2010
05.29

I had a picture in the office of my first company with the logo above and the capital letters JFDI. (In case it’s not obvious it’s a play on the Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”) I believe that being successful as an entrepreneur requires you to get lots of things done. You are constantly faced with decisions and there is always incomplete information. This paralyzes most people. Not you.

Entrepreneurs make fast decisions and move forward knowing that at best 70% of their decisions are going to be right. They move the ball forward every day. They are quick to spot their mistakes and correct. Good entrepreneurs can admit when their course of action was wrong and learn from it. Good entrepreneurs are wrong often. If you’re not then you’re not trying hard enough. Good entrepreneurs have a penchant for doing vs. over-analyzing. (obviously don’t read this as zero analysis)

I spent nearly a decade building software for large companies and then advising companies on the same. I didn’t have to make many serious decisions. So I was surprised at the sheer volumes of decisions that had to be made when I became a startup CEO. Most of them are completely mundane such as choosing which: bank, office space, 1-year lease vs. 2-year lease, logo, URL, pricing structure or which VC.

The technology team disagrees on direction and wants resolutions. Your head of sales thinks she should fire somebody. You need to decide whether or not to launch at TechCrunch50. Somebody asks whether you plan to set up 401k’s and do contribution matching. I think this paralyzes many people.

I learned quickly that I needed to just do things. Yet I initially had a team full of people that seemed to either over analyze things or more likely wait for a higher source within the company to make the tough decisions for them. You’re sales person is getting blocked by the CTO who says she shouldn’t go above him but the CTO isn’t approving the deal. Should she take a chance and potentially ruffle feathers?

Yes, I know it’s my job as the CEO to be the coach for people and that’s fine. But if everybody is looking for me to make their decisions we’ll never get anything done. I felt like I had done the hard bit and chosen people that I truly respected and I would rather empower them to make decisions and accept consequences.

Sometimes you need to break some eggs to get things done so if that’s what it takes I wanted my team to go for it and I wanted to symbolize that it was OK with me. I would far rather have some messes to clean up than to never have them cross the line trying.

So I took on the motto JFDI to symbolize this. And I think my team did a great job and rose to the occasion. Maybe it helps that I love controversy and pushing the boundaries so people felt it was OK for them to do it as well.

Another side of JFDI is finding ways to get stuff done that seem impossible. Entrepreneurs have a way of doing that. Getting suppliers to accept terms that they said they never normally agree, getting accepted to speak on a panel when the conference organizer initially said “no,” getting people to moonlight for you until you have the cash to bring them on board.

A couple of quick stories / examples:

1. Making Things Happen

There’s a guy in Los Angeles that I met at several tech networking events. He was a really nice and personable guy who had deep domain knowledge in an industry that he’d worked in for 10 years that is in need of technological advancement. He wanted to be the guy who did it. So we discussed his ideas several times. I usually try to avoid getting stuck reviewing people’s PowerPoint decks (I get this request too often and frankly I’m already behind on my own work!) but there are some people you just take an (extra) liking to and want to help. This was such a guy.

So over several months I went through a few iterations on his idea. He was stuck on capital raising. He wanted to know how to get started and “Could I intro him to a couple of local angels?” One night after a DealMaker Media event we got 20 minutes together after the event ended. I was blunt (warning: that sometimes happens with me) and told him not to bother and that I wasn’t prepared to help with angels.

“Why?” he asked. I told him he wasn’t a real entrepreneur. He looked stunned. I said that he had been talking about doing this for too long. He still had no website and no prototypes. But “he didn’t have the budget to hire a developer until he had raised money!”

I said that was my point. “A real entrepreneur would have done it anyway. He would have found somebody technical and inspired that individual to work for equity or deferred payment. Real entrepreneurs are contagious. They are filled with ideas and they get those ideas onto paper. That paper can be in the form of wireframes or in the form of a PowerPoint plan. Or worst case your ideas can be conveyed verbally. But they GET THINGS DONE. You have the skills and knowledge to do that.”

I walked away kind of feeling bad. I don’t like to intentionally crush people’s hopes. But I always view my job as being honest so that people don’t waste time, money or both if their ideas aren’t good or the positive execution isn’t likely. But then something awesome happened. He took my comments as a challenge. He went out and found a developer and built a product. He refined his business plan and he got commitments for $150-200k but needed some lead angels to commit first. When he re-approached me he had a much better plan and he had a prototype! I introduced him to some angels and his round was OVER SUBSCRIBED!

That is a true story. I don’t know whether the entrepreneur feels comfortable with my saying who he is so if he does and he reads this perhaps he’ll put his details in the comments section. But I bring up this story for a reason.

2. Analysis Paralysis

I used to sit on the board of a company (for which I DID NOT invest) with a very smart and very likable CEO. This person was educated at the best US schools and had worked for a top-tier strategy consulting firm – one of the big 3. The CEO led every board meeting with vigor and the board members (sans me) were always wowed. The CEO had 60-page Powerpoint presentations analyzing every micro detail of the business. The company had less than $5 million in revenue yet we had a multi-tab spreadsheet doing activity-based costing on our customer service staff, operations and technology.

