If Startups Ran The Government

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

Here's a link to the Affordable Care Act.  2,409 pages--all of it completely necessary of course. 

On Tuesday, October 1, the government officially argued itself into shutdown.  There are times when I feel extremely proud to be American, cue Beyonce.  This isn't one of those times.  According to astrophysicist Niel Degrasse Tyson, 57% of senate site their profession as law.  If you're trying to win cases, this is great, but if you're trying to get shit done--don't look to congress for a speedy solution.

With 10% of government, (cough cough Tea Party) holding the other 90% hostage, what can you do?  Unfortunately, I don't have an answer, and even if I did, it looks like it would take years before anything would be made official, almost as long as, oh I don't know, say a term in office.  But in all seriousness, how do you end up with 2409 pages?  Does anyone have sympathy for the lawyers who have to read this document?

Here's how a startup would run things.  Startups operate on a "lean mentality".  They have small budgets, and if they run themselves into debt, guess what?  Game over.  So to function you have to be agile and crafty--especially when shipping products.  I asked one of my good friends, Amron, who is a brilliant programmer if he would comment on how developers ship their code.   This is what he said:

Almost all software is developed with the use of Version Control Systems (VCS).  Modern version control tools allow all changes to be tracked by both time and author, and provide support for viewing changes across versions.  Applying version control systems to legislation would be a huge leap in accountability as it lets you see which congressmen are adding, removing, or modifying parts of bills. It allows blame to be placed and avoids any finger pointing or plausible deniability. It also lets you see who is responsible for the bloat, and exactly how you can end up with a 2500 page bill.

Can you imagine if each representative could be easily held responsible for the changes he or she commits to a bill?  The latest shutdown doesn't mean our government's broken, but it's a warning sign that that we need to improve our collaboration.  At what point do we suck up our pride and do the right thing?

All things aside, I feel so lucky to live in a country where I'm able to write a post like this.  I can freely express my opinion without worrying if I'll suddenly be detained for some unknown length of time.  The U.S. prides itself on being a "land of opportunity".  There's more potential here than any other place I know and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  So, in the interest of keeping this post brief--my rant ends here.  Bitching won't fix things, but taking cues from some of the brightest and innovative minds this country has to offer might not be a bad place to start.  God bless the U.S.A.

What Makes A Great Startup

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

I see hundreds of startups.  I'm no guru, but after running an incubator for six months, I do see patterns.  Every company has unique DNA, but there's something magical about a great startup.  Like interviewing job candidates, when you speak to the right one, you instinctively know.  You get a feeling deep in your gut and your decision is made long before the interview is over.

The ingredients for a great company:

1. People
People are the blood of your company, carrying oxygen to all your vital organs.  If you have bad blood, you have a sick company.  Great companies keep their team healthy, positive, and happy.  Without this, you're dead before you begin.

2. Purpose
After you've curated a team of brilliant, honest, driven, creative, and humble individuals--give them purpose.  Whatever you're working on, make sure every person in your company knows the big picture, the end goal, "the why".  If people are the blood, purpose is energy.  You need both.

3. Devotion
People with purpose need commitment.  Companies that stand behind their products with unwavering conviction are instantly noticeable.  Devote to shipping beautiful art.  It's not something that happens overnight and it certainly doesn't happen by accident.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Health is a combination of mind, body, and spirit.  Without health, nothing else matters.  The same goes for companies.  People give your ideas life, purpose provides the energy, and devotion fuels the soul.  Fail, improve, and above all, keep shipping.



Posted on by Brian Hertzog

How do you launch something?  Give it momentum!  Newton's first law says that an object in motion will stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it.

When you build momentum, you make it easier for your plans to follow through, and harder for you to change direction.  When was the last time you heard someone say, "we've come too far!"

Momentum makes things happen, it keeps us moving forward--even when we want to give up.  Want follow through?  Build momentum.  Use the forces acting against you to your advantage.  Share your art, and be unstoppable.  The hardest part is starting.  What are you waiting for?  The time is now.  Go!

Why Startup Founders Should Learn To Surf

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

I have never felt the rush of riding a surf board.  I haven't had the blissful feeling of catching the illustrious "perfect wave".  But, I know someone who has.

Surfing is often referred to a meditative sport.  Frequent surfers usually will attempt to translate the experience as "it was just me, and the water", or some other overly zen-like expression.  But it's true.  When you are focused on not drowning, you're probably not thinking about those unanswered emails waiting in your inbox.

And, now that I've given myself "surfer-envy",  it has dawned on me that surfing is a brilliant metaphor for launching a company.  Startup founders, take note.

1.) Conditions
Wind, temperature, surf, current--all things surfers consider before paddling out to the big blue.  Assessing the conditions including the less obvious factors such as current is essential for a safe and successful day at the beach.  No waves?  No market.  Strong current?  Unseen market forces and possible danger.

But--to continue the metaphor, let's say, "surf's up!"  Now what?

2.) Timing

An idea and a market are not enough.  A wave and a board are not enough.  You have to have timing, rhythm, the sixth sense, when to take the wave, and when to wait.  Begin paddling too early, and you will find yourself buried under six feet of water as the wave crashes upon you like an unsuspecting bug wandering through a parade.  Wait too long, and you will find yourself watching your friends ride all the way to shore on "the perfect wave".  It's a dance.  You have to have rhythm.  You have to be patient, and when you do begin to paddle, you have to commit. 

3.) Persistence

Once you do begin to catch waves, you will quickly discover that catching and riding are two completely different concepts.  It takes persistence to be in control of the surf.  At some point in the evolution of a surfer, the wave no longer dictates direction, the wave becomes the propulsion for cutting in and out, performing exotic tricks, and emerging victorious from an endless tube. 

Aside from market conditions and timing, you have to be in control of your board.  You have to persist.

4.)  Presence

According to my surfer friend, the board is the most dangerous thing in the water (sharks not included).  Many surf injuries are incurred from collisions with your own board!  Collisions with the board, why does that sound strangely familiar?  But essentially, you must be mindful.  You must be present.  Why do you think surfers spend hours waxing their boards, aligning their fins, and making sure they are not too cold in the water.  When you build a beautiful board, to catch the "perfect wave", you really do become you and the water.  The board is no longer a piece of equipment, but an extension of your body, helping you navigate the always changing force of nature that is the big blue. 

Happy surfing.  Also, special thanks to @Dom for sharing his surfer wisdom.