But how do you feel about your own performance?

Something that has been bouncing around my head since an interview during the Olympics by Matt Lauer with Bode Miller. (I think this is the interview, but since I’m in Germany now, I can’t verify.) Matt asked Bode about a comment that he made regarding the gold not mattering to him. Matt was pushing about whether this was true, and from what I remember if it was disrespectful to the gold or not. Bode made a great point, and I relate to what he said. He does not judge himself by whether he wins the gold or not, it is how he performs compared to how he believes he should have performed.

It is easy to say that Bode is pretending to be above the medal. It isn’t that though. He values the gold, but he values his own judgement of his performance more. No one knows better than you how you could have performed. You know the conditions of the hill, better than you think, even. Yes, there are things out of your control, but that’s part of the sport. It is how you handle yourself on the hill. Did you respond the way you could, or did you hit snooze? This is exactly what Bode meant. Only he knows when he’s performed to his potential … 1 gold, 8 golds, or none. Do you regularly think about how you performed by your own standards?

I do and I find it frustrating. Bode has me on his Zen approach to this. What I love about it is that I do think it holds me to a higher standard overall. I know better than anyone what I can accomplish. However, as Bode points out, winning or losing takes on a different scope. When there is a mismatch between your beliefs on performance and the world’s, it is unsatisfying. Either you feel not worthy of praise because you could have done better, or you feel cheated because you did your best, and it wasn’t recognized.

So, what is the take away? Judge yourself by your own standards, but make sure you hold those standards high. Benchmark yourself with others, still staying true to you.

And why do you want to do it? Because ultimately for you, you do know best. Trust yourself, and challenge yourself.

Be Bode!

So what’s on my shirt today? This is from the Adam Bryant’s interview of Wolters Kluwer CEO, Nancy McKinstry, in the Corner Office column of the New York Times.

Every day, advance the ball

I am proud to announce a €10 million investment that establishes Spreadshirt at a new stage: we’ve outgrown venture financing and are on to growth financing! For those of you not wrapped up in financing stages of companies, this is like leaving your parents’ home after high school, and heading off to college — paid for with loans your parents didn’t co-sign.

Our decision was similar to that of a college decision. First, we had to decide to go to college. Spreadshirt has strong business fundamentals, including great growth. We’ve been investing profits back into the business. An example: we have 50 more people working for us now than we did this time last year. (I’m proud we’ve been able to create these jobs in this economy.) We discussed the option of moving forward without additional financing. As with college, we decided it was best for our future to take a second round of financing to build a stronger company.

Next, we had to decide which college. There is no guide to financing, like Peterson’s for colleges. We were lucky to have Accel, our current investor to help us find the right partner. We defined three main criteria: growth stage investors, strong European and US presence, and complementary network and experience to ours and Accel’s. Kennet Partners fit this, and more. Max Bleyleben and the Kennet team showed us a partnership mentality from the beginning. One example: one of their first steps was to come to our HQ and production facility in Leipzig, Germany.

Max will join Spreadshirt’s board, and has already attended his first board meeting, just 2 days after we closed the investment. He contributed as if he was a long-time member, fitting right into the team, and providing the thoughtful judgment he shows on his blog, Technofile Europe. He has strong business experience across Europe, and speaks four languages fluently — German, Spanish, French and English.

I could talk about Max’s business credentials, but you know what is important to me… does he get our customer, and what they want to accomplish? Well, he proved to me that he did. For Valentine’s Day, he ordered a Spreadshirt hoodie for his wife. It had a heart on it with a message below it that said, “Fire it up!” Max gets us, and we are lucky to get him and Kennet on board!

And if that wasn’t enough good news to share, I also get to add that Accel showed their continued support for our business and invested in this round as well. When I joined Spreadshirt, I had not worked with Accel. I asked around about them, and heard nothing but positive reviews from entrepreneurs. (I’m generally somewhat suspicious of VCs.) After working with them, I cannot say enough good things about working with Accel, and our partner, Harry Nelis.

This investment would not have been possible without the work and dedication of our founders, Lukasz Gadowski and Matthias Spiess, our motivated and smart management team, and our creative and hard working execution team. I am grateful today and each day for all they do to grow Spreadshirt and me!

Please watch Max’s blog and Gründerszene (German) tomorrow for more. I know you’ll enjoy reading these perspectives. After that (and after my head clears a bit from the pneumonia-curing drugs), I’ll share a bit more about Spreadshirt moving forward.

What’s on my shirt today?


    It’s kind of fun
    to do the impossible
    – Walt Disney

P.S. OK, I have to tell you. It’s an up round. Yep, in this economy. I <3 Spreadshirt!

Things I'm thinking: Mean people suck and things can change

I admit it, I have not been a fan of TechCrunch or Michael Arrington. I found the site (led by Arrington) tended to be bubble-ish on hype, post-bubble-ish cynicism, and FoA biased. That said, NO ONE SHOULD SPIT ON MICHAEL ARRINGTON, much less threaten his life. It disturbed me to read Michael’s post about taking a break, particularly because the final straw took place in Germany — my second home.