We had every chart every invented by man (or McKinsey) showing failure rates of our product, mean-times-to-repair, detailed sales forecast charts, etc. Charts. What lovely charts! I know they would have been very useful in dissected the woes of General Motors. I was the only unimpressed board member. I was the one pointing out that we were behind on our sales targets and our “Elephant Deal” that had been promised was 6 months late.

After a few board meetings I finally spoke up. I was a bull in a china shop. I said (out loud), “I sure wish that some of the time that went into these PowerPoint slides would have gone into meetings with the COO, CFO or CMO of [Elephant Customer].” The CEO had never met with any of them.

With a CEO that likable, smart, educated and accomplished it made board members squirm that I was willing to call bullshit.

I’m sure you know what happens next. We missed our sales target by more than 66% for the year but we had great slides explaining why. The next year we set the sales budget equal to the previous year’s sales budget that we had missed. We missed the next year by more than 33%. Nobody seemed shocked. The company has burned through serious cash. I complained the whole way. It was not fun. No “independent” board members seemed to care (or even comprehend the lunacy of the whole situation).

To this day I’m sure they see the situation differently. Beautiful slides by top-tier consultants have hoodwinked large companies for years and I can see why. They are intoxicating, complex, insightful and tell a great story. But in the end they’re usually just that – a story. Sometimes a fantasy.

I still really like this CEO and have deep respect for this person outside of the role of being a CEO. The “Peter Principle” says that “everybody rises to their level of incompetency.” Read this as some people who are great at analyzing to not make great doers and therefore do not make great entrepreneurs. I think many VCs have learned this the hard way when they step in to temporarily run companies as I have seen happen.

The problem with the company that I described above was that there was somebody willing to fund ongoing losses and the board continued to believe that good times were just around the corner. Maybe they’ll be proved right some day. I certainly hope so. But in the UK we used to call this “promising jam tomorrow.” I was tired of jam tomorrow. I left the board. The company never JFDI.

本文为《企业家基因》的一篇相关文章,作者认为:不管纸上分析做得再好,若没有放手去做的实践精神,事情终究无法成功。真正的企业家「敏于行」。

我初次创业时办公室墙上曾贴有以上图片和四个大写字母 JFDI(如果你不知其所指,它是对耐克标语「Just Do It」的改写 Just F敏感词进行时态 Do It)。我相信作一名成功的企业家需要能搞定很多事。你得不停地作决定而已知条件总是不完整。这会难倒很多人。但不是你。

企业家们作决策雷厉风行,他们知道在最好的情况下自己有七成可能选中答案。他们每日都将游戏向前推进。他们快速机敏地查漏补缺。优秀的企业家会勇于承认自己的错误并从中汲取教训。优秀的企业家常常犯错。如果你不是只说明你努力的还不够。优秀的企业家善于权衡实践之于过度分析。(显然别将此误读为分析无用)

我用了将近十年时间为大型企业编写软件,之后又为别的软件公司作顾问。其间我并未做过太多重大决策。因此当我成为一家创业公司的 CEO 时,被突然冒出的这许多待定的决策吓了一跳。它们中的绝大多数都是些无聊的选择:选哪家银行、办公室大小、一年还是两年租约、公司商标、网站地址、定价方案以及哪家风投。

技术团队在前进方向上产生了分歧而需要解决方案。你的销售主管认为她应该炒某人鱿鱼。你得考虑要不要在 TechCrunch50 上推出产品。有人又问你是否会为员工建立 401(k) 退休储蓄计划并以贡献多少为准增加补偿。我想这会令许多人的创业陷入瘫痪。

我很快认识到自己需要不想太多地把事情处理好。一开始我曾有一个团队,大家要么就对问题纸上谈兵,要么更有可能就等公司高层来帮他们定夺。你的销售人员被卡在 CTO 那里,后者认为自己应对交易负责,然而却迟迟不作批准。销售人员此时应该自作主张吗?那可能会把事情搞砸。

是的,我明白自己作为 CEO 应该指导公司员工 —— 我并不反对这一点。但如果每个人遇到问题时都转向我那咱们做不了任何事。我感觉自己已经做了相对困难的一部分工作并找到了愿意与之共事的人,我更希望他们能主动出击哪怕将来需要承担后果。

有时你在完成任务时会制造一些麻烦。如果那是不可避免的,我希望我的团队能勇往直前并明白我会站在他们这一边。比起从不敢于越界尝试,我宁愿清理努力失败后留下的烂摊子。

于是我用 JFDI 这句座右铭来象征这种态度。而我的团队也的确拿出干劲并做出了杰出的成绩。也许是因为我喜欢不按常理出牌并挑战极限,于是身边的人也纷纷效仿吧。

JFDI 的另一层含义是完成看似不可能的任务。企业家们就有这样的本事。让供货商们接受他们从不肯接受的协议条款,让一开始满口拒绝的会议组织者允许你在其论坛上发言,让人们用业余时间为你工作 —— 在你有足够现金来正式聘用他们之前。

一些故事和例子:

