Entrepreneurship – Creating Opportunities Where None Exists

It was April of 1976. It was one of those evenings when Gary Dahl, an advertising professional was having beer with his friends. His friends were going on and on complaining about their pets. In jest, he remarked that he had no complains about his pet. When probed about which pet, he said, that he had a pet rock.

This got a good laugh among his friends and that was that. Just like at time there is a tune or some thought that is stuck in our heads, this entire idea of having a pet rock was stuck in his head. So, he did what any entrepreneur would do – going about creating a product around his idea of pet rock.

It is now October and he has been working on this idea on and off since April. He got hold of rocks, created a carefully designed package – (with holes for oxygen to go through to the rock), soft base of straw so the rock feels comfortable and most importantly the 32 page pet rock training manual.

This manual (you can buy a kindle version here) had clear instructions on how to train your pet rock to sit, sleep, roll down (of course assisted by a slope) or attack the bully who troubles you ( of course with the assistance of the pet owner) and many more skills that can be taught to the pet rock.

He then sent press releases to various media outlets. Some of them picked the PR for the sheer absurdity of the idea. It even got him on the Tonight show. Twice.

The fad lasted for about 3 months and Gary sold about 1.5 Million pieces in those  100 days and netted a million dollars in profit. Each piece sold at about 4 dollars then with a dollar in net profit.

In an interview he said that no one except himself believed in the idea. Not even his wife.

Entrepreneurs have this unique ability to trust their intuition and their ability to make something work. Combine it with marketing smarts and you can make a market for almost anything – even a pet rock.

The crazy thing is that you can buy a pet rock even now – here  on its official site &  here on amazon.

Trust entrepreneurs to create opportunity where none exists... Click To Tweet

Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Pet Rocks Experiment:

  • Any idea can be made to work, if we can put in enough effort and creativity.
  • Idea alone does nothing. We need to act on our idea and launch it. It is critical for any product. We can never guess which products can take off.
  • Self-belief and the ability to back ourselves is critical for success. Gary ended up taking loans from investors to launch this product. He invested in the packaging (both material and labour).
  • Anything that can catch the imagination of people can become marketing fads and do brisk business but for a brief amount of time.
  • Packaging is critical. If it were not for the packaging and the accompanying training manual, no one would have bothered about this pet rock. As Gary once said, it is not the rock that he sold, it was pun or humour that sold.
  • It is almost never about what we are selling, it is always about the story we create for our customers about what they are buying. Enable them to tell an impactful story, create meaning for the customer and they will buy your story, thereby your product, however effective or absurd it is.

I came across this story when listening to Terry O’reilly. Please do listen to his podcast. It is one of the best produced and most interesting podcast that i have come across on the topic of marketing. You can find more info about the podcast @ Under the Influence and you can subscribe on iTunes here. Highly recommended.

PS: Here is a video where a new pet rock is being trained by his owners.

PSS: Here is another video which explains in detail about the pet rock story.

PBTO Season 2: EP01: Future of Work with Andy Tryba

Opening music credits goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli

Who is he on the show: 
 
In the first episode of the new season, we host Andy Tryba. He is the CEO of Ride Austin, EngineYard and Crossover.com
 
Why is he on the show:
Andy has spent the last 15 years as CEO of multiple successful startups and is currently running three startups. One of them is a very interesting social experiment and has a very interesting approach to running his other two startups as well. He has built a product that already provides glimpses of how the future of work might unfold.   
What do we talk about:
 
In this wide ranging conversation, we talk about: 
 
– How he transitioned from the corporate world to getting a job at the Whitehouse and then to become an entrepreneur
– Having some corporate experience vs becoming an entrepreneur right off of our college
– His learning from being part of a large corporate and the White House. 
– Creating a local ride sharing app and competing with the cash rich Uber/Lyft and what he is learning from that experience
– Running a business as a non-profit (so they can pay their drivers much more), open data (sharing all kinds of data to allow people to find insights around mobility services) & engage with the community (by enabling their customers to contribute to charities)
– How economic theory & reality are not really congruent with each other
– Dynamics of competition (Uber and Ola) and throwing money at customer acquisition & what to do when you can’t compete against the money
– Changing the competitive landscape (hyper-local, community driven)
– Books from Dan and Chip Heath (Made to Stick & The Power of Moments) and some of the learnings from these books and how he has integrated them in his business. 
– Why it is difficult to gain customer attention 
Crossover.com and the thinking behind the business (All high skill jobs will go to the cloud) 
– Why he thinks that “There is no such thing as a talent shortage!”
– Going International doesn’t mean going cheap
– How it is possible to hire the Best 1% of people in the world (doing rigorous testing to finding the best of the best) 
– Why Format of the resume is almost 500 years old and why resume + interview is not the best way to recruit people. 
– Future of work is about Awesome teams on the cloud, great playbooks, create a platform to provide regular feedback so the teams can get better 
Crossover.com is like a Fitbit for work
– The importance of doing Deep Work (as advocated by Cal Newport) 
– The importance of coaching to get to our peak performance & the data that provides the insight for this level of coaching
– The thinking that went behind building Crossover.com.
– What can we learn from professional athletes and bring them into our work environment
– The effect of cognitive residue on our performance
– How does he balance his time and focus among the three startups that he runs? 
– Where do you bleed time? 
– What would he do differently, if he were to start off again
– What is so obvious to him now, that people miss all the time. 
 
Resources mentioned in the conversation: 
 
The Art of The Start by Guy Kawasaki, 
Deep Work by Cal Newport, 
Peak by Anders Ericsson, 
Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath
The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath
– Crossover platform (www.crossover.com
How to connect with him: 
You can connect with via twitter (@AndyTryba or email andy@crossover.com)

The Art Of Making Progress

Making progress is about knowing what you have and making the most of it…

Making progress is about moving in the direction that we want to move, irrespective of the circumstances..

Making progress is about knowing when to stop, step back and re-think about where you are going..

Making progress is about keeping our heads down and keeping at it..

Making progress is about knowing what we can’t influence and what we can and influencing what we can influence.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to change things that are often out of our control, instead of taking action on the things we can influence and impact.

We only begin to make progress when we stop trying to control the outcome and do the work…

This post is inspired by Bernadette Jiwa’s post:

The Art Of Making Progress

 

Are You An Amateur or a Professional?

Today, I read a post by Shane Parrish on his Farnam Street blog and couldnt resist sharing this with you. He tries to explain why some people are ultra successful and some are not, despite having similar knowledge or experience.

He goes on to share that one of the defining aspect that can explain this difference – Mindset.

How we see ourselves matters Click To Tweet

If we consider ourselves professionals, our chances of success goes up significantly. So, what makes one an amateur or a professional. Below is his take on the difference between amateurs and professionals.

Most of us are just amateurs.

Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.

Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.

Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.

Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.

Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?

Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.

Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.

Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.

Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.

Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.

Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.

Amateurs focus on first-level thinking. Professionals focus on second-level thinking.

Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when outcomes are the result of luck.

Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.

Amateurs focus on tearing other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.

Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.

Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.

Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.

There are a host of other differences, but they can effectively be boiled down to two things: fear and reality.

Amateurs believe that the world should work the way they want it to. Professionals realize that they have to work with the world as they find it. Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.

Questions we need to ask is the following:

In which area of our lives are we acting like a professional and where do we act as amateurs? Which areas of our lives do need to become a professional in?

Here is the original blog:

The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals

This is one blog that I recommend everyone of us to read and follow. IF you do nothing but read everything that is written on this blog, you will end up much smarter than you start with.

 

7 Practices of Highly Inspired People

I have been writing every for this blog for the past 20 days and every time I open up my laptop to write, I don’t necessarily have an idea that I want to write about. I need some kind of an inspiration, some seed of a thought which can then go on to become a blog post. This is what writers call inspiration. As entrepreneurs, we our productivity and effectiveness is at its highest when we are inspired. So it is with our team mates.

All creative ideas have an inspiration as their seed. Someone somewhere was inspired by someone/something that led him/her to come up and express their creativity. As entrepreneurs, we know the importance of creativity in our pursuit. We are constantly facing challenging situations that need to be solved. The more creative and practical our solutions, the more success we can see in our enterprise. This is as much true for us as leaders as much it is for our teams.

All kinds of artists and entrepreneurs are always looking for inspiration or as they call it – their muse. There are times when something comes together in our minds rather suddenly and strangely.

The question then to ask ourselves is the following:

Is it possible for us to find inspiration & thereafter stay inspired? Can we do it on-demand?

Can we create an environment where not just us, but everyone in the environment can access inspiration on-demand?

I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. I can tell this with some authority as I have been able to find inspiration to create something every single day for the past 30 days as a result of some practices that I have put in place in my live. I can tell this with authority as I know of a lot of artists and entrepreneurs have done this in their lives from which I have learnt a lot. I can tell this with authority as there is a lot of scientific research that has show that this is possible. 

Before we start talking about practices to find inspiration on-demand, lets first try to understand what inspiration actually is. Every time we come across a new set of information or a fresh idea, the way our brains process them is that it creates a new neural pathway that corresponds to this idea. Now, almost all neural pathway is connected to all other pathways. The question is for us to find some of these interesting connection.

We say we are inspired by something, when unwittingly our brain has found a new neural pathway from one known pathway to another known pathway. So, almost all new inspiration is about finding new neural pathways from one existing idea to another. This can happen by connecting one idea with another, combining different ideas, subtracting something from one idea or even a combination of all of these tricks. The most fundamental thing here is that we need to be exposed to a lot of different ideas.

