To ensure success, go DEEPER not wider

Okay, so you are a startup owner.

Chances are great that you have limited resources. Understanding that you cannot be everything to everyone, you identify a niche and concentrate on that.

I am now getting more and more convinced that the niches we think are specific enough are STILL oftentimes too broad. We have to go deeper.

When STORM was originally conceptualized, we wanted to be a technology firm which specialized in HR. Soon enough we found out that was too broad. So we thought of specializing on benefits. You know what? Still too broad. This year, our big decision is just to concentrate on ONE thing: Flexible Benefits. See all those other products in our website? We shall soon be pulling all them out. We realized we needed to focus ALL our resources on ONE problem: getting Flexible Benefits right. We want to solve this problem with all we’ve got. We want to solve this problem better than anyone else in the world.

This boils down to the decision if you want to do one GREAT thing or merely good things. Spreading your limited resources across many things increases the probability of making a lot of mediocre products. Just remember that mediocre doesn’t have a shelf life, being great does. Look at Apple. ONE phone at a time. ONE tablet at a time. They just make that ONE thing the best there is.

Got an idea? Know who your target market is? Here’s a suggestion: segregate this market further and choose to niche even more. (Of course, you have to walk the tightrope here a bit and ensure you have a big enough market)

Creating a tablet application for children? Pick a specific age group, say 5-6 years old. Then do heavy research on the developmental aspects and mental acuity levels of children 5-6 years old. Then release a product specifically for children 5-6 years old. If you are a parent, and you have a 6-year-old, wouldn’t you want to buy a product specifically created for your child instead of getting a “for 8 years and below?”

Designing a clothing line for mommies? It might not be specific enough. Then research on the style differences between women who are 20-25 and everyone else. Focus your marketing and sales activities just on this demographic. Ignore the rest. You know what, not only will you capture the 20-25 market, but also the women in their 30’s who want to look younger.

And for all those people creating software houses? For goodness sake, pick a niche. Learn that niche. Yes, you will get offers to develop other stuff outside your chosen niche. Resist the money and decline. You can make that money up once you begin dominating a more specific niche. And no, “mobile” isn’t a good enough niche. Go deeper – pick an industry, a vertical, or an even more specific platform. Think about your specific customer and then sell specifically.

Go deeper.

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Assemble Your Avengers! An interview with the best startup recruiter there is, Nick Fury

A JUAN GREAT LEAP EXCLUSIVE: An interview with General Nick Fury himself, credited with starting two very successful startups: SHIELD, where he now serves as Director, and more recently, The Avengers.

Peter Cauton: Uhm, thank you very much, Director for allowing us an audience. The Juan Great Leap community is ecstatic for this opportunity to learn from you.

General Nick Fury: Good for you this is part of the community service sentence they gave me, you know, when it was found I had something to do with the destruction of New York. Let’s get on with it, son.  Nice hairstyle.

PC: Uhm, thanks. Anyway, sir! All our startup enthusiasts want to know, sir, how exactly did you pull off this recruitment coup with the Avengers?! I mean, what an amazing, kick-ass haul of founders!

GNF: Thank you.

GNF: Well, to be honest with you Cauton, the first thing I thought of was the problem I chose to tackle. I told myself, Nicky, if you wanted to protect the whole g__amned world, who would you enlist? This was what created SHIELD decades ago. I got the best agents from the CIA, the FBI. Got a lot of applicants as well. And you know what, we were fine. We kept the peace.

GNF: Until all these different E.T.’s decided, let’s phone their freaking homes! Then suddenly you had Aliens of Mass Destruction, throwing around my SHIELD guys like ragdolls. I became desperate. Very desperate. So this was my new problem: how do I protect the whole freakin’ earth from freakin’ alien invasions? With an emphasis son, on the S.

GNF: In. Vhay. Shon. SSSS.

GNF: This was the scope of my problem, son, and I knew I had to create a new startup to tackle it. I had to assemble a team of highly talented people. The creme de la creme.

PC: Any insights or recruitment tips for our readers on how to find highly talented people like these?

