Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 41: Chris Schroeder and Andy Cunningham

There are only two emotions in startups — utter ebullient enthusiasm and outright terror.

Here’s the big thing about tech companies: They all believe that if they build it, the world will come, but it doesn’t really work that way.

The reality distortion you create is imperative to be able to believe what you’re doing, and get the people around you to believe what you’re doing. But you must find ways to check those realities.

A founder’s conviction will help get a startup off the ground. Hubris can kill it.

Why it’s important for entrepreneurs to temper confidence with regular reality checks was the focus of the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Chris Schroeder

Chris Schroeder

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

Andy Cunningham

Andy Cunningham

Listen to my full interviews with Chris and Andy by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Chris Schroeder is an American entrepreneur, advisor and investor in interactive technologies and social communications.  

He wrote the first book on startups in the Arab World, Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, and was previously the CEO and Publisher of washingtonpost.newsweek interactive and co-founder of HealthCentral.com, sold in 2012.

In his work with startups, Chris notices that founders tend to think investors hold some magic key to their success. He reminds them to look to themselves:

Don’t be in awe of money. I think across the board, young people think that if all that happens, if Sequoia invested in my company, everything will get taken care of.

First of all, most of your customers don’t know or care who any of these venture firms are.

Second, the individuals who invest in you are invariably more important than the venture firms themselves. For customers the venture firm brands don’t matter. For you and your startup it’s the individuals inside those firms who will either make your life miserable or who really understand what it takes to help you build your company. It’s your company. You are the entrepreneur.

Just because someone happens to have access to wealth, more often than not, they haven’t done what you’ve done. They don’t know what you do.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

And while believing in oneself is critical, it’s equally important for a founder to validate his vision, he says:

You create a reality distortion field, and the power of your narrative is to be able to believe what you’re doing, get the people around you to believe what you’re doing, and to get employees passionately dedicated to work it.

But there’s a very fine line between believing your own spin and taking a dispassionate views of what you’re doing and not getting lost in your own narratives.

You must find ways –without getting caught in 360 degrees of advice– to check those realities, because you can get trapped by naysayers who say it can’t happen or it’s a bad idea. But on the other hand, you can believe in things so deeply and just sort of get trapped in believing in your own idea. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Andy Cunningham is the founder and president of Cunningham Collective, a brand strategy firm dedicated to bringing innovation to market.

Andy came to Silicon Valley in 1983 to work for Regis McKenna and help Steve Jobs launch the Macintosh. When Steve left Apple to form NeXT, he chose Cunningham Communication to represent him. Andy continued to work with Steve for several years and has developed marketing, branding and communication strategies for game-changing technologies and companies ever since.

An entrepreneur at the forefront of marketing, branding, positioning and communicating “The Next Big Thing,” she has played a key role in the launch of a number of new categories including video games; personal computers; desktop publishing; digital imaging; RISC microprocessors; software as a service; very light jets; and clean tech investing. She is an expert in creating and executing marketing, branding and communication strategies that accelerate growth, increase shareholder value and advance corporate reputation. 

Andy says world-class founders exude confidence and refuse to listen to the naysayers:

You have to believe in yourself and realize that it’s lonely at the top. If you can live with being lonely and if you can believe in yourself, then just go for it.

Be crazy, be wild, just go for it and don’t listen to anybody telling you that it can’t be done.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here 

However, to be successful, founders must be more than confident and passionate, she says:

Here’s the big thing about tech companies: They all believe that if they build it, the world will come.

You have to believe that because it’s all about believing in yourself, but it doesn’t really work that way. That’s where marketing comes into play.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Chris said the hardest thing about doing an internal startup at the Washington Post was to convince others in the company to share his vision for the new interactive product:

I probably spent 30 percent of my time in shuttle diplomacy between departments inside the Washington Post, convincing them that if we did not leap into the future, the future would be would be taken from us.  

The good news was that you had amazing clay to play with –  amazing content, amazing journalists and journalism – and you could rethink worlds powerfully.  

The down side of it was a lot of the legacy businesses at the Washington Post, particularly on the business side, didn’t understand the interactive and online business and felt threatened by us.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Keeping the interactive unit separate from the rest of the company helped, he said. But he wonders if the company could have made a bigger move:

They were very smart to break us off. We were a separate company completely, reporting to the Board in a separate physical space and for a time, to give us cover, I think that was important – at first.

What ended up happening, however, was we were eventually subsumed under the traditional media business. I think the one audacious step would have been the reverse that, have the print people working for the interactive people.  At the end that what’s happening to journalism and the Washington Post.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Here’s how Chris compares his intrapreneurial experience at the Washington Post with what it was like to do a startup:

There are only two emotions in startups — utter ebullient enthusiasm and outright terror.  

The good news is that when I was doing HealthCentral, I didn’t have to ask anybody’s explanation for anything, I didn’t have to worry about newspaper circulation being affected as I did in the intrapreneurial experience I had at the Washington Post.

The bad news is that as a startup founder you have no brand, you have no balance sheet, you have investors behind you, you have employees that you’re responsible for, you have an impact you’re trying to make on people’s lives while building a business. Every day was a sine wave of highs and lows of figuring that out.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Andy explained that, years ago, a PR person’s was to turn so-called influencers like journalists and analysts into advocates for your client. That goal hasn’t changed, but the playing field has:

What I do today is what I really did in the old days, which is to make sure that the story is differentiated and compelling.

When there was only a small number of influencers, it was a little bit easier to do. Now today, there are zillions of influencers and they don’t have to be anyone famous. They can just be somebody who writes a blog.

With social media and with bloggers and with the cable TV and all the different networks that you can get on television and radio like this, everybody you look at is an influencer now. It’s a lot harder to target it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

The way to get influencers’ attention is to show how you’re different from everyone else. This is called positioning and it’s different from marketing. Here’s how Andy did explained it to a client:

I reverse-engineered the process that I’d been going through for decades and out of all the hundreds and hundreds of companies I’d worked with, there was really only three types of companies.

First, there are product-oriented companies, like Microsoft or Oracle;

Second, there are customer-oriented companies like Zappos or Airbnb; and

Third, there are concept-oriented companies like Apple was in the early days. 

I gave product-oriented companies the nickname of mechanics, I gave customer-oriented companies the nickname of mothers and I gave concept-oriented companies the nickname of missionaries.

In the end, it’s about how you tell the story, and the center of that story has to be a differentiated statement about your role and your relevance in the market.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Positioning must be authentic, she stresses:

Here’s the thing about great positioning or great PR: You have to be aligned with who you are.

It’s like I can’t go out into the marketplace and convince people that I am a blonde ballerina. I’m not blonde and clearly I’m no ballerina. Because my DNA tells me I’m really more like a racquetball player I can’t pretend to be a ballerina for very long before I get found out.  

The same is true with companies. If you’re a product-oriented company and you want to be a missionary — which many of them do, in a very short amount of time the marketplace will find out you’re not authentic.

You have to align who you are, your DNA, with how you position yourself in the marketplace.

If you can’t hear the clip, click

Listen to my full interviews with Chris and Andy by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Sunny Shah, assistant director of the Engineering, Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s Program at the University of Notre Dame and Curt Haselton, co-founder of the Haselton Baker Risk Group.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

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