What Tina Seelig Wished She Knew When She Was 20


Over the last week, I had the opportunity to start and finish Tina Seelig‘s new book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20“. The book delivers a series of stories — among other things — each seemingly designed to teach a lesson or prove a point; a number of stories discuss very innovative and creative solutions people undertook to solve real-world problems and to create value. Together, these pearls of wisdom can inspire the uninspired, and give a gentle nudge to those needing a push to get going.

In her book, Tina discusses the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (“STVP“), and how it looks to create “T-shaped people” — described as having a depth of knowledge in at least one discipline and a breadth of knowledge in innovation and entrepreneurship. I think this is a fantastic approach, and that this recipe is the right combination to create truly successful entrepreneurs. It would be nice to see some Canadian schools taking that approach. She also discusses her class-turned-global innovation assignments, that have become the Global Innovation Tournament — I’m hoping to participate in a judging capacity for the Toronto contingent this year — but of course, I’d rather be in the competition itself. Maybe I’ll get a chance if I make it into the Stanford GSB next year!?

Later on in the book, Tina begins discussing risk profiles of entrepreneurs (I can relate closely with this), and I found it quite interesting to read that apparently most entrepreneurs don’t see themselves as big risk takers. Only after some reflection did I understand what she meant. To paraphrase her text, “After analyzing the landscape, building a great team, and putting together a detailed plan, [entrepreneurs] feel as though they have squeezed as much risk out of the venture as they can. In fact, they spend most of their efforts working to reduce the risks for their business.”

Wearing my VC hat, this actually makes a lot of sense. We, as VCs, constantly look at how well entrepreneurs de-risk their ventures and we calculate our willingness to invest by how well an entrepreneur has evaluated their market opportunity, filled their management team and advisory board(s) with competent and complimentary folks, and developed their technology to a stage where it can be demonstrable. Essentially, the reward that entrepreneurs can receive for successfully de-risking their venture is generally referred to as a better valuation from VCs, and consequently, higher equity ownerships for the entrepreneur(s) at the table.

I recommend this book to CEOs and decision makers that need to reignite their creativity as well as to students aspiring to do great things, but who are waiting for permission to do so from some authority figure. In this book, the author acts as an agent of empowerment to allow the reader the feeling that they should embrace their skills and capabilities, and act on their desires to create products, services and organizations that can change the world.

What have you envisioned that could change the world? I dare you to chase that opportunity.

Have you recently dropped everything to take on a new challenge? Share your story below! Was it worth it?

Business and Military Strategy


I have been reading the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and it has inspired a concept/theory on developing competitive online and mobile businesses that I am going to pursue further in my work with our portfolio companies.

At one point in the book, Diamond discusses the invent and adoption of guns by a number of countries. At the time, guns were the most powerful weapon. Countries that failed to adopt and manufacture guns for military use (the reason did not matter, whether cultural, tactical or lack of know-how), eventually succumbed to their neighbors or other invading troops in possession of such advanced weaponry.
A parallel can be drawn to online or mobile businesses in today’s world that have a product, but are not leveraging the necessary tools (or “weaponry”) to compete aggressively. Consider a small, vulnerable startup without “guns” taking-on larger industry giants with “guns.” The startup needs to get on level footing before any shift in market share or significant user adoption takes place. Another way to view this is to ensure your product has at least the same level of core functionality as your most significant competitors, and then innovate on top of that base. Note: There are obvious exceptions and I am being general in my statement.
Right now, there is an unprecedented number of free tools that allow business to increase the virality, social interaction, visibility and overall stickiness and competitiveness of a product or service. These can and should be leveraged to topple giants.
Virality and Social Interaction: I am referring to the use of Facebook Connect and Twitter/OAuth to increase social interaction, sharing of links, and recommendations to a user’s social network. The websites that have adopted the use of Facebook Connect have seen massive increases in hits to their website; laggards and late-adopters are suffering, and those who adopted early are reaping the benefit. Use Facebook Connect. Virality can be spread many other ways; remember content is still king — create a company/product blog and start a Twitter feed to inform your followers about industry trends and product updates; also make sure to address any concerns that users voice about your product. By using Twitter, companies can stop bad press before it starts, which could save startups one of their nine lives so to speak.
Stickiness: Give users a reason to return to your website or mobile application. Can you think of way to demonstrate continuous value to users of your site? If you can, you may enjoy more frequent visits from users. A user’s return could be influenced by social pressures (responding to a request driven/initiated by a friend), self-interest (check alert / view an update), curiosity and general need. Make use of different technologies to stay in touch with users, according to the preferences they like — allow them to select options including email, SMS (may be costly), Facebook, Twitter or through other widgets that may integrate with iGoogle or other portals.
I am going to continue to develop this theory. The next book on my reading list is Art of War by Sun Tzu; I hope that will be a good catalyst for a good follow-up post.
As always, I invite you all to contribute your thoughts below. Can you draw any other parallels between military strategies and business?