There are two components to getting off to a great start on a new job: what to avoid and what to accomplish. This post explains both components. First, there are four ways to blow it. They form the acronym LAST:
- Lazy people show up for work on time or late. Hardworking people show up early. Lazy people leave on time or early. Hardworking people leave late.
- Arrogant people believe that they know what to do, how the company should operate, and what’s wrong with management. These kinds of people are called “90-day wonders” because they think they know everything after 90 days.
- Stupid people do stupid things like cutting corners, cheating, and making uniformed decisions. (The combination of arrogance and stupidity is supremely ironic and common.)
- Tacky people do dishonest, racist, sexist, sexual, or ageist things. They appear at functions in an inebriated state, and they spread rumors. They do creepy or inappropriate things because they are untrained, stupid, or insecure.
Second, let me provide 10 tips to climb to the top of the mountain.
- Learn as much as you can about the company, competition, and industry before you start. Read all the recent news that you can find so that you are aware of the issues that your company faces. Read about your company’s history, so you can understand its DNA.
- Learn as much as you can about your company’s executives before you start. Read their bios on the company website. Study their LinkedIn profiles. Watch their social-media accounts to learn about their interests. If they don’t use social media, that tells you something too.
- Learn how to use the company’s product or service before you start. If you go to work for a large company, you will go through orientation and training, but a head start on your peers is still good. If you go to work for a startup, you should be productive before lunch on the first day.
- Follow, like, circle, or subscribe to the company’s social-media accounts. These posts and responses are windows into the soul of your company. You need to understand how someone high in the company wants the company to be perceived.
- Ask your manager what you can do before you start. Few new employees do this, so it’s bound to set you apart from the pack. And be sure to do what your manager suggests because you’ll look terrible if you ask for suggestions and don’t implement them.
- Suck up to the right people. Secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists, IT support staff, and security guards hold the keys to most organizations. Managers and executives will ask them what they think of you, and the answer should not be “arrogant,” “lazy,” or “pain in the ass.”
- Default to yes. When people at your company ask you to help, agree and do it. Pay your dues. Humble yourself. Your academic, work experience, and connections helped you get the job, but they don’t mean anything after your first week. At that point, you either produce or you don’t.
- Shut up and listen. Better to give people the impression that you’re the strong, silent, serious, and diligent type than the stupid, ignorant, arrogant, and brash type. It’s much easier to blossom later than undo negative impressions.
- Under promise and over deliver. For the first 90 days and for the rest of your career, always under promise and over deliver. Get so consistent at this that people expect that you deliver more than you say you will — which is far better and radically different from most people who over promise and under deliver.
- Get to work early and you leave late. Work hard while you’re there. Suck it up because you’re imprinting people with the impression that you are diligent. Don’t confuse working smart with working short — the two are not the same thing. Early on, you need to work smart and work long to make an impression.
Here’s a final power tip. Contrary to all the dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game, wolf-on-Wall-Street advice you might have heard, if you want to get ahead, you should make your boss look good. That’s right, good — because as your boss advances so will you.
The concept that you’re so awesome that you’ll get your boss’s job is a fantasy. Either you rise to the top together, or crash and burn together. When your boss gets more opportunities, so will you.
You can take this to the bank: if you make your boss look good, your career path will be better, faster, and easier because a rising tide floats all boats.
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There is a myth that successful companies begin with grandiose ambitions. The implication is that entrepreneurs should start with megalomaniac goals in order to succeed. To the contrary, my observation is that great companies began by wondering about simple things, and this leads to asking simple questions that beget companies:
- Therefore, what? This question arises when you spot or predict a trend and wonder about its consequences. It works like this: “Everyone will have a smartphone with a camera and Internet access.” Therefore, what? “They will be able to take pictures and share them.” Therefore, what? “We should create an app that lets people upload their photos, rate the photos of others, and post comments.” And, voila, there’s Instagram. (Inspired by The Art of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzsky)
- Isn’t this interesting? Intellectual curiosity and accidental discovery power this method. Ray Kroc was an appliance salesman who noticed that a small restaurant in the middle of no where ordered eight mixers. He visited the restaurant out of curiosity, and it impressed him with its success. He pitched the idea of similar restaurants to Dick and Mac McDonald, and the rest is history.
