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Christopher Keene

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Entrepreneur’s Note to Self - Don’t Die


“Note to self: don't change for anyone / Note to self: don't die / Note to self: don't change for anyone / Don't change, just lie” - Ryan Adams
 If Woody Allen is right that 80% of life is just showing up, then the bulk of an entrepreneur’s job is keeping the company alive long enough to succeed. That in turn means constantly scanning the horizon for what is most likely to kill you next.

It turns out, this is how NASA trains their astronauts to stay alive in the unforgiving environment of space. The singing astronaut Chris Hadfield gave an interview where he described this approach:
“Half of the risk of a six-month flight is in the first nine minutes, so as a crew, how do you stay focused? How do you not get paralyzed by the fear of it? The way we do it is to break down: What are the risks? And a nice way to keep reminding yourself is: What's the next thing that's going to kill me?”
In the startup world, death comes most quickly through failing to grow rapidly. That means the two most critical tasks are keeping current customers happy and getting new ones. Growth is the bait that attracts capital and capital is oxygen for a startup.

Once a startup company is funded, there is an immediate desire to draw a huge sigh of relief and think about how to fix everything that is wrong with the product, starting with a ground up redesign. However, startups are fragile creatures. Customers pay for solutions - for them, elegance is secondary.

A company can easily die while it is “fixing” its product. A better approach is to prioritize resources guarantee growth and approach product redesign in a modular fashion that still enables a steady stream of customer-facing enhancements.

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Christopher Keene is Chairman and CEO of WaveMaker (formerly ActiveGrid). He was the founder, in 1991, of Persistence Software, a San Mateo, CA-based company that created a new approach for managing data in high-transaction banking and communications systems. Persistence Software investors included Cisco, Intel, Reuters and Sun Microsystems. The company went public in 1999 on the NASDAQ exchange and was sold in 2004 to Progress software.

After leaving Persistence Software in 2005, Chris spent a year in France as chairman of Reportive Software, a Paris-based maker of business-intelligence tools, and as an adjunct professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD, a leading graduate business school.