Best success correlation ever

After nine of them, I know a good bit about starting companies. After investing in at least twenty, I spot founders with a high success likelihood pretty quickly. An author I admire, Taylor Stevens, recently penned a newsletter nailing one of those elusive success factors brilliantly.  For her, it is all about success in writing and publishing, a field in which she excels. The similarities resonated with me immediately and I couldn’t wait to share them.

Liars' Legacy (book cover) by Taylor Stevens

First, Stevens is a successful author. She freely shares her advice with aspiring writers. You can read all about her on her website. On March 4 (2022) her newsletter arrived with the subject line “If you run with wolves…”  In it Stevens discusses how many aspiring authors read and post in publishing and writing-oriented blogs and forums, getting responses from individuals “without experience in publishing, and so often wrong. The comments come from people who spend a lot of time on those forums, arguing with each other and or talking up their own works in progress.  Stevens, after a short discussion, cuts to the chase:

“If you want to reach a level higher than where you are, you don’t do it by getting information and learning from people who are at your level, or God forbid, beneath you. You don’t plot your climb up Mount Everest by talking to the people down at base camp who’ve only watched other people climb the mountain—you hire a guide who’s been there and gotten safely back. If you want to be successful, seek out people who know, listen to people who’ve already walked the path that you’re on.”

This reminds me so much of budding entrepreneurs who have an idea for a business and want to make it a reality.  Often it appears these people are endlessly involved in talking about the idea, how it would work and why it will win.  These discussions with friends, and on forums and blogs appear to be almost a substitute for moving forward.  Sometimes they’re looking for clues on how to move forward, unaware this is not the place to find them.  Winners focus on doing the work versus talking about the dream and the best advice is from people who’ve succeeded in the area in which you wish to compete. Best to keep your idea secret and use as motivation the vision of how you’ll feel when you succeed and bask in the adulation of all those who didn’t think you had it in you.

Most ideas have little value in themselves; it is the things surrounding an idea that create value. Having an idea that your “X device” will revolutionize a particular industry means very little unless you accompany it with in-depth and diligent research showing how poorly current offerings perform the task that “X device” performs so well. Fifty or a hundred in-depth interviews with players in the space leading to a conclusion supporting the need for “X device” has value that the idea alone does not.  Detailed technical drawings of how “X device” would be manufactured, where, with what materials, and for what cost, have value. Plans and business analyses showing how the product could be introduced and marketed to those that would buy it adds value.  Many entrepreneurs and inventors are in love with an idea and wish to start companies, yet they remain in the talking and conceptualizing stage year in and year out.  They are either too lazy or undisciplined to do the hard work, the work they may not like or enjoy doing, to make their dream a reality.  Instead, they’ll while hours away in forums and on blogs, responding and posting, defending their brilliance, expounding to friends and family on the cleverness of their idea, while others go out and make things happen by actually doing the work.

The other part of Stevens’ newsletter which resonated with me is the number of individuals so much like she described, that surround the startup infrastructures in which I was and am involved.  For every actual company founder here in Phoenix (and in Palo Alto, California before that), I found at least ten people attending events, pointing to the shortcomings of presenting companies, expounding on the merits of various business plans and approaches, demonstrating their vast intelligence and insight and how far a company would go if only they’d have the foresight and wisdom to hook up with them and take their valuable advice – all for a cut of the equity, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, there are highly ethical and professional individuals offering services to early-stage companies. They do it at a fair price and offer superb value and I’m proud to know many of them.  But budding company founders need to avoid those who chatter and criticize from the sidelines, or worse, sell advice and expertise in the absence of a success track record. Building a company with one or two people, no money, and a 20-page pitch deck into something generating tens of millions a year, results in a great many lessons learned.  Doing it twice, three times, or more, even if you fail, provides even more knowledge about what does and does not work.  Curiously, success in other aspects of business — say spending a career with a large multi-national company — rarely leads to success in starting a company. Budding entrepreneurs need to find mentors to work with who have done it, not someone who’s merely watched a lot of Shark Tank episodes and read books on successful startups.

