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Everything I Needed to Know About Entrepreneurship, I learned from Star Wars

Star Wars. The original Star Wars. Perhaps those movies were defining films of our time. Though the first title (aptly numbered Star Wars IV) was filmed in the late 1970s, it continues to define movie nerddom today. Of course, Star Wars has seen somewhat of a renaissance due to the licensing of the intellectual property for the creation of video games like LEGO™ Star Wars and the continual memeage (is that a word?) of Yoda and Darth Vader quotes.

Nonetheless, it, like any good story, is successful in no small part due to the parallels in life that can be drawn. Much like how Office Space taught me about Public Relations, Star Wars taught me about entrepreneurship.

Don’t doubt me. The nuggets of wisdom are strewn throughout. In fact, I’ve developed my entire professional life around Star Wars. 1 You don’t believe me? Check this out.

Always Two There Are, a Master and an Apprentice

No matter how good you are in your professional life, there is always someone better. Yoda reminds me that, there should always be someone I look up to for learning. Sometimes this person (or people) is better than you at what you do. Other times, this person (or people) is someone who excels in a complementary way.

One of the founders of WP Engine, Jason Cohen, is one of these guys. Jason is amazingly technically (if I can keep him away from Javaisms while writing PHP code) and is the brainchild behind our infrastructure. More importantly, the dude is one of the savviest businessmen around in a completely unassuming way. He is not the guy who is going to walk into a meeting a toot his own horn like some investors or entrepreneurs do. He simply is and carries chutzpah. I have not known Jason very long but in the time I have, I’ve developed a real appreciation for him.

Likewise, Geoff Livingston has become a close friend but he’s also an incredibly focused entrepreneur. I’ve known Geoff since his early days where he was running a social media PR firm out of Alexandria, VA. Geoff and I became close but it wasn’t until I lived with him for six months in 2008-09 that I realized the drive this kid had. He frequently asked for my advice on things that were happening professionally, all of which will remain off the record in the circle of trust.

However, he has demonstrated since that he knows how to make tough decisions and go after what he believes in. Earlier this year, Geoff co-founded Zoetica to assist non-profits and socially conscious companies in their communications efforts. His drive has led him to lead in the CitizenGulf effort to raise money for oil spill cleanup in the Gulf, and to raise awareness and change in the policy world.

His dedication to his cause is something I’m watching and learning from.

Yahoooooo! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home

Remember when the Death Star invasion was happening in Star Wars IV? The X wings were being pursued down the trough by TIE fighters. Darth Vaders fighter was on the hunt to blow Luke away. Han Solo brings his Millenium Falcon into play at the last minute and with some perfectly timed shot, knocks Vaders fighter into oblivion allowing Luke to handle his business and blow the Death Star away.

In business, the ultimate goal is always to have an exit. If it’s not, you’re holding it wrong. You don’t want to stay in a job forever. You may want to delay because you have more you want to do with the startup before selling it, but at the end of the day, if you’re putting blood, sweat and tears into a startup… you want the big pay day at the end.

This is what drives many entrepreneurs to settle for less money in exchange for more equity in the startup. Get less cash now for way more cash down the road.

Like the Death Star invasion, startup mode will have you fighting a guerrilla war at times… fighting for your survival… skirmishing to get a leg up. Once you’re clear and have done everything you can to get the company to a specific place, cash in! Blow this thing and go home. Live to fight again another day.

Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

One of the more hilariously ridiculous quotes from Star Wars IV came from Leah when Luke rescued her from being executed by the Empire.

The takeaway from this quote is pretty simple… never let anyone denigrate what you do as an entrepreneur. There will always be second guessing and there will always be other entrepreneurs who feel like thy know better and can offer advice. You know your company better than anyone else. You know your decision-making fiefdom better than anyone else. Own your offense and maintain confidence in what you do, and what you are building.

Luke, there is another Sky….walker…

The dying words of the Jedi Master Yoda. These words were the clue to Luke that he had a twin. That there could be another Jedi candidate. That there could be another Skywalker to defeat the evil Empire.

In the Lean Startup mode of starting businesses, the idea is to fail and fail fast if you’re going to fail at all. That way, if you fail and fail quickly, you can learn quickly without having put a lot of time and effort into something that will never work. Taking lessons learned, you can move on to the next startup and try again. Keep in mind that, statistically, 9 out of 10 companies fail. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you realize there is another around the corner.

There is another Skywalker. There is another idea. There is another startup. And there may be another failure.

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

We don’t know specifically what Chewbacca was talking about when the Millenium Falcon’s hyper drive system failed. If there are any Wookie translators in the audience, please step to the front of the room. However, we can deduce that, based on what we know of Chewie, that he was doing tactical consulting.