I’ve seen some spiteful actions related to Spreadshirt’s founder, Lukasz Gadowski. It rarely impacts us at all, just an annoyance. Luckily, Lukasz, Matthias and the team they recruited built a strong company that can withstand spitting like this. It has made me think several times though… why do people spend time and energy trying to tear something down. What is in it for them? Like with Arrington, what was gained by spitting on him?

I know I’ve done some mean things when I was tired or frustrated. I also know I’ve stopped myself from doing them too by taking a breath and remembering, “mean people suck”. Yes, it is human nature to get frustrated and angry. But we can all take that breath too. Spend that energy building something up, take that responsibility, make things better. It is that simple.

Michael, I hope you come back.

Some people would say to the above that things can’t change. I’m going to give you two examples now of how they have.

David Henderson, former CBS news correspondent, posted a quick note today on how crisis management is changing. I loved his first line:

Web 2.0 has changed crisis response in the world of PR from “announcements” by an organization to a “conversation.”

While it hasn’t taken the world over, as it takes change on both the side of the journalists and corporations, it is happening. In 10 years, crisis management will be nothing like it was for the last 30 years, and the direction towards conversation is a positive direction, because few crises are black and white. There is always more story, and we learn more from conversations than sound bites.

Somewhat similarly, SuperBowl ads are changing to conversations. The water cooler chatter is extending to before the Super Bowl, and the driving force after. I look at what is happening is a transition from brand image implantation to brand experience. As Brian Carr pointed out in his post about “after the ad”, it is becoming less about the brand image being burned in with follow-up ads, and more about the conversations before and after the Super Bowl.

Both of these changes point to conversations with your customers being increasingly important. Social media strategies — real, interactive, aggressive strategies — must be on your list. And this shouldn’t be just to “be there”, but to converse. Who are your examples of companies that do this well? Who is from the old economy who has made the transition?

And to add some fun to the end of this serious post, check out this great watch I found today:
Faceless Watch
Found on Geek & Hype.

What does my shirt say today? What else…

Mean
people
suck

How tech cycles and Microsoft launching tees relate

Dave Winer, the father of RSS [insert humble bow here], wrote a great post this week: Soon it will be time to start over, again. It is about the tech industry and how we get lost in our own complexity, and can’t break that direction easily. So younger folks — the ones who chose not to follow the current leaders — come in and re-write the tech in a simpler way, and thus begin a new tech cycle. These young folks will in 5-10 years be replaced by another group who don’t want to get mired in the spaghetti code of years past, and bring another level of innovation.

I only disagree with one point in Dave’s article, and I do so humbly. Dave attributes the complexity to engineers, and their love of complexity. I disagree. I think the problem is that humans suck at change, particularly when that change involves thinking differently and destroying what we built before. We have pride in what we thought and built for the most part. It is difficult to deconstruct that without blaming ourselves, so we try to improve on what we’ve done, rather than re-doing.

And of course, there is the fear of not being successful with the “new way”, and thus destroying the “old way” revenue in the process. So, I am not saying it is “simple”, just that it is not due to engineers liking complexity. Most engineers I know actually really appreciate simplicity. They crave it, and often see they aren’t achieving it, but don’t see the path to how to achieve it from where they are.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Apple continues to post wins. Imagine how Apple changed their thinking with the ipod. “We build Macs. We don’t build Walkmans — a lower life form.” I can hear it being said. Steve Jobs is one of those thinkers/learners with the credibility to back him up, that gives you a company that does evolve — and even he and Apple have had their challenges.

On how he does it, I believe one key aspect is self-criticism. If you accept that you will make some wrong decisions — despite how smart you are, and how much you work — then you can rethink in new ways. The focus becomes one of learning, and I see Steve Jobs as being great at that. One simple example, after MobileMe got panned, what was Steve Job’s response? A note to the entire company that said (quoted from a Heise Online article):

“It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store. We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence”.

Jobs wrote, in his self critical email, that the MobileMe problems showed that Apple needed to “learn more about Internet services. And learn we will.”

I don’t think this challenge in responding to new capabilities/technologies is true just of tech companies. I wish I could say that one of my fav companies, Southwest, has made a “cycle shift”, but they haven’t. P&G made a shift about 5 years ago to focus more on bringing outside innovation in and has posted incredible success with their program. I would use them as a great example of a company that can overcome “cycle shifts” in some of their many industries. I agree with Dave that Google hasn’t shown an ability to shift yet. What companies do you think are examples that can make “cycle shifts”?

And now back to the title, an example of a company that continues to try to make a shift, but it doesn’t seem to work. I know we all have our favorite MS blunder example: my personal ones are MS’s push into push technology and the fizzle of MS Live, because I was related to both of these launches and saw them more from the inside. New is that MS is lauching a t-shirt line, which I learned from Harry McCracken’s Technologizer: Microsoft’s Latest Innovation… T-Shirts!

My fav part: They are delivering it on December 15th, which is two weeks after the Christmas selling season starts — late on shipping even their t-shirts.

