Henry Ford’s Secret to Success

I read a quote today from Henry Ford that stuck with me:

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as from your own.

I try to see things from other people’s perspectives, and I’ve gotten better at it, but I’m not where I want to be. The Ford quote was a good nudge; it reminded me of the importance of mastering this skill. I’m committed to working on this until I’ve mastered it.

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An Effective Company Vision

I’ve been discussing the topic of company vision with a few founders. These conversations reinforced to me that some founders aren’t clear on what vision means. They talk about how much revenue they’ll generate in five or ten years, what they plan to build, etc. It’s good to be clear on your aims, but that’s not vision. Those responses are too tactical.

I believe the root of why these founders are missing the mark isn’t a lack of ability or intelligence. It’s simpler than that: it’s a terminology mix-up and maybe not enough practice in thinking non-tactically.

Vision is painting a picture of what you think the world could look like. It’s painting a picture of how you want the world to look. It has nothing to do with your company.

Even when the term is defined, I’ve noticed that it’s hard for some founders to understand vision without an example. This week I spent time searching and found what I think is a good example.  

In a talk, Brian Armstrong, CEO and cofounder of Coinbase, detailed not only the company’s thinking behind its vision but also its mission and strategy. Here’s how Brian expressed the company’s vision and mission:

  • Vision: Create more economic freedom for every person and business in the world over the next ten years.
  • Mission: Create an open financial system for the world.

The vision is big. It will materially change the world if it becomes reality. The mission is what Armstrong’s company plans to do to accomplish its vision. I like how Armstrong explains the logic behind each statement, how they differ, and how they support one another.

At the end of the video, Armstrong ties the vision and mission together: “Our vision is to have a billion people in, say, five to ten years accessing an open financial system, through our products, every day. When we’ve done that, we will have materially changed the economic freedom of the world and we will have bent the shape of that curve.”

In a different video, Armstrong clearly explains his vision of the world: “I imagined a world where anybody with a smartphone could have access to sound money and financial services; where every payment could be as fast, cheap, and global as sending an email.”

Coming up with a vision isn’t easy. It requires zooming out and thinking about the future of the world and what’s possible. Hopefully, the example above is useful and helps founders articulate how the world will be transformed if their company achieves its mission.

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Weekly Reflection: Week Two Hundred Four

This is my two-hundred-fourth weekly reflection. Here are my takeaways from this week:

  • Delayed results – This week was a reminder that sometimes it takes longer than anticipated for a decision to be proven correct or incorrect. When the results are clear, accept and learn from them to improve future decisions.
  • Home Depot – At the suggestion of a friend, I looked into Home Depot’s cofounders. One, Ken Langone, caught my attention. His role as VC investor and investment banker for Home Depot in the ’70s and for various companies after that intrigued me. I’m in the early stages of researching him, and I’m excited to learn more about him.
  • Reading – I’ve read a few books this month that give historical context on specific topics. These are good books for me to read, as they help me zoom out and learn about a topic over a longer time period. I still get more value from books that detail someone’s journey, the knowledge they acquired on that journey, and how they applied it in pursuit of their goal.

Week two hundred four was another week of learning. Looking forward to next week!

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Interest: The Price of Time

Warren Buffett once said, “Interest rates power everything in the economic universe, and they have some effect on the decisions we make.” I decided I wanted to learn more about interest, so I bought a few books.

This week I finished reading The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest by Edward Chancellor. Chancellor’s main points are that interest is necessary to allocate capital to its best uses and valuing assets would be impossible without interest. He provides historical content on interest, going back to Babylonian times. I enjoyed how Chancellor detailed the interest-rate environments of various time periods and the impact they had on society and the economy at the time.

I’m glad I read the book. I highlighted many sections I want to revisit someday.

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What Will Fundraising in 2024 Look Like?

This week I caught up with a founder and chatted about his fundraise. He recently kicked it off (again), and it’s going well this time. A few bank wires have cleared and he has significant interest from various funds for the remainder of the round.