GNF:  Well, for starters, it’s mighty hard to find them. You gotta do the heavy research. We found one guy frozen at the bottom of the ocean. I recruited one girl from the competition. One was hiding in India. One just sort of fell from the sky. Tough to find them.

GNF: Then you have to evaluate them. We passed on a lot of other potentials before selecting this group. You can’t settle. Selection is everything! For example, we almost hired this brilliant guy who was dressed like a bat, and was a cross between Stark, Hawkeye, and Widow. But I felt, you know, that he wouldn’t have been much of a team player. So we dropped his ass. Here’s his application form. He’s a bit more impressive in person.

GNF: Anyway, once I zeroed in on who I wanted, I switched on the Fury-charm and tried like hell to get them on board. I followed them around, one by one. Flat-out stalked them. Had one on one talks with them, coffee with them. Me. General Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. In Starbucks. But you gotta swallow some pride when you are interested in getting the best of the best.

 PC: Any suggestions on founder composition?

GNF: Balance. If you notice, I got people whose talents complemented one another. When Thor said yes, for example, I quickly called Hercules to say, “Look kid. I don’t have time. To wait. For you. To ask. Your father! You’re out. Fury out. “

GNF: We didn’t have expertise redundancy.

PC: Uhm, but what about Hawkeye and Black Wido…

GNF: Can Hawkeye seduce male dictators to get information?

PC: Well, no bu…

GNF: There you go. Let’s move on. As I was saying earlier, balance. Another thing I did was to ensure we had technical founders who had different specializations. In this time and age, getting on the tech bandwagon can be crucial, whatever your chosen startup field is.

GNF: I also got someone whom I knew would have the potential to lead someone from the ground, since I got general stuff to do. Wait, but not general as in standard stuff, mind you, but general as in GENERAL Nick Fury stuff.  I needed a COO to my CEO, a Sandberg to my Zuckerberg. Is my point clear?

PC: Crystal. Did you have trouble making them get along?

GNF: Did I have trouble making them get along? DID I HAVE TROUBLE MAKING THEM GET ALONG?! YOU CAN BET YOUR ASS I DID!

PC: …

GNF: Sorry, it’s a bad habit.

GNF: Anyway, you should have seen what happened when all them met in a room. They were at each other’s throats. Being the master psychologist that I am, I KNEW this was what would happen if you brought great people in one room. One very important role I have is ego-management. There should be enough room for all the egos.

PC: So what did you do?

GNF: I did some uh…motivational tactics designed to show them that the vision was so much more important than their individual goals. That they had to put their differences aside to work on the common goal. I also ensured they had bonding time outside work so they could get to know each other a bit better.

PC: Did it work?

GNF: Do I have one eye?

PC: Uh…yup.

GNF: Case closed. Fury out. (disappears into basement)

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Generate Startup Ideas Using Tourist’s Eyes

When we are travelling for the first time in a foreign location, time seems to slow down, and we get to absorb all the juicy details.

There is no little thing which escapes us:

how the air is different

what clothes people are wearing

how the food tastes

how people greet one another

how clean (or dirty) things are

what people listen to

how people drive

how people eat

how the architecture is different

Isn’t it interesting that we are suddenly ultra-aware of the things around us. We find our heads and eyes ever-circling and observing, trying to take all the detail in. We look at the world with wonder. We figuratively (and depending where, sometimes literally) stop and smell the roses.

Contrast that to being in a place which is very familiar to us. In very familiar places, we can walk with our heads down and get to our destination. We can even drive very familiar routes almost unconsciously. We take things for granted and miss details. There is no wonder.

We miss opportunities. Sometimes right under our noses.

ALWAYS observe like a tourist. Look at the world with wonder, even when in the familiar.

You’ll be surprised at how many new ideas you can come up with.

Humble Pie is essential to the Entrepreneur’s diet.

We all know that confidence and having cajones is a big part of being a successful startup founder or entrepreneur. You simply cannot make the leaps and bold decisions necessary without that certain confidence.

