When you work in an office you share ideas with other people every day.
When you’re in business with yourself, it’s up to you to surround yourself with people who have different strengths or areas of technical or business savvy than you. You don’t want to duplicate your skills in others, you want to learn from them. So it’s crucial that you know, or find people who are smart. That goes without saying, perhaps, but it’s worth considering because it’s such a valuable thing to have this seamless web of deserved trust in business, and that begins with you, is enhanced by your business partners and friends, and extends to your clients (who soon, you should hope, will become your business partners and friends). You need to cultivate these friendships. Have lunch, pick up the phone, take a walk. You must get out and find people with whom you can cross-pollinate.
I was reading Steve Jobs’ biography and there’s a story in there about Jobs and Woz. Their partnership was not built on the kind of honesty to it that would seem important to success in business or any relationship. Jobs lied to Woz about a four-day deadline for a project to create the Atari arcade game Breakout. Atari offered Jobs $700 to create a circuit board design for the game with a $5,000 bonus if he could do it using a minimal number of chips. Jobs told Woz to do the work and that they would split the $700, yet lied to Woz about the deadline (there was no deadline from Atari) and neglected to mention the bonus. Though he was already working at Hewlett Packard full time, Woz did complete the task in four days. To give you an idea of how much work was involved, Woz says that most electrical engineers would need two or three months to accomplish the task. Woz went without sleep for four days and finished the project on time. The Jobs-imposed deadline worked.
“The dynamic duo’s finest hour at Atari was the arcade game Breakout. In what at least from the outside has all the markings of a classic codependent relationship, poor Woz was told that they had just four days to get the design done; actually, Jobs just wanted to get finished so he could jet off to attend the harvest at an apple orchard commune in Oregon. (You just can’t make some of this stuff up…) Woz met the deadline by going without sleep for four days straight, and did it using such an impossibly low number of chips that it ended up being un-manufactureable. Atari engineer Al Alcorn:
“Ironically, the design was so minimized that normal mere mortals couldn’t figure it out. To go to production, we had to have technicians testing the things so they could make sense of it. If any one part failed, the whole thing would come to its knees. And since Jobs didn’t really understand it and didn’t want us to know that he hadn’t done it, we ended up having to redesign it before it could be shipped.”
But Jobs made it to the apple festival, and also got that $5000 bonus he neglected to tell Woz about to spend there. Even in 1984 Woz still believed that he and Jobs had earned only $700 for a design that became the big arcade hit of 1976.
If you’re in business for yourself:
1.) Choose your friends and business partners wisely. Jobs chose Woz and was smart to do so. Jobs technical skills with electronics were nowhere near as good as Woz’. So Jobs was smart to give him the work. And obviously Woz made a good business move by hitching his cart to Jobs’ wagon.
2.) Don’t set your own deadlines; they are easy to push forward indefinitely, and you’ll give yourself too much time in some cases to do things that need to get finished. It’s good to get things perfect, but it’s also impossible in many cases to achieve that goal and if you wait you’ll never create a tangible product. So involve others who are ruthless (like Jobs) who expect you to deliver.
I got a call from someone who wants to sell me a video hosting package that I don’t necessarily need right now. I can host my videos for free on YouTube for now, and there’s no monthly fee. But that leaves it up to me to get the work done, make the videos and post them. But I told this sales associate that they could call me in 2 weeks (that’s their deadline imposed on me to intro promo rate that grandfathers me into their network at a special “low rate.”). Do I like the subtle sales pressure of having this deadline by which to buy? No. But I do like that it provides an external deadline, and I do believe I’ll sign up for their service, and once I do it will be stupid not to use it to display videos for my clients. So, for a small monthly video hosting fee I will get the external pressure to deliver work in 14 days. It’s like having your own Steve Jobs setting a deadline for you, and these are the kinds of things you can do to create deadlines to finish your work and show it to the world.
3.) Finish the project and make it as good as you can within that deadline. Realize that it is not perfect, and also that you will want to improve it in coming months with better ideas, parts, or artwork. The important concept is to get Version 1 into the world. Your own internal desire to improve will take care of making things even better in the future.