Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki

Send out the clowns, Kawasaki advises entrepreneurs

Thomas Watson was chairman of IBM in 1943 when he uttered the decidedly un-visionary words: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

In 1977, Digital Equipment Corp. founder Ken Olsen was similarly short on foresight when he said: “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.”

And about 10 years ago, Guy Kawasaki, founder of various personal computer companies and formerly of Apple Computer Inc., turned down an offer to interview for the job of CEO of Yahoo! Why? “It’s too far to drive, and I don’t see how it can be a business,” said Kawasaki about the then-fledgling Internet company headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., about an hour from his San Francisco home.

That’s “Guy Kawasaki, Bozo” by his own self-deprecating description in an often amusing presentation, “The Art of Innovation,” made to a BGSU audience April 13 as part of the fourth annual Sebo Series in Entrepreneurship.

Now managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, Kawasaki also used the clown characterization to describe the kind of person he said innovators must avoid. “Don’t let the bozos grind you down,” he advised, depicting them as the people who say something new shouldn’t, or can’t, be done.

There are two kinds of bozos, said the author of The Art of the Start. The first kind is the social misfit, he explained, but the second can be successful, famous, maybe wealthy and considered smart. That’s the dangerous one, Kawasaki cautioned, “because you might be tempted to listen to that bozo.”

More tips for innovators
His decision not to interview for the Yahoo! job was the right one from a family standpoint, the Hawaii native said, although he did admit to having been “stuck in the personal computer curve” at the time and not looking to the next, online curve.

Jumping to the next curve is another of his recommendations for innovation. “True innovation is doing things 10 times better,” he said, citing as an example the progression in refrigeration from ice harvesting on frozen lakes and ponds to ice factories, with delivery men, to PCs—“personal chillers,” i.e., refrigerators. “Don’t duke it out” with competitors on the same curve; jump ahead, he said.

True entrepreneurs are also motivated by just two words—they want to “make meaning,” according to Kawasaki, who defined the phrase as “ending bad things and perpetuating good things.” Starting out by trying to make money may attract the wrong followers, but an effort to make meaning first will probably bring financial reward, he said.

He quoted a print advertisement in which Nike makes the cotton, leather and rubber that make up its women’s aerobic shoes stand, he said, for power and liberation:

“A woman is often measured by the things she cannot control. … She is measured by 36-24-36 and inches and ages and numbers. By all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become, because as every woman knows, measurements are only statistics, and statistics lie.”

In another piece of concise advice, Kawasaki urged innovators to “make mantra,” not mission statements, which he said are “roughly 57 words longer” than a mantra and never remembered. Nike is among the companies with a mantra (“Authentic athletic performance”), as are Wendy’s (“Healthy fast food”), FedEx (“Peace of mind”) and eBay (“Democratize commerce”).

Roll the DICE(E)

He further counseled that entrepreneurs “Roll the DICEE,” short for products that are:
• Deep—and won’t be in need of upgrades any time soon—such as Reef’s Fanning sandals, which feature a built-in bottle opener in the sole.
• Intelligent, as in Panasonic’s BF-104 flashlight, which will take any of three sizes of batteries, increasing the possibility that its owner will have at least one of the sizes needed.
• Complete. He named the Lexus as an example, noting the totality of the experience for its owners.
• Elegant, such as the iPod Nano, which allows listeners to navigate through their music by turning one small wheel.
• Emotive, as in Harley-Davidson, which people either love or hate, Kawasaki said. Such polarization is a good thing, he added, saying that while it shouldn’t be done on purpose, anyone who does something great will probably make people mad. TiVo, for instance, is loved by viewers who can bypass commercials but hated by the advertisers who are being bypassed, he pointed out.

Prospective entrepreneurs shouldn’t worry, either, about “elements of crappiness” in their products, but should always work on “how to fix a product to make it even better” in subsequent versions.

They should also, in Kawasaki’s words, “let a hundred flowers blossom.” He explained that companies tend to “freak out” when they see people who aren’t their anticipated customers buying their products. What they should do, he said, is ask the unanticipated customers why they’re buying.

The venture capitalist suggested, too, that innovators find a niche, following the lead of such firms as Fandango, which allows movie-goers to buy tickets online and skip possible lines at the theater, and Breitling, whose emergency watch emits a signal “that can save your life,” he said.

Student of the year, new initiatives in entrepreneurship
Before Kawasaki’s presentation, aimed at empowering entrepreneurs, the College of Business Administration recognized its Entrepreneurship Student of the Year, John Lanning. Lanning, of Strongsville, is a senior with a major in business pre-law and a minor in entrepreneurship.

Milton Baker, executive in residence and director of the Dallas-Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, then introduced three new initiatives in business:
• The Business Experience program will bring an initial cohort of about 40 freshmen to campus in the fall to begin an immersive experience that will include work with entrepreneurial mentors. More information is available at
• Another program will extend the University’s expertise to alumni considering a new business venture. Mike Weger, an all-American football player who embarked on a long pro career after graduating in 1967, said the idea is to tell alumni they can return to Bowling Green to discuss a business plan. BGSU representatives, including students, will evaluate the plan and help find funding, he said. The program is funded by a grant from the BGSU Foundation board, of which Weger, now an Oxford, Mich., businessman, is a member.
• “Entrepreneurship: An American Treasure” is a series produced by WBGU-PBS and hosted by Dr. Martha Rogers, a former faculty member and a founding partner of Peppers and Rogers Group, a leading customer-focused management consulting firm.

April 23, 2007