Venture Voice – interviews with entrepreneurs

Entertaining Entrepreneurship

Monday Morning Quarterbacking ODEO and The Chinese Woman

Share the word

In July 2005, Ev Williams broke the news on our show that he closed a round of venture capital for his podcasting business ODEO. This was a very different style of business building than he had with his first startup, Blogger, that was bootstrapped and understaffed. Recently in a speech that was summarized by GigaOM’s Liz Gannes, Ev issues a mea culpa and “went through a tidy list of the top five Odeo screw-ups.”

Rarely are entrepreneurs so honest. With this openness there are a number of interesting issues we could dig into to. But I’m not going to. It’s more fun to look back, using the eternal archive that we call the Internet, to hold pundits accountable for their predictions.

Both Ev himself and podcast pioneer Dave Winer point to a year old post from Mr. Gutman on Ev Williams as a second-time entrepreneur. Gutman wrote eloquently:

The first time around he was successful, but success came at a price, he had to submit to the terms of the world, which are harsh. Round the clock days, seven day weeks, no time off, and that’s not all. No money. Layoffs. Unhappy users. No revenue (Blogger was a dotcom boom company, without the rich financing). But in the end Williams made millions. Now he’s going to have success, again — he know so much more (really of course he does) but this time he’s going to win on his terms. “Sane hours” isn’t all they’ll do better this time, the office furniture is probably pretty nice, and the location is convenient, and the computers are modern, and the business trips luxurious. Dinners are at nice restaurants.

Everyone is working hard, but are they really? And can you win in business, on your own terms?

Experience says no. To win you have to submit to the lunacy of the crazy world we live in.

His words are powerful. They’re persuasive too until you examine his credentials.

Ironically Mr. Gutman is writing on the blog platform that Ev built. He claims to be a high school assistant principle in LA, and the rest of his blog is mostly focused on love and relationships. Further, his blog hasn’t been updated in over a year, and Gutman doesn’t provide enough information to prove he really exists!

So there’s a fundamental question at hand here: Do you need to work insane hours to be successful? In the “no” corner we have an entrepreneur who sold a business to Google and a handful of commenters who claim to have startup experience. Some of those commenters discredit the “yes” corner, which consists of an anonymous poster, Mr. Gutman, who doesn’t even claim to have startup experience.

Throwing out Mr Gutman’s analysis after discovering his dubious credentials reminds me of “The Chinese Woman” episode of Seinfeld. In that episode, George Costanza’s mother Estelle gets zen advice not to divorce her husband from Donna Chang over the phone, who Estelle assumed was Chinese. After the call Estelle, impressed with Donna’s Eastern wisdom, takes the advice. When Estelle met Donna Chang and discovered that Donna was not Chinese but really was Jewish and from Long Island, she threw out the advice and continued with the divorce. Conversation ensued:

ESTELLE: You’re not Chinese!?!?
DONNA: [pause] No.
ESTELLE: I thought you were Chinese!!
DONNA: I’m from Long Island.
ESTELLE: Long Island?!?! I thought I was gettin’ advice from a Chinese woman!!
DONNA: I’m sorry..?
ESTELLE: Well! Then, that changes everything!
GEORGE: What?!
ESTELLE: She’s not Chinese; I was duped!!
GEORGE: So what?! She gave you advice; what’s the difference if she’s not Chinese?!?!
ESTELLE: I’m not taking advice from some girl from Long Island!! [goes into kitchen]
GEORGE: [chases her] Wait a minute! You’re–now you’re getting a divorce because she’s from Long Island?!?!

Is business advice like art, where its validity or lack thereof is inherent in the product and doesn’t need to be judged based on its creator? Or should we still be reading up on bios?

List of Episodes