Vision and Plan

Vision without Plan is mere daydreaming and avails nothing. Plan without Vision is the definition of aimless mediocrity. Vision with Plan is the essence of greatness and can change the World.

I spend a lot of time thinking ahead, thinking big, and contemplating what is possible. I think that you have to think outside of the box and really push the envelop if you want to accomplish something worthy of effort. People that do so, and match this vision with plans, resources, and effort are usually called visionaries. Our history is littered with these giants that refused to settle for average, mediocre, or the status quo. On the other hand, people that just spin out ideas all day long without doing anything about it are generally derided as lazy daydreamers, or accused of having their heads so far in the clouds they live lives in fantasy and impractibility. Success changes that perception real quick.

As an entrepreneur I am regularly sharing ideas and thoughts with people. I always start with the macro…where is the horizon? How far can we go? What is possible? What is our potential? Then I move on to the micro…how do we get there? What do we need? What are the obstacles to overcome? What is the plan of attack?

This has always worked out well for me. Vision and ambition inspires people, and has magic to “stir men’s blood”. However, many people that I have encountered over the years are either small minded or so trapped in a rut of mundane living with blinders, that they are unwilling to consider new ideas (big or small). They can only see what has been done, time after time, in old and proven models. People like this are a dual edged sword…on one hand, they temper the visionaries and force the writing of plans, methods, and models. They are a necessary backbone to any venture. But on the other hand, they can suck the life out of an idea or vision and turn it into a hollow grey shade of its former vibrant self.

My advice to entrepreneurs is to find people with practical experience and wisdom that share in your passion and zeal for your idea and vision. Learn from them, leverage their experience, and listen to their advice…but the first time you encounter someone that tries to change, diminish, or flat out destroy your goal and excitement, divorce yourself from them quickly.

You would be amazed at how many angel investors and venture capital funds I have shared various ideas and plans with that either entirely missed the point, or flat out dismissed us. One of my favorite examples here happened to me in the early/mid 90s. I was seeking funds for a MMORPG startup in 94/95…we were going to be the first “real-time 3D” massively multiuser online role playing game. A few people laughed at us…”that can’t be done”, “there is no market for that”, “you can’t do real-time 3D graphics on a PC”, “people want to buy games one time, they won’t pay a subscription for it”, “the PC game industry is dead”, “why isn’t microsoft or yahoo doing this?”. You get my point.

The sad thing, is that this is not uncommon. It has happened throughout history. Many of our greatest innovators, inventors, scientists, and great thinkers had to fight with this. Now, what really kills me, is when people with no vision (and only occasionally a plan) find massive amounts of support and funding to do some mediocre, generic, “me too”, or whatever project. The ultimately fail in a miserable fashion. Again, history is littered with examples (do your own google search). The end result of this, is an increased pulling away from big ideas and innovators. If small ideas don’t work, big ones won’t either.

Of course, sometimes small ideas are successful, and this is perceived as an indicator that safe and small is the way to go, when in reality, it is because there is nothing else that is bigger, grander, or more innovative to compete against. I talked about this in my book…if you have bought rotten eggs all your life in the market, you base your judgments and values on rotten eggs. An outsider would determine that rotton eggs are a great business. But imagine that first time someone starts selling fresh eggs! I firmly believe that many industries and sectors out there (especially high-tech, social media, virtual worlds, mmorpgs, etc.) have been suffering from rotten eggs for so long, that we can’t recognize what we are settling for. We have become nearsighted and hunchbacked. We can see (and smell) our feet, but we miss the trees around us and we have no conception of the larger forest of possibility and potential.

We are at the edge of yet another new year, which means there is a collective feeling of rebirth, newness, and a clean slate. What will we make of 2009? Will we expand out of our comfort zone and expand our horizons? Will we take risks and strive for innovation and growth? Will we let ourselves be suckered in by the doom and gloom of a economic downturn or will we leap out of our seats and aggressively look for opportunities to seize?

