Seth Godin’s Startup School

10/05/2013  |  There are 4 Comments. Leave yours!

During the summer of 2012 Seth Godin spent 3 days with a group of entrepreneurs that were in the early days of building and launching their projects. He went over a few concepts he considered important to create the right mind set, and simply put out there a series of questions that they were going to have to answer as they moved forward in their journey.

Then he launched a podcast with excerpts from the event: Seth Godin’s Startup School. One day as we were catching up, my friend Marcin brought it up and we had a conversation about it and was very interesting.

As things have aligned, I know many people who this might be useful to. Thus, instead of just listening to it, I decided to generate a broader conversation about it. If you just found this, welcome! Feel free to join in!

So, go ahead and listen to the first episode, and then come back here and let’s have a conversation.

A few stories to start with

  • The architect and the empty lot: Imagine you are an architect and you get to chose any place where you can have an empty lot, and where you can build whatever you want. When you start your own project, you have no limits. You can build anything as there is nothing already build there. Thus there is no stuff that could undermine your creativity and you are in the position of defining everything.

  • How to be good at hockey: It helps if you know what to do, if you are able to do it.. and it also is really important if you care enough to get hit. Can you find the right answer for every situation you will face (or find people that will help you answer)? Will you be able to tackle on all the components that will be a part of your project? And also, do you really care about your project? You will get hit so you need to take it and carry on.

  • Getting your Ducks in a row: If you want to be a doctor you study hard during many years, do practices and then you get your certification and start your practice. If you are building up a project… you just start. There is no structure that will guide you on getting your ducks in a row, so you will have to figure one yourself.

Why the Monopoly man has a monopoly?

There are 2 ways to think about monopolies. There is the evil kind eg. Microsoft case in the past, where someone goes and violates antitrust rules and dominates the market. And then there’s the other kind.

The reason you can’t use the Monopoly man in your water bottle, is because Hasbro’s lawyers are very aggressive  and have make companies that manufacture and print things (t-shirts, mugs,water bottles, etc.) aware about the fact they just can’t use the Monopoly man due legal issues. They have a Monopoly on Monopoly! If you want Monopoly, you have to buy them from them.

So, here is the other kind: Every successful business has a monopoly on what it makes that someone else can’t make the way they make it. Brilliant entrepreneurship is about figuring out what is it you can do that people will be willing to cross the street to get, that makes them think  “this is the one and I need it”.

Great example: 37Signals who have created Basecamp. If  you are one of the people I getting into this early conversation, is highly likely you have used it. This is a clear case where in order to achieve success in an entrepreneurial project  is necessary to move far from the industrial mindset: Just make things be slightly better, slightly faster and then sell them slightly cheaper and you will dominate a market. In the environment we want to play on, success will come from connexion economy. One of the easiest way to build a tiny successful monopoly is being the center of connexions. Connexions are valuable to people, stuff is not valuable anymore.

Going back to the “empty lot” concept, as you play Monopoly you will have the choice of building up a house in the Blues or the Greens: Greens charge more rent if you land on them. Blues are cheaper to build on. You get to decide how to build your house from scratch and in which environment. Once you build it, you can’t complaint! You will make the choices in your project. Thus, you will need to be ready to change: you might have a traditional family business that makes the best pizzas in town… but if your town is going vegan, you better get out and evolve, don’t avoid the change.

Freelancer vs Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneur build business bigger than themselves. You know how to do everything in your business specially to deliver the service your project will provide. And as things start to shape up and you need to start providing that service, the cheapest person you can hire is yourself. and also, you will be the easiest staff member to control and as well the easiest way to make sure your service has the quality you have dreamed of. But if you hire yourself to provide the service: who will get new clients? who will get  the funding? who will have time to think about blue sky strategy? Then, you are stuck.

What did Mark Zuckerberg did? He had an idea and he was a coder.. spent days and nights building it up initially until people used it and liked it. But once he saw the opportunity of making something bigger than himself, he made a group of college students compete among themselves to find a group of great coders. He found the best coders he could find within his reach and his budget, he stopped coding and moved into strategy, focused on building his dream project.

In the case of case of Starbucks, they didn’t focus on on just making good coffee and cookies, but on how to build a system that could scale and scale and scale giving their coffees and cookies unlimited reach.

And here is great way to realise how important is to keep an eye on blue sky and strategy: you need to find the time to break the company. Sounds harsh, but that’s what you need to keep on doing… you won’t be recklessly breaking your own business model, but  you will need to keep a constant awareness to find the opportunities and how to take on them.. and do what it takes to leverage them.

Is basically the same thing you are doing when you are starting from scratch: you spend time thing how the perfect project would look like, and then you build it.. but what if 2 years on, that perfect plan does not fit perfectly on its environment, because both you and environment have changed? The Opportunities and Threats will be different with time, as well as your Strengths and Weaknesses. That’s why you need to build something bigger than yourself that runs on its own, and keep your blue sky awareness, tackle on evolution and be ready to break things.

The connexion between Marketing and Business?

If you run organization you are creating value: people are giving you money because they think what you are doing is worth more than it costs. They are benefiting from buying from you, and they are not… you need to make something better. Push Marketing won’t work for you.

Via Marketing, you can build a monopoly on your brand name, on your story, on expectations, on your product and your service and in the value you provide. Marketing is telling a story about that value you create that resonates with people enough that they want you give you money.

So, what you need to figure out is:

  1. How do you tell the story?
  2. Who do you tell the story?
  3. How do you create this value?

That’s it. If you can constantly do those 3 things… you win.

4 Responses to “Seth Godin’s Startup School”

  1. Marcin says:

    Muchas gracias Juan for an interesting post and I’m glad you liked Seth Godin Startup School podcast.
    I’ve listened that show twice already and found it really insightful, so it’s great you are jumping into that as well.
    Most interesting part for me when Seth started taking about difference Freelancer vs Entrepreneur.
    That sentence opened my mind to build a scalable business: “Entrepreneur build business bigger than themselves”
    Btw. Who you would rather be Freelancer or Entrepreneur ? ;)

    Looking forward for your view on future episodes Mate.
    Enjoy your weekend and see ya soon.

  2. zoey says:

    First impressions – took a while to ‘tune in’ to the American accent and the fact the guy is speaking so quickly! Will need another couple of listens to catch it all and be able to comment. But great idea, and thanks for setting this up.

  3. Juan Ortiz says:

    Very cool question: What are you building a monopoly on with your project? be very clear on this!

    Marcin, Agree that’s a key question as we have discussed a few times. On the long term, I’ll go for the second, using freelancing just for the learning opportunities (you do get to see business models, etc by working as a freelancer, which otherwise you would never be able to do) but never for the money. This can take many shapes, but is key to keep that question alive as we readjust the course of projects.

    Is great to see (and very challenging!) how telling a story is so essential.
    Zoey and Sarah, makes sense having worked at Story right? Let’s use that.

  4. zoey says:

    I found the comments about how you name your company particularly interesting for us. Our name is Polkadot Global. We offer international marketing services, including cultural insights, content strategy, translation and localisation. You wouldn’t know that from our name, but it’s a name that people tend to really like, and ask about. There is a nice ‘story’ behind our name too, which (given the right circumstances) is very appropriate to tell. Initially, I was frustrated by always having to explain ‘Polkadot’, but now I enjoy it and have made it part of who we are.

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