Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Reluctant Entreprenuer

If you Build It... They will Ridicule You?
This week marks the 25th anniversary of when Tim Berners Lee first proposed his vision of The World Wide Web. There are 2 opposing thoughts I would like you to consider as you read this post;

1) How different your job would be today without the internet
2) How difficult it was for Berners Lee to get people to buy into the concept - Here's a Ted Talk about The day I turned down Tim Berners-Lee.

Educators may also want to consider how much money Berners-Lee got for his work & idea, the reason I mention this is because of the disconnect that there appears have been with suppliers and educators at SXSWEdu. I have highlighted why I believe this happens and discuss some solutions in my "Startup Education" post and EdTech Report.

Uninspiring EdTechWe all know that their are inspiring teachers out there; as well not so inspiring educators, the same goes for EdTech. While there are mechanisms to find and assist educators who could use a little extra support... there is less of an infrastructure to help identify the inspiring Vs poor edtech.

Sure there is
EdSurge product index, Graphite, C4LTP Top 100 Tools, EdChats and membership associations like BESA, but they don't necessarily sync with one another... and then there is the fact that relatively few educators use them at the moment when making purchasing decisions - evidence perhaps that salespeople have their uses? ;).

Te@ch Stories - Personal Brand Vs "Pre-Revenue" StartUp?
Depending on whether I'm using the left or right half of my brain Te@ch Stories can alternate between being a "personal brand" and a pre-revenue startup. "Startups"... you know... those cool, hip and trendy things that are all the rage at the moment.

So many people are advocating all things "startup" today. I even read an article this week which suggested that "sole traders and startups are the future of business in Britain." We also see Educators getting behind this message. While anyone of the 200+ young enterprise agencies I have sources might tell you how great entrepreneurship is, this has not necessarily been my experience. Indeed, I wonder how many founders actually feel the same way as me, but are too full of bluster and bravado to admit it?

I have worked for a couple of startups over the last 13 years and do enjoy being around *most* of the people who make up this can-do, creative, growth mindset, disruptive, positive group. However, there are a few aspects of startups that I sure am definitely NOT a fan of! These negative aspects are significant. Indeed, if I found out that the job I was looking for existed, I might just decide to camp outside the organisations' office until they employed me. But I've not been able to find the job I want. 

Indeed some of the organisations I have spoken to, who would benefit from this idea, have gone so far as to tell me they do not believe that my idea is possible. I choose to ignore this advice and will continue to create my "Dream Job" for myself, but may involve me having to establish my own company. This would not be my preference and is most definitely NOT the easiest route.

If I do go ahead and become a fashionable "Founder and CEO," I will do so reluctantly, Furthermore, I will proceed not in spite of some contradictions I have about Tech and start ups, but because of them. I believe my perspective just might prove to be something of an advantage...

An Awkward "Cross Dominant Perspective 
In "The Left hander Syndrome" Stanley Coren suggests that there are various degrees of "Handedness" (ie people who write with their left hand, but prefer right for "skill actions" "reaching actions" "power actions" and "bimanual actions"). Coren details findings from his sports studies, where he discovered that; 

"The idea that left-handers dominate baseball turns out to be a myth... [However] Individuals who have crossed hand-eye preference tend to do considerably better than others. This advantage may have to do with the stance used by the batter. A right-handed batter generally stands parallel to the home plate with his left side, and hence his left eye, toward the pitcher. The bat is held to the right of his body, ready to swing to the left. The stance is perfect for someone who is right-handed and left-eyed (crossed sided). As the dominant eye is usually used for sighting and aiming, having the preferred eye toward the pitcher should have an advantage. Certainly our data show that crossed dominant hitters do tend to do better in Baseball"

I am left-handed and was often termed awkward at school, this awkwardness seems to have followed me into adulthood, given what some may see as my awkward "cross dominant" views on tech, edtech, startups and education;
  • TechProponent - I love the innovative things that developers and the visionaries achieve, without Napster and Apple would ipods and digital downloads be ubiquitous? Or would the music industry still be fighting legal battles with the pirates and clinging to their model of "You need to by an expensive album or pay £3 for the CD single?"

    - While I admire what these early adopters and visionaries create, I most certainly have laggard tendencies! I still don't own a kindle and lament the thought of my "old fashioned books" getting harder to find. I have a useless Blackberry as I like phones with keypads as opposed to touch screens.
  • EdTech
    Proponent - Great EdTech should accomplish what Mike Fienberg suggests "Great teaching and more of it. Tech should free up time educators spend on admin tasks, so that can spend more time teaching during class time; And/or should facilitate students to learn outside of class time. 

