[EAS]Burning the Boats

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Aug 7 21:05:50 EDT 2000

Subject:   Burning the Boats

(from INNOVATION,  7 August 2000)

 "I don't have a spiritual life. I haven't seen my family in eight
months. My friendships are only with people I see at work. I have
no hobbies. And I'm physically falling apart." Welcome to the
glamorous world of David Kidder, 21st century Webpreneur. If you
harbor any notions that launching a successful company in today's
crazed e-business marketplace is a cakewalk, this up-close look at
the three principals behind smartRay Network should be enough to
make you think at least twice before giving up your day job.
SmartRay offers a sort of Web editor for mobile-communication
devices, allowing users to have information delivered free to their
phones or pagers. The technology is unquestionably sound, and the
market potential for wireless content delivery is staggering. But
smartRay is playing against the clock, trying to leverage its early
arrival against the 800-pound gorillas that have started to join
the game. Founded on 24x7 workdays and a bare minimum of investment
capital, smartRay's best hope for long-term success is a buyout.
Without that, the best the founders can hope for is survival on the
shreds of the market the big guys leave them -- not an option when
they've sacrificed everything for the chance at the big score. CEO
Troy Tyler says entrepreneurs must be willing to "burn their ships
on the shore" as the Vikings did -- to leave everything behind in
dedication to the quest. "Strategy is all about commitment," he
says. "If what you're doing isn't irrevocable, then you don't have
a strategy -- because anyone can do it. That's why burning the
boats is so important. I've always wanted to treat my life like I
was an invading army and there was no turning back." ("Soul
Proprietor," Keith Hammonds, Fast Company, Issue 37) 

Jeez, get a life, Mr. Tyler. First the business mantra was "if
you're profitable, you're not aggressive enough", (i.e. burn
money), now we also have "if what you're doing isn't irrevocable,
then you don't have a strategy" (i.e. burn people).

One of my Yale colleagues gratified me by picking up on the E.F.
Schumacher quote in the last mailing, saying that Schumacher's
"Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered" (1973) was
one of the most influential books that he had read while in
college. I hope Schumacher is still read, and I would add his "Good
Work" (1979) and "A Guide to the Perplexed" (1977). He and Victor
Papanek, http://www.yale.edu/engineering/eng-info/msg00368.html
cared about work and technology that really met human needs, like
starvation and disablement, facets of life that modern
entrepreneurs seem only to know in self-inflicted form.  --PJK

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