How can I get started?

1. A small business has problems and knows that there must be a solution, but doesn’t know what’s possible or where to turn. 

2. You make contact. Through a personal introduction by a friend, relative, or business associate. Or at an industry event (their industry, not yours). Or at a chamber of commerce event. Or any local business event. Or by mailing them a postcard, flyer, or letter using a purchased list or phone book. Or in a restaurant, bar, or party. Or from a flyer or business card that someone else gave them. Or from an ad you ran in their trade publication. Or from a search that landed them on your website. Or… (you get the idea, it could be anything). 

3. You meet and listen. I cannot stress this enough. This is 100% about their problem, not your solution or anything else. 

4. If you have a way of addressing their problem, do it. It may be software you’ve already written, a service, or (quite likely) a prototype you mock up to show them how to attact their problem. 

5. They love the fact that someone has finally actually listened the them about their problem and addressed it. Your solution is a good first step, but it still needs a, b, and c. 

6. You quickly add a, b, and c to your prototype and show them. 

7. They’re in love. Now you can get started.

How do you keep track of your thoughts?

It’s really simple for me…

1. I write everything down in an unlined spiral notebook with perforated detachable pages.
2. I file every page into a labeled green file folder in a file cabinet.
3. I keep all of it.
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I have “everything” I ever wrote. If fills 3 two drawer file cabinets.

I don’t print and save anything which is already stored digitally. I hardly save much else.

About once a month I pull out a folder a go through it. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that appears to be of little use now, but I never fail to find “something” of value. I give away or donate any that is replaceable (which includes all books). But not my own writings. I don’t remember how I handled that issue 12 years ago, but I do know that I can find all my notes on it pretty quickly. This way I don’t have to remember every detail, but I always have my younger self and much of my experience as a resource at my disposal.

What happens at Toastmasters?

1. Everyone who comes speaks to the entire group for 1 or 2 minutes. This was called “Table Topics”. A different member is assigned each week to administer the Table Topics. I remember one time the Table Topics person handed each one of us a paper bag that we had to open, remove the object inside, and give an interesting talk. My object was a clothes pin.

2. Everyone gets a mentor when they join to help them through the education.

3. Everyone cycles through the program at their own pace giving longer and longer prepared talks. 5:00, 10:00, 15:00, etc. You give one of these every month or so.

4. Every single talk is publicly critiqued by at least one judge. They are usually ruthless and very, very helpful. It took me months to stop playing with my hands when I talked. They finally got me to stop.

5. I remembered speaking about my business in all my prepared talks. I can’t imagine having a better place to practice than Toastmasters.

How do you find inspiration?

“Tell me about how you launched a billion dollar company from your apartment with stolen office chairs and I’m there. Tell me how you really like pointers, and I sort of lose interest.” 

Thank you. I thought I was the only one. 

95% of the time I program. 5% I conduct business. 

But for learning, the ratio is reversed. Whether it’s hacker news, the articles I read on the web, or the books on my shelves, my interest is mainly in business stories, “especially” start-up success stories. 

Not really sure why. Maybe because I think I have all the technology I need. If I need more, I’ll find it and learn it. Always have, always will. It’s nice to learn a new technique here and there, especially with data base and web technology, but that’s rare. 

The business success stories, on the other hand, almost always fascinate me. I love Founders at Work and get inspiration from those who have accomplished so much. If regular people like them can do it, then so can the rest of us. 

How did ERP get so screwed up?

ERP has deep roots.

The original acronym was MRP, Material Requirements Planning, a perfect candidate for business software. It answered the question, “If I need to deliver 9 helicopters on these 9 dates, then what components will I need on which dates?” Believe it or not, this was all hand calculated at one time. 

MRP was very complex and difficult to implement because it required absolute precision and discipline, rare back then and still rare today. If your base data (inventory balances, lead times, quantities per, etc.) were the least bit off, the resulting automated explosions would be way off. So an industry of software vendors and consultants was born to attack all of these issues. 

The problem with MRP was that it didn’t work well at all for products with few components but complex processes, (think chemicals, energy, distilleries, food processors, etc.) So CRP, Capacity Requirements Planning was born to plan and manage factories with high capital expenditure requirements. (It doesn’t matter if we have exactly the components we need if we have nowhere to work on them.) 

