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One of my heroes is Jim Collins. Of all books that I’ve ever read about business, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t are two of the most important ones I’ve ever read. While I read Built to Last first, I didn’t really get how important it was until I read Good to Great. I went back after, read Built to Last again – and slowly – and realized how powerful Collins’ research and thinking was.
So it was an incredible honor to interview Jim for 45 minutes last week at the Startup Phenomenon event about Startup Communities. We spent the time applying the ideas from Jim’s books and research to the idea of Startup Communities.
I learned a lot. I also had a lot of fun. And I came up with a few new ideas as Jim tossed out a few absolute gems during our 45 minutes together.
If you are interested in Startup Communities, or are a Jim Collins fan, I think you’ll like this a lot. Enjoy!
As I continue to talk about Startup Communities, I say over and over and over again that the leaders have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else – who I call the “feeders” (government, university, non-profits, big companies, VCs, angel investors) – have an important role, but the leaders must be entrepreneurs. Now – members of feeder organizations can play a leadership role, but in the absence of a critical mass of entrepreneurs, the startup community won’t ever develop into anything meaningful.
I was interviewed recently in MIT Technology Review in an article titled It’s Up to You, Entrepreneurs. It’s part of a series they are doing titled The Next Silicon Valley. It was a long interview by Antonio Regalado who boiled my rambling down into a bunch of coherent answers to specific questions.
For example, when he asked, “What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?” I answered:
“Just do stuff. It’s kind of that simple. It’s literally entrepreneurs just starting to do things. If you’re in a city where there’s no clear startup community, the goal is not raise a bunch of money to fund a nonprofit, the goal is not get your government involved. The goal is start finding the other entrepreneurial leaders who are committed to being in your city over the next 20 years. Then, as a group, get very focused on knowing each other, working together, being inclusive of anyone else who wants to engage, doing things that help recruit people to that geography, and doing selfish stuff for your company that also drives your startup community.”
He got underneath some great key points about startup communities with his questions, which follow.
- People talk about technology clusters. You talk about entrepreneurial communities. What’s the difference?
- What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?
- Let’s say you are the mayor. Would you rather bring Boeing to your city or have a startup scene?
- You seem to think a top-down approach is pretty toxic.
- What’s the evidence that startup communities can happen outside of traditional technology hubs?
- In your book, you say entrepreneurs need to make a 20-year commitment to a place. Does anyone really think in those time scales?
- How would you measure the success of a startup community?
- In Kansas City you bought a house and handed it over to some programmers. What’s the idea?
If you want the answers, go read It’s Up to You, Entrepreneurs.
I’m in San Antonio, in a rush to go participate in the Global Accelerator Network monthly call, where I’m talking with Richard Florida (the brilliant creator of the concept of the creative class) about Startup Communities, followed by a full day at TechStars Cloud and – well – I need a shower because I got to my hotel room at 12:30pm and I smell kind of like Huck from Scandal.
So – today you get a short eight minute interview of me and Amy with Sandy Grason where we talk about Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. It’s a really wonderful interview – Amy told me this was the first time she’s done something like this and I thought she was awesome.
I meet a lot of people. I hear a lot of people introduce themselves. I interview a lot of people. Sometimes I want to hear their story; most of the time I don’t.
I’ve realized recently that I’m tired of hearing histories. And I’m tired of telling mine. It’s easy to find out most by a simple search on the web. Or a scan through LinkedIn. Or listening to one of the video interviews I’ve done where someone has said “tell me your story.”
I was thinking about this especially in the context of any interview. I don’t care where you went to school (I never have). I don’t care what your first job was. I don’t care what happened 15 years ago. I care what you did yesterday, and last month, and last quarter, and last year. That’s probably as deep as I want to go in the first five minutes of our interview. Sure – I’ll go back further in specific examples, but I don’t need to spend the first fifteen minutes hearing your story from beginning to today. It lulls me into a false sense of complacency, making me feel like I know you better because I now know your version of your history, when in fact I don’t know you at all.
I’ve learned a lot about interviewing people over the years. I used to be terrible at it. Now I’m pretty good. I don’t enjoy it very much, so I force myself to do a good job. I only interview senior execs and I separate clearly between evaluating people for the role and evaluating them for culture fit with the company. But in both cases I feel like I have to grind through the process. Some of it is my introverted nature; some of it is just not enjoying the interviewing a person thing.
I’ve realized that spending half of an interview listening to someone tell me their story is a total cop out on my part. It lets me shift out of evaluate mode and be passive during the interview process. And, while a lot of people love to listen to themselves tell their story, it’s not doing them any good either since my goal is to make a recommendation as to whether or not they fit in the role and the organization they are interviewing for. I should be more focused on what they have learned over their career and how they apply it today, not the path they took to get to this point, which I can read on a resume or on LinkedIn.
I’m no longer interested in telling my own story. Each time I do it, I realize I am wasting another 15 minutes of my life. By starting with the now, and not worrying about going backward, I can get to the meat of whatever I’m communicating, or want to communicate. I’ll more quickly engage whomever I’m talking to – making the conversation immediately active instead of passive. When I need to reach into the past for a story to support an example, I will.
I’ve decided that going forward I’m telling my history in reverse chronological order whenever asked. I’ll start with what I am doing now. I’ll go backwards as relevant to the particular context. I’ll skip stuff that doesn’t matter, and I’ll stop when it’s time to go on. I expect my introductions will be a lot shorter going forward. And I’ll be less bored with myself. And that is a good thing, at least for me.
A month or so ago I did an interview with Moe Abdou of 33voices. I do a lot of interviews, but this one stood out to me as Moe did a great job of moving the conversation around and pulling some great stuff out of me.
If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, Moe compiled some of the maxims and one-liners into a nice slide deck.