Television shows and movies about startups, “Silicon Valley, Dirty Money, Shark Tank, Celebrity Apprentice, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” and others, paint incredibly unrealistic pictures of the actual life in a start-up and the incredible number of elements necessary for one to succeed.  Like nearly everything else in life, there are few shortcuts. You have to be lucky.  To be lucky, it also helps to know the actual definition of luck, and so, from someone who’s been lucky, here it is:

“LUCK = When hard work and preparation meet opportunity.”

An excerpt of Taylor Stevens’ March 4 Newsletter below:

Hi Steve,

Like many people, I read blogs and forums on topics that interest me, and over the past several years this has also included forums for aspiring authors, as well as blogs that deal primarily with self-publishing and social media. (I will write more about traditional vs. self-publishing in a future email, this email is about the value of others’ input.)

Sometimes, if I’ve read a particularly good piece on the subject, or even one that I think is off the wall but it raises interesting questions, I will spend a bit of time reading the comments and the conversations that follow. And mostly I come away from those conversations vacillating between amused and horrified because (again, mostly—there are definitely exceptions) the comments and opinions, so full of “rightness” and “righteousness,” are written by individuals without actual experience in publishing, and are so often wrong. And many of these comments are from “repeats”—people who clearly spend a lot of time on those forums, arguing with each other and or talking up their own as-of-yet-not-complete widget or work in progress. […]

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Love another Tesla? What if it’s PLAID?

My new Model S Plaid, in blue, just like the Model 3.

When I bought the Tesla Model 3 in 2019, as I wrote about here, I had no plans to fall in love with it.  I’ve had the good fortune of owning several of the most iconic cars in the world, and still have a couple left.  My expectations for the Model 3, a popular, mass-produced electric car were modest, and so I was surprised at its total awesomeness.  The new Model S Plaid makes a very different impression.

the McLaren

In the summer of 2021, Tesla announced plans to redesign their flagship car, the Model S. They indicated one configuration would be the fastest production car in the world. One might think I’d have learned my lesson after falling for that line twice. The first time I ordered a new BMW M5 in 2001 and the second time I bought the McLaren MP4-12C in 2014. But for some reason, that claim grips me and will not let go. I feel like a fish who keeps stupidly going for the same bait.  Before anyone could ask any reasonable, thoughtful or prudent questions and, before any details for the new Model S (such as price, features or performance) were known – only rumors, I put down a deposit. I rationalized:  “A deposit gives me the opportunity to say yes or no.  Given how popular they may be, waiting and attempting to buy one once all the facts are in will result in my not actually getting a chance to buy the car at all. Plus, if I don’t care for what I see, I’ll be able to get my deposit back.”  Pricing and options for the car continued to change up to its actual availability, but one thing remained unchanged – it is the fastest production car in the world.  And it now sits in my garage.

In many ways the Tesla Model 3 is far more practical and a better car than the Model S Plaid.  I will review that rationale in a bit.  But first, a bit of context surrounding the incredible performance level of the Model S Plaid and all of the attention it is getting.

Ever since men began using cars as a stand-in for “mine’s bigger than yours,” it’s been the speed of the car (top speed, zero to 60 time, elapsed quarter-mile, etc.) that has been the ultimate arbiter. Your car may look good, have great wheels and an aftermarket exhaust making it sound menacing and fast, but at the end of the day, performance at the track or drag strip is the bottom line. “Money talks – Bullshit walks,” is the slogan, with money being speed. The fact that the Tesla Plaid blows past every other previously “fastest car in the world” contender, and by such a margin, is part of the reason early attention on the Model S Plaid is about performance.  It should be no surprise.  Automobile aficionados are accustomed to speed records being surpassed by a few hundredths or thousandths of a second each year. Then the Tesla Plaid comes along and obliterates records by full seconds for a fraction of the price of other sub 3.0 zero to sixty cars.