As you reflect on the last year, I encourage you to think about doing something unexpected, unconventional, and different in 2009. Shake things up. Take some risks. Think big. Make plans. Start something new. Move to the other coast. Pick up a new hobby. Change the business model. Challenge yourself and the people around you. Get rid of your preconveived notions. Refuse to perpetuate hate, bigotry, or stereotypes. Reach across the aisle. Think, Do, Grow, Challenge, Innovate, Achieve, Succeed.

Your life is what YOU make of it. Don’t settle for less. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity.

Keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. Do something worthwhile and change the world.

Make no little plans:
They have no magic
to stir men’s blood.
-Daniel H. Burnham

Just for the record, I’m taking my own advice. I can’t talk about it now, but I’m neck deep in some mind-blowing life-changing industry-rattling world-shaking evolutionary revolutionary “OMG” stuff. My startup is starting to get some incredible traction and a table full of opportunities has fallen in my lap. The synchronicity of everything is a little jarring…it is all related and all dovetails quite nicely into our short and long term goals.

The fun thing? Part of this is going to create some unparalleled opportunities for other entrepreneurs and startups out there willing to really think outside of the box and be unconventional. I can’t wait to tell you about it. We have a chance to do something huge together. Screw the economy. I’m going to create jobs. That’s what entrepreneurs do best, isn’t it?

Hey, do me a favor and post a comment if any of this rings your bell. I get a reasonable amount of traffic on here and people don’t say much. Tell me what you think. Share your passions and ideas here.

(The Twitter Version of my quote: “Vision without Plan is empty daydreaming. Plan without Vision is aimless mediocrity. Vision with Plan can change the world.”)



Fear is the mind killer...

So the markets are in turmoil with an incredible amount of volatility. Some people are screaming about another Great Depression or a long term recession. A few are claiming that the sky is falling and we are all doomed. Regardless of these points of view, we are in a period of uncertainty (the political rhetoric and impending election aren’t helping either).

I’ve talked before about how important perception is, and how prophecy can be self-fulfilling. If we keep telling ourselves that we are destined for failure, we will most definitely find ourselves arriving there sooner rather than later. No thank you.

Now is absolutely not the right time to duck and cover, run screaming into the night, or hide under the bed gnashing your teeth. America is not in its death throes, and capitalism is not broken beyond repair. The stock market will recover (although this may be delayed depending on who wins the white house) and we will emerge stronger. Yes, I do think that the fundamentals of our nation and economy are sound. We are just experiencing a bump in the road because of bad practices in some sectors. Sure, these bumps are pretty big and they are far reaching, but that doesn’t change the larger picture. If you break your foot, you are going to have to limp for a while and it’s going to hurt, but you aren’t going to DIE. Even better, when your foot heals, the bones will be stronger.

If you have ever thought “I wish I invested back in 2xxxx when stocks were cheaper”, now is your chance. Whether we are in a correction or a massive drop due to investor lack of confidence or fear, there are a lot of opportunities out there that are undervalued now and won’t be for long. We may not have reached the bottom yet, but investing in stocks is something you do with an eye on the long term, not day to day gains or losses. 

You know, I was going to write a lot more for this post, but I think I will instead copy/paste an excerpt from an email I sent to someone earlier this week.

* * *

Obviously the country is in a pretty bad way, and I won’t get into the reasons why, they should be pretty self-evident if you have been watching the news and financial markets. I don’t think we are headed for another great depression, and I don’t think we are on the verge of spiraling down into a recession either. I do think that we are in for a tough ride in the short term, but ultimately I am very bullish on the economy, the markets, and our nation in general. These are exciting times for people willing to look ahead and roll up their sleeves…the opportunities are there.

I think if we pull back and look at things from some position of altitude, we can see that there are normal cycles that occur throughout history in politics, markets, climate, etc. I feel that we are coming to the end of one cycle and another one is beginning. The current crisis is, in my mind, the same as the pain associated with shedding a skin or emerging from a cocoon.