What I am discovering more and more though is that confidence’s seeming polar opposite, humility, can be just as critical.

Here’s why:

1) Humility Enables Learning

Learning is the new metric for growth. The faster you learn, the faster your startup develops. If you are able to create an internal system which systematizes learning, then you are halfway there.

Take a look at Facebook’s 2005 interface:

This old version is now completely unrecognizable. The 2012 version is infinitely more user-friendly and intuitive – an incredible social media experience. How did they get from point A to point B? They must have gone through hundreds, if not thousands, of iterations, small and large. How did they know what to iterate and how exactly to improve it?

They learned.

What is the pre-requisite for learning? That acceptance that the present condition is flawed.

This requires humility.

2) “I was wrong” is a way of life 

When starting or running a business, making mistakes is a absolute given. You will make mistakes. A lot of them.

Startups are usually small organizations, so it is plainfully obvious when a bad decision is made. Usually, it is pretty easy to correct. Just tweak and move on, right?

Well, to correct a bad decision, you first have to admit you made one. Here is where the trouble begins for some people. Don’t we all know of people whose pride is such that they never admit a mistake, and worse, blame everyone and everything before they take accountability.

For a startup, time and energy zappers such as this could be fatal.

For a startup, creating a culture of ownership, accountability, and yes, admitting mistakes is vital. When driving culture of course, everything starts from the top.

The startup CEO has to quickly admit when he is wrong, and then quickly pivot the firm towards another option. The faster this is done, the faster the company can get to the right option, the lesser the strain on resources. He has to walk that line between powerful conviction and the ability to admit mistakes quickly.

This requires humility.

3) You have to hire people better than you

After the founders, the first employees you hire set the tone for what happens after. If you hire awesome people, you create an absolutely great foundation. A great team is everything. To ensure this, you have to be prepared to hire people who are better than you.

This takes BOTH confidence and humility.

Confidence, because you need it to bury your insecurities regarding questions like: “Will they outshine me?” or “How will other people still regard me?”

Humility, for simply the acceptance that there ARE some people better than you and that you NEED them.

(Moreover, great people can easily distinguish a blowhard from someone with authentic confidence. Who do you think they’d prefer working with?)

4) Hubris kills

Left unchecked, excessive confidence can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead not only to the fall of large corporations (see Enron), but startups as well.

Overconfidence can lead a to a great many things which can kill startups: unilateral decision-making, not listening to customers and partners, a false sense of entitlement, resting on one’s laurels, excessive self-rewarding, refusal to accept the real situation, denial of probable consequences, and so on. This has led to the splitting of several founding teams I know – when one or more of the founders falls into the hubris trap.

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Are you picking a passion, or a mere interest?

I’ve been talking to an increased number of people now with regards to their startup ideas.

Will this work? What about this? Could you rank these five ideas?

You know what? It really depends on you. Are you passionate about one of these ideas? If you are, then even if any expert or investor tells you your idea sucks, you’ve got a good chance of proving them wrong. Isn’t this the story of so  many successful startups?

Passion fuels great execution. And execution is everything.

What is interesting is that one person’s multiple ideas can encompass a wide variety of areas. While it is quite probable that you are interested in all these ideas, it is quite improbable that you are passionate about all of them.

If you plan to be the driving force in a startup you are setting up, then you just have to pick a passion. Don’t give in to the temptation to pick an interest, no matter how convenient things are shaping up.

Why?

Interest does not scale. Mere interest will not propel you to persevere and sacrifice when the going gets really tough. Mere interest won’t make you finish whole books about the topic in 2-3 days. Passion will make you do so. Passion scales.

You don’t ever want to go on vacation from what you are passionate about.

I am interested in pizza, TV, video games, and coffee. I won’t read books about them though. I don’t scour for news about them, although I will read an article about them if I come across one. I won’t run a startup centered on them. Invest in startups centered on them? Sure. But be the driving force? I already know that won’t be a good idea.