One of the fastest Corvettes ever, the 2015 Z06, goes from zero to 60 in just 3.0 seconds, putting it on par with the $400K McLaren 675LT and 1 million dollar Ford GT.  My McLaren MP4-12C had bragging rights when it was introduced in 2012 with a 2.9 seconds zero to sixty, one of the first production cars in history to move under the 3-second mark.  Four years later, in 2018, the Ferrari 812 Superfast ($400K base price) finally bested it at 2.8 seconds.  McLaren took over again at 2.7 seconds with the 650S, a relative bargain with a base price of just $280,225 (meaning just over $350K out the door).  Then the Bugatti Veyron and Chiron models and dual-motor Porsche 918 Spyder all in the million or two-million-dollar range, began hitting 2.5 seconds.  Then the tri-motor Ferrari SF90 Stradale in 2021 set the record at 2.0 seconds with a base price of $625K and an out-the-door price frequently close to $1M.

Along comes the Tesla Plaid easily and repeatedly hitting 60 mph in just 1.9 seconds from a dead stop, and for $130K.  The experience of unleashing power output registering at the wheels of over 1100 horsepower and a peak torque of 905 ft. lbs. (over 1227 Nm) is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a car. Comments from passengers with whom I’ve shared this little experiment have equated it to an amusement park joy ride or what they state must be the feeling of being in a rocket blasting off from a launch pad. Technically, it’s been measured, and at launch, the Tesla is pulling 1.2G’s which is faster acceleration than a skydiver experiences jumping from an airplane in freefall.

I am not unfamiliar with fast cars.  My all-aluminum, 300 HP, 2001Acura NSX is no slouch, but was quickly relegated to second best in my garage when in 2014 I bought the McLaren MP4-12C. With is 2.9 zero to sixty and top speed over 210 mph, it was the fastest production car in the world, at that time, and trust me, it is still crazy fast. But here is the difference. While the Plaid streaks away from a stop in eerie silence, planting my right foot in the McLaren signals the 640 HP twin turbo V-8 to launch the light, carbon fiber-bodied McLaren down the road in a way that alerts everyone within a half mile to what is going on.

What makes the Plaid’s performance extra insane is the fact that it is a big, 4-door luxury sedan. It has normal-looking wheels and tires, no massive racing slicks.  Getting in and out is easy, versus the gymnastic contortions required in many of the cars at this super-fast end of the scale.  So, putting aside its blinding performance numbers (which has to be experienced to fully appreciate), how is it otherwise?

Mine has just over 2,000 miles as of this writing and apart from the performance, here is what I think so far:  The range (nearing 400 miles on a full charge) is superb, but not nearly as mind-blowing as the speed at which it charges.  On a recent trip to San Diego, we pulled into the charging station in Quartzite showing 23% remaining. We plugged in, walked half a block to a Burger King, ordered food, took it to the table and unwrapped it. We had just begun eating when my phone beeped to say the Tesla was finished charging.  This is approaching the time it takes to fill a normal gas-powered car with fuel.  It’s made possible because Tesla plotted our route, directing us to this particular super-charging station and in the miles before we pulled in, super-chilled the battery so it could accept a high-current dump of juice. And it worked.

Caption: “Looks like the bank’s been hit again. Well, no hurry — we’ll take the big horse.” (note far right side of cartoon)

The character of this car is that of a big, heavy, touring sedan.  Think of a Chrysler New Yorker, but with superb handling and vicious acceleration, when you want it. The Plaid is almost a foot longer than the Model 3 and nearly 7 inches wider.  With no center drive train, it easily fits four adults giving each person lots of room and large, luxurious seats which are heated and air-conditioned.  We’ve had five adults in it and all were comfortable. When heading to the airport for a pickup, we kiddingly say, “let’s take the BIG CAR” – a reference to one of our favorite old Gary Larson cartoons (pictured – note the leg of the “big horse” along the far-left side of the cartoon). In fact, I drove to the airport and brought my older daughter, her husband, and my two grandkids, each with a large suitcase stuffed for a two-week stay and each with a good-sized backpack.  Everything fit with no need to get creative or play Luggage Tetris.  It is big!