If you consider all of the things that are going wrong right now, I think that these are actually to the benefit of the country. I have been saying for more than a few years now that the country has gotten lazy, our ambitious hunger for innovation and our hopeful spirit has been stunted, both by the dot com crash (which has had far reaching deleterious effects on technology development, venture capital markets, etc.), various corporate scandals (like Enron and the more current fiascos), and so on. All of this together is causing pressure to build that becomes a driving necessity to do, to change, to create, to risk, and to strive for something better. The middle class will rekindle its sense of entrepreneurial spirit and we will begin looking inward more…towards our local communities, churches, neighborhoods, etc. In every time of crisis, the people of this country always stand firm with resolve to survive and then surpass. It may take a few years, but I think we will come out of this much much stronger. I can’t stress enough how important it is that the shift back to community and locality is occurring…part because of the economy and its problems, but also because of how technology is changing and how we perceive, interact with, and consume media and information.

Getting back to the economy though, whether we are going through a correction or a short term loss, we will absolutely rebound. I do think it will be a long time before national confidence in real estate and the financial sector is restored, so I think that the opportunities in the future are going to be on energy, technology, and defense (for different reasons compared to energy/tech).

The interesting thing about tech though, especially in a handicapped economy where people begin looking for other ways to create or supplement income, is that tech is unique compared to other sectors in that it has the ability to rapidly create vast numbers of jobs and literally catalyze and cause direct change. While most of the recent focus in tech (driven by shortsighted VCs for the most part) has been with weak widgets, failed business models, and generic applications (copies of something else), change is coming.

The trends are moving towards
where the user is and what they are doing…everything is becoming locative, geospatial, contextual, etc. Even ubiquitous computing is starting to become a reality…rumors are flying about a new apple laptop that is basically two touch-sensitive screens…no keyboard! Other rumors indicate that Steve Jobs is already looking ahead to cramming everything we have in the IPhone and IPod now into the form factor of a watch. Intel is investing heavily in new smaller and more powerful chips that are designed specifically for mobile devices with low power requirements (they are announcing the dual-core version of their ATOM chip very soon). The list goes on and on (I’ve been watching these trends for a few years now, and they are all converging and maturing…right now!).

For us,
[note: I’m talking again about my startup] this represents a massive opportunity. Not only are we ahead of the curve in what we are thinking, but the thing we are attempting to develop has the potential to be monumental…the very backbone that ties all of these new mobile devices together, with interactive and immersive media that is directly personal and relevant to the user. Entire models change…no longer will things be one way consumption of media (website to person) for example. What we are building even has the potential to create entirely new professions (and as a result thousands and thousands of jobs). We are at the cusp of something amazing, but it will take a vast amount of work and tireless ambition to pull off.

Even if we aren’t the ones to do it, it is coming. The country needs something new, it needs innovation, it needs hope and belief, and it needs to be cultivated, facilitated, and enabled. I firmly believe that tech, as a whole, can contribute to the future of this country, but it is greatly hampered by the shortsighted VCs, the greedy big company CEOs, the corrupt politicians, and the get rich quick schemers. It is much more difficult to start something these days because of the lack of capital (particularly tech oriented seed), but this simply drives innovation into basements and garages…it may take longer to emerge, but it will.

So, I’m pretty excited about our country’s future. I think the short term road is going to be long and fraught with risk and obstacles, but I believe in the human spirit and this great country.

Getting back to the topic at hand, if some things tilt one way instead of the other, we will find ourselves on the brink of another great period of innovation, advancement, and tremendous change. Expect to see things over the next ten years that will dwarf the measure of change that the PC revolution brought us. The world is indeed changing, and we have the opportunity to be involved.

That’s what I think. I plan on being part of it and doing what I can to spark change, growth, and innovation myself.

* * *

My email continued on talking about my current startup and some other things you would probably find boring. I think what I am trying to communicate is that you shouldn’t be worried about the current economic turbulence, and that there is a lot of opportunity out there to be seized by the bold and daring.

I also think there is a huge shift occuring in the tech and media sectors. I’ll probably blog about this in my next post and expound on some of my comments here. 

Fear is the mind-killer (it will kill your portfolio as well). The spice must flow. Venture capitalists and investors must embrace risk and return their focus on creating wealth, new companies, and jobs. This is a good way to fast-track the recovery of our economy. Remember, you can dramatically mitigate risk in a startup, but you can’t dramatically increase the potential in an existing company. We also need to move away from widgets and “me too” companies, funding ventures with no real discernable business model, etc. Use your heads people.

