Day 137 of Self Quarantine Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.: 150,000
On my first Outward Bound experience, one of the participants was an English professor at the University of New Hampshire. I asked him what the secret to writing a book was. He gave me his three rules for writing:
- Read a lot.
- Before writing, create the architecture for what you want to write about.
- Keep your butt in the chair.
We both laughed and I felt energized because I have accomplished the first two rules many times over. For me, the third rule is the hardest.
After reading thousands of books and creating hundreds of outlines for possible books on a wide range of topics, I finally managed to keep my “butt in the chair” long enough to write these emails to a young entrepreneur.
To my lifelong companion, my wife Jamie, I thank you for all that you have put up with on my effectual entrepreneuring journey these 45 years. As I remind her occasionally – we’ve never missed a meal and we’ve always had a roof over our heads. She always reminds me that she is flexible as long as I don’t change anything.
To my three exceptional children, Elizabeth, Maggie and John, who have taught me about parenting and what it means to raise a child. To our grandchildren – Alice, Hazel, Zoe, and Rowan – and our sons-in-law, David and Brian, who are allowing me to see parenting in wonderful new ways.
To my father, Harry Walter, who taught me more by example than I was ever able to express to him. Dad was one of those hail fellow well met salesmen who never met anybody who didn’t immediately become a friend. When I became old enough to travel with him and accompany him to a bar, my introverted self looked on in amazement at the many ways he would introduce himself. Introducing himself as a parsley salesman was my favorite. He would immediately get these strange looks. He would add “You have to be an incredible salesman to sell parsley that nobody charges for and no customer actually eats.”
I vowed I would never be a salesman. When I was 45, I woke up laughing one day when I realized that all I did everyday was sell. I was either selling equity to investors, or my products to enterprises, or talent on why they should join our fledgling company.
The greatest gift that Dad gave me was his intrapreneuring efforts to invent a fetal heart monitor when he was at Taylor Instrument Company. Every night after finishing a day of selling, he would come home and work on his invention. As a medical device salesperson he had seen the need in hospitals and OB/GYN offices for a fetal heart monitor that could amplify and put the fetal heart sounds through a speaker system so that multiple professionals could hear the sounds at the same time. He wouldn’t take no for an answer from his superiors who told him to focus on selling. When the company saw the evidence of demand from Dad’s customers, they finally agreed to produce the product. It quickly became a hot selling product. I was only ten years old at the time and got my first experience of the whole product development cycle from user research to product launch and go to market.
My mother, Marge Walter, gave me the gift of loving to read. I was surrounded by books and being read to by my mother from my earliest memories. Books were my play toys. Books were my gateway to imagined worlds.
This book would never have happened if it weren’t for the relentless encouragement of David Robinson. Only a few times in my life has someone entered from left field and turned into such an incredible collaborator that the course of my life changed. When the student is ready, the master will appear. David is the master I desperately needed to reorient my approach to teaching and mentoring and thinking. He changed my work from a purely intellectual frame to a focusing on direct experience. For too much of my life, I lived in my head and tried to pass knowledge along that way. In a hundred different ways, David showed me a different path – using movement and experiential exercises to do the heavy lifting.
I learned so much about the author, publisher, and entrepreneur path explained by Guy Kawasaki by participating in David’s journey to produce The Seer. I marveled at his ability to keep his butt in the chair and turn chapters and revisions out in a couple of days. The conversations surrounding the book that moved back and forth between the book and our teaching and consulting were ever joyful. David returned the favor through his early reading, discussions, carefrontation, and support for my writing Emails to a Young Entrepreneur. Thank you, David.
The Email on Branding and the concept of branding as love are my special tribute to the colleague who hit me upside the head to understand what marketing and branding are really about. Thank you, Katherine James Schuitemaker, for tolerating my ignorance and skepticism as you guided me to glimpse how to think like a marketer. Katherine is my go-to person for all things marketing. She takes all the book learning I’ve waded through and artfully demonstrates the practices. Her greatest gift was helping me discover, develop and trust my inner guidance system. Katherine, I affirm you for being such a force of nature, a valued colleague and a trusted friend for these twenty years.
At the beginning of my first foray with a Silicon Valley startup in 1990, I encountered Barney Barnett. Barney was a member of our kitchen cabinet at Focus Systems along with Gordon Bell (now at Microsoft). I was enthralled with the quality of the questions that Barney asked of our executive team. His probing helped us clarify our why and our strategy. I began to suspect that Barney was a Sufi Master in disguise. One late evening over a glass of fine wine, we looked at each other and almost said simultaneously “I’ll show you my sword, if you’ll show me yours.” We both laughed and our developmental paths intertwined ever since. Barney introduced me to the biodynamics of fine wine growing through Domaine de Clarke and the Benziger Family Winery. Barney’s patient guidance of my learning about wine has transferred in many ways to the journey of guiding young entrepreneurs. The living metaphor of biodynamics transfers to the foundations of how I think and make meaning of the new venture ecosystem. He constantly reminds me that the role of the vineyard manager is not to grow grapes but to develop the best soil possible. He keeps me from losing sight of what you don’t see.
While developing the outline and architecture for Emails to a Young Entrepreneur, a longtime colleague, Bill Knight, founded startup, Percognate. Bill was my CTO at Attenex and a senior leader at FTI Consulting after the acquisition. After leaving FTI, Bill would come by every couple of weeks to share his progress and seek my thoughts and advice about how he should proceed with Percognate. I knew I needed to write this book when Bill asked me one day how we went to market and sold the Attenex Patterns product. Even though Bill sat in the office next to me for much of the Attenex journey, his jaw dropped at the depth of thought and strategy we put into marketing and sales. I realized that I’d never written about that part of the journey (thank you again Katherine, that was mostly your work). So much of what found its way into the Emails to Mikhail, started with a conversation with Bill. I am so excited about the rapid rate of progress Bill and his team have made in 18 months. Thank you, Bill, for taking time out of your impossible demands to read through and comment on an early draft of Emails.
