- Personal Development
- Entrepreneurial Toolkit
- The Store
Guy Kawasaki is just like any other Hawaiian-born, hockey-playing, trendsetting, jet-hopping corporate evangelist, entrepreneur, author, columnist, blogger, venture capitalist, new media creator next door. He says success starts with a proper mantra.
“Almost every entrepreneur begins by creating a mission statement. Wrong,” the brash 55-year-old Silicon Valley veteran tells SUCCESS. “Mission statements are too broad and boring. No matter what kind of organization you are starting, what you first need to do is develop a mantra. Keep it two to four words max. You may never have to write your mantra down, publish it in your annual report or print it on posters. Indeed, if you do have to enforce your mantra in these ways, it’s not the right mantra.”
Kawasaki’s personal mantra: “Empower People.” The mantra of Garage Technology Ventures, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm he co-founded and directs, is “We start up startups.” Some other good examples Kawasaki often cites: Target—“Democratizing Design”; Nike—“Authentic Athletic Performance”; or Starbucks— “Rewarding Everyday Moments.”
Of course, the mantra is just one step in starting a business. Kawasaki stays in great demand relating the rest of the story. Author of the best-selling entrepreneurial how-to guide, The Art of the Start, published in 2004, and the detail-packed Reality Check in 2008, he shares lessons forged from his high-flying days at Apple Computer, his own startups and venture capitalist experience.
"Almost every entrepreneur begins by creating a mission statement. Wrong."
In speeches and interviews, Kawasaki plays off his candid persona, prompting USA Today to refer to him as “a head-banging bruddah from a tough blue-collar neighborhood in Honolulu.”
His books are chock-full of specific advice for entrepreneurs, but ground zero for Kawasaki is “the one question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture: Do I want to make meaning?” That is followed by other queries in the same vein: Do I want to make the world a better place? Increase the quality of life? Right a terrible wrong? Prevent the end of something good?
“We meet with entrepreneurs all the time and they tell us what they think we want to hear, that they want to make money,” he says. “When we hear that, it’s so depressing. It took me 20 years to come to this understanding, but the companies that are successful are the ones who create meaning. Create the next curve; don’t improve on sameness.”
That said, Garage is in a money business, and “revenue is the single-biggest challenge to entrepreneurs today because no one is buying anything,” he says.
“The least likely company to make a sale is a startup,” he says. “In these times, corporate employees are not likely to risk their career buying from a startup. There’s no magical answer on how to overcome that. It takes perseverance.”
While the home run has eluded Garage, it has nurtured a number of success stories, including D.light Design, which makes cheap, solar-powered lights intended for use in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, and individual investor champion The Motley Fool. The firm’s portfolio company, information-sharing site Kaboodle, was sold to the Hearst Corporation. PC Magazine named another client, job search engine and recruitment advertising network Simply Hired, one of its “Top 100 Websites for 2009.”
It’s a very different game today than before the dot-com bust.
“In today’s economy and tight credit markets, there is a much greater emphasis on getting to revenues fast and more emphasis on business models than before,” Kawasaki says. “You also meet companies that are further along. Whereas, a few years ago the accepted practice was you raised a bunch of money, then you went away for a year and built your software. You needed the money to hire people, buy tools and all that kind of stuff.”
It’s Not as Bad as It Seems
Aside from the fact that no one is buying anything, Kawasaki explains this may be one of the best times to start a company. “If you look at the factors a company needs—people, marketing, tools and Web services, storage, bandwidth, those kinds of things—the basics are extremely affordable,” he says. For instance:
- Marketing is basically free with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
- Tools are basically free because of Open Source.
- There is an abundant, cheap workforce because of all the people out of work.
- Inexpensive services are available—with cloud computing, for example, basically for $500 you can get a lot of storage and bandwidth.
“The cost of starting a company is lower than ever, which means you can go longer without venture capital,” he says. “It also means, however, that when you do need venture capitalists, they expect you to show up with more done than just a PowerPoint.”