Final points:

1) Don’t be greedy.

2) Build value, not widgets.

3) Business model before funding.

4) Don’t limit vision to silicon valley and wall street.

5) Don’t be afraid of innovation or risk.

6) Aspire, Create, Build, Grow.

The Perplexing Predicament of Pioneering

Being a pioneer and attempting to sail uncharted waters is not an easy thing by any means. There are many risks and obstacles that must be overcome all while flirting continuously with failure, disaster, and unexpected complications. The overall struggle is evenly split between the internal and external. Internally, a pioneer (or entrepreneur), must regularly wrestle with self-doubt, second-guessing, and finding balance between many things…life and work, doing work yourself or delegating, choosing one path over another, and so forth. Externally, the pioneer must fight unbelievers, naysayers, lack of vision, competitors, sharks, pirates, and even resistance from friends and allies.

History is studded with many examples of pioneers, inventors, explorers, scientists, and forward thinkers that have grasped, fought, clawed, wrestled, and sacrificed with great exertion of will and spirit to accomplish their goals. Columbus, Tesla, Edison, the Wright brothers…the list goes on and on.

I have had my own problems over the years, but most recently with our efforts with augmented reality. I think we have solved some huge problems and we know how to make it happen, but we continually have difficulties with explaining the technology to people (a common problem with any new or disruptive technology), or convincing people that it will work, there is a business model, people will use it, etc. If we don’t do it, someone else will. There are many trends in technology, mobile computing, data visualization, contextual and locative content, human-computer interface, cognitive computing, and so forth that are all driving toward the same thing (this is one aspect of the Singularity that everyone seems to be talking about these days).

But pioneering here is not without predicaments. Raising funds to actually develop and bring this technology to market is one example of many. Everyone recognizes the value of being first to market with something, but no one wants to take a risk on “unproven” technology until someone else has done it first. Of course at that point, the conversation becomes “soandso already does that, we don’t believe you can compete). Other comments we have heard are along the lines of:

“If this is so great, why isn’t Google doing it?”

“It isn’t possible that you are the only ones that figured it out…Microsoft is probably doing this right now”

“We are interested, but come back after you already have revenue and then we can discuss funding”

“We will fund you, but you need a new management team, the business model needs to be changed, and we need to rethink the product you want to build”

“If you aren’t based in Silicon Valley, there is no way you can build a successful company”

Again, the list goes on. Imagine if Columbus quit trying to get his boats, or Edison stopped bothering with light bulbs after the tenth failure, or if there were only six computers in the world, all serving up recipes in the kitchen. What if the Wright brothers kept selling bicycles because that was a “real” job.

When I think about how difficult it is for any entrepreneur or startup that has the ambition of changing the world, or a vision to create something new and wonderful, it really irritates me. You almost can’t get any traction unless you are fresh out of college, working on some facebook widget, biotech, or some web app that is sure to get acquired by someone else. What stuns me is the sheer number of “what the hell are they thinking” venture deals that keep getting done. I could rant about this alone for a long time, but that isn’t what I want to talk about today.

I tell people that I think innovation was stifled tremendously after the dot com crash. Venture capitalists are acting more like investment bankers now and there are very few funding sources that are willing to take the risk of funding innovation. Our country was built on innovation, big ideas, big risks, and a soul deep belief that anything is possible…if we but strive for it.

As Alan Kay said, “…Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything.” I firmly believe this is true. There are no bright ideas without electricity and you can’t win a race without gas in the car. 

The venture community must rethink their current method of doing things. Mitigate your risk, but don’t be afraid of visionaries and innovators. Pair them up with experienced business builders and fund them well (never overfund!). Encourage, cultivate, guide, and mentor. The returns on your capital will be far greater than throwing money at some hair-brained social network widget thing with no discernable business model.

Nikola Tesla is quoted as saying “The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.”

This really sums up how I (and other pioneers) feel. Sure your shiny facebook widget or rehashed 1996 technology virtual world might be getting all the funding and attention now, but I am building for the future.

