Viability does matter

The other day I finished “The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann and the Great Startup Delusion” by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell.

It charts in excruciating, painful detail the rise and fall of WeWork, one of the best funded most-hyped US startups ever. And it’s a great read that I highly recommend.

One of the tenants of the book is a marvel at the established idea that for successful startups only top line growth matters, no matter the cost associated with it. The general belief is that if you just get big enough, you can always sort the more mundane business stuff later.

WeWork proved to be the perfect example of why this isn’t the case at all. On the contrary, founder and CEO Adam Neumann and his investors led by Japanese Softbank more than proved that if there’s not really a there there, a crash will be inevitable. It’s just a matter of when the house of cards is going to come crashing down.

The interesting thing about the book and the phenomenon as such is that it’s always there in the open for everybody to see. Yet no-one really does something about it. It’s hard to say whether it’s for fear of looking stupid, fear of reprisals or whatever. But the end result is that even though we can all agree that this was not the way to do it, there is a near 100 % certainty that we will experience more cases like that again in the future.

Does that mean that you should have aspirations to be the next Adam Neumann?

Not if you ask me.

In my view stories such as the one about the WeWork implosion should give every founder pause and lead to the building of viable businesses that doesn’t have a structural expiration date.

It’s perfectly understandable that when the music is playing, you want to dance and dance all night long. But if you’re also just a wee bit into what you’re doing with your startup because you want to make an impact for people or change something out there, you should always, ALWAYS have an eye out for how your startup becomes a viable business in its own right.

(Photo by Charles Koh on Unsplash)

Deadly theater

Time and time again I hear from and meet startups who are eager to follow the corporate partnership route to gain traction in the market for their startup.

Sometimes it works out well. Most often – I would argue – it doesn’t.

I know this from my own prior experience from the corporate side. Yes, I have been one of the ‘fools’ trying to introduce startups to the corporate world as tomorrows fix on todays problems only to find that the organization had no intention of being ‘fixed’, let alone by a startup.

I can’t count the times I have engaged with promising startups with some great products and services under their belt and spent a ton of time on building the case and getting them introduced to the company – only for everything to come off the rails once the handover needed to happen.

Undoubtedly, I have a lot of the blame myself, as I should have spent more time and energy on facilitating the internal relationships necessary to enable a great collaboration – to enable my peers and colleagues to ‘see the light’ so to say. I naively thought it was rather self-explanatory.

It wasn’t.

Anyways, there are still a lot of startups out there who seems to think that pilots projects and strategic initiatives with big corporations are the best path towards fame and fortune.

If you are one of those, I highly recommend, you get yourself a copy of “Death By Innovation Theater: 10 Corporate Innovation Lessons Learned by a Startup” by Søren Nielsen, former CEO of now closed down FinTech startup Ernit.

Apart from being very well-written and with a lot of great references, the book is a tale of why all those aspiring promises in corporate partnerships never really amount to anything for startups.

In the close to 100 pages, Søren walks you through his own largely miserable experiences banking – sorry – and counting on corporate partnerships to work only to find out that he and his team was never more than an afterthought at best and entertainment at worst.

When you read it, you might believe it. Or you might think that that won’t happen to you. Don’t delude yourself. There is every chance that it will. Take it from me as a representative of the ‘innovation fools’ in the corporate domain – we’re not that different from each other.

Should you completely forgo any opportunities to do partnerships with corporates? Absolutely not.

But as Søren Nielsen also states make damn sure, you’re absolutely sure about what you’re doing and what you and your startup are getting out of it, before you dive in and spend too much time.

After all, you don’t want to die on the stage, do you?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Learn from Poor Charlie

Every once in a while I look to recommend a great book, if you’re looking to expand your horizon a bit.

This is such a time. But the book isn’t new. Far from it. I have had it for more than 10 years, but I have only gotten around to reading it now.

The book in question is “Poor Charlie’s Almanack”, a whopping coffee table book about legendary investor Warren Buffets sidekick and second-in-command, Charlie Munger, at Berkshire Hathaway.

In the book he spills the beans on his wisdom. And let me say it straight away: Much of it is common sense. But still you have got to give the man credit that when you live and act by a core belief system of common sense, you can do rather well for yourself.

Furthermore there is an incredible wit about Charlie, who turned 97 as we moved into 2021. While Warren Buffett has always been the one in the spotlight, Charlies wry comments and crystal clear ways of calling them like he sees them is amazing.