I am passionate about startups, human resources, and basketball. I read books about these topics for leisure. I am subscribed to news feeds about them. I have been the driving force for a successful human resources-related startup until very recently, and now I’m busy setting up a startup incubator. If someone comes to me with a great startup idea about basketball, I can see allowing myself to lead that.

Passion is evident. When you ask a person about what she is passionate about, it will be difficult to make them stop. Eyes light up. Peripheral questions are easy to answer. I’ve seen shy introverts transform before my very eyes when their passion becomes the topic of conversation.

You would pursue a passion for free. 

So whether you are deliberating on seriously pursuing an idea, recruiting someone, or even looking for a new job, pick a passion.

Stop settling.

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STARTUP SALES TIP: Generic is geriatric, make it human instead

Everyday, we experience getting bombarded with “above the line” sales pitches: from TV, print and radio. This is mass market/media advertising: a singular ad which hopes to reach millions and convince thousands to buy. Large corporations spend billions on advertising to convince a small percentage of the reached audience to make a purchase.

Of course, startups typically have a limited advertising budget, so they have to be sneakier, employing “below-the-line” techniques such email, direct marketing materials, and social networks. Here, the thinking is that we can be more “targeted” with our sales correspondence, because we can go more “direct” to the consumer.

You know what, from what I’ve seen, a lot of SME’s and startups, and sadly, even larger corporations, shoot themselves in the foot doing “direct” sales correspondence – the material and strategy used is still for mass consumption.

Aren’t we all tired of all the loan offers, the generic training course emails, the same condo brochures, the same scripted credit card “you have been selected” calls – these get old quite fast, don’t they?

Again, with the amount of information we are fed, from literally everywhere we look, mass strategy/one-ring fits all material is getting less and less effective.

Generic is geriatric.  

Let’s take email blasts for example. Isn’t this just a better way to name spam?

We tell ourselves it isn’t spamming, because there’s a way to “customize” it, right? For example, you can add the person’s first name in every other paragraph (so it sounds more personal), have different templates per market segmentation, or making the first two lines “personal.” Sadly, it isn’t. Each time you send what is largely the same material to a large number of people, that is spam.

You can spam through social networks as well. For example, salespeople even go through the process of “friending” me through the social networks, and then (to my dismay), proceeding to send me a generic sales letter inviting me to a generic training course.

My least favorite spam invite is the headhunter who asks me in Linkedin if I were interested in an HR Manager job.  Uhm…so you didn’t have time to look at my profile a bit to see that “job inquiries” and “career opportunities” are not ticked, and that I haven’t handled HR for nearly 5 years?

Perhaps I’d pause in immediately deleting your email and finish reading your correspondence if you start with something like…

“Hi Peter, I found your profile through a common friend, Mark Reyes. Based on a brief look at your profile, it’s obvious that you haven’t worked in corporate HR for a few years now. So I might be reaching a bit, but would you happen to be currently thinking of a career shift, coz’ I’ve a great opportunity you might want to explore….”

Then, I’d see you invested a bit of time getting to know me a bit through my profile. This counts.

It’s amazing how so many sales processes from so many companies can be improved only if the salesperson just realized she was conversing with a fellow human being.

No one wants to be treated in generic fashion. No one wants to deal with automated responses. Take a look at your literal and email trash bin. They are littered with spam. 

In Linkedin, I reject almost all invitations to connect made by A COMPANY. I want to talk and  engage with PEOPLE, I will not be friends with a firm. I want to know who I am conversing with, at the very least.

Forget spamming.

What’s the success rate anyway? 3%? 1%?

Sure, you will reach that small amount, but: a) your time could have been used for activities with higher yields, and b) you are basically telling the 97% majority that “we treat our clients in a generic fashion.”

How can you ensure more human sales correspondences?

Here are some suggestions for startups:

1) Never “templetize” sales correspondence.

People can smell generic letters a mile a way and will delete/shred them faster than you can say “spam.” Sure it would be much slower to TRULY customize correspondence (yep, this means a whole letter created just for the person you are sending it to), but your success rate would be much higher per client mailed.