    - Bare room with a master educator Vs classroom with all the tech in the world and a mediocre teacher... which class would you want your children to attend? Its the Te@ch... Not the Tech!
  • Startups Proponent - I love the can-do attitude of startups, the belief, passion, energy, enthusiasm and vision that founders when they believe they have identified inefficiencies in their market, which the established players in the industry have been blind-sided to.

     - I hate the struggle, the spending over 10 years with startups that said all the right things but failed to deliver, the "bootstrapping" a euphamism for scrimping and scraping, the "needle in a haystack" search for like-minded people in the market to "get" your idea, understand the potential and become a proponent of the fledgling idea, then for the market to catch up with your ideas... Then of course, you face the challenge of finding ways to scale your idea before the established players try to replicate the idea they had rejected when you approached them, but now try to cut off your access to "their market".

    Something else I am not a huge fan of is all the buzz around all things "startup" being a "pre-revenue startup" was once a euphemism
     for being unemployed, today its cool. As soon as I get confirmation that my ideas would make a viable business I have no interest in being a "startup" for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
  • Educators
    Proponent - There are so many commentators who extol the value of education so don't feel I need to add much here, except to say that they inspire generations without any fanfare - Two of my favourite examples are Steve Job's 4th Grade teacher Mrs Hill and Kipp founders mentor Mrs Ball.

    Detractor - I'm not a fan of ineffective or uninspiring teachers, but see this as a problem of the system more than the individual. Again plenty has been written about this.

    Something else I am not so keen on is the way educators and government are  as keen for people to jump on the "startup is great" bandwagon like the head of a wagon train leaders was in the 1849... "Thar's gold in that there StartUpLand"
     In "The Richest Man in Babylon" George Clason's hero Arkad suggests that;

    "He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions"
Are Startups the new Gold Rush? Head to StartUpLand my son? 
Now I sure don't consider myself to be any entrepreneur... If I did I would be advising FE on how to bring more revenue as a way of saying entrepreneurship is great rather than lending my name to a program for students (Something I did make an attempt at with my Business Development Report). I have, however, spent some time in StartUpLand and have an interest in education... I am also someone who grew up when "Get a job in IT" seemed to dominate career advice.

Today there are overtures of "Head to the bright lights of Startupland." However, perhaps a little like Vagas, Startupland might look all bright and shiny from a distance but it sure can have some ugly areas when you get up close... and may not be for everyone. Just ask Bitcoin...

Add my views of tech, startups and education to the disdain I have for the banking industries practices, and you can imagine how intrigued I am to see how Bitcoin will play out. We have seen politicians response to this sector, which is to continue to fund an unethical and inept industry that they decided was "too big to fail," while the banks are too arrogant to change their practices. With my awkward "pro-innovator-conservative-consumer" stance I have been cheering on Bitcoin from the sidelines, and hoping one day these visionaries will massively disrupt this sector enough so that I can make the move from banks to Bitcoin.

I won't pretend to know what has happened with the Gox exchange and some of the other bad press, but I am aware that the Bitcoin early pioneers are facing significant challenges... Just like other early adopters like Pirate radio and Napster did. I admire what these groups achieve, but it sure ain't easy!

There are a lot of enterprise initiatives in education and, as someone with experience in startupland and an interest in students' outcomes, I wanted to highlight what Coren might identify as a "Cross Sided" perspective of spending some time in Startupland, so wrote this - completely fictional ;) - short story about The Reluctant Entreprenuer


  1. I think you touch on quite a lot of aspects of what it might be like to be an entrepreneur. Although, even though I'm now on my third startup (which is a not-for-profit this time), I still feel like a beginner at the mercy of coincidence and fate (or as I see it - divine providence...). On reflection, I think it's so complicated because people start businesses for all sorts of reasons. Social Kudos, Self-Worth, Greed, Agression and Ego are usually present in some quantity - which can make for a fairly unpleasant startup community. Add to that naivety, impatience, inexperience and incompetence, and it's no wonder that so many start-ups fail.

    Getting a start-up off the ground is a bit like starting a war. If you knew how it was going to pan out, you probably wouldn't do it - and you certainly won't be in Berlin by Christmas. You do have to be pretty clear on the vision of what it is you're trying to do, yet be comfortably flexible with the plans, as they tends to change week to week.

    But I say - better to have tried and lost, than never to have tried at all. (apparently this applies to love too...). I made most of my bigger mistakes with my first company, and I'm very glad I did.

    1. Your comments remind me of "No Fear, No Cash" where the author suggests that your plans will take twice as long and three times as much capital as you expect.

      You're absolutely right I would rather fail trying than never to have given it a go! Love Teddy Roosevelt's observation on this topic;

      “It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt