The Startup Story and how bullshit it is

I’ve been reading Jason Fried’s ‘Getting Real’. It’s great to read books and articles that speak honestly and take a position. It’s been a long time between drinks. I think the only two other books about entrepreneurship that have really spoken to me are ‘The $100 Startup’ and ‘The Lean Startup’. Plus ‘The Innovator’s Solution’. I am looking forward to reading ‘Rework’. I made it half way through a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and can honestly say this kind of book wasn’t around then. It was all macho and legendary. I have worked for myself on and off (mostly on) for more than fifteen years and the macho stuff just isn’t real to me.120313-231115

Putting together a new business, as well as a new business concept, is fraught with frustration and anxiety. On the one hand, traditional business principles say you must know your customer to make money, and on the other, lean startup method says, put your concept out there, get people to respond to it, that’s the best way of knowing what the market wants. There’s a line you have to walk between your own vision and the customer’s vision.

People, when they are changing, need support. Change is difficult and meets resistance at every step, especially from your own self. Innovating is creating change somewhere, somehow. It is almost automatic to seek the support and understanding of family and friends, but, unless you come from a family of entrepreneurs, that can be counter-productive.

My mother is a painter. She spent a lot of time making abstract paintings and has only recently found her way back into figurative portraits. I grew up in a house where design was one of the most common topics at the dinner table. My father’s avocation was innovation in business. He shopped at Penhalluriack’s on Saturday afternoons* and bought Compass shares. He was always saying, “someone should invent a thing that does XYZ. They would sell a lot of them” or “What a good idea, locating this shop in this area, for this reason”. So I guess that’s where the entrepreneur in me was born.

Unfortunately, as my parents age, the conversations have become much more restrictive, as though creativity and innovation is too hard for them now. They mostly want to talk about the grandkids, which is normal and perfectly okay, I guess.120313-231122

I have lots of friends, some of whom are entrepreneurs but most of whom are not. Some of them are in the software business, but do not understand entrepreneurship. Some are in my target market for this new business, but do not understand software development methods or principles.

To most people, the principles of agile development and lean startups sound great, but are anathema in practice. You can’t hand them a rough draft of something and ask for feedback, because they proofread it and hand it back to you saying “I think you’ve got a long way to go with this, Jenny. You haven’t even got the writing correct yet.” They then treat you like someone who is a bit deluded, who needs to be steered back towards the labour market, needs to be shoehorned into a job – any job – before something seriously bad happens to you. If you counter with information about people like Jason Fried, or even – God forbid – Mark Zuckerberg – their belief that you have some problematic thought processes is simply enforced.

So when I propose to do something with my business, I mostly keep my own counsel. Which means, in the long run, I do in fact go a bit mad. To keep the conversation going, to get support for myself, I read a lot, and carefully choose people with whom I can discuss business.

I used to read lots of what I will call the Startup Story. It is mostly found at sites like Inc.com and Entrepreneur.com and smartcompany.com.au. Its target market is over-excited manboys with no dependents who would rather own a successful tech business than a hot car as a status symbol (but of course, having both would be better). ‘Independence’ is meant as a strength, not as a sign they have few responsibilities. For some, the simple act of being on the startup journey is a status symbol.120313-231126

I almost never read stories about men and women with dependents, or who are active parents, or who have other caring responsibilities. And it’s rare to here about the role that their supporters played in their success, unless we’re talking this kind of drivel.

Probably this is because in the Startup Story, it is usually an incredible, smart, creative individual as the protagonist – usually a guy, sometimes a group of guys, occasionally a young woman. The carers, the parents, the people with responsibilities, even if they make it into the Startup Story, will have their dependents and responsibilities reduced to badges of honour, medals. “He started Blah.com with only $100. And he has a child with an autism spectrum disorder!”

I used to think, how could this protagonist in the Startup Story do it? Where is this partner they don’t mention? Where is the mum and dad who let him live at home without paying board? Where is the bit when they mention that Virginia Woolf was right, that one does need a room of one’s own, and enough time to really grok the problem at hand, to get immersed in it, to come up with something that is simple, innovative, helps people and makes money?

I stopped reading stories that distorted the whole journey for a lot of people. This coincided with my former partner getting his act together and having our daughter for weekends and holidays. I suddenly had whole 24-hour and 48-hour periods with no distractions.120313-231137

When I did this, I managed to have more conversations with other women entrepreneurs. I started to find the stories that did represent the reality. And I found some authors who could tell you how to do it sanely, grounded in reality, grounded in organic growth, bootstrapped, without the usual misdirections and unintentional insults of the Startup Story. So my conclusion is this: pick and choose the startup stories you listen to.

And if you have a blog about startups that is different from the usual, let me know.

*“You can get a screw on Sunday but you can’t get a screwdriver” – Derryn Hinch

 

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For dinosaurs with Adlers: how to set up and maintain a wordpress blog

This post is dedicated to the kind and courageous Peter Fox, a policeman who took his job seriously and spent more than ten years engaging with victims of child sexual abuse, and attempting to prosecute offenders, often against the wishes of individuals he worked with. I’ve made it public in case other people wan to offer tips.

Thanks for your work, Peter.

How to set up and maintain a blog

1. Think of a name. It could be Peter Fox of the Hunter, Peter Fox 59, The Dinosaur with the Adler, or Squiddly-doo. You decide!

2. Go to http://www.wordpress.com

3. Click on ‘Get Started’

4. Enter your email address, preferred user name, password and the name of your blog.

The name of your blog will be a bit like a website name. (Later, if you want, you can set up a domain name that ‘points’ directly to it, so if people type in your domain name, they go straight to your blog).

5. ‘Create blog’ button at the bottom of the ‘free’ option. You will not need any of the paid options. It might tell you that you can’t have the name you’ve selected, because it’s already taken – just keep trying different names until you get one you like.

6. Click on the link ‘visit your dashboard’

7. From the menu to the left, click on ‘Posts’.

8. From the menu to the left, click on ‘Add New’

9. Write what you would like to say. There is no character limit. But you can write posts as short or as long as you would like. Lots of bloggers just write a comment here and there.

10. Use the ‘preview’ button in the top right-hand corner to see what it will look like. You can also save it as a draft and come back later to finish it. Or you can just click on ‘Publish’.

11. There is also an option called ‘Publicize’ on the right-hand menu. You can add your Twitter and Facebook accounts here to let people know when you have published a new post.

12. You can add a picture by going to the bottom of the right-hand menu and selecting ‘Set featured image’. Then you upload one or link to one.

13. Go to the left-hand menu and click on ‘Appearance’.

This is the fun (I mean it!) part. You can keep the current theme, or change the theme to one you like better. It’s useful to select one with a right-hand side bar layout so you can add links, Tweets and so on. Twenty-ten, Twenty-eleven and Twenty-twelve are good, but there are lots of other ones. To change it, just click the ‘Activate’ link under the theme you like (some of them are free and some cost money).

14. Under ‘Appearance’ on the left-hand menu, select ‘Widgets’

15. You’ll see a big grey box titled ‘Available Widgets’. Drag the one called ‘Twitter’ into the light grey box at the right-hand side. Enter what you want to call them (‘Tweets’ is fine 🙂 ), and enter your Twitter user name. When you publish the blog, all the tweets will show up here.

You can drag other widgets into the side bar as well.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it right at first, there’s no wrong way to do it really. It just helps you lay out your pages. You can click on the Preview button any time you like to see what it will look like.

Let me know if you have any questions – jennylmackinnon@gmail.