- Is there a better way? Frustration with the current state of the art is the hallmark of this path. Ferdinand Porsche once said, “In the beginning I looked around and, not finding the automobile of my dreams, decided to build it myself.” (From Forbes FYI, Winter 2003) Steve Wozniak built the Apple I because he believed there was a better way to access computers than having to work for the government, a university, or a large company.
- Why doesn’t our company do this? Frustration with your current employer is the catalyzing force in this case. You’re familiar with the customers in a market and their needs. You tell your management that the company should create a product because customers need it, but management doesn’t listen to you. Finally, you give up and do it yourself.
- It’s possible, so why don’t we make it? Markets for big innovations are seldom proven in advance, so a what-the-hell attitude characterizes this path. For example, back in the 1970s a portable phone was incomprehensible to most people when Motorola invented it. At the time, phones were linked to places, not people. However, the Martin Cooper and the engineers at Motorola went ahead and made it, and the rest is history. Don’t let anyone tell you that the “if we build it, they will come” theory doesn’t work.
- Where is the market leader weak? Three conditions make a market leader vulnerable: first, when the leader is committed to a way of doing business. For example, IBM distributed computers through resellers, so Dell could innovate by selling direct. Second, when the customers of the leader are dissatisfied. For example, the necessity to drive to Blockbuster stores to pick up and return videos opened the door for Netflix. Third, when the market leader is milking a cash cow and stops innovating. This is what made Microsoft Office susceptible to Google Docs.
“How can we make a boatload of money?” is not one of the questions. Call me idealistic, but the genesis of great companies is answering simple questions that change the world, not the desire to become rich.
This post is a tiny part of Guy Kawasaki’s latest book, The Art of the Start 2.0. Read it and reap…
The post The Art of Simple Questions: How Simple Questions Lead to Great Innovations appeared first on Guy Kawasaki.
This is a guest post by Ben Parr, the author of Captivology.
You probably deal with attention issues every day. How do I get the attention of new customers? How do I retain the attention of existing clients? How do I captivate my boss or my upcoming date? It’s a hard problem to solve, especially since very few people understand how attention fundamentally works.
Writing my new book Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, I combed through more than a thousand research studies and interviewed dozens of scientists, PhDs, business leaders, and luminaries to understand why we pay attention to certain people and ideas and not others.
For my friend Guy Kawasaki, I’ve cherry-picked ten ways to capture attention, based on my research. While they won’t make you a superstar, they will help you capture more attention for your ideas:
- Give people a hot coffee. Studies show that we associate the physical sensation of warmth with interpersonal feelings of warmth. In other words, if you give somebody a hot cup of coffee or tea, they are more likely to have positive feelings towards you.
- Put a red border around your profile picture. Want to win at Tinder and online dating? One study found that just putting a thick red border around a person’s face increased how attracted a stranger found that person. Red is your friend in the dating world.
- Use contrasting colors for “Buy” buttons. Amazon.com is filled with orange and yellow “Buy” buttons for a reason: they have clear contrasts against the site’s white and grey backgrounds which means a higher click-through rate.
- Make what you’re offering scarce. Our frame of reference shifts when we think something is scarce. Gmail and Medium got tons of attention by limiting who could join through controlled invite systems. Slow rollouts and limiting access is often a powerful way to capture attention.
- Give a gift at the most surprising time. Our brains are tuned to pay attention to surprises that violate our expectations. Next time you give a gift, do something different such as wrapping it in custom paper, giving it when people least expect it, or adding your own unexpected flair. Make sure you’re doing something unique and creative!
- Provide a visual of any prize or reward you offer. Multiple studies show that we are motivated when we can see the reward we want to achieve or see the prospective fruits of our labor. So don’t just tell your audience about a reward, show it to them!
- Harness experts. Our attention is incredibly deferential to experts, and experts are consistently rated as the top spokespeople a company can utilize. So try using a credible expert in your industry to provide a recommendation or to speak in your favor.