In other words, it’s my opinion, that Chewie was making sure Han knew that there was a lot of problems with the Millenium Falcon and it wasn’t like they had the money to fix the bucket of bolts. Chewie was suggesting solutions for Han to fix problems quickly without spending a lot of money. I mean, can you imagine if Han had to take a VC round to fix the Falcon? What would the valuation on that sucker be anyway? I’m sure it would be a diluted round.

Instead, Chewie was helping Han realize what he needed to do to fix the problem on a budget. Maybe even in bandaid fashion. As entrepreneurs, use your creative juices to find ways to self-fund and not take stupid money just so you can extend runway. Find ways to be revenue positive now instead of later. Find ways to cheaply outsource problems so core team members can focus on the core solutions.

See?

See. Everything you need to know about entrepreneurship can be learned from Star Wars. It’s a geek favorite for a reason. I’m sure there are lessons you have learned as well. Feel free to share those.

In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

Photo by xtyler

Notes:

  1. Not really. No, really.. not really.
copyblogger

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Copyblogger Brian Clark Leaves DIYThemes/Thesis Theme

A few weeks ago, Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com confided in me that he was leaving DIYThemes, and splitting paths from the embattled Thesis theme and lead developer Chris Pearson. He agreed to do an interview with me exclusively about this news. This is the entire transcript of that interview.

Technosailor.com: Brian, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Obviously, the timing of this announcement and interview are interesting considering the discussions that have been happening in the WordPress community as it pertains to licensing and DIYThemes, the creator of the Thesis theme. You’ve been with DIYThemes since its inception and have championed the theme. You’re leaving the company now. Can you describe the reasoning that has gone into this decision?

Brian: Chris Pearson and I have been discussing an amicable way to split for the last 3 months. The very public disagreements Chris recently had with Matt Mullenweg were ugly and embarrassing, but that’s beside the point.

The reason for the split is more fundamental than that one issue. For the last year Chris and I have had completely different opinions about the direction of the development of Thesis, the running of the company, and our relationship with the WordPress community. And there really hasn’t been any way to resolve those different opinions given that I’m the minority owner of the company and what he decides goes.

Technosailor.com: Well, when you say “our relationship with the WordPress community,” that’s got to mean the GPL issue, right?

Brian: That’s part of it, but also, fundamentally I think Chris really wants to build something new that has nothing to do with WordPress. Trying to force his development ideas into a WordPress framework creates a whole set of issues. I wanted him to go build his thing on a separate development track and simply be okay with Thesis being a great framework that extends the power of WordPress — because that’s what it was supposed to be.

As for the GPL, I took steps from the very beginning to make sure we never issued a license that was in contravention of the GPL. We used a membership concept since 2008 after I came on board. Our terms of service said you follow the rules of your Thesis plan and get the benefits of membership — support, updates, etc. If you don’t follow the rules, you get kicked out. It was never a problem, because most people are honest.

My last official act with DIYThemes was drafting the Thesis split GPL license after Matt Mullenweg publicly committed to suing Chris. I thought that was the right move for Thesis going forward, and Chris eventually saw the light. But we were going our separate ways no matter what.

Technosailor.com: There’s a lot more to the story than that regarding the GPL. I know the story because of our conversations over the years, but other people don’t. Can you elaborate?

Brian: Okay. At the very beginning, I was completely in the dark about the GPL. I’m a content guy — I’m busy writing and producing content, not following WordPress politics. But once Chris asked me to partner with him, I naturally had to educate myself. What I found out about the GPL didn’t make much sense, frankly, but it was the way things were with WordPress. So I made sure we never took an intellectual property position in our membership terms that opposed the GPL.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Matt Mullenweg made a big push for the major WordPress premium theme developers to expressly declare themselves GPL. I think Brian Gardner of StudioPress was the first to go along. About that time, I told Chris I saw no problem with going expressly GPL, since we’re selling way more than just code and again, most people in our particular market are honest.

Chris told me to go talk to Matt and Automattic CEO Toni Schneider about going GPL and being welcomed into the WordPress community with open arms. It’s important to remember that due to the Copyblogger audience and my personal relationships, we never needed the blessing of WordPress for marketing purposes. But Matt was offering prominent exposure on WordPress.org, so why not?

Long and short is, I spent a lot of time discussing things with Matt in the early summer of 2009. We had everything worked out. I went back to Chris and he said he had changed his mind and didn’t want to go GPL after all. I thought that was a mistake, and looking back, we started diverging on just about everything from that point forward.

Technosailor.com: Now, you’ve argued with Matt publicly about whether the GPL is even legally enforceable. How do you explain that?