Once when someone asked me about how to get new ideas, I had responded that in order to get new ideas, you need a lot of old ideas. Every idea that we come across is filed away in our brain and is similar to an alphabet in our language. We are able to combine these alphabets to come up with words (first simple, then complex) and build our vocabulary. We can then use these words to come up with sentences and then combine these sentences to come up with paragraphs, stories, poetry and so and so forth. So, the more ideas that we are exposed to, the more chances we have of coming up with an inspired idea.

Being inspired is a state of mind.

Creating conditions for inspiration is about finding and accessing the states of mind that works best for us. Knowing this, here are some practices that I have put in place in my life to find inspiration on-demand.

Practice 1: The Practice Intentionality:

The first practice is all about noticing thing all around us. There are ideas all around us. The way someone is dressed, the advertisement that we saw on TV, the way something is on display in a shop, the way a speaker presented his idea, the story your child told you about her school, the way a dancer moved on stage, the way a musician composed his song, etc.. The list goes on and on. There are ideas all around us. What we need to do is be intentional about noticing these ideas.

Practice 2: The Practice of Diversity:

As i have already indicated, in order to be inspired, we need to allow our brains to connect disparate information together, which means that we need to expose ourselves to diverse and disparate information from different sources. If we only read the same stuff everyday, watch the same shows on TV, take the same route to office everyday, see the same friends, work in the same industry, we are ensuring that we will not have the diverse inputs needed for us to be and stay inspired.

So, we need to read different kinds of stuff, watch different kinds of shows, visit new places, take different routes to office, work in different industries or at least meet with people who are not very similar to us and our appraoch to life. We need to mix things up intentionally.

I know people who pick up magazines specifically not targetted for them, attend conferences which have nothing to do with their industry or the kind of work they do. I myself have a reading list that is varied and consists of material and topics that is no way connected to the work that i do. Yet, my brain always finds a connection between what I do and what i read. That is the job of my brain that it does really well.

Practice 3: The Practice of Reflection:

Once we notice things around us, we then need to find a way to capture and reflect on these ideas. We could capture them by clicking a picture, taking a video, making a note (audio or text), connecting this idea with something that we already deeply care about. I use all of these methods to capture ideas – click pictures/videos, make notes (text or audio), save something on my Evernote (stuff that I find interesting online), etc.

The key here is that we need to go back to these ideas on a regular basis so that we are able to create neural pathways to these ideas and can retrieve them on-demand when needed.

Practice 4: The Practice of Brahmanian Thinking:

In Hindu mythology, there are three gods who are the “Trinity”. One of them, Brahma, the creator, is supposed to have 4 heads, one in each direction. I consider that as an analogy for us to learn to see and think from different perspectives before creating anything new. This holds true for all creative ideas.

The practice of looking at the same thing from different angles and perspectives offers us a great deal of more information that can then trigger new ideas. It is important for us to build this habit intentionally. This is the key practice if we are to be able to make unusual connection. If we see the same thing that everyone else sees, we will come to the same conclusion that everyone else is coming to and thereby we will come up the same kinds of ideas that everyone else is coming up with.

Practice 5: The Practice of Reframing:

Another way to ensure that we are able to speed up the ability to connect disparate ideas and inputs to form new, creative and inspired stuff is by practicing the art of reframing. Our brain functions in a way that it frames everything that it encounters in one way or another. Add to this that the way our brain functions is that if we pose a question, it is conditioned to work towards finding an answer.

So, If we can find a way to frame the question or the problem differently than what was originally posed, we are able to solve it differently as well. There are different ways to reframe any challenge or issues or problems.

We can reframe by changing the context in which the problem is being faced, by changing the person whose point of view is being used to solve the problem and similar.

Practice 6: The Practice of  Constraints:

One of the ways that we can force ourselves to come up with interesting and unique ideas or feel inspired is when we introduce new constraints. This again is how our brains function. If i were to ask you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your home, you might take longer to answer if I just asked you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your kitchen. This is just how our brains work.

So, if we are looking for an inspiration for something, we will do better if we introduce new constraints in our thinking. This could come in many forms – we need ideas that use sound/music, will use comedy, will make use of children, needs to cost us under a certain cost or needs to use a specific color even. The idea is to move between different constraints to see if any of them inspire us to come up with something really unique and inspired.

Practice 7: The Practice of Practice:

The last but the most important practice to getting and staying inspired is to practice being inspired. We need to constantly work our muscles of creativity and inspiration. As most inspired creators will tell you, they need to build in rituals and habits of getting and staying inspired. This is also like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger it gets.

In short, we need to practice getting inspired on a daily basis. We can’t do the work every single day by practicing all these practices and expect to get inspired on-demand. This is the work-ethic that is needed to get and stay inspired.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it  -Freud

In Conclusion:

There are a lot of things that we can do to get and stay inspired on-demand. There is also a lot that we can do to create an environment that allows us to create a culture where our teams can get and stay inspired on-demand.
I will delve deeper into how to create a culture where teams can get and stay inspired in a separate post shortly.
Btw, this post was also inspired by a post by  on here.