Inc.'s editor relates memorable quotes from business owners who've dropped by the office for lunch; plus, he addresses the fear many entrepreneurs have that they succeeded due to luck, not skill.
Notes from the guest register
One of the great rewards of working at Inc. is the opportunity to meet and talk business with a stream of fascinating people who regularly drop by for lunch at our offices on Commercial Wharf in Boston. No visitor leaves without giving us some new insight into the world we write about--or at least a good yarn. Here's a sampling from some recent lunches:
--Jerry Yang, cofounder of Yahoo!, the Internet media company
"I'm proud never to have worked in a single business that had an SIC code. As a matter of fact, when I finally end up in a business with an SIC code, it will be time for me to take a real hard look at what I'm doing."
--Eric Kriss, two-time Inc. 500 CEO and founder of Workmode Inc., in Boston, his third start-up, on the gap between the real economy and the one recorded in government statistics
"I keep telling them that we're not geniuses but only a little ahead of the curve."
--Jim Ansara, founder and CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction, a five-time Inc. 500 company based in Boston, who wants his people to remember that the company's success owes as much to a strong economy as to anything Shawmut's doing right
"Smart? It's not about being smart. It's about being able to recognize when you do something accidentally that in hindsight looks smart."
--Nick Reed, cofounder and CEO of Paragon Biomedical Inc., a contract research business based in Irvine, Calif.
"We knew it was time to get a real office when we had six people working in our home, and one morning our 20-year-old son came stumbling out of his room and found one of our assistants working in the hallway, whereupon he turned around and went back to bed."
--Gena Teed, president of Paragon Biomedical
"We were talking to our venture capitalist, Mike Moritz, and he asked, 'What are you going to charge for service?' We said, 'Actually, we thought we wouldn't charge anything.' So he asked, 'Then what are you going to charge for licensing?' We said, 'We thought we'd give that away free. You know, more eyeballs, building traffic and brand.' Moritz looked at us and said, 'So how are you going to make money?' We said, 'Gee, we don't know. We were hoping you'd help us with that.' "
--Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang, recounting an early meeting that he and cofounder David Filo had with their venture capitalist, Michael Moritz
"What I really wanted was to do this."
--Dwayne Walker, founder, president, and CEO of Techwave Inc., an e-commerce start-up in Seattle, explaining why he left Microsoft to launch his own business. When he announced his intention, Microsoft had asked him to list what he wanted and then had agreed to match all his wishes--except the one he cared about most
The great fear
I've long believed that one of the biggest barriers to entrepreneurship is the fear of discovering that our achievements owe less to our own individual intelligence, imagination, and hard work than we'd like to believe. That idea--that many of us derive confidence and self-esteem from our relationship with an institution--may strike some people as a relic of the 1950s. But how else can we account for the fact that, despite all the hype about entrepreneurship, every day about 90% of employed Americans still get up and go to work for a paycheck signed by someone else--a percentage that's changed only slightly in recent times?
That question came to mind as I was reading Harriet Rubin's popular " Peter's Principles" (March), in which she wrote about seeking advice on starting a business from the world's most renowned soloist, Peter F. Drucker. Shortly thereafter, we asked her to start keeping a journal chronicling her own entrepreneurial odyssey.
The first installment of her journal appears in this issue. (See " Diary of a Soloist.") I recommend it to experienced entrepreneurs as well as to those just starting out. It provides a compelling answer to the question I'm most often asked about the entrepreneurial process: But what's it like? What's it really, really like?
Edward O. Welles
Senior writer Edward O. Welles's cover story in January 1997, " The Bad Boys of Wall Street," explored one of his favorite themes: how young companies like Block Trading, the subject of the article, are using technology to challenge the economic models of large, established companies or even whole industries--in this case, Nasdaq's market makers. Readers loved the story. According to cofounder Chris Block, "thousands and thousands" of them called or E-mailed the company directly. More recently, the story was named a finalist in the Individual Feature category of the 13th annual Computer Press Awards.
Building a $1.3-billion business in 15 years isn't enough for PSS/World Medical founder, chairman, and CEO Patrick Kelly. He also enjoys telling other people how to do it, as the many fans of his Inc. column can attest. Now he has teamed up with Inc. editor-at-large John Case to write an entire book on the subject. The book, Faster Company: Building the World's Nuttiest, Turn-on-a-Dime, Home-Grown, Billion-Dollar Business, is published by John Wiley & Sons and costs $24.95, with all proceeds going to the Boys Home Foundation. Better buy a copy fast: it's already in its second printing.
Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.
Irvin D. Yalom's Mind Matters column has already gained a loyal following after only three appearances in the magazine (most recently in July). Now Inc. readers who've enjoyed Yalom's stories will be able to catch them on the big screen. His most recent novel, Lying on the Couch (HarperCollins, 1997), has just been optioned by Columbia Pictures for Harold Ramis to produce and direct. In her New York Times review of the best-selling book, Sally Abrahms wrote that it raised "important questions about truth-telling on both sides of the couch." And now it will be coming soon to a theater near you.
David H. Freedman
Following the publication of " Corps Values," our April cover story, contributor David H. Freedman was deluged with letters from readers who thought he was right on in his analysis of the management lessons that the U.S. Marine Corps can teach business owners seeking to build fast-reacting organizations. OK, we admit that many of those letters came from marines, but there were also some from book publishers who, after frenzied bidding, made Freedman an offer he couldn't refuse. The winning bidder, HarperBusiness, will publish Freedman's book-length treatment of the subject sometime in 1999. Semper fi.