Let’s say I have a marketing mobile application I want to sell. So I found a way to get the email addresses of 1000 marketing manager here in the Philippines. There are actually some people who would do an email blast with one generic letter to be used for all 1000 people. Way to send a message of how special each client is, right? What would be the outcome? You get 50 people interested? 30? Out of this, how many would meet you? Ultimately purchase?

Anyway, more “strategic people” would probably  segment it, say, by industry. Then i’d create an industry-specific letter. I’d sent one letter to 150, a different letter to 200, and so on.

Here’s an idea. What if you study the profiles and pick out 100 managers in companies which you’d think would most likely find your product useful. Then, why don’t you CREATE ONE LETTER EACH for each of the 100 selected people. If I were writing the marketing manager of Coke, then I’d make a letter imagining she’s the only one I’m trying to land. It would be completely different from my letter to the marketing manager of Avis, and so on.

Sure, this is undoubtedly hard work, but which among these strategies do you think would produce the highest yield?

(oh, and while you’re at it, stop sending generic Christmas gifts to clients and send a thoughtful gift on their birthdays instead – if you we’re the recipient, wouldn’t you remember that better?)

2) Google people. (yep, stalk em)

It pays to know who you are talking to. (Literally pays.)  What is her background? interests? Career progression? It is here you can find things which you can use to customize your correspondence with.

This also applies when you manage to secure a sales meeting with someone you’ve never met before. Google her. Do your research.

You’d google someone if you were going on a blind date right? A sales meeting has the same basic objective: the need to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

This personal knowledge of the person will make small talk and rapport-building much easier and will make you more likeable.

What is the primary characteristic firms look for in salespeople? Likeability. All things equal, people buy from people they like. How can you be likeable? Show an interest in the person, for starters.

3) Think of and treat ALL your business correspondences as your close friends.

Meeting a client tomorrow? Imagine your client as an old friend whom you haven’t spent time with in a long while. Then greet your client (seriously, try this).

How do you talk with close friends? You are yourself, right? You are less formal, you make jokes, you ask them how their family is, you ask them how they are doing with their current project. You care.

Human beings tend to like this.

4) Get to know your clients.

There’s no other way around it. You have to invest the time and energy to get to know your clients, what makes them tick, their birthdays, what motivates them, what they like, what irks them. That is, if you want repeat business with them.

Just know that as you are doing all these that you have to absolutely…

5) Be authentic.

We just KNOW when someone’s faking it right? To be successful in sales, you have to be TRULY be interested in people. Your authentic need for a long-term partnership has to be conveyed. Talking with clients and getting to know them mustn’t feel like a chore.

If it is, or if what you’ve read so far seems really tedious and time-consuming?

Get another person to do sales.

STARTUP SALES TIP: The Product Itself Is the Best Marketing Tool

A few years ago, I would always pass by Wilson street and then take a right at Jose Abad Santos street to go home. One day, I noticed a new tea place was being constructed along J. Santos.

As a huge milk tea fan, I was highly intrigued. I dropped in for a visit as soon as I saw the “OPEN” sign. I was an early adopter. It was the owner herself who was at the counter. I immediately noticed the concept was a bit different from anything being offered locally. This wasn’t Struan and Tang, nor was it another Quickly wannabe (delighted it wasn’t).

They were using fresh tea and there was a clear system: tea bag repository (a wide variety), some sort of a “tea espresso machine”, a “topping” selection (which they now aptly call “sinkers”), then a martini shaker. While they are more hi-tech now (with those circular buzzers), this basic system still holds.

And what does the system create?

A great product. Something I always came back to, tried new variants of, and told ALL my friends about.

Soon, there was always a line whenever I’d visit. Soon, they had other branches. Soon, they had copycats.

How did it grow? More than anything, pure word of mouth supporting a consistently great product.

Raise your hand if you got onto Facebook because you heard it from an advertisement. What about Dropbox? What about your I-phone or I-pad, did you buy them because you were convinced to do so by a TV commercial,  a direct email, or a radio jingle?

How about eating in restaurants like Conti’s or Banapple? Starbucks even?