The Plaid is full of things pushing it to the top of electronic car whizzery.  It has autopilot, and while not fully self-driving, it is probably closer to it than anyone else.  It will happily drive itself on the highway for miles on end, keeping far better attention than most human drivers, automatically braking or changing lanes as appropriate. Like the McLaren, it has full pneumatic suspension.  It automatically lowers the suspension at high speeds for better aerodynamics and raises it in areas with rough roads or speed bumps. With its array of sensors, it theoretically can park and unpark itself, although I’ve not tried it yet. One feature you can’t opt out of trying are the over-the-air constant updates.  Just like your electronic devices, several times a month I get a notice saying my Tesla has a new download ready and I should install it.  This is all done from the Tesla app on my phone, which also allows me to adjust the temperature of the car remotely, open the trunk (or frunk) and, theoretically, summon the car to wherever I am – another feature I’ve yet to put to the test.

Not everything is perfect. Tesla has replaced the steering wheel with a yoke. The yoke is just fine on highways or city streets, but it does not work as easily as a steering wheel at low speeds and when backing up.  It takes getting used to.  What redeems the yoke is a completely unobstructed view of the road and the ability to see, at a quick glance, all the key bits of information a driver most wants – your speed, mini-map of where you are and upcoming turns, signal indicators and where you are in your lane and the posted speed limit.  It literally is the best view for a driver of any car I’ve ever been in, which is high praise as the NSX and McLaren are legendary for this.

Tesla designers decided to eliminate the traditional stalks for turn signals, gear selection and wipers that are on most cars and move those controls to the yoke. It works, but adjusting to the non-intuitive placement takes a bit of time to learn.  If the Tesla was the only car you drove, it would not likely be a problem.  Given my assortment of cars, it always takes a bit of thought to figure out what to do to make the car do what I want.

The range of customization and number of elements that can be changed or adjusted makes me feel like I’m driving an iPhone with wheels more than a car. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and different to have this literal toy box of things to play with on the car, which also contains an iPad size screen for the back seat, where you can watch Netflix movies, Hulu or YouTube. Oh, and of course, choose from a complete pallette of internal colored lighting while being able to make farts emanate from under any of the four seats, and even customize the type of fart.

Tesla paint issues (dust nibs, rotary marks, thin paint in spots) have been well-documented and smart owners know to install paint protection film. I did this at Cactus Tint for the Model 3 and of course, had it done on the Plaid as well.  Having a clear bra protects the paint from rock chips or other items hitting the paint.  For me they installed XPEL Ultimate Plus which has the added feature of self-healing. I then had the paint treated with a ceramic coating to further protect it.  Fingers crossed.

While I like the Plaid, the Model 3 is in many ways a better car.  It’s smaller, easier to toss around, and for daily in-town commuting, it is all it needs to be.  It fits in my garage better and into tight parking spaces, leaving plenty of room to get in and out.  The Model 3 is also a far better value. You could buy two Model 3’s for what the Plaid costs.  And the things that make the Plaid “way cool,” aren’t things you use every day. Yes, the Plaid has a better suspension, a killer 1,000 watt stereo, softer seats, ridiculous performance and, longer range, but it’s not worth $65K more. With what I know now, I would order a Model 3 with the Performance Package and be just as happy, maybe more so.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s fun having a Tesla Plaid and any Tesla, actually. Tesla is so far ahead of traditional car companies it is just astounding.  Not only in the cars they build, but in their approach to ordering a car, servicing it and their charging infrastructure.  And as a patriotic sort of guy, I also enjoy knowing I’m driving a car that is the most “American made” of any car I could possibly own by a considerable margin.  My Tesla is made 100% in the USA, all the components and all assembly by good old American workers – something that can’t be said for Fords, Chevys or Jeeps.