Before you know it, “everyone” wanted in on the act of expensive software and consulting, even in disciplines that didn’t require them (why should SAP make all the profits). So along came accounting, sales, HR, and everyone else, and now we’re stuck with ERP, a cow that’s ripe to be milked for a long time. 

How do you get things done?

I like to keep it simple. My list has 1 item on it. I work on that until either it’s done (often) or I struggle so much with it that I decide to change plans (rarely).

For the last 2 days, I’ve been writing a model configurator that explodes input parameters into individual objects. I probably have 8 or 9 things dependent on this (not really sure yet), so I plug away until done. Then I’ll figure out the new only thing on my list.

I’ve tried every conceivable “productivity hack” and nothing has worked as well as this. I have scratch pads, paper on the wall, 20 colors of markers, and all kinds of automated tools for scheduling and planning. I’ve varied my diet, my exercise routine, my daily routine, and almost anything else I could vary, and none of it really mattered. All it ever really did was take focus away from the real task at hand.

Just identify your critical path, remove it, and repeat forever.

I started with this and fine tuned what worked for me:

Other inspiriation:

“I see only one move ahead, but it is always the correct one.” chess master Jose R. Capablanca

Should I leave a job I love?

“the job happens to be my all-time favorite”

What are you crazy?!?
I’ve had many jobs and I’ve liked few of them. If you have a job you love, why would you want to leave?

You don’t even have any plans. I’d understand this a little better if you had a project you’re dying to work on full time, but that’s not the case.
Why don’t you just keep your job and find a side project. If that side project gets big, go part time. If it gets so big, you’re “burning” to work on it full-time, then quit, but not before.

Good jobs are hard to come by and jobs you love are almost impossible to come by. Also, don’t discount all the data you get from your job to feed your startup plans. Lots of people would love to do a startup, but don’t know what to work on. People with jobs don’t have that problem as much. The job can be the source of lots of great ideas for things people actually need right now.

I’m the last person to discourage anyone from doing their thing, but job vs. startup is not a binary decision.
You can do both, at least for a while.

Keep that all-time favorite job for now. You can always leave later once something else has wings.

What’s hardest about programming?

What a solitary task programming is.

This is the hardest thing for me to explain to others. And still one of the hardest for me to get used to myself. It takes a lot of time working alone to get anything done.

It may also be one of the many reasons Hacker News is so popular. I don’t know about you guys, but if I didn’t have this place to break up the loneliness, I’d probably go nuts.

What should an older entrepreneur do?

Pair their work ethic, real world experience, and life lessons with the passion and technical skills of a 20 something hacker.

I started my first business when I was 27. My partner was 41 and had done things I hadn’t even imagined. He was so smart, so seasoned, and knew the ropes about so many things that he saved us both countless hours and dead ends. And I was able to do things he never had a chance to learn. We made a great team.

Now I’m on the other side of that relationship. And would love to do it again with someone in their 20’s. I have a million ideas that come from years of real world experience and not enough time to act upon them.

How do you crack the enterprise world?

I have been on both sides of the enterprise software sale many times and have concluded that a) it always sucks and b) it’s rarely in “anyone’s” best interest. 

So instead of examining the current model and making suggestions for accomodating or improving it, I prefer to suggest an alternative. 

I believe the best way to crack the enterprise software market is the same way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time through the soft underbelly… 

Find a critical business function being done in Excel and provide an alternative web app. 

Find a “business within a business” and automate it with modern technology. (Examples are small independent business units, warehouses, job shops, sample shops, “anything” a user has set up that “can” be autonomous.) 

Provide a modern satellite system to augment and integrate with an existing enterprise monster. (A separate module for one function like payroll or fixed assets, special processes for marketing, engineering, manufacturing, etc.) The possibilities are endless. “Somebody” is not getting what they need out of SAP, Oracle, or whatever. 

Provide a separate business unit with everything they need. This may be cheaper than the customer adding more licenses to their ERP system. 

The key to this approach is staying under corporate IT’s radar. The way to do that is by keeping your prices below your customer’s boss’s threshold. 

How do I know this can work? Because it has, many times. I have implemented dozens of apps in enterprises that they thought they could never have because of the existing software and sales model. 

And I remember history. At one time, IT departments were very threatened by PC’s. They challenged their ivory tower with a mainframe and dumb terminals. So users just bought their own PCs from their expense budgets and forced IT’s hand. 

Lightning can strike twice. Users are once again tired of waiting 18 months for a fix and are ripe for a custom 37signals type of solution. Let the app rush begin.