Mission Before Business, Horse Before Cart

People throw around the word “entrepreneur” like it’s a lifestyle trend. Many fancy themselves an “entrepreneur” with only the curiosity (or perhaps a lust) for building a business. Like movie or rock stars, many successful business leaders keep up a public image. Far too many people subscribe to entrepreneurship because it sounds and looks cool. Most fail to understand the real work involved.

Building a business is very hard. With very few resources at hand, you must pull everything together through favors and very long hours. If you do not truly believe in what you are building, then it will never work. You must have a mission or product you believe in first before chasing your lust for business. Not only that, but you must have a mission or product that can inspire other people to help you and customers to buy from you. That’s a tricky thing to find. Most wannabe entrepreneurs forget that the core mission or product is what it’s all about. And it must come first.

Everyone and his or her mother wants to start a business and be a boss. Nobody will care about you until you give him or her something to sink teeth into. If you cannot offer the world a product that changes lives, then you must start with a mission people can understand, sign on for, and follow to the end. You must get the team on board and excited. And to find success with your business, you must get customers on board and excited as well. As the character Proximo says in Gladiator, “Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom.”

Find your core idea, set your mission, build a product, and then build a business around it. You cannot have a business without something to be busy about.

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5 Reasons to Leave Your Industry Hub and Move Elsewhere

Westward Expansion

Every industry has a central hub. New York for finance and marketing, Silicon Valley for tech, Hollywood for entertainment, etc. These “capitals” boast concentrated resources invaluable to companies on every level. While centralized talent and cash may be great for growing companies, it is not always beneficial for employees or startups. Competition can be fierce, even deadly. And you may be compromising your ideal quality of life by living there.

Friends know I am not a big proponent of the Hollywood community or life in Los Angeles. In fact, I would be happy to see Los Angeles crash and burn (but that’s a post for another day). Nevertheless, I appreciate the things I’ve learned, connections I’ve made and resources I have access to here. But while I support studying in the belly of the beast (I did so through USC Film School and continued employment in Hollywood), I think it may be to your advantage to take that knowledge elsewhere.

Below are five reasons why you should consider moving away and doing your own thing in another city:

  1. Less Competition. Fewer companies competing for business. Fewer qualifiers poaching jobs. Depending on the scope of your business or skill set, it will be far less difficult and expensive to stake a claim with your great idea or robust resume. There may be a smaller talent pool to recruit from and fewer jobs to step into, but you have a greater chance of standing out.
  1. Easier Press Attention. In fresh locales with less competition, you are the cool kid on the block. Almost everything you do can be newsworthy. It is exponentially easier to promote yourself and rise above the noise outside your industry hub. Do you think the Los Angeles Times gives a damn about film shoots anymore?
  1. Quality of Living. If you are liberated to live anywhere, live where you want to. The cost of living could be cheaper, the pursuit of recreation easier, the commute shorter, the schools better, the communities safer and the environment cleaner. Way waste your life accepting surroundings or a lifestyle that fails to enrich your soul?
  1. The Local Hook. You can sell your support for the community as well or better than you can sell your products or skills themselves. Every city is packed with patriots who will gladly help you out if you promote the local angle of your ambition. You may even be able to secure local investment from financiers who simply adore their home town, even if you are situated in a sector outside their expertise. And to differentiate yourself in the national and international market, you can embrace local themes and regional advantages through your marketing, sales and products (Denver is healthy, Detroit is rebooting, Hawaii is beautiful, etc.).
  1. Room for Growth. Industry hubs are wrought with history, tradition, bureaucracy and rules. Moving elsewhere makes it possible to start anew, break rules and bend the future as you see fit. Becoming a local industry expert or thought leader is much easier with less competition and accessible press. By earning that respect, you are better situated to shape the direction of the community at large and make a name for yourself. There is less ladder climbing and more real work being done.

Mark Suster wrote an insightful post this week about building tech communities outside Silicon Valley. For anyone interested in skipping town, I encourage you to read it (even if you are not in the tech industry).

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

L.A. Times sportswriter Walter ‘Red’ Smith said, “There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank piece of paper.” If you set a goal to create, that blank piece of paper is your worst enemy. Starting is always the hardest part.

We stall ourselves with the question, “Where do I start?” It doesn’t matter. Just start. Put something on the page. Do not bother starting from the top, your introduction will come in time. Free yourself from linear thinking. Start at the core of what you want to say, the examples, the conclusion – whatever comes to you first. Free yourself from focused thinking – something irrelevant on the page is better than nothing at all. Who knows what arbitrary thoughts may inspire you?

I started this post with the words, “I don’t know what to write.” Thus, this post was born.

You have no excuses. Go write.

Ideation 101: How to Engineer an Idea

I’m not a creative guy. Many are far more expressive, imaginative and original. To those people, ideas come naturally – they just appear out of thin air. Not for me. And not for most. But don’t worry, there’s hope!

My best subject in school was Math. I see the world in variables and treat every problem as an algebra equation. 2x = 4, so x=2, correct? Find the common denominator and you discover the path to your solution. Putting two and two together. Straightforward.

So it is with the birth of new ideas. Bring two concepts together, find the common denominator between them, and discover inspiration for your new idea. Birthing an idea is a lot like birthing a child – it takes (at least) two parents to tango. The gene pool of one merges with the gene pool of the other and a derivative, yet completely unique person is born. Two merged cells evolve into a very complex organism. Two merged concepts can evolve into a very complex idea.

Try this exercise:

Step 1.  Pick your least favorite subject in grade school.

Step 2.  Pick a hobby you enjoy.

Step 3.  Put them together. Be inspired.

I did not enjoy history and enjoy dining out. Together: history dining? Now that’s a fun idea – a timepiece dining experience? Your server as your historical tour guide? A several course meal tracking the evolution of a dish through time? I could go on!

The trick is not finding root inspiration – we all have interests and disinterests, the world around us. The trick is accepting two different ideas can relate to each other – and identifying how they relate. The more dissimilar and specific the parent ideas are, the more difficult the connection becomes – and the more unique the new idea can be! Stick with it, keep analyzing. You will strike gold. With enough practice, the association between two random ideas becomes virtually automatic.  

The practical application of your newborn idea is the hard part. Ideation 201 anybody?