Scary Psychics

Mark Edward cold reading workshop - CSICon
Mark Edward cold reading workshop – CSICon

Recent explorations into ethical questions have led me down a variety of rabbit holes, eventually to the whole psychic phenomenon and people claiming to be mediums and able to predict the future. One fascinating character is Mark Edward.  I watched a 90-minute presentation where he explained how he and others in the “business” of psychic predictions, fortune-telling, and cold-readings do their “amazing feats.” Edwards is a former magician, having had long runs at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. Like Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, and James Randi, he dutifully explains that what he does is a trick. There are no supernatural forces at work.  He, and others offering psychic experiences, are superb listeners and skilled observers.(1) They’ve learned to tap into the pattern-seeking aspects of the human mind. As he demonstrates in the video, it turns out to be relatively easy to manipulate someone into believing the medium has contact with the spirit world or can hear and speak with dead relatives – even in an audience of confirmed skeptics. But, in fact, they’re all scams and have been proven so time and time again.  Nevertheless, people continue to be taken in.

If you know someone who has paid money for a psychic reading and they feel they got their money’s worth, good for them.  However, it’s best to understand what actually happened: the professed psychic used his/her repertoire to present ideas that would match the individual’s profile – the willing believer – and connected the dots.  The dot picture – and all the connections – were already in the persons head.  It’s the way our minds work.

Along these same lines I found a report, published in December of 2021, about a twelve-year study of psychic predictions. It is exceptionally well done, brilliantly documented and you can read the whole study here.

During the twelve years, researchers found and documented 3,800 predictions made by those claiming the ability to foretell events by paranormal, supernatural, divine, or spiritual means.  Finding them required digging through television programs, radio broadcasts, magazines, newspapers, websites, YouTube, and other social media.  They tracked the predictions and recorded the results.  Here is what they found:

  • 11 percent of predictions were correct
  • 15 percent were “expected”
  • 19% were too vague
  • 2% were unknown
  • 53% were wrong.

Most of what was predicted did not happen. Anti-gravity did not become a reality, Prince Harry did not become king, COVID-19 did not “disappear” in December of 2020 and the president of France was not assassinated.  And the corollary most people miss, most of what happened was not predicted. Psychics did not predict COVID-19, Osama Bin Laden’s death or even that of Robin Williams.

As Tim Medham, the executive officer on the study said,

If my car mechanic was right only 11 percent of the time, I’d get a different car mechanic.  But if, overall, all mechanics were right only 11 percent of the time, I’d begin to think there was something seriously wrong with the entire industry.  The results indicate nothing better than educated guessing – or even uneducated guessing – and certainly no better than any non-psychic could do, and probably a lot worse.”

As I watched clip after clip of supposed psychics, knowing it was a trick and how it was being done, I became more and more convinced those choosing to do this work have to be sociopaths, perhaps even psychopaths.  They are conmen and conwomen – people with little, if any, ethical compass and only pretending to care for the feelings or well-being of others.  As Mark Edward revealed in his presentation (and in more detail in his book: Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium), it is nearly impossible for him to feel good about what he does.  His rationalizations for why he continues to do it – “it’s my living, it’s the only thing I know how to do” – rings hollow.  How “psychic mediums” Tyler Henry, Miss Cleo, Caputo, and John Edward can allow and encourage people to believe stage tricks are not tricks but real precognition is despicable.

Better understanding of how our minds work is a hobby for me. Since high school and competing on the debate team, why people believe what they believe and think the way they do has intrigued me.  A couple of years ago, my friend Steve Pittendrigh gave me The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. The book exposes how randomness in everyday events is frequently misinterpreted. That book quickly led me to Michael Lewis’s book about Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman titled The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.  The New Yorker has a terrific article about the book here.  This pair of researchers were able to demonstrate beyond doubt that humans are not nearly as logical as we believe ourselves to be and are highly influenced by external forces.  Their work won Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Our minds are wonderful things. There is more going on inside our heads that most of us know.  The better you understand those who would seek to mislead you for their own selfish purposes, and the tricks they use to do that, the better off you will be. I’ve left this link to last.  It shows precisely how cold-reading works and how easily some one can mislead us. 