Brian: Oh, don’t get me wrong – as a former attorney, I think the odds of the GPL being shot down in court in this context are pretty good. A lot of practicing attorneys think so too (if you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you can read this and this).

But the law is not the point. If you’re going to develop on a massive open source platform like WordPress, it makes sense to follow the rules of the community that’s developing it. If you don’t want to, go build on something else, or build your own thing. I see the point behind the philosophy of the GPL, and I’m fine with it. I don’t like people trying to assert that it is “the law” and that non-GPL developers are “breaking the law,” because that’s just not accurate.

The GPL is a license (a contract) that has never been judicially tested in the way WordPress says it applies, and that position probably wouldn’t survive a court case. But I got out of law because I hate litigation, so why would I want to fight about it? Just play according to the home court rules and you can still make money with a great offer.

Technosailor.com: So you’re selling your stake in DIYThemes or are you maintaining your interest and stepping away from daily operations and intervention? Is there an advisory role here or is the relationship done?

Brian: At first, around 3 months ago, we explored selling the whole company. Then I floated the idea of me buying Chris out along with some investors. Chris said he wasn’t interested. We finally settled on Chris buying me out over several months of installment payments. The paperwork was drawn up, Chris had a few minor questions, and he told me it was no problem getting it done by the end of July.

Apparently now Chris has changed his mind about that as well. So things are in limbo, but I no longer have any active role with DIYThemes, operational, advisory, or promotional. Like I said, my last official act was preventing him from getting sued by WordPress.

Technosailor.com: What’s the future then for Copyblogger? You have been running Thesis for as long as Thesis has been around. Do you continue doing that or move to a different framework?

Brian: We stopped using Thesis as a development platform for pending projects months ago. It’s perfectly fine for some people, but it doesn’t play well with WordPress enough for our needs. So I’m sure I’ll move Copyblogger to something else soon. And that was part of the reasoning for my departure — I can’t promote something I can’t use.

Technosailor.com: What about Scribe? Is that part of DIYThemes?

Brian: Scribe is a separate company with a different partner and has nothing to do with DIYThemes. It’s exceeding all my expectations after only 6 months and we’ll be releasing version 3.0 this month. So it’s not all doom and gloom. ;-)

Technosailor.com: Now that Thesis has gone Split GPL, do you feel like the damage that has already been done in the community can be fixed? Is it possible for Thesis to have the prominence and success it has had prior to the public “altercations”?

Brian: I don’t know. I just know I no longer have to wake up each morning worried about what “altercation” has broken out overnight. That’s a good feeling in itself. Life is too short to be involved in things that make you unhappy.

Photo Credit: Wendy Piersall

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I’m Pro Choice. I’m Android.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

Yet one thing stands out to me as an anomaly on this, the opening day of pre-orders for the iPhone 4.


Photo by laihiu on Flickr

Ah yes. The iPhone. The gadget that makes grown men quake in their shoes. The thing that causes adults to behave as if they left their brains at the door. At one point in time, I called this behavior “an applegasm” and identified the Apple store as the place where intelligent people go to die.

And it’s not only the iPhone. It’s the iPad too (I bought one 3 weeks after release and only because I needed it for some client work). In fact, it’s any Apple device. Apple has a way of turning people into automatons controlled by the Borg in Cupertino.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple and I love Apple products. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy (or shall we call it “situational morality”) that comes into play here. There is nothing “open” about Apple products. Sure, Steve Jobs famously points out that Apple encourages the use of open web standards like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, but the devices are nowhere near open.

In fact, the devices are so closed and guarded that strange things like lost stolen iPhone prototypes make huge news. There is only one device. There is only one operating system. There is only one permitted way of designing apps. There is only one carrier (in the United States).

And the open standards, web-free, maniacal tech world that is ready to take off the heads of closed entities like Microsoft, Facebook and Palm, whistle silently and look the other way when it comes to Apple.

In another few weeks, I am going to be eligible for an upgrade with Verizon Wireless. As a longtime BlackBerry user (I refuse to give money to AT&T ever), I will be investing in a new Android-based phone. I won’t be doing this with any kind of religious conviction about open source. There is a legitimate place for closed source in this world. I’m doing this because the culture of openness (which supersedes the execution of openness, in my mind), allows for more innovation and creativity.

In the Android world (which is quickly catching up to the iPhone world), apps are being created without the artificial restrictions placed by a single gatekeeper. There are more choices in phones. Don’t like this one? Try that one. There is a greater anticipation around what can be done.

Apple had to have its arm twisted to enable multitasking in it’s latest operating system. It had to have its arm twisted to allow cut and paste. It still hasn’t provided a decent camera, despite consumers begging for one. In the Android world, if Motorola doesn’t provide it, maybe HTC does. You have choice. Choice is good.

I’m pro choice.