In addition to Garage and writing books and columns, Kawasaki has set his sights on new media communication as co-founder of Truemors, a free-flow rumor mill Web site that NowPublic acquired in 2008, and Alltop, an “online magazine rack” for the Web that collects and posts the headlines of the latest stories from sites and blogs it considers the “best.”
“The content and advertising businesses are very difficult ,” he says. “Someone explained it to me this way: If you look at a tech startup, most people try to go after elephants. A good elephant would be a Salesforce.com kind of company, right? Other people happen to bag whales, such as Google. So you have everyone hunting elephants and whales, but it’s more reasonable to go after deer. A deer is big enough to fi ll you but not so big you kill yourself going after an elephant or a whale. But most tech companies today are going after rabbits and prairie dogs. I can make the case that even more Web companies are going after plankton.”
The greatest benefit of founding Truemors (which cost less than $13,000 to launch) was that it led to Alltop, Kawasaki says. “We noticed so much traffic came from popurls [an Internet aggregator launched in March 2006], which inspired us to do Alltop.” Truemors had no business plan, no venture-capitalist pitch, and only 7 1/2 weeks to launch. He registered 55 domain names. Software development cost $4,500.
Nononina, the company that owns Alltop, is Kawasaki’s “two guys and a gal” garage band—or more accurately, a team consisting of “one guy in home offi ce (Will Mayall), one gal on a kitchen table (Kathryn Henkens) and one Guy in United Airlines seat 2B (Kawasaki).”
"No matter what kind of organization you are starting, what you first need to do is develop a mantra."
The New Information Sage
Alltop, which receives the bulk of Kawasaki’s focus today, tries to offer a robust information shortcut. “There is no such thing as too much information,” he explains. “I think there is no limit to the amount of information you can have. The question is, does it limit you from acting? The amount of information can be beside the point if you don’t have enough courage to make a decision.” Alltop is a snug fit with his internal wiring, which is always searching, learning and regurgitating, living as he directed in his 1999 book, Rules for Revolutionaries: “Eat like a bird; poop like an elephant.”
“It has been a joy to do this company because the blogs and sites are thrilled to be on it,” Kawasaki explains. “For the people who use it, it is like a breath of fresh air. If you were to Google travel, you would get over a billion matches. That’s not really useful. At Alltop, you would get a few hundred where we’ve aggregated and displayed the latest stories. Instead of some computer algorithm, it’s a curated site—a human has decided what should be there.”
Immersion is part of his household’s wiring as well. When Kawasaki’s kids became enamored with hockey after attending a San Jose Sharks game, his wife Beth, whom he met at Apple, insisted that if the kids were going to play, Kawasaki “couldn’t just be one of these venture capitalists on the sideline playing with a BlackBerry and that I had to take an active part.”
Now, if Kawasaki is not traveling, he plays hockey every day of the week. “I play more than they do,” he says.
Hockey analogies pepper his conversations (he often talks about how if he’d accepted the job as Yahoo CEO when it was offered to him in the late ’90s, he could own the San Jose Sharks right now—“what’s a billion here or a billion there?” he playfully asks). One of the things he says he’s learned with Apple, Truemors, and Alltop “is that success is a grind.”
“Many people, especially young people, think success is event-related,” he explains. “You announce. You ship. And then life is good and you go straight to the moon. Instead, what happens is you ship with bugs in the software, and people don’t like your product. Then you fi x and fi x and fix, and you keep shipping.
“I suppose there are some instant successes, but that’s principally an oxymoron. That’s like saying [Pittsburgh Penguins captain] Sidney Crosby was an instant success in the NHL. Well, sure, in his first two years he did very well, but that ignores the 17 previous years he practiced or played hockey five hours a day. There’s no instant there, or here.”
Although he acknowledges he shares the entrepreneurial trait that is always looking for the new thing, the next challenge, not being content to stick to one thing, he insists he can be satisfied.
“If I were to sell Alltop for, say, $10 million, I would disappear from the face of the earth,” he says with a laugh. “You’d never see me again.”
His track record indicates otherwise.