Bill Gross: 10 Things I Wish I Knew (from Innovation Summit Pasadena)

Idealabs' Bill Gross

Idealab’s Bill Gross is a little bit of a cultural icon for me so I was thrilled to find him to be one of the keynote speakers at Innovation Summit Pasadena held on October 10.  Among the broad array of fascinating commentary, he laid out 10 things he wished he’d known earlier in what can only be described as a stellar career.

    1. Pursue your passion.  Work at something you love. This is how you can overcome the huge challenges you will face.
    2. The more disruptive your idea the better.  Small ideas take as much work as big ideas so you might as well go for something that matters.
    3. Don’t spend ahead of success. Don’t hire a position if the company is not dying without the function.
    4. Timing matters a lot. Way too early is as bad as being too late…
    5. …but Execution is critically important. A great idea is not much more than worthless if it can’t be executed.
    6. Survive until the market is ready for you.  If you believe in your product but the market isn’t ready for it, hunker down until it is.
    7. Recognize your own strengths and then design a structure around them and balance your weaknesses by hiring complementary skills.
    8. Teamwork matters and the team must be able to work together with complementary skills and mutual trust.
    9. Listen and Iterate.  Listen to what customers and potential customers have to say and respond.
    10. Harness users’ passion. Build automated ways for customers to bring you new customers.

Bill told a couple of really interesting anecdotes that supported some of those points.

One was about z.com which was an example of why timing matters (it was too early) and moderating your spend.  It was an online video site before broadband was as ubiquitous as it is now and before the streaming technology really allowed it to work.  They raised $10 million and then got big offices in Burbank and paid a huge amount on content creation while they didn’t have the rate of adoption needed to support the endeavor.

He also told another fascinating story about his first company Knowledge Adventure where they built games that would help children learn to love education (he pursued your passion).  Sales weren’t what they felt they could be so they sent staff out into the field to demo products at stores and watch customers (they listened). What they saw was potential customers pick up the box, read the back, and put it back down. What they realized was that people weren’t sure if the product was appropriate for their children’s age group. So, they iterated and conceived of a product called JumpStart Kindergarten which, as the name suggests, targeted the kindergarten market.  They faced huge resistance from internal sales and distributors because they claimed the market was too small. Somehow that resistance was overcome and the product turned into a runaway best-seller and spawned a whole line of Jump Start programs targeting individual grades.

Bill led with a comment about innovation that is worth remembering. Truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, and then (presuming it has not been killed by one of those) it is accepted as self-evident.  I don’t know about your experiences in the world but for me this is the truth about truth.