For that reason I highly recommend you look up Berkshire Hathaway AGM’s on YouTube and feast yourself in the two investors asking questions from their audience of shareholders. It’s priceless.

But Charlie Munger is also the story about something else that I personally hold very dear; the (wo)man behind the (wo)man.

While aspirational leaders and entrepreneurs have always fascinated me, I have tended to be more fascinated by their enablers; those who actually get the wheels into motion, do the nitty gritty stuff, aka work the engine room so the captain can be on the bridge setting the course.

I have a great personal liking for those. Most probably because it fits my own comfort zone best; being the one a step being doing the heavy lifting, making things gel and gently apply my contribution to things.

One thing is for sure: Charlie Munger has been exceptionally great at doing precisely that. And few people are more deserving of a coffee table-sized book than him.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

When the going gets…well…

This Christmas I gave one of my colleagues the book “How To Lead A Quest: A guidebook for Pioneering Leaders” by Jason A. Fox to one of my colleagues.

There was a reason why I wanted to gift the – hands down – best business book, I have ever read: Because everything it says is both true and so, so important to hear and know when you’re trying to do something really hard.

And that is exactly the position you’re in, when you’re trying to build a startup or just something new. You’re in a place, where you aspire to great success eventually, but where every day is more likely filled with grueling thoughts about all the different ways, what you’re currently trying to achieve will never happen.

When you’re in that situation it can be so tempting to just give in, give up and close shop. But of course thats not what you should do and not what most aspiring entrepreneurs with more than a childish fascination of being his own boss and one day become super rich do.

Why? Because feeling like shit when you’re trying to create something new and out of the ordinary is normal.

Brutally normal.

The book says so. So it must be – and is – true.

Think of that when you feel the urge to take what seems like the easy but totally shortsighted part.

PS: Again, a huge THANK YOU to the good Anders Toxboe for recommending this amazing book to me in the first place.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A necessary read

While working to create a MedTech startup either from scratch or later trying to get the product to market, John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” about the Theranos scandal should be absolutely required reading.

The story about Theranos is well documentet by now: Only the lies were bigger than the claims of what they could do, and it remains a fact that it is one of the biggest tech scandals of recent years.

Then why should founders and people working within MedTech read it?

Because it is a horror-story about what can potentially happen when a beautiful idea – and the idea was beautiful, as non-feasible as it was – gets overtaken by hype, greed and personal ambition. It inspires to make sure you always stay the right course based on fact and NEVER deviate from it.

Because it is a horror-story about what happens when you lose sight of what it is you’re trying to do; help people with a condition or at risk of attracting one (or whatever it is, you’re trying to do with your MedTech startup) and instead focus on yourself and own selfish, short-term needs. Indirectly it is a recipe for how to risk turning into a real a**hole.

Because it is a deeply relevant story about how MedTech – or HealthTech for that matter (although maybe not quite as much) – is different from most other types of startups in that there are rules, regulations, certifications, you need to abide by, comply to and get, because – yes – it is a dead serious business. If that’s too cumbersome for you, get out. And do something else.

And because it sends a sombre signal that even though you can fool some people some of the time, you can’t fool all people all the time – and never ever should even try to do so in this space, even if your surrounded with people who have too low of an ethical/moral bar to be in this space in the first place. Boot them out instead and get your moral compass back in order.

MedTech is not a ‘get rich quick’-scheme. Lives may literally be at stake. Yes, the potential can be huge for successful startups in this space, but that should always be the result of actual value delivered by putting people better off. Not by applying smoke and mirrors and perform actions on the wrong side of the law – moral as well as legal.

Speaking of legal: Elizabeth Holmes is at the time of writing this awaiting trial with her former boyfriend and COO of Theranos, Ramesh “Sunny”Balwani, on several counts of wire fraud.

Just sayin’ and highly recommending the book.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A ‘bible’ on your quest

If you are working on creating anything new, anything outside the norm, you know that it can be a daunting task. You know that it can feel impossible at times, and you know that you can get to the point where you really doubt what you’re doing, and how to proceed with confidence.

Thankfully, there is a great book to support you in your quest. And yes, it is in fact called “How to Lead a Quest”, and it is written by Dr. Jason Fox. I highly recommend it. It is both a super guide, a great inspiration and – at times – a great comfort.

Not only will you get to see that the ups and downs you and your project(s) go through are totally normal and actually a part of the plan and of doing it right. And there are lots and lots of tips and tricks for how to operate, how to set yourself goals, achieve meaningful progress and adapt to core habits of making sure, you stay on the path.

(Photo: Private)