End

  • There is a wonderful scene in an early episode of the “Sherlock” series starring Benedict Cumberbatch in which Sherlock Holmes uses his exceptional powers of observation and each detail he sees is briefly highlighted. He saw dirty fingernails, a suntanned finger with a pale stripe where a ring used to be, a book missing on a bookshelf, tiny scratch on a desk corner, etc. If you can train yourself to see such minutiae extremely quickly, parse it, store it and recall it, then you, too, can have a career as a psychic!

BMW R Nine T – Quick Impressions

BMW R Nine T motorcycle

During my recent visit to California, my friend Rich and I took a short motorcycle ride to explore some of the wonderful twisty roads north of his home in Escondido.  I rode his new BMW R Nine T the first half of the ride and his big 2019 BMW 1250 GS-A during the return. After years of writing about motorcycles for magazines like RIDER, Motorcycle Consumer News and others, a part of my brain immediately begins logging impressions every time I throw a leg over a new bike.  The designers of the Nine T had a very clear idea of the riding experience they wished to create and the way this bike feels was instantly cemented when I switched to the big GS-A, especially because the GS-A is so much like my daily ride, the non-“A” version of the big bike.

The Nine T is gorgeous to look at, oozing style from every angle. Few bikes possess this degree of timelessness right out of the box.  One look and you know it’s going to be as attractive ten years from now as it is today. A classic is forever.  Of course, it helps if the horizontally-positioned boxer cylinders are something you like or, at least, are accustomed to. You may think these wide appendages will keep you from dragging a knee, given the degree to which they stick out to the sides, but that thought disappears when you are riding.

Within the first couple of miles on the Nine T, any prejudices I may have had regarding BMW being able to make affordable, naked sportbikes evaporated.  The bike immediately brought to mind the Ducati Monster, legendary for its sublime ride and extraordinary handling. I rode my first Monster, a tricked-out, yellow 900 with race suspension and custom exhaust, on an American Flyers Motorcycle Club (AFMC) trip in Italy in 2001.  Returning to California, it wasn’t long before a bright, new, red Ducati Monster sat in my driveway.  It became one of my favorite bikes of all time, ideally suited to the roads between Sausalito and the northern California coast where I was living then.  I spent hundreds of glorious hours all over Mt. Tamalpais, Hwy 1 to Muir Beach, and through the tunnel and back along Frank Valley Road. Never have a bike and a set of roads been so well-matched.  The Nine T has the same quick corner turn-in, light and flick-able as the Ducati, although with a bit smoother gearbox.  It’s not an all-day touring bike, but for 2-3 hour jaunts it is fine, especially at speeds high enough to create a cushion of air on your chest to ease pressure on your arms and wrists.  While weighing a bit more than the Monster, it feels just as light. The brakes have a snappy bite which adds to the intuitive handling, a signature characteristic of many BMW models.

WELT Video

For years no one believed BMW could make sportbikes. Then, in 2009, they introduced the S1000RR superbike and put that misperception to rest once and for all.  WELT has a film showing how this bike is made in a 50 minute, beautifully recorded, and well-narrated documentary.  Highly recommended:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yROGg3_vHBc

The Nine T cuts to the basic elements of riding and hits many of the buttons that make riders fall in love with motorcycles.  There is no traction control; it lacks electro-suspension features; there’s no fancy GPS or dash display; forget about cruise control and, in fact, anything that takes your focus away from just riding.  At just under 100 HP (95.8), it moves off the line quickly and eagerly pulls away as you straighten it up out of a corner. It’s like baby bear’s porridge, not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Smooth ribbons of two-lane twisty roads are where the Nine T shines. All-day on a super slab, not so much.  The lack of wind protection, cruise control, and narrow seat will get old fast, especially if you are a bit old yourself.   Thanks for letting me take it for a spin, Rich.  It was absolutely sublime.