Heraclitus & startups


“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

These words were spoken by Greek Philosopher Heraclitus. I think we can all agree that what he has said can only be true.


No person can visit the same city twice

No person can have the same idea twice

No business can fail twice.

While a second attempt at a similar business venture may still fail, it was not the same business that failed. And it was not the same founders, regardless of their fingerprints.

The truth behind economics is people and culture, both of which are in a constant state of flux.  And while the past tells a story of what was, it doesn’t always tell the story of could be.

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The truth about the home town

There is a phrase which comes from a best selling book*

I tell all of you with certainty, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. 

The economics of this statement are simple. If we want to get paid for you knowledge & skill, then we ought travel to a location where we are the unknown quantity.

*No, I haven’t read the book in question.


Philosophy > Tactics

The blog posts which I write that have a ‘How to’ element in them get infinitely more traffic and attention than those that are philosophical. It seems people want to know about more about the method than they do the reason. But what we need to understand is that methods are often temporary, when reason can be timeless. If we have the an over riding philosophy, then we wont get caught short once the tactics we employ expire in effectiveness.



Startup Honesty

Old school, and still cool, business coach Brain Tracy has an important question we should ask ourselves:

“What type of company, would my company be, if everyone in it, were just like me?”

Now, on the face of it it seems like a simple prose. How hard do we work, what kind of effort do we put in, how do we treat people and would we like others to behave the way we do. Honest answers to this question can be revealing. And it’s a damn good question to ask ourselves frequently.

But it goes one layer deeper. When we bring in new people to our startup, do we really need more people like ourselves? Do we really want another person who thinks like we do, acts like we do, has the same skills that we do and approaches things in the same manner? Or do we really need someone who is juxtaposed to ourselves?

The real challenge here is knowing where the similarities and differences are needed. And while that is a decision that only the startup founder can decide here’s a nice starting point: Alignment of philosophy and attitude is far more important than that of capability and aptitude.


Do make the same mistake twice

This is a favourite saying of companies pretty much everyone whose ever given advice about anything. But as we know, advice is a form of nostalgia,  and while nostalgia can conjure important and worthy emotions, it’s not something to live a life by. Personally I believe that encouraging anyone to not make the same mistake twice is bad advice. Any skill I’ve mastered, which was worth mastering  involved me making the same mistake over and over again. Repeating the error until I had got it entirely out of my system.

A better version of this advice is as follows: Making the same mistake is fine, so long as you are making it on purpose.


7 simple concepts

Had a few ideas in my mind for blog posts. But thought I’ll just soundbite them now and go deep later:

1. Selling Potatoes: Startup ideas are often far too clever. Often they represent what is technically possible, rather than what is technically needed. I keep coming back to the idea of selling potatoes. That is, selling something demand already exists for. If we do this, we can stop wasting resources trying to creating demand. Instead we can just do a better job connecting and serving the existential market. Buy for price X and sell for X2. I’m wondering why a ‘potato’ business is rarely considered by aspiring entrepreneurs. We ought resist the temptation to 3D print ceramic fur balls for imaginary cats.

2. Market Validation: Real market validation must be with strangers, not colleagues. If it’s an online business, then validation can’t be done in person. If it’s a physical business then validation can’t be done on line. We ought match the real world. Real market validation should involve money, and avoid surveys.

3. Size & Attitude: The bigger the company the harder it is to maintain a cool attitude. When companies go public, their DNA changes. It’s just a fact we ought accept. At this point founders don’t care, they’ve already made bank. When our favourite companies get big it is inevitable we will suffer from a little bit of startup nostalgia.

4. Business Model & Problem Solution: I often get pitched startups that have a great business model with no real human problem. Or a solution to a human problem which struggles to find a business model. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we have both. We should work hard on having both of these elements when conceiving our next startup.

5. Quiet Self Esteem: It is what we are doing when no one is actually looking that matters. The actions we take that only we will ever know about. This is what we should focus on.

6. Half Baked Ideas: These are the best ideas to play with in the short term. It means we are in the kitchen experimenting. It doesn’t mean we should try and sell these cookies at the market, but we should always throw a few new recipes in the oven.

7. What VC’s Really Invest In: Justifiable failure. They don’t aim to fail, but before they invest a dime they know they will get it wrong more than 9 times out of ten. They’ll never admit this, but they are only ever investing in what will sound like a good bet to their partners. So that when it does fail (and it will more than 90% of the time) it is justifiable to those who stumped up the money. Hence, when seeking capital all we need be is justifiably worth the risk.