Monday, 27 October 2008

The NYT and the IHT need to be more entrepreneurial

Forgive me for banging the same drum, but the NYT and its bankers must recognise the need for game-changing ideas. If they can't come from within, they must look outside. (Research and Development being a central pillar of the NYT's strategy, as declared in its 2007 annual report.)

Here are some of Mr. Sulzberger's declarations made in his keynote speech at the Webby Connect conference last week.

“If you’re not prepared to occasionally fail, you’re not trying hard enough.”

He talked a lot about "intelligent content delivery" and how the newspaper’s research and development division, which was created in 2006, is working toward that goal while the NYT searches for business models that will sustain growth online.
That's all fine but multi-platform delivery, for a fragmented audience, is in MHO, only a small part of the equation in saving the NYT. An important one, but not a game-changing one, something I am sure they know.

Here's some food for thought from today's IHT if and when the NYT Company looks for external help, or if it already has.
The care and feeding of entrepreneurs
By Marci Alboher
Sunday, October 26, 2008
GUY KAWASAKI is a best-selling author of seven books on entrepreneurship, a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures, the co-founder of, an "online magazine rack," and a popular public speaker and blogger.
Previously, Kawasaki worked at Apple, where he was appointed to the Apple Fellow program, which recognizes employees who have made extraordinary contributions to personal computing. His latest book, "Reality Check" (Portfolio), is a compilation of his advice, interviews and musings on all aspects of entrepreneurship.
I interviewed Kawasaki through a series of e-mail messages after he persuaded me that he was much funnier in writing than on the phone. The following is a condensation of our e-mail exchange:
Q. "Reality Check" includes a venture capital aptitude test in which you opine on the types of people who are best qualified for careers in venture capital. Your test awards points to those with backgrounds in sales or engineering and subtracts points for those with M.B.A. degrees or backgrounds in management consulting, investment banking or accounting. What's behind this philosophy?
A. Ideally, a venture capitalist would add value beyond writing a check. This includes experience with difficult situations and insights into building a company. Consulting, investment banking and accounting do not provide you with "on the firing line" experience. You're always the "outside expert" who zooms in, interviews a few people, creates a PowerPoint presentation and then tells people what they should do.
Unfortunately, analysis and ideas are easy. Implementation is hard. A consultant can tell you to reduce your work force by 10 percent, but figuring out who to lay off and looking people in the eyes when you do it is much harder.
Q. When someone comes to you with a business idea or a request for advice, what traits or behaviors are immediate tip-offs to you that someone has the entrepreneurial gene, or is lacking it?
A. The more I meet with entrepreneurs the less I think I can pick them. Sure, there are stereotypes: bright, aggressive, enthusiastic, young, etc. But there are many successful entrepreneurs that don't come off this way.
The richest vein I have seen is two guys/gals who want to create a tool that they themselves want to use. This describes, for example, Google, Yahoo and Apple. I have come to believe that almost everyone has the entrepreneurial gene; it's been necessary for survival for thousands of years.
The issue is whether that gene is expressed, and the only way to really "know" is with retroactive, after-the-fact analysis. Unfortunately, venture capital doesn't work this way. You take your best shot and pray, then you thank God if you're right a few times.
Q. Everyone is consumed with the evaporation of the credit markets these days. Yet many experts say that small business will be the source of growth and new jobs in this economy. Do you agree?
A. This is populist, wishful pabulum. It's easy to say that entrepreneurs will create jobs and big companies will create unemployment, but this is simplistic. The real question is who will innovate. A 50-year-old company can innovate as well as two guys/gals in a garage.
Q. What is your advice to entrepreneurs seeking funding or growth opportunities if the credit and capital markets continue on their current course?
A. My advice is that they melt wax into their ears and go forward. If they are waiting for wonderful credit and capital markets, they probably aren't entrepreneurs. They're much more likely to be consultants and bankers looking to quickly flip a company.
Q. Other than the obvious, like renewable sources of energy, can you predict some sectors where you expect to see the next wave of entrepreneurial activity?
A. I can't. I'm not a visionary à la Steve Jobs. I'm a marketer. Hopefully I can recognize visions that can sell, but I can't predict the next big thing until someone shows it to me.
Q. You have strong opinions on what makes a successful pitch, for everything from writing a business plan to hiring the right people to closing a deal or giving a presentation. Give us some of your golden rules for pitching.
A. There are only two golden rules of pitching, whoever obeys these rules gets the gold. First, be able to explain in 30 seconds what your company does. Almost no one is capable of doing this. Second, when using PowerPoint, use 10 slides that you can cover in 20 minutes with fonts no smaller than 30 points. It's called the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. Almost no one does this either.
Q. You dedicate a few amusing chapters in "Reality Check" to lies told by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, engineers, business partners and CEO's. With all this rampant lying, are you suggesting that artful lying and lie-detecting are part of the game that entrepreneurs need to master?
A. If an entrepreneur's lips are moving, she's probably lying, though she may not know it. Part of being an entrepreneur is that you have to lie, first of all to yourself. You have to tell yourself that you can create something, people can build it, customers will buy it and you can collect the money.
If you cannot ignore the naysayers who tell you that it can't be done, it shouldn't be done, it isn't necessary, you can't be an entrepreneur. One of the best ways to ignore is to lie and deny.
The challenge is that once you do ship, you have to remove the lie-and-deny shields and listen to what your customers are telling you. Flipping this bit is one of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do.

To close the interview, I asked Kawasaki to come up with a final question he'd like to answer:
Q. What would you like people to say about you when you die?
A. I hope that people say I was a good husband and father. After that, I hope that they say I empowered entrepreneurs to make the world a better place. After that, I hope that some people say that they're glad I'm gone because they don't have to worry about them tripping me on the ice.
(Note: That's a hockey reference from an avid player.)


"Books about cosmopolitan urbanites discovering the joys of country life are two a penny, but this one is worth a second glance. Walthew's vivid description of the moral stress induced by his job as a high-flying executive with the International Herald Tribune newspaper is worth the cover price alone…. Highly recommended." The Oxford Times

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