How about that consultant or consulting firm which helped your firm recently?

Although marketers will tell you otherwise, in this era of social media and connectivity, a great product WILL get found, it WILL be posted on Twitter and Facebook, people WILL talk about it and recommend it to their friends and business acquaintances, and it WILL get found. Great marketing can push process to another level, but I think the insight is crystal- the very foundation of great marketing is a great product. Otherwise, the entire thing crumbles, and people will think they’ve been had. Great marketing only works if ultimately, the product is great as well. Authenticity matters.

Thinking of your great marketing and sales strategy?

Think very very carefully about your product first.

The rest will follow.

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Judo on Curveballs

Three days ago, I was feeling a wee bit nervous. I was set to undergo laparoscopic cholecystectomy – I needed to have my gall bladder removed.

I was admitted to the hospital at around 8pm, with my pregnant wife accompanying me. My operation was set at 10am of the next day. When we got to my room, I started unpacking our stuff when Pauline excused herself to go to the comfort room.

When Pauline got out, she had a smirky look on her face. “I have something to tell you,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked, totally not prepared for what she was about to say.

“My water broke.”

Life just threw us a curveball.

We smiled to one another, chalked it up to God’s timing and sense of humor, and then went to work. We split a set of phone numbers and called a lot of people:

The nurse’s station to ask for a wheelchair to take Pauline to the Delivery Room.

My surgeon and anesthesiologist to cancel the procedure.

My healthcard to cancel the process.

The admitting section to cancel my admission and to process my wife’s admission.

Our parents to tell them about their new, impending grandchild.

Our friends to extend prayers and include not only me, but mother and baby.

Then it was off to the races. I started going around the hospital to fix the paperwork, and then Pauline was wheeled to the delivery room. Soon, I was called to the delivery room myself.

In just over 2 short, exhilarating hours, I was a father to my newest startup, Siena.

Curveball. 

You know it’s coming. You don’t know when. You don’t know how. You don’t know in what shape or form. But yeah, you know it’s coming.

Something that changes everything. 

Yes, you can try anticipating it, resisting it, or even “risk managing” it. You can even try crying over it with the hope it goes away if you cry hard enough (hello, recording industry!).

My advice is to apply JUDO on it. Embrace it. Move with it. Flow with it. Smile.

While the startup is highly vulnerable to the curveball, it also has to realize that it DEPENDS on the curveball. Entrepreneurs and startups are created when they pounce upon a thrown curveball.

Are millions of people suddenly buying millions of apps over mobile? Pounce.

Did a big regulation just change? Pounce.

Are the buying habits of young people changing? Pounce.

Or better yet…

…you could tackle a truly tantalizing possibility:

How can you throw the curveball instead?

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5 Secrets of SERIAL Entrepreneurship

Serial Entrepreneurship Definition: Running 2 or more startups at the same time. Some definitions involve creating startups in succession, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s limit the term to the simultaneous management of 2 or more startups

A number of the startup founders I’ve been helping recently have told me that apart from the current startups they are involved in, they suddenly have an idea for another one. Then they begin telling me about the other idea.

What I’ve consistently said was:

STOP! Concentrate on your first, startup concept first – presumably your best and biggest idea. Anything else is a distraction.

Of course, all this time, I’ve been waiting for someone to say,

Heeeeeey, wait a minute, you’re not practicing what you preach! You’re involved in a number of startups!

Guilty as charged. Serial entrepreneurship is a path you can take a long look at.

Just take heed of the following items:

1) Initial success begets success.

I started my second company, Searchlight, a full 5 years after my first company, STORM, was founded. It was only after STORM’s success that I had the confidence to try forming another firm. And even then, I studied the Searchlight market for almost a year before plunging in. I applied everything I learned from STORM in my experience in Searchlight – starting ultra-lean, having a clear focus, getting good people. In other words, I NEVER would have succeeded in Searchlight and the newer firms had I not initially succeeded with STORM.

I started Searchlight as an experienced entrepreneur – and that made all the difference.