- Harness the crowd. We trust the wisdom of the crowd–without that trust, sites like Yelp would have no users. The crowd also gravitates towards places where it can participate and have a direct impact (like Indiegogo and Kickstarter).
- End with a cliffhanger. We have a compulsion for completion– an innate, insatiable need for closure–because we are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to end your stories or campaigns with a cliffhanger because your audience will want to come back for the sequel! Remember how Steve Jobs ended his keynotes with “One more thing”?
- Validate what makes your audience special. We have an innate need for validation from others and to feel like we belong. The greatest projects, startups, and brands build lasting communities around them. More than anything, let your audience know it is appreciated, respected, and cherished.
If you embrace these ten recommendations, you’ll be sure to capture more attention, and as anyone with real-world experience knows, you can’t do much until you have people’s attention.
Ben Parr is the co-founder of DominateFund, former Co-Editor of Mashable, and the author of Captivology.
When I was a venture capitalist, I noticed that entrepreneurs whose primary goal was to make money usually failed. This is because this kind of entrepreneur attracts other people who want to make money, and then when the company doesn’t pay out big bucks immediately (and no startup does), these folks look for greener pastures.
To combat the problem of ill-suited people pursuing entrepreneurship, experts often recommend rigorous self-examination before starting a company. However, most people ask themselves the wrong questions:
- Can I work long hours at low wages?
- Can I deal with rejection after rejection?
- Can I handle the responsibility of dozens of employees?
The truth is that it is impossible to answer questions like this in advance, and these questions ultimately serve no purpose. On the one hand, talk and bravado are cheap. Saying you’re willing to do something doesn’t mean that you will do it. On the other hand, realizing that you have doubt and trepidation doesn’t mean you won’t build a great company.
How you answer such questions has little predictive power about what you’ll actually do when you get caught up in a great idea. No one really knows if he or she is an entrepreneur until after the fact—and sometimes not even then.
The key question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture is:
Do I want to make meaning?
Meaning is not about money, power, or prestige. It’s not even about creating a fun place to work. The meaning of “meaning” comes down to making the world a better place. You can do this in two ways:
First, you can create, enable, or increase something that’s good. For example, Macintosh increased people’s creativity and productivity. Google and Wikipedia enabled all of us, rich and poor, to access virtually limitless amounts of information.
Second, you can prevent, eliminate, or decrease something that’s bad. For example, Tesla is trying to decrease air pollution and our dependence on oil. Palantir and other cybersecurity companies are trying to prevent the bad guys from hacking our computers.
The desire to change the world is a tremendous advantage as you travel down the difficult path ahead because focusing on a lofty goal is more energizing and attracts more talent than simply making a buck. And if you do make meaning, one of the natural consequences is that you’ll also make money.
It has taken me twenty years to come to understand the meaning of meaning. In 1983, when I started in the Macintosh Division of Apple, I wanted to beat IBM and send it back to the typewriter business holding its Selectric typewriter balls. Then in 1987, I wanted to crush Windows and Microsoft.
I finally figured out that these motivations were silly if not stupid. Focusing on your competition diverts you from what is really important. The DNA of great organizations contains the desire to make meaning–to make the world better for their customers and for their employees. Having this desire doesn’t guarantee that you’ll succeed, but if you fail, at least you failed doing something worthwhile.
So if you’re thinking of starting a company, your starting point is to figure out how your product or service will make meaning. Everything flows from the answer to this question.
Over this weekend I celebrated my tenth anniversary as a Venture Capitalist. When I joined August Capital 10 years ago, things weren't so different than they are today. There had been a period of real exuberance in venture investing but it had come to an unceremonious end. The momentum in momentum investing had run out of steam. And it was back to the basics in Venture Capital -- fund smart folks building interesting companies that didn't require a pile of cash. I felt grateful then, as I do today, that I had joined a firm that focused on the fundamentals of Venture Capital and company building.
August Capital has always been a big picture firm -- build great companies for the long run and everything else will work out in the wash. I don't think that ten years ago I quite understood just how long the "long run" really was. But Venture Capital is definitely a long term business. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of opportunities in any given year to be short sighted and to optimize for the near term, but those decisions will assuredly come back to bite you. Venture Capital is about thinking long term. Venture Capital is about paying it forward. Venture Capital is about being honest, and forthcoming, and helpful and hard working. And, in the long run, you may have the good fortune to fund a great company or two along the way.
