Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Creativity Defined

Been thinking a lot lately on what makes a "great" start-up.

You obviously need a good idea and to solve a real problem for a large amount of people.

You need a talented team and access to resources (technology, capital, etc.).

But what else gets a company from a pipe dream to a multi-million dollar enterprise?

Rock solid execution, that's what!

And I guess that's one of the things I've been wrestling with as my product gets closer and closer to launch. There's so much inherent risk in operating in unchartered waters; how is a founder to know what to do every step of the way? How can we mitigate this risk?

Well, there's no formula - if there were then everybody would know it and successful founders would be no different than anybody else.

My feeling is that many successful start-ups and founders all operate within a certain unteachable thought framework - a framework that marries logical reasoning with creative problem solving. Now, the "logical" part of that framework isn't very difficult to grasp....

If we have this much money, then we can buy this many servers and hire this many staffers, etc. etc. No sweat...

But the "creative" aspect of this framework is where one founder shines and another flops.

When a founder, a CEO or any stake holder in a project thinks creatively and critically about a problem they tend to not only find new solutions, but they gain an edge over other players in their space.

For instance, when James Hong, et al. first launched they got so much traffic that their server was crashing all the time. They had no money and no time to raise capital. So what did they do?

They got creative!

They negotiated a deal with Rack Space where they gave Rack Space free advertising on their site and in turn Rack Space gave them free hosting for a year!

A month or two ago Hong participated in a panel where he quoted somebody else (I forget who) as defining "creativity" as:

"Creativity is what happens when you chop a zero off the end of a budget".

I was reading Shel Israel's blog tonight and he had a great quote from Steve Larsen:

"Constraint spawns creativity"

And I really have to say that both of these quotes are amazingly accurate - and why shouldn't they be, they're both spawned from experience in the trenches.

I think most entrepreneurs would agree -- our best decisions have been made under less than ideal circumstances. We've created the most successful features, we've cut the best deals (sometimes) and we've hired the best people all under circumstances where others might've just folded their cards and went home.

And that's what I think differentiates a successful businessman from a bad one - the ability to creatively construct solutions to problems.

Some may call it luck, but Sam Goldwyn said it best, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."!

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