The five executives at Digital Equipment who saw something in my youthful energy and passion for innovation that turns into meaningful revenue were a gift beyond ever being able to repay.
- Gerry Bryant, the regional VP for Software Services, was the first executive to believe in what John Churin and I could do in the office automation market. His sponsorship, friendship, and guidance meant so much when we were clueless for how to proceed.
- Don Busiek, Executive VP for Software Services, was smart enough to turn me loose on his worldwide organization. I thank Don for throwing me into so many sink or swim situations where I mostly swam. He would introduce me as “Skip Walter – he makes me think.” I loved it. Later, Don let me know it wasn’t a compliment. All the rest of his direct reports answered his questions directly. I would ask him a question to help him think through the problem more strategically. Don tolerated it.
- David Creed, Senior VP for US Software Services, made me think. I found his simple questions like “who is our customer?” to be some of the hardest questions I ever had to answer.
- David Stone, Senior VP for European Software Services, developed my abilities to go from a good idea to making it happen at scale. David had a wonderful gift of thinking strategically and then translating those strategic thoughts into action, mostly profitable actions.
- Jack Shields, Executive VP for Worldwide Sales and Services, showed me the power of having one simple business rule – find every cost in the organization and figure out how to turn it into a revenue center. Shield’s Law has guided my observations of business processes ever since.
The analogy of conceiving of a new venture like the conceiving of a child and the parenting that ensues is an outgrowth of observing the daily life of Alice and Hazel. For the purposes of simplicity or narrative, I’ve synthesized the experiences of our daughters and granddaughters into the life of Hazel and Alice.
To those colleagues who’ve put up with my irrationality while pursuing my inner entrepreneurial muse – GEMISCH (Ed Hammond, Bill Stead), ALL-IN-1 at DEC (John Churin, Steve Forgey, Ken Mayer, Marilyn Elrod) Katherine James Schuitemaker (Aldus, Attenex, Conenza), Institute of Design (Patrick Whitney, Larry Keeley, John Heskett, Eli Blevis), Attenex (Eric Robinson, Dan Gallivan, Bill Knight, Marty Smith, Gerry Johnson, Martha Dawson, David McDonald), and UW (Jan Spyridakis, David Socha, Jennfier Turns, Alan Wood).
To the members of my visible and invisible university, I owe more than I can ever give back. Thanks to Russ Ackoff, Eli Goldratt, Adrian Slywotzky, Chris Alexander, Geoff Moore, Tom Stewart, Robert Fritz, Harold Nelson, Erik Stolterman, Stan Davis, Edward Tufte, Steve Blank, Eric Ries, and Ash Maurya.
A special thank you to Jim Clifton of the Gallup Organization for writing The Coming Jobs War. I took Jim’s challenge of trying to figure out how to create 1.5 billion living wage jobs throughout the world as my North Star for the next ten years of professional life. Since new ventures are the key driver of new job growth, everything I can do to reduce the friction of starting a venture and increasing the success rate helps achieve the overarching goal of sustainable job growth.
To the hundreds of graduate students and thousands of entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with, you’ve provided me with a wealth of insights into the challenges and different ways of starting and succeeding with a new venture.
Thank you to my “village” of mentors for everything that you have contributed to understanding the joys of starting a venture, creating new jobs, bringing opportunities to customers and investors, and generally living the innovative life.
Bainbridge Island, WA
March 3, 2014
About the Author – Skip Walter
I am a naturally curious person who loves to read, who is an addicted lifelong learner, who loves to get distracted on the Internet (thank you Cathy Davidson for researching the value of this activity), who loves to find interesting topics and new insights, and finds great joy in sharing the discoveries with others. Over the years, I find myself entering “On the Way to Somewhere Else” as the subject for many emails to colleagues, family and friends that are the fruits of my distractions.
I have over 45 years of experience in executive management, executive coaching, software engineering, product development, high technology mergers and acquisitions, organizational development, joint venture development, designing, architecting, producing, and delivering software solutions for the legal industry, publishing industry, health care industry, multi-national Fortune 500 companies, high technology startups and wineries. Along the way I was the Vice President of Engineering for Aldus (now Adobe) Corporation known for PageMaker software and the Father of ALL-IN-1, Digital Equipment Corporation’s $1 billion per year integrated enterprise office automation system.
A lifetime of study and executive management experience led to the founding of Attenex where we achieved a cash flow positive state within three years. Attenex was sold to FTI Consulting in 2008 for $91 million. In the process of being a serial entrepreneur, I raised more than $25 million in new venture funding for software companies in the office automation, medical, and legal industries. The products we designed, created, and developed are used by over five million customers. As part of my commitment to “pay it forward” to all of those who so graciously mentored me in my management juvenile period, I taught strategic design and product design planning at the Institute of Design (ID) of the Illinois Institute of technology for ten years and was a member of the ID Board of Overseers for two years. I was selected for the Dean’s Advisory Council for the School of Informatics at Indiana University in 2005 serving for two years. I served as the Chairperson for the External Advisory Board for the Human Centered Design and Engineering Department at the University of Washington for two years.
Now that the pandemic has severely restricted travel, I spend a lot of time observing the world from my chair above the Puget Sound. I alternate between observing, reading. writing and zooming.