Monthly Archives: May 2010

Entrepreneurial Spirit – Opportunity

This is the final part to my series on the Entrepreneurial Sprit, where I present the characteristics of the perceived struggle driving the success of today’s internet entrepreneurs. I recommend you read parts one and two if you haven’t already.

As I mentioned previously, this struggle does not belong to entrepreneurs alone.  Knowledge workers also need to continuously align with their strengths, at the same time effectively growing their knowledge and skill, if they are to make a remarkable impression on their customers.  In this final post I’ll talk about the other side of the struggle, that of finding or creating the right opportunity.

Quick Rewind

Thus far I’ve stressed the importance of knowing and building on your strengths, as well as becoming more effective in both thought and action.  I believe these are essential ingredients in forming the foundation of autonomy, mastery and purpose that is so important to the motivation of creative people.  As I conclude this series, a narrative has emerged and it reads as follows:

Achieving and growing this level of effectiveness will permit you to grow your competence in a unique and powerful way.  This results in elevated levels of motivation which further amplifies your sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery, which further increases the number of opportunities you encounter and your ability to succeed in them.

In essence I’m saying that the number of opportunities you encounter will depend on your level of effectiveness.

What is Opportunity?

Look up the definition of ‘opportunity’ and you’ll find words ranging from ‘possibility’ to ‘chance’.  In his classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill suggests the following:

Opportunity has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and it often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat.  Perhaps this is why so many fail to recognize opportunity.

For entrepreneurs, an opportunity is a calling to act, and every aspect of this ‘calling’ will directly relate to the effectiveness of the person who found it.

I asked my brother, a successful designer and woodworking entrepreneur, how he finds opportunity:

“The right opportunities come from surrounding yourself with the right people, this includes prospective clients.  Imagine you are an explorer or hunter entering a forest.  Not just any forest, but the right forest. This is your ‘market’.   The machete and other tools you carry will help clear the mess and pave your path forward.  Preparation means sustaining and growing the effectiveness of your mind, body and machete. This is what you can control.  In this context, the longer you search, the greater your chance of finding the reward. And don’t forget to enjoy and refine this process throughout, it will increase the chance of future reward.”

It’s Simple Really

As a person who creates and does things, the way to find and create new opportunities is to continuously align with your strengths while growing your ability to decide and do the right thing across the spectrum of people, processes and technology/tools.  I’ll end this series with a relevant quote from Guy Kawasaki that says “Make meaning and you’ll make money”, perhaps better restated as find meaning and you’ll make money.

I hope you enjoyed this series on the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

For questions for comments please email


Entrepreneurial Spirit – Preparation

This is part-2 of my series on the Entrepreneurial Sprit, where I present the characteristics of the perceived struggle driving the success of today’s internet entrepreneurs.

The Effective Executive

In part-1, I suggested that one of the many keys to the success of software company Balsamiq, was the methodical preparation of its CEO Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni. Luck requires preparedness and his preparation not only included 10,000 hours of professional programming practice, but the acquisition of management and leadership skills while still working for Adobe. During his presentation at the 2010 Better Software Conference in Florence Italy, it was easy to see how these new skills coupled with his innate charisma and humbleness might have served him well as an effective leader and first employee of his new venture.

Peter Drucker taught us the following traits of the effective executive:

  1. Executives have to know where their time is being spent.
  2. They must focus on outward contributions: on results rather than work.
  3. Build on strengths first, and then give attention to areas of weakness.
  4. Concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results
  5. Make effective decisions.

Browsing through Peldi’s online presentations and interviews, you’ll see references to the  precise timeline of events and key milestones in the life of his company.  You will also detect his conviction when deciding what NOT to focus on, especially during the early days when risk of failure was high.  Examples like these are in line with the traits described above.  Knowing your strengths and where you excel, for example, provides a start to effective decisions making.  It will also provide the knowledge that helps you find those things you enjoy doing.

So how can you go about discovering your strengths?