2) You have to accept that the time you spend in one startup is the exact time you rob in the other.

Time is a zero-sum game. Your startups need as much time as it could from you – your full attention. If you have two or more, then it is quite obvious that ALL the startups in question would not be as successful as it would have been had you given it your full attention.

This is a reality I live with. How big could STORM be if I dedicated my full-time and effort to it? Searchlight? Stream Engine? I would never know.

3) If you insist on going serial, it helps greatly to have startups in related fields.

STORM is an HR services firm. The biggest reason I thought about putting up Searchlight is because our own clients were bugging us to do executive search. Like STORM, Searchlight is an HR services firm. So in running the two firms, there is a lot of dovetailing which happens. For example, the target market for both firms are the same. Almost ALL of Searchlight’s initial clients came from the STORM network. The numerous efficiencies created in having related firms mitigate the effects of item no. 2 a bit.

The next firms I was involved with were services firms as well. It is only very recently that I am finding myself involved with products, but even then, these would be technology-related products – an arena I am pretty familiar with.

4) It HAS to be in your DNA

Like with any career decision, you have to look deep within what you really like to do. What I have discovered about myself is that I find it difficult to focus – I need to be involved with different things at the same time. Another thing that I have discovered about myself is that I absolutely love the challenge of the startup process – putting together the RIGHT people with the RIGHT ideas, and then going to war with my team in the trenches. And I guess I like the risk involved – the whole David vs Goliath thing. It’s a bit masochistic, but I do love it, the challenge of it, the excitement of building things.

5) My biggest serial secret is simple – Paolo De la Fuente, Maan Pamintuan, and Gino Caparas

Paolo, Maan, and Gino, help me run STORM, Searchlight, and Stream Engine, respectively. That’s the secret, that’s how I manage to be involved with these startups and have time for my other endeavors, like Juan Great Leap, Bizkitchen, and even more startups.

The secret is finding great people.

Have you guys read Gladwell’s Outliers? Remember his criteria about being “gifted” or being an “expert” in your field? Gladwell challenges the notion that giftedness is genetic, and cites that gifted people simply spend the requisite number of hours honing their craft. 10,000 hours, to be precise. I was just calculating – I’ve spent MORE than 10,000 hours in recruitment. That was a blessing, in retrospect.

I may not have 100% batting average, but this learned skill certainly helps me in being more efficient in finding great people I can build things with. You have to be able to love networking,  building relationships, and envisioning how people would do in specific roles.

The corollary to this secret? Once you FIND a great partner, you have to be very willing to SHARE equity/ownership/control. This might be easier said than done for some people.

The control aspect is pretty tricky. When building a company from the ground up, the experience you garner is that you control everything, precisely because you manage everything. In choosing to be involved with different things however, you HAVE to cede control at some point.

The RESISTANCE is real, and it aims to KILL.

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:

1) A new idea dawns upon you, and you are exhilarated. You cannot stop thinking about your idea. You begin thinking of the steps you need to make to make your idea happen. You are on a high.

Then sometime after, something happens. A seed of doubt plants itself in your consciousness. Suddenly you see holes in your idea which you haven’t seen before, and you begin to realize how difficult it would be to fill them. You begin to realize you might not have time for all this. You begin to think of the huge scale of work you have to do to accomplish your idea. Soon, you conclude that your idea wasn’t so “hot” after all, and chalk it up to “momentary foolishness.”

2) You have a huge project you need to do that’s absolutely vital to your dreams, your fulfillment, or your passions. It could be finally writing that book, or pursuing that startup idea, or creating that app, or pursuing that killer project idea you’ve always wanted to do in your corporate job. So you set the stage. “When I get home, I will lock myself in my room, face my laptop, and start on my project at 7:30 pm sharp.” Then you start. Oddly, despite all your motivation, you CANNOT start. You do check your email. You check your Facebook page. Then everyone else’s. Twitter. Youtube. You take a bath first. You find yourself doing everything humanly possible EXCEPT that particular thing you WANT to do. Finally, it is 12:00 midnight and you are exhausted. So you say to yourself, tomorrow! And the cycle begins anew.

