Monthly Archives: June 2017

Shoe Dog – best business book of the year!

I remember a month or more back being in Kinokuniya with my kids on a book hunt and bumping into Vishal, 500 Startups (congrats on Kaufman BTW), while I was in line asking about a book I could not find. At the counter there was Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and I recall Vishal commenting on how good it was. I told him I would borrow his book when he was done with it. I think since then he has been on the road so I never did borrow that book.

This last month I have been in the states and during a camping trip through Oregon, our family stopped into a huge bookstore (forgot the name but it was awesome), and I saw Shoe Dog staring me down again. Given that the history of Nike centers around Oregon, I figured it only made sense to pick it up there and finally school myself in all things Nike. Wow. What a read.

I generally don’t love reading business books for some reason and although this is not really a business book – it really is one of the best business books I have read in a long time. I had no idea about the origin story of Nike, how it started with Onitsuka Tiger’s (which I love), how close it was to failing all the time, and the type of culture Phil created from day one – even if by accident. There are a ton of lessons in the book, so many that I almost think I need to read it again and take notes.

There was some stuff that really stood out though – the one thing that really impressed me was how Nike was somehow global in thinking from day one. They sought to manufacture overseas from the beginning and were one of the first big corporations to enter China. Phil always loved to travel and experience culture and he used this to get close to other leading figures in target nations to create a bond that could go the distance in business and in friendship. I was severely touched at the end when he recounts the small trips he would share or the private dinners at the houses of certain luminaries – Phil believes in treating people well and it obviously made a huge difference. Of course he also attributes success to some amount of luck or whatever word you prefer. Mine is karma. I believe what goes around comes around. Be kind.

It’s also humbling to see the many legal battles, financial issues and even the battle with his own government as the many hills a startup will climb on their way to making it. The sheer grit and determination is something that I think is missing in today’s tech startup world in some cases – although not all, but I feel that in today’s world we have replaced grit with just cutting corners, skirting the law, hacking or putting others down as a means to gain success. I am not trying to make an across the board comparison but I do think there are ways to get ahead or preservere while being good to your company and respectful of the competition. Not saying Phil is perfect in this regard but he is honest and the parts where he recounts coming to terms with being a sweat shop and how that transformed Nike is a gripping self assessment about how Nike can be a force for good or evil.

The biggest impact though has to be the thread that winds throughout the book discussing the core Nike team and the culture. On this subject I find the book to be a refreshing wakeup call. Phil obviously is a born leader and he made sure he lead and empowered his core team to do their part. One can look at all sorts of amazing leaders and their techniques but it is hard to argue with the success of companies where their leader knows how to hire great people and clear the decks for them to do great work. This core tenant can be practiced at virtually any company of any size. This is coupled with a culture of no bullshit – making sure there are forums for leaders to express themselves, debate and decide is also critical. Then to cap it off there is time set aside to have a beer, chat and further debate stuff that appears to have no easy answer. However you enable it – having some sanctioned down time where leaders get together to be normal and try to sort things out can be very healthy. Beer Friday, a bbq or whatever works to facilitate this – each to his own for how to make it happen.

This culture extends past the company though and into the partners, the suppliers and the customers. It was easy for this thread to touch me given what Phil created applies to my own career since this model works at a VC quite well. We have our own team, our LP’s, our startups and the connections in the ecosystem that all form a nucleus that benefit and feed from each other. Of course the overall view, I can’t sidestep this, is returns. If the startups we invest in do well – the entire network will benefit, but there will be good times and bad times and my hope is to have a guiding light that apart from trying to build returns – we can also just do our best to help. Karma. It still is one of the deciding factors.

I have a new found respect for Nike and might even pick up a pair to go with my Tiger’s and I am sure these shoes will have a deeper meaning after reading this book. Phil touches on going deeper on putting together a cleaner view on the history of Nike and I for one hope this stays on his bucket list.

Indonesia

Suddenly Indonesia is getting a lot of press.

First this KKR report which is a really good read :: http://www.kkr.com/global-perspectives/publications/indonesia-harnessing-its-potential

Now Tim Draper is touring the town :: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-08/billionaire-vc-draper-shifts-attention-from-china-to-indonesia

I like to think I had a small part to play in kicking it all off.

On being an apprentice

Love this post by Tom :: http://tomtunguz.com/apprenticeship/

I think our fast moving tech industry gets so caught up in the hustle and quick wins that we forget it takes time to acquire knowledge. I have always felt that one of the best ways to acquire knowledge is to absorb it from someone who is an expert and who is willing to teach you.

This is what I call being an apprentice. It’s not something to be ashamed of you and any one should jump at the opportunity to be an apprentice. 

Take pride in it.

I consider myself one. 

Updated :: Trickle-down workaholism in startups

Some twitter gold here – challenging the folks in this article to a debate:

This is always a controversial subject and one I have various opinions on.

DHH wrote this up, on medium which is strange, but anyways here is the post: https://www.signalvnoise.com/trickle-down-workaholism-in-startups-a90ceac76426

Personally, I think each person will experience a different pull at various stages of their startups and their lives. I don’t think there is a rule for all of this and I think DHH is making too big a deal out of it.

I have worked at big corporations when I was single and traveling for work – I tended to work a ton of hours. Worked hard and played hard.

I also did some startups and they all were different. Some I worked a ton of hours and loved it but I had the time for it. At a later point in life, once I had kids, I also did a startup and managed to work as needed and do the family thing as needed. I kept weird hours and worked around my family. It was not ideal so to speak but life is usually not ideal. However, the founders were family guys and they also felt that work/life could just be dealt with as needed and there were no hard and fast rules. I appreciated that role a lot due to the timing of when I had a new kid.

Fast forward to today and I am sitting on the other side looking for companies to invest in and helping the companies in my portfolio. At work, I am again blessed to be at a family friendly place where the hours are normal but again employees do what is needed for different periods of time. Basically, the demand is project based and most of us march to our own drums. However, it is difficult to ascertain how the startups we talk to value work/life demands. Of course, we want founders to build a great company and most of the time we don’t know a lot about their personal lives but we do try to learn about them as much as we can without prying. Mostly though I assume founders want to do the right thing and will deal with their time management appropriately but I assume there will be times that one might think a founder is working too much and risks burning out. In that case, I might say something since I generally feel the journey is more of a marathon than a sprint and one has to manage for being in the game a while.

Other times we might have to deal with someone who doesn’t seem to be pulling their weight or is not focusing on their startup which may or may not a function of time spent. All in all, I think each human and each startup is different which is something that needs to be factored.

It is a tough debate.