Emotional Intelligence

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman so eloquently state in their book, First, Break All the Rules, the equation of competence includes the set of talents, skills and knowledge one possesses.  Surely a successful leader will have learned to grow his competence, but this can only be effective in the context of the intimate understanding he has of his own strengths.

To begin understanding your own strengths, it’s helpful to think about how others perceive you.  How were you praised or criticized in previous performance reviews? What suggestion for improvement were you given?  In a previously stressful situation, how did you react?  Answers to these questions will provide the clues you need to get started.  I also recommend reading through the panorama of talents, as well as completing Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment.

Identifying and acting on your strengths allows you to engage in a symbiotic and efficient system of effective preparation, which leads to the right opportunities, which in turn leads to more effective preparation and so on. This is how you amplify your strengths.

We are all Executives

A key point I’d like to introduce here is that the concept of effective executive not only applies to entrepreneurs, but to all knowledge workers, from generalists to specialists, across the organizational hierarchy, programmers included.   We live in a world where our success as knowledge workers, as well as the success of our team and organization, no matter it’s size, depends on an ability decide and execute ‘the right thing’.

Getting Back to Luck

Allow me to be overly simplistic for a moment.  We all agree you have to be lucky to succeed as an entrepreneur.  So if luck is the product of opportunity and preparedness, and preparedness involves the 10,000 hours of practice mentioned by Gladwell,  the understanding of strengths, skills and knowledge suggested by Buckingham and Coffman then how is one supposed to create the right opportunities?

Click here to continue to part-3.


Entrepreneurial Spirit

Pick today’s favorite programmer turned successful software or internet entrepreneur and take a look at the books he’s reading. Chances are you’ll find him reading more books from Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Guy Kawasaki than books from Martin Fowler, Steve Mcconnell, and Grady Booch.  While the technical excellence and know-how taught by this latter group is fundamental to any successful software venture (or any true software craftsman for that matter), the fact that internet entrepreneurs are reading books like Gladwell’s Outliers, or Godin’s Linchpin implies a few things.  First, by the time they commit to realizing their business vision, the technical mastery promoted by books like Mcconnell’s Code Complete is a given, and not enough to determine success.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. – Einestein

What this also implies, which you can confirm by listening to their presentations or reading their blogs, is the existence of a struggle that sees them continuously aligning with a deeper purpose while amplifying talents in order to transform the lives of their customers.  This struggle is similar to the Hedgehog concept presented in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great and one that marketing has detoured around for the last 20 years.  In this post, Entrepreneurial Spirit, I’ll present the characteristics of this unquenchable struggle that drives these entrepreneurs towards successful software ventures.

Luck of the Italian

We’ve all heard the expression “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness” and it’s hard not to find a whole lot of this luck in stories like that of a rapidly growing and successful software startup, Balsamiq, and its young founder and CEO, Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni.   I recently had the opportunity to listen to the charismatic and passionate CEO during his presentation at the 2010 Better Software Conference in Florence, Italy.  Throughout the presentation, it struck me that yes, his company has had its fair share of luck, but only because of his remarkable pursuit of preparation and opportunity.

During the presentation, he talked about his persistent desire to start his own software company but also pointed to a phase in his life when he simply wasn’t ready to commit to this venture.  The story goes that in 2004, and with a few years of professional software development experience under his belt at Adobe, he picked up a book from Barry Moltz, You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth about Starting and Growing Your Business, only to put the book down “after 20 pages”, admitting to overwhelming reluctance to absorb the risk needed for such a venture.   If he admitted to a lack of preparation in 2004, what changed by 2007, the year he committed to and officially launched Balsamiq?

Power of Time

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about the 10,000-hour rule, or the minimum time of practice required for success in any field.   Peldi wasn’t prepared to take the risk to start his venture in 2004, but by 2007,  he not only completed his 10,000 hours of professional practice but had acquired the broader knowledge and skills of an effective leader.  Borrowing the words of the legendery Peter Drucker,  during these three years Peldi dramatically matured his ability to answer the question, “What is the right thing to do?”, he was on his way to becoming the effective executive.

Part-2 to the Entrepreneurial Spirit continues here.