My fav shirt: I’m a fan of the greenscreen … it’s simple! ;-)

Microsoft Softwear Greenscreen T-shirt

Microsoft has ridden many tech cycles and they are still a significant player in our industry, so you can be successful without riding the tech cycles, but you have to be big to do it. Now, I am not thinking Microsoft wants to become a t-shirt company. They clearly have seen that t-shirts are great for brand promotion. [Aside: I love that they get that!] However, to get the brand promotion, people have to love the shirts and wear them. Here Microsoft is not playing to their strengths, like Apple did with the ipod — there was a need for good design, simplicity in that market, and most important, their customers were the type that would use the product. Microsoft is not good at hip and stylish, and their customer group isn’t known for wearing t-shirts proudly. Partnering with a rapper doesn’t get you there, but rather it confuses people.

I might buy “I used to love her”, but I need to learn more about Common’s song and make sure that’s a message I can wear. Of course, I think I’ll wait until the after Christmas sale. ;-)

So, what is a message I know I can wear on my shirt today?

For every dilemma, there is an epigram
For every epigram, there is a t-shirt

Inspired by this quote: “Somewhere in the world there is an epigram fro every dilemma”, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.

For the more detail-oriented reader, my favorite definition of epigram is an epigram itself:

What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The impact of timing: why this financial crisis is our biggest break

Yesterday the Guardian posted an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers: The Story Of Success. I enjoy reading Gladwell’s work, even though I find it a bit rambling and missing some structure that woud improve impact. Maybe he means it that way?

The main part of the excerpt is about how “genius” can be tracked to practice/hard work, specifically narrowing to about 10,000 hours of practice being required. Good, interesting information with several fun studies and stories to back it up.

Another (more dispersed) piece of the excerpt is about timing. Here are the two points made about the “timing” of genius:

  • Take ice hockey in Canada: look at any team and you will find that a disproportionate number of players will have been born in the first three months of the year. This, it turns out, is because the cut-off date for children eligible for the nine-year-old, 10-year-old, 11-year-old league and so on is January 1. Boys who are oldest and biggest at the beginning of the hockey season are inevitably the best. And so they get the most coaching and practice, and they get chosen for the all-star team, and so their advantage increases – on into the professional game.
  • …an astonishing 14 on the [Forbes 75 richest people in history] list are Americans born within nine years of each other… [snip, snip]… almost 20% of the names come from a single generation – born between 1831 and 1840 in a single country. The list includes industrialists and financiers who are still household names today: John Rockefeller, born in 1839 (the richest of the lot); Andrew Carnegie, 1835; Jay Gould, 1836; and JP Morgan, 1837.

    [snip, snip] It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade. What that list says is that it was absolutely critical, if you were going to take advantage of those opportunities, to be in your 20s when that transformation was happening.

    If you were born in the late 1840s, you missed it – you were too young to take advantage of that moment. If you were born in the 1820s, you were too old – your mindset was shaped by the old, pre-civil war ways.

Today, many of us are feeling limited by timining — specifically, why did this financial crisis have to hit now, just as we were hitting a stride. Re-read this sentence about why 20% of the 75 richest people in history come from one country and one period:

It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade.

While it is scary, this financial crisis is the breaking of our traditional economy. What is amazing is that this is happening on a global scale. It isn’t just about one country, but about one large global economy that is being broken. Now, it is our time to remake it.

Since many of you reading my blog are near my age, you will also be thinking about the next sentence that said you had to be in your 20s to take advantage of that. But read the next paragraph: This is your choice. Don’t be stuck in your mindset that was shaped by the old, pre-global economy, pre-financial correction days. You can look at our situation as Sequoia did in their famous RIP Good Times session for their entrepreneurs, or you can look at this as a new economy. How will it be remade? What do you know now that will be wrong for the future? What will be right?

When I read Titan, I thought I could learn a great deal from Mr. Rockefeller, but I never imagined I would be living in similar times as him. This excerpt is making me think differently on this, and I am feeling excited and ready for the challenge — even though you have to divide by 2 to get me to 20.

What is on my shirt today? A quote from Madeline Albright at a recent Wellesley dinner (see #3):

 Be confident
but not certain

I would add a third important point to Mr. Gladwell’s points: practice, timing, and support. Mr. Gladwell mentions this too in passing. For the hockey players, it is the ones that go the most coaching. In speaking of Mr. Gates and Mr. Joy it was access to computers (and specifically the people who gave them that access). Remember to support each other!

What's in my bag?

I have a heavy briefcase-backpack. Everyone asks me why. My reason is that I have an overwhelming need to be prepared. So, if you want to check out the contents of a workaholic, overly prepared, frequent global traveler, check out my annotated picture on flickr:

[Stinky IE won't show the picture embedded with annotations. You can see it on flickr here.]

My top 5:

Important technology for me:

  • A microphone and speakers for good quality conference calls.
  • An Apple Airport so I always have my own wireless network.
  • Bluetooth headsets for my phone and my computer. I pace while I talk.
  • An extra battery for my laptop.
  • My camera with Eye-Fi wireless SD card.

There isn’t a lot of room for anything else, but sometimes I do carry an umbrella!

What’s on my shirt today? One of my favorite CNN shirts:

This flight’s late 92.3% of the time

You can buy it here. I will tell you that your fellow passengers will like it, but the gate agents do not!