I refuse to give up. You should believe in yourself, your dreams, and your ideas as well. Be smart about how and what you do, but never let anyone choke your passion or cloud your vision. Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground. Don’t wait for opportunity to come knocking…she is very shy. You need to chase after her unceasingly.

Go for it. Without risk, innovation, passion, and funding, the world will never change. We will never set foot on another planet, never cure cancer, never feed the world, never find renewable energy solutions, never evolve. Lack of risk and change is equal to stagnation, which ultimately leads to decay and death. 

Some quotes to ponder:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, Founder of Digital Equipment Corp (DEC)

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times

“Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical (sic) and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.” - Simon Newcomb

“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” -– Charlie Chaplin

“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM

“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” — HG Wells

“Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” — Mary Somerville

and of course… “The world is flat.”

Thinking outside of the box is not enough...

…you need to reinvent the box. Bigger, better, faster, stronger.

I talk a lot about massively multiplayer online games, virtual worlds, augmented reality, simulations, social networking, social media, and a variety of related topics, but a lot of what I have to say (or at least what I am thinking about) goes beyond that. This post, for example, is readily targeted at companies in those areas, but also at those working in technology and communications in general. Two years ago, I wrote about the lack of flying cars (we were promised!) and the seeming death of the American creative and innovative spirit.

As Alan Kay said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything that doesn’t violate too many of Newton’s Laws!”

The problem, as I see it, is that we have forgotten about inventing the future. If you take a look at the last year or two of venture funding announcements (particularly in the sectors I mentioned) there is a lot of “me too” ventures getting funding. It is almost as if we keep seeing the dealflow centered around what is hot or popular, which in turn floods the market with a lot of very similar products. How many social networks can you name? What about MMORPGs? Casual game companies? Which of them are really innovating or trying to push the envelop? How many of them are nearly identical in features and functionality? How many of them lack any discernable business model other than “get traffic, get acquired”?

Are the “really smart” people finding funding, or is it a matter of doing what someone else is already doing and just knowing the right people? I’m beginning to wonder. A lot of interesting ideas keep coming across my radar, but they all seem to have difficulty finding any funding at all. At the same time, the number of “what are they thinking” venture deals keep getting announced.

There are a lot of opportunities out there to change the world and make billions at the same time, but I feel like the visionaries and luminaries are hiding or have simply given up. Did the great dot com bubble burst hurt American innovation more than we realize?

I have had my fair share of ideas, most of which seemed to be too “ahead of their time”. It is incredibly frustrating to me to see an idea I couldn’t get funded 5 or 10 years ago (and in some cases, as recently as 3) suddenly find west coast funding and market excitement. Even worse when it seems that the new venture is doing things in a way that feels backwards to me. That’s the best way to describe it I guess…backwards. Why are they doing x THIS way, when it would be so much better and powerful THAT way? 

I’m not about to give up though. As Nikola Tesla said: “The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” That sounds pretty arrogant I guess, but it resonates with me. Other people in various industries are reigning supreme now, but they are failing to look ahead to the future, and invention is more like “the same thing the other guys are doing, but slightly different”. Throughout my whole career I have tried looking ahead, anticipating the flow of trends and technology, and generating ideas, concepts, and innovations to catalyze, evolve, and revolutionize. They can have the present, but the future is mine.

It can be yours too…but you have to think outside of the box (reinvent it!) and be creative. Don’t hyperfocus on your own area of expertise…talk to others in related fields. Look at the big picture and shuffle the puzzle pieces around. Sometimes we talk about ideas in fiction that have been unreachable for a long time and we act like they still are, but there is a lot of technology out there NOW that simply needs to be put together in a different way to make those dreams a reality.

The future is coming…but only if you invent it, and do it now. Otherwise, we will waste another decade or two toying around with old ideas and old technology. Is it really any wonder that we haven’t returned to the moon or landed on mars yet? That we are still reliant on fossil fuels? It doesn’t have to be this way. Everything can, and will, change…but we need innovators, inventors, dreamers, visionaries, and of course venture capitalists that yearn to change the world instead of playing “keep up with the Jonses”.

Don’t accept mediocrity.