money porting one of his flagship applications to Unix.

If he was the indecisive perfectionist you imply, FogCreek never would've been founded, since Joel would've refused to incorporate until he could "do the office right," and he would still be online trying to decide what build of Linux he should try installing first.

FWIW, I dislike Eric's approach to the article, embodied in the title - the same philosophy was quoted by someone as Microsoft's philosophy of "you're expected to fail." What they're both doing is encouraging those who are risk-averse to take chances, but it's too negative for my taste; it's on the wrong side of the fine edge between daring and reckless abandon. But that's just me. :)

Philo

Philo
Saturday, December 27, 2003

Some of those mistakes really are embarassing.  So embarrassing it's probably a mistake to disclose them publicly.  The "Investing outside our field" story is a classic sucker deal that says "I shouldn't really be in business".


Saturday, December 27, 2003

That is one of the most useful business articles of 2003. Well done, Eric Sink (who occassionally drops by at JOS.)

Apart from his business nouse, anyone who elects himself to the hall of software Non Legends with a photo in a corn field marks himself as a special type of person.

I'm a fan
Saturday, December 27, 2003

I would really like to know where he got all that money to make all those mistakes.  Did it all come from sourceoffsite?
Any one of those mistakes would've sunk me.


Saturday, December 27, 2003

I think he is taking a very well deserved poke at Joel and others like Joel whose primary marketing mechanism for their products is being an industry pundit, telling us what we are doing wrong, and "oh, by the way, I have something you can buy from me that will make you do things better".

This doesn't make Joel a bad guy, btw.  It is just his schtick.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Saturday, December 27, 2003

What interests me about this is that the entrepreneurial people (and I've seen this before) do not succeed because they are better at things than other people; it is because they have the entrepreneurial mindset and they keep on trying, banging their heads against walls where most risk-averse people would start thinking "whoa!" and give up.

They're natural risk-takers. And because they are risk-takers that is enough to get them through to some degree of success (eventually).

I'm not sure anyone who does not already have this mindset can be an entrepreneur; it's the way people are made.

Reading this article was interesting, the guy's made some dreadful decisions that others (including me) would never have made and still (eventually) he's achieved some level (I don't know exactly how much) of success..

I have the problem that I am quite risk-averse and I do not think I could actually be a successful entrepreneur no matter how much I try. I have 2 homes and other valued possessions (cars, motorbike, aircraft) and a pretty comfortable life style... I have a partner and 2 children to support. Would I risk losing these things for some scheme? No, probably not.

Thinking about it I actually wonder if entrepreneurs are simply illogical people because logical people would normally be expected to have assessed the risk and run the other way!

It would be interesting to know what Myers-Briggs type the entrepreneurs typically are... I'm an INTP and I bet they're not!

Gwyn
Saturday, December 27, 2003

"History is rarely made by reasonable men."


Saturday, December 27, 2003

[quote]
I think he is taking a very well deserved poke at Joel and others like Joel whose primary marketing mechanism for their products is being an industry pundit,
[/quote]

I think there is a co-dependency rampant among some people wherein we look to a pundit to give us the path to success.

That's the "dark side" of blogging and web mentorship by people like Joel, Eric, Janet Ruhl, and others. Some of us waste a lot of time reading other people's opinions about how we're supposed to succeed. I snapped out of it a few years ago when I realized that glib, haughty, or one sided pronouncements of the "correct" way to do things was holding me back much more than my own resources, talent and energy level.

Reading  blogs about this stuff can be a distraction, not useful information, since the proof is in making the attempt and not inferring that it's "no use" to even try.  I almost think it would be better at times to have no guideposts and mentors, and just try *something*.

Just once, I'd like to read one of these pundits saying "get the  hell off of this column and do something really stupid and daring."

OK, "fire and motion" was covered already by you know who... ;-)

Bored Bystander
Saturday, December 27, 2003

I wouldn't hold this against Eric.  He clearly was in this for the aesthetics, but the rational side eventually overrode it.

As for the Joel .ne. Eric issue, these are two different people.  What is the point in imposing an ordering on them?

Incidentally I'm impressed Microsoft is hosting this.  Reminds me of Gabriel's _Patterns of Software_:
http://www.dreamsongs.com/NewFiles/PatternsOfSoftware.pdf
"Academics have an interesting view of business:  They equate business with war.  A company wins because other companies lose -- a classic misunderstanding of evolution.  A company keeps everything a secret.  A company tries to spy on other companies.  A company cannot trust anyone not part of themselves.  Because of these beliefs, AI companies rarely made strategic partnerships."

Tayssir John Gabbour
Sunday, December 28, 2003

The "Investing outside our field" story is a classic sucker deal that says "I shouldn't really be in business".

And yet...here he is, complete with his Inc. 500 award... So much for common wisdom, huh?

I thought it took a little bit of guts to admit to some of those mistakes. Some of those were real doozies.

I certainly don't think Eric was advocating that readers rush out and do stupid things. In fact, he says as much in the article. Rather, I think he is telling people don't worry if your thought-out plans turn in to disaster. Learn from it and move on.

My first business tanked in a most spectacular way. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from them. I picked myself up and moved on and tried again. And even if I manage to plow this one into the ground, I'll figure out what I did wrong, correct it and try again.

Mark Hoffman
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Gwyn,

ENTP is a common entrepreneur profile. INTP and ENTP are worlds apart, remarkably.