I was chatting with one of my partners recently about the fact that I wanted to write a blog post looking back at my first ten years in the venture business but that I wasn't quite sure what wisdom I could impart. He said, "that's because you're just getting started." Just getting started? Ten years and I'm just getting started? It seemed hard to imagine. Yet he was certainly right. Ten years in Venture Capital is a drop in the bucket.
In my first ten years in the Venture business, I have funded 15 companies -- that's one and a half companies a year. And of those companies, the majority were funded in the latter half of the decade and are really just getting started. While there are a few anomalies out there, the vast majority of "meaningfully large" companies require 6, 8, even 10 years to get to scale. Which means that only my earliest investments have any hope of being "meaningfully large" at this point (I guess the good news is that a half dozen of my companies will likely do around $50M or more in revenue this year, which is certainly progress, but is in no way conclusive). It probably takes about two decades for enough companies to ripen on the vine before one can know with any degree of certainty if he's going to be a good wine maker or not.
One of my partners is fond of saying that success in the Venture business is largely a product of effective pattern matching -- observing the characteristics of successful businesses and then finding new businesses that match those characteristics in material ways. After a decade in the Venture business, it is abundantly clear that he's right; pattern matching is among the most powerful tools we VCs have. Yet without a playbook full of patterns, there's not much matching to be done. So, arguably, the first decade in Venture is all about pattern acquisition so that the second decade might be about successful pattern matching.  I'm looking forward to that second decade. I've got some great patterns at this point and can't wait to put them to good use.
I am certainly grateful for the incredible first decade I've had in the venture business. I owe my partners a huge debt of gratitude for betting on a punky young lawyer with no business experience and a penchant for running his mouth off. It has been my tireless effort to prove that gamble a wise one. I also owe the entrepreneurs with whom I work an equally large debt of gratitude. They have trusted me to join their teams and help steward their companies through the challenging gauntlets that each has and will face. I don't take that responsibility lightly. I value their friendships and their trust, which I hope I earn each and every day.
I may be just getting started, but I've got one hell of a running start. I look forward to my next decade with great partners like Dave Marquardt, John Johnston, Andy Rappaport, Vivek Mehra, and Howard Hartenbaum, and phenomenal entrepreneurs like Selina Tobacawalla, Al Lieb, Josh Silverman, Rene Lacerte, Martin Gates, Jim Heeger, James Currier, Rick Marini, Stan Chudnovsky, Travis Kalanick, Ben and Mena Trott, Barak Berkowitz, Chris Alden, Matt Sanchez, Dave Lerman, Kevin Sladek, Bob Philips, Bharath Kumar, Denis Stradford, Frank Rhode, Erik Swan, Michael Baum, Rob Das, Godfrey Sullivan, Paul Wasserman, Alessandro Isolani, Kevin Johnson, Touraj Parang, Philip Mobin, Konstantin Guericke, Bahman Koohestani, Bill Trenchard, Jim Everingham, Lloyd Tabb, Maynard Webb, Dave Sifry, Richard Jalichandra, Paul Ryan, Tom Lamb, Tom Furphy, Paul Hanson, Susan Wu, Don Neufeld, Rex Ishibashi, Max Ventilla, Damon Horowitz, Garrett Camp, Geoff Smith, Amit Kapur, Steve Pearman, Jim Benedetto, Bill Clerico, Rich Aberman, Ashvin Kumar, Chris Estreich, Philip Kaplan, and the thousands of other entrepreneurs in my portfolio who are working tirelessly to build amazing companies that matter. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be going into my second decade as a Venture Capitalist. I used to say "it's a great job if you can get it." Now I joke "it's a great job if you can keep it." I plan on keeping it for many years to come.
 Unfortunately, one of the most powerful patterns one can have in his playbook is the "Failed Company" pattern, but it's an expensive one to acquire. I suppose this is why partnerships are so helpful. I get to borrow the playbooks of my partners who have been in the business for three decades or more. It would be hard to overstate how helpful that really is.