tech | growth | venture | 2015 April
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Recently on the “This Week in Startups” podcast Silicon Valley investor and CEO of Vayner Media, Gary Vaynerchuk was the featured guest and one of his insights added a unique dimension to the way I think about product development.  Gary asserted that all great products are actually in the time business; meaning they all give us back a resource of which we have a finite amount.

The specific example he used was Uber.  He explained that Uber is not selling car rides but instead focused on getting people where they need to go quicker and we are even willing to pay a surcharge to preserve our time.  Another example was Amazon which is the master of this technique dating back to the development of one-click ordering to one-hour delivery to the most recent Amazon Dash.

As I thought about ways this might apply to the industries in which I am particularly interested I turned my attention to the concept of the “smart” home. Over the last 5 years several companies have emerged as leaders in this field and all are marketing themselves with different value propositions but the one thing they are all offering their consumer is: more time.

Nest is far and away the most recognized product in this category and its primary marketing message is that it “pays for itself.”  I would certainly advocate that all homes should have a smart thermostat for efficiency reasons but the main feature of Nest is its ability to learn user occupancy habits.  While we may not spend more than 1-2 min a day setting our thermostat this time adds up over the course of a year to about 12 hours.  The future of these occupancy sensors have enormous potential.  Imagine 10 years from now if deliveries, home repairs, etc… are scheduled automatically based on when you are home according to the sensor in your thermostat or light bulbs.

Speaking of light bulbs, what Nest did for the thermostat several companies are attempting to do for the light bulb.   There is no clear winner in this space as of yet, but Phillips Hue, WeMo, Lifx, and Stack are all vying for poll position.  Again, all of these companies have different value propositions for the consumer but all are selling time savings in the form of not worrying about flipping a light switch, forgetting rather or not you turned off the lights, or in the case of Stack helping you rest better and wake up in a way that helps us be more productive with the limited time we have during the day.

These products combined with smart meter data being rolled out in some states present an exciting future where homeowners can make informed decisions about big purchases.  For instance, thermostat, light, and smart meter data could be used to let homeowners know which appliances they should upgrade, if they should install a rooftop solar system or new more efficient windows. Once a decision has been reached, the project would be scheduled automatically from the sensors placed in the thermostat or light bulbs.  This kind of possibility explains why so many companies from different industries (AT&T, Direct Energy, Comcast, and NRG) are vying to “own” the home.

While our society can sometimes seem “anti-technology” as evidenced by books and movies focused on dystopia via innovation the smart home presents an opportunity for us to live our lives more efficiently in terms of both time and money.

In a blog that is going to be focused mostly on energy, tech, startups, and similar topics at the outset, I couldn’t help but write about Jordan Spieth’s Masters victory for my first post.  I found several aspects of Spieth’s road to victory to be relatable to the business world.  In particular, 5 things stood out as particularly relevant to help leaders shape their organizations and careers.

1.  Set Goals

Jordan was featured in a local news story on WFAA in Dallas at 14 (video) in the feature he states his ultimate goal is to win the Masters someday.  Fast forward 7 years and he is now being fitted for the green jacket.  It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the fast paced environment of today’s business world where short term accomplishments can be more valued than long-term goals but don’t forget to set goals and stick to them.  A fake study attributed to Harvard in 1979 stated those who write down their goals earn up to 97% more than their counterparts who do not. Rather this is true or not, the effect of goal setting on long-term success is undeniable.

2. Sometimes its better to value “fit” over skills

Eight years ago, Jordan’s caddy Michael Greller attended a USGA amateur golf tournament near his home when he noticed a competitor carrying his own bags, struggling to compete, and offered to caddy for him for free. (Bonus Tip: Always be kind, you never know where your relationships might take you.)  Three years after that Greller would find himself on Spieth’s bag for the first time and a bond was formed.  You can read the full story on WSJ.

When Spieth’s star began to rise, more qualified caddies began to vie for the position on Spieth’s bag.  Jordan stuck with Greller and the relationship has blossomed ever since.  This is an important lesson for business leaders.  When hiring or promoting it’s not always about a candidate’s skillset.  More often than not chemistry and cultural fit are just as important as any list of qualifications.

3. Always Give Back

Inspired by his sister Ellie who has a neurological condition similar to Autism, Jordan and his family started The Jordan Spieth Family Foundation in 2014 to support special needs children and their family.  It’s not uncommon for professional athletes to start charities and give back but Spieth was quick to establish his charity with which he has a deeply personal connection.

Regardless of the amount of success we have, parts of our accomplishments are owed to the help of others.  Charity can take place in many different forms, rather it’s donating money to a cause that is close to your heart or your time to mentor someone who needs your help, always give back to those who aren’t as fortunate as you or are striving to better their lives.  No one becomes their best-self alone.

4. Stay Humble and Thank Those Who Support You

Much like Tiger and Earl Woods in 1997 it’s clear that Jordan and his dad have a special bond.  The aspect of their post victory embrace that garnered the majority of my attention was Spieth’s dad telling him to thank the crowd for their encouragement.  Not only did Jordan immediately return to the 18th green to thank his supporters but he also thanked the food and beverage servers in his ceremonial press conference.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this much humility from a 21 year old.

Good leaders recognize their accomplishments would not be possible with out the support of their team and all of those who work with them.  No matter the title or position it is always important to recognize those who help you achieve your goals and support you in your pursuit of them.

5. Learn from Your Mistakes and Be Aggressive

Last year Jordan finished runner-up to Bubba Watson after surrendering a 2 stroke lead during the last 9 holes.  Spieth stopped playing his game and became overly cautious resulting in the second place finish at his first ever Masters.  This year was a different story.  Spieth recounted last year’s let down and played aggressively until the very end.  Instead of choosing to play it safe on the par 3 12th, Jordan attacked the pin where just the year before he’d found Rae’s Creek.  This trend continued for the rest of the round where Spieth kept hitting driver and woods instead of irons.

“If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble” – Ben Horrowitz

Don’t lay-up when chasing your dreams, stay aggressive and learn from your previous mistakes.