Charlotte C.
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Of course something like 60% of the Inc 500 firms were started by people that didn't have any experience in the field prior to starting the business.

I also believe you will find all of the MB Types in entrepreneurship positions.  You have to be self aware and know what your style is, and be able to sell.  Introverts can be successful in sales, they just have to have the right environment.

Ditto what Bored Bystander said, too.

Kerry Heffermen
Sunday, December 28, 2003

> I would really like to know where he got all that money to make all those mistakes.

He's an ex-Microsoft employee, like others we know. So I would guess that stock options is the most likely answer.

jim
Sunday, December 28, 2003

AFAIK:

He worked for some company that developed the early version of internet explorer.  That company got bought by microsoft.

He probably had a significant stake in the company that got bought.


Sunday, December 28, 2003

"I also believe you will find all of the MB Types in entrepreneurship positions."

Did I say otherwise? There are people of every personality type in every career. Yet some types are more heavily represented in some careers than others. Of all 16 types, ENTPs, according to actual studies of actual real people, are more represented among entreprenueurs than any other type.

http://www.careertypes.com/entrepreneur.asp
http://www.geocities.com/lifexplore/entp.htm

Charlotte C.
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Did I say you said otherwise?

What I am saying is that if you want to start a business your Myers Brigg type or Enneagram or <insert personality classification theory here> is generally irrelevant.  What's important is knowing your strength & weaknesses, and yes, personality tests can help with that.

But just because most entrepreneurs are ENTP has little bearing on whether I should start a business or if I would be successful at it.

Kerry Heffermen
Sunday, December 28, 2003

I'm an ENTJ.

It's so strange that anyone would call me the anti-Joel.  I consider myself a Joel fan.

Technically speaking, Microsoft bought technology from Spyglass, but they did not buy Spyglass.  Nonetheless, it is true that I made some decent money on the Spyglass IPO, which made it a lot easier for me to take risks.  But in reality, SourceGear has been almost entirely self-funded from its own revenues.  We've had SourceOffSite, but we've also had some very lucrative consulting deals.

Yes, my mistakes are pretty darn embarrassing.  I thought long and hard before I decided to publish this piece.  Some people will see my screwups and decide that I should not be in business at all.  Most won't.  Like I said, most successful people have a hidden trail of mistakes which looks very much like mine.

Eric Sink
Monday, December 29, 2003

Eric,

Kudos to you for being self effacing enough to admit that you don't ascend bodily to heaven every night.

I wish the local yokels that I know who have achieved bush league success could learn simple "manners" from someone like you.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 29, 2003

I remember reading a study that basically concluded extreme risk taking was one of the cornerstones of huge success ... but also one of the cornerstones of abysmall failiure.
Yes, all of the mega-rich entrepreneurs loved taking on incredible odds (the other thing they had in common was that they were very driven). But in the end, being a driven extreme risk taker didn't get you anywhere. You also needed to be lucky at the right moments in time.

Send 100.000 people into a(n imaginary) casino with 1.000 dollars each. The ones coming out with $1.000.000 after a few hours are not going to be the ones that placed safe bets, but only a very tiny percentage of the high rollers will have struck gold.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, December 29, 2003

Eric,

to be honest the main lesson emerging from your article is "make sure you have pockets deep enough to survive plenty of failiures". Let's face it: if most on this board had gone about business Sink style, they would now be living out of a cardboard box.

Still love your blog though ;-)

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, December 29, 2003

#ifdef quote

to be honest the main lesson emerging from your article is "make sure you have pockets deep enough to survive plenty of failiures". Let's face it: if most on this board had gone about business Sink style, they would now be living out of a cardboard box.

#endif

I've already admitted that there is some truth here.  I made just a little over a million dollars on the Spyglass IPO.  Taxes took around half that.

But very little of the rest went into SourceGear.  Like I said above, SourceGear has been funded largely from its own revenues.  My article tells the story of our failures, but there are a number of successes as well, the stories of which have not been told.

It was those successes that allowed me to take some crazy risks, not my winnings from the Spyglass IPO.

So IMO, an important part of the article's lesson still applies:  Like I said, "Make all the non-fatal mistakes you can, don't make any of the fatal ones".  But you *do* have to bear in mind that your own resources determine the definition of what "fatal" means for your particular business.

Cheers,

Eric Sink
Monday, December 29, 2003

Thanks for pointing that out Eric.
I guess my lesson for the day is: "Never underestimate the profits one can get from doing the right apparantly small niche product right, at the right time"

Keep up the good work.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, December 29, 2003

Eric: Thanks for writing that article. Frankly, I think I would have made some of the same mistakes myself (with my own creative twist of course - for better or worse).  It's encouraging to see an example of someone surviving clueless errors and bad bets, given the right approach - because I know damn well, I'll make plenty of mistakes when my time comes, and that's a pretty scary thought.

Burninator
Monday, December 29, 2003

I completely agree with Eric in that risk-taking and making mistakes is a fundamental cornerstone of being successful.

The underlying premise, however, is that not learning from your mistakes will kill you.  Not being afraid to make mistakes is predicated on the assumption that you actually learn something when you screw up.  That's what distinguishes the smart risk-taker from the blithering idiot.

Richard Kuo
Monday, December 29, 2003

Sourceoffsite was one of those things that make you go:
"Well, duh!  Why didn't I think of that!"

That's meant as a compliment.


Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Eric its nice to have you here and make some real comments. Keep writing and inspiring us..

Sunish
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

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