3) New Year comes and you have 2-3 resolutions which you want to do. Perhaps it’s losing weight. Controlling your temper. Quitting a vice. So you begin the year right. A mere two weeks pass and you succumb to the status quo…telling yourself it isn’t so bad in the first place, and that perhaps you’ll try to change again in a couple of months.

Familiar?

Isn’t it funny that most of the time, we KNOW what the next, crucial step in our lives would be – that one thing which we know would make a dramatic impact in our lives. We KNOW what to do.

Isn’t knowing half the battle already? It all then boils down to just doing it right?

As soon as we try though, we find that something opposes us. Self doubt. Fear. Procrastination. Distraction. Analysis paralysis. In his two landmark books, War of Art and his follow-up, Do the Work, author Steven Pressfield calles it The Resistance. He explains:

…there is a malignant presence that exists to block you. It rises up against you to stop you from doing what you most need to do. This force is the Resistance.

And, as Pressfield puts it:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Can you recall a time when a great opportunity or idea came your way, and you find yourself ON THE ROAD TO TOTALLY BLOWING IT?

I remember getting the idea for STORM way back in the early 2000’s, but it was only in 2005 that I actually got around to looking for partners and telling them about my idea. I KNEW it was a good idea, and I KNEW I needed partners to pull it off, but it still took me years of dilly-dallying before I put my intention into action. I would start thinking it might be embarrassing to tell my friends about it. That my idea might not be worth anything.  Resistance.

Sometimes the task is so simple, like “send an email to this big potential client,” or “talk to this person about her performance” and yet I would find myself doing so many other things to put it off. Or sometimes I would tell myself to sleep earlier because I want to begin my day right by praying and going to the gym very early in the morning. Yet, I would find myself at nights reading unimportant stuff on the internet, watching TV, playing Skyrim, needlessly analyzing my fantasy basketball lineup, or even cleaning my room. And then waking up late.

Isn’t that crazy? When something is of crucial importance to you, there is really an inexplicable force which descends, sabotaging and paralyzing you. Resistance. Pressfield continues:

Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.

For startup founders and would-be founders, this knowledge is absolutely crucial – because The Resistance has killed more startups than we can count. We read everywhere that the biggest stumbling block for startups isn’t financial, nor product related, nor strategy related. The biggest killer of startups is the failure to start. The biggest reason for this failure to start? The Resistance.

It doesn’t get any easier when you start, either. You will find the Resistance going at you full force. Complete freedom with time and effort makes the Resistance doubly dangerous for the startup founder as well. There is no supervisor, nor camera, nor company deadlines to tow you back in line.

It is your battle. And everything is at stake.

Amidst all the entrepreneurial and startup-related book I have read in recent years, Pressfield’s twin books have made such a remarkable impact on me. Just recognizing the existence of the Resistance, that there is such a thing – and it is what has been sabotaging my efforts – have made me more sensitive to the Resistance’s power in my life. As Pressfield writes, Resistance acts like a True North – when you feel it working, you already know where to go: the EXACT opposite of where it is trying to lead you.

Oh, I need to stop writing this blogpost to check on Facebook?

I continue writing this blogpost.

You’re saying I don’t need to call this client now because it might be a bad time to call her, just wait for tomorrow?

I call the client.

Just another 5 minutes of Skyrim, perhaps one more area to explore?

I close the console. (or more recently, I placed the dang thing where I can’t touch it)

Just do it.

This sort of thinking has actually led me to one of the most creative periods in my life. Ever so recently, I was wracked with doubt and fear and the Resistance about this blog, some of the startups we recently founded, or even doing Juan Great Meet. In all cases, I recognized the Resistance, harnessed my competitive nature and told myself “hindi ako magpapatalo.” (I will not be defeated)

(The interesting thing is, the more “practice” you have in resisting the Resistance, the better you get at doing it.)

Buckle up. Get ready. If you want to follow your dreams you’re going to have to fight for it.

You already know it’s worth it.