1. 主动出击

我曾好几次在洛杉矶的技术界活动中碰到某君。他人很不错,在一个技术上有待进步的产业工作了十年,积累了不少经验和认识。他希望自己能为这个产业的技术发展做出贡献。于是我们有过几次交谈。通常我不会把时间花在观看别人做的 PowerPoint 幻灯片上(提出类似要求的人太多,我连自己的工作都完不成了!),但有些人确实让你愿意花多余的精力来帮助他。上面这位就是一个例子。

在几个月中我反复考虑了他的想法。他遇到的麻烦是缺乏资金。他迫切地想知道如何「开始」并「通过我结识几位天使投资」。一天晚上在参加了 DealMaker 的一次活动后我们有 20 分钟的时间见面。我直言不讳地告诉他别朝这方面想了,我目前不会去联系什么天使投资的。(提示:我有时真就不给面子)

「为什么?」他问道。我告诉他你算不得真正的企业家。他愣了。我说这么长时间过去了你只会动口。他那时连网站和产品样品都没有。但「若无投资他又哪里有钱来雇人开发呢!」

我告诉他那正是我想阐述的观点。「真正的企业家还是有本事找到解决办法。他会找到程序员并承诺分享股权或延期付款来保持其工作热情。真正的企业家是有感染力的。他们满脑子都是想法并能将它们搬到纸上。所谓纸有时可能是一幅线框图或者用 PowerPoint 做成的计划书。最差你也至少可以用口头语言来表达陈述。但是他们会把事情搞定。你有这个能力和知识储备。」

我略感歉意地独自而去。我不喜欢有意打消人们心中的希望。但我总以为自己工作的一部分是保持诚恳,这样没有足够好想法或执行力的人就不至于浪费自己的金钱和时间。然而令我意想不到的一件事发生了。他将我说的话当作了对自己的挑战。他找到了一名程序员并做出了一个产品。他改善了自己的商业计划并得到 15 – 20 万美金的投资承诺。现在他所需的只是某个天使能率先投资。当他重新找到我时已经有了一个好得多的计划以及一个产品模型!我于是把他介绍给一些天使投资,后来他的所得超出了预期!

这是一则真实的故事。我不知这位企业家对我对他的评价是否感到满意,如果他读到了本文也许会在评论中留下自己的看法。不过我之所以讲这件事是有原因的。

2. 纸上谈兵

我曾是一家公司(我本人未投资)董事会的成员。它有一位非常聪明且优秀的首席执行官。此人曾在美国顶级学府接受教育并在一流的策略咨询机构(前三之一)就职。每一次董事会大家(除了我)都被其绘声绘色地演说打动。这位 CEO 将业务情况总结在一篇长达 60 页的 PowerPoint 报告中,连最小的细节也分析得头头是道。公司的收入还不到 500 万美元,却仍在用作业成本法维持繁杂的数据报表以收集各部门的运营情况。

我们制作了人类(或麦肯锡)有史以来发明出的所有图表来显示自己的产品故障率、平均修复时间、销售预期等等。我们制作了图表。图表是多么好啊!我相信它们会在研究通用汽车破产中发挥重要作用的。我是唯一一个对此不以为然的董事会成员。是我指出了目前公司离销售目标还差很远而我们承诺的一桩大买卖 6 个月后就要兑现了。

几次会议之后我终于忍不住开了口。我就像瓷器店里的醉汉一样毫无顾忌地(大声)说道,「我非常希望能把在这儿欣赏幻灯片的一部分时间花在和客户公司的 COO、CFO 或 CMO 交谈上。」我们的 CEO 连他们的面都不曾见过。

有这样一位和蔼可亲而聪明智慧的 CEO,而我的一席话让大家脸上都很难看。我也有些过意不去。

我相信你知道接下来会发生什么。我们与原定销售目标相差了超过 66%,但同时也做出了能良好解释其原因的书面报告。第二年我们定下了和上年同样的目标,然而我们再次与之相差 33%。没有人觉得震惊。公司已经烧掉了相当数额的现金。我一直坚持提出异议。那种滋味不好受。不过似乎并未引起哪位「独立」董事的注意(他们甚至可能不知道事情已经糟到了何种地步)。

现在来看他们恐怕会对整件事另眼相看了。一流咨询公司制作的精美幻灯片长期以来蒙蔽着企业的头脑,我算是明白个中缘由了。幻灯片使人陶醉。它们看似复杂深邃,且能为你讲述很棒的故事。但最终往往也不过一则故事而已。有时甚至只是一个梦幻。

我仍然十分喜欢并敬重这位 CEO,如果其角色不是一名 CEO 的话。「彼得法则」告诉我们「人人皆有力不能及之时。」在此应将其理解为优秀的分析家不一定能成为优秀的实践家,因此不能等同于优秀的企业家。我想很多风投都在这上走了弯路,我见过不少把钱投进那些「快公司」的例子。

以上所述公司的问题在于有人愿意为持续亏损的业务买单,而董事会就一直相信下一秒好运即会降临。也许他们有天能证明自己是对的。我着实希望如此。但在英国【译者注:读者可自行将其替换为中国】我们将它称为「望梅止渴」。我厌倦了理想中的甘梅,于是我选择了退出。这公司咋就不 JFDI 呢?

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