This is starkly different from his efforts to fundraise last fall, so I wondered why he’s having more success this time around. Is something materially different about his company (or pitch)? When I asked, he said the company is still progressing at the same rate as a few months ago. He sees a difference in venture capital investors. More investors are receptive to his pitch, which is essentially the same as a few months ago.

In March, we’ll see start-up fundraising kick into high gear: more pitch competitions, demo days, etc. Lots of founders will “officially” kick off their raise and begin pitching investors. Fundraising wasn’t great last year. How will it go this year? I’m curious about whether this founder’s fundraising experience will be the exception, the norm, or somewhere between the two.

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Schweitzer on Wisdom Being Color-blind

I read a quote today from the German missionary Albert Schweitzer that caught my attention:

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight . The truly wise person is colorblind.

This got me thinking about my experience. I’ve learned to balance my thinking in any situation by considering the counter to my natural instincts. For example, if I’m super excited and see lots of upside, I try to think about the downside. Conversely, if I’m hesitant and see lots of risk, I try to think What could go right? and see the upside potential.

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The Mom Test

One of the books I reread periodically and recommend to idea-stage founders is The Mom Test. It’s a short read and can add tremendous value to founders who are thinking about what solution they should build or what problem they want to solve. Every founder I’ve recommended the book to, and who read it, loved it.

The book focuses on a single topic: customer discovery. It outlines a simple, effective methodology for talking with customers. The book details how to ask the right questions (that aren’t leading questions) so conversations yield valuable insights about customer pain and its severity. The book does a good job of laying out an approach that helps founders better understand what (if anything) they should build, which can prevent founders from wasting time, energy, and money. Another reason I like this book for idea-stage founders is that it helps them avoid the common solution-in-search-of-a-problem trap.

If you’re an early-stage founder who hasn’t found product–market fit yet, consider giving the book a read.

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Alibaba’s Nontechnical Founder

I’ve been learning about Jack Ma recently. He’s the founder of Alibaba, the China-based e‑commerce behemoth. As of this writing, the company has a market capitalization (i.e., valuation) of roughly $188 billion. Alibaba has a variety of successful business lines, including a marketplace, cloud computing, and financial services.

Jack is an impressive founder, but one fact surprised me. Alibaba is a technology company, but Jack Ma isn’t technical at all. He doesn’t write code and doesn’t have a deep understanding of tech. Yet he was able to found and scale a wildly successful technology company that changed commerce in his country.

If ever a nontechnical founder building a technology company needed inspiration, Jack Ma was the one. For nontechnical founders, his journey is worth studying.

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Feedback on My Posts

A friend, who’s also an investor, gave me some feedback on my blog. This doesn’t happen often, so I was excited to hear what he had to say. I view any kind of feedback as an opportunity to get better, which is important to me.

Sharing topics that I’m thinking about is helpful to him. But he gets more value from the posts where I go deeper—specifically, when I share personal examples of how I’m acting on what I’ve learned or lessons I’ve learned from past actions related to the topic.

This was timely feedback, as I’ve recently been thinking about knowledge vs. wisdom. I get more value from wisdom and have decided to focus on reading to acquire wisdom this year.

Similarly, according to the feedback from my friend, he gets more value from the posts where I share wisdom and unique insights. I appreciated hearing that. It motivated me. Going forward, I want to write more posts where I share more of what I’ve learned from my successes and failures and the actions I’m currently taking based on what I’ve learned.

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Weekly Reflection: Week Two Hundred Three

This is my two-hundred-third weekly reflection. Here are my takeaways from this week:

  • Financial history – I’ve been reading books on financial history lately. It’s been a great exercise in zooming out to see the big picture, understanding human behavior, and understanding some of the complexity of the financial system. I’m excited to keep learning in this area.
  • Weekly learnings – I’m thinking about ways to share some of the things I learn each week. A friend suggested an idea that I like, and I’m going to solicit other people’s thoughts about it.
  • Practical learning – This week was a reminder that the best way for me to learn is by doing—and that I learn the most when things don’t go as planned.

Week two hundred three was another week of learning. Looking forward to next week!

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