All roads will take you there

If you don’t know where you are going. I don’t know the source of this quote, but a key responsibility of a mentor is to understand the goals and intentions of the entrepreneur. Without a deep understanding of where he or she wants to go you can’t be effective in helping them get there. And if they don’t understand where they are going then they have a problem you need to help them solve.

The Attention Economy

One of the most influential concepts I came across as a serial entrepreneur was the concept of “the attention economy.” Wikipedia has a defining quote from Herbert Simon on this concept:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”

I first came across the attention economy in a paper by Michael Goldhaber called The Attention Economy and the Net. Highly recommended reading!

When it comes to pitching investors, customers, job candidates, advisors candidates or just communicating with anyone else keep in mind that attention has become one of the most limited, and therefore most valuable, commodities there is.

TV ads used to be 60 seconds, then they went to 30, 15 and now I think there are even shorter ones. Why? Because people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. And why is that? Because with the advent of the smartphones, notifications, and social media, the opportunities to have your attention interrupted have increased exponentially.

The point of focusing on the attention economy when it comes to pitching and communicating is very simple: you need to grab your audience’s attention not in 60 seconds, not in 30 seconds, not in 15 seconds, but probably in one or two seconds! And you have another  just another 10 – 15 seconds or so to anchor that attention, at least temporarily.

There are many ways to grab an audience’s attention immediately, but one way that does not work (unless you are a celebrity) is by starting with your name, our title and the name of your company! No one cares, no one will remember and now you’ve wasted that 1 to 2 second opportunity to grab their attention.

So far better to start off with “Hi, I’m here to tell you how we’ll solve the problem of lead in our drinking water and in the next 6 months” than Hi, I’m Steve Bayle, Chairman of PopSleuth, Inc., the makers of the Endorfyn app that notifies you of new stuff released by your favorite artists.”



More companies die from indigestion than starvation.

David Packard.Co-founder of Hewlett-Packard. His simple rules for business helped develop the powerful H-P culture that drove a successful company for decades and influenced many Silicon Valley founders, including Steve Jobs.

I use this quote often when faced with an entrepreneur who is having trouble focusing and in my opinion is trying to do too many things at the same time.

Quotes from the Willies

Wee Willie Keeler was a Hall of Fame baseball player in the 1890’s. When asked the secret of his success he replied:

Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

Willie manages to get two important startup principles into one short sentence! Focus is critically important in startup companies – thus “keep your eye on the ball”. Scope creep is the enemy of focus, watch out for it.

The second part of the sentence pertains to finding the so-called “white space” in a market, the unoccupied niche you can dominate. It also relates to the “blue ocean” theory (red oceans are bloody with competition, blue oceans are blue with opportunity).  Here’s the book, which is well worth reading:

Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

My other Willie quote comes from bank robber Willie Sutton. When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Entrepreneurs sometimes forget that not all customers are created equal and can benefit by being reminded that given the same cost of customer acquisition going after deep pocketed customers can deliver a must better ROI than those who are not so well off.

This relates to the concept of lifetime value of a customer, a subject for another day.

Quotes about simplicity

One of the recurrent problems I see with the startups I mentor, and even with established companies, is that their presentations are far too complex. There really are two types of “presentation” documents: those meant to be read and those meant to support a speaker. The former can be more complex as they need to standalone, but the rules of simplicity still apply.

These quotes apply to presentations, products, organizations and virtually everything else, but since I see so many pitches I tend to use them most during pitch reviews.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler – Albert Einstein

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine de Saint Exupery

As a good example of the value of team mentoring, when I used the Einstein quote in a team mentoring session the other mentor brought up the Saint Exupery quote, which I had not heard. So both the entrepreneur and I learned something.

Quotes like these are a powerful tool in mentoring, as the credibility of the source lends weight to the insight and such classic quotes tend to be memorable.

For an entire book on the subject of simplicity I recommend John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life).


%d bloggers like this: