The six prejudices of Jason Cohen. From geek to entrepreneur.

From Geek to Entrepreneur

As a geek who has started three successful companies, I’ve had to move from “coder” to everything else — salesman, marketer, accountant, and changer of the pellets in the urinals. In the process, I’ve found that some widely accepted advice lead to failure while trusting my inexperienced gut lead to success. Through stories I’ll give you six ways to figure out whether specific advice is right for your situation, and then workshop those lessons against the 37signals philosophy.

Bio – Jason is the founder of Smart Bear Software and author of Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review. He blogs weekly on startups and marketing from a geek’s point of view at

Jason Cohen's Entrepreneurial Skill Set

Jason Cohen's Entrepreneurial Skill Set

Jason thinks of himself as a coder. The chart above shows, in green, his self defined key competencies in a start up. Of course, as a company founder, he needs the other ones too. How did he jump the coding shark?

Step One – Started blogging at Followed all the rules about little and often, bullets not semi-colons blah blah. Had about 400 RSS subscribers. Decided to do his own thing. Increased by 16,500 or so in less than a year.

The Rules of Blogging and the other Rules of Blogging

The Rules of Blogging and the other Rules of Blogging

None of the rules that work for most bloggers were wrong. What was going on?

Lesson #1 Jason got to set his own rules. You don’t need to live in someone else’s box.

Lesson #2 Advice has context.

The rules from Problogger are about blogs with advertising etc. Jason wanted to blog to move his business forward – to attract top talent. What worked for him may not work for others.

Step Two – Enterprise sales.

Geeks think that Enterprise sales people are sporty, perma-tanned idiots selling shit to people on the golf course then disappearing before they realise the customer just bought shit. Geeks need to beg to make a sale.
Baby-faced Jason was initially thrilled when he met the silver haired VP of Sales from a successful enterprise sales business as Jason thought he would offer huge learning  opportunities.
All the sales guy wanted to share his Jedi mind tricks was:
  • 50% of the company
  • A patent for the software
  • Knock off early on Fridays
  • Change the name from ‘Smart Bear to Software Test and Deployment Systems – STDS.
Alert! Alert! We need a patent. Shit sales people says.

Alert! Alert! We need a patent. Shit sales people says.

Jason almost took him on but was saved by an unexpected PO for $48,000 from Adobe. No-one told Jason he wasn’t a sales guy.

Lesson #3 The statement, “I am not a XXXX person”, is twaddle.

Lesson #4 Trust your gut, even when you are inexperienced.

You know whether someone is a good coder without quantitative information. The same principle applies to other functions.

Step Three – Sales again…

SmartBear was growing but needed to ramp up sales.

Sales 2.0 at A Smart Bear

Sales 2.0 at A Smart Bear

Sales people only did inbound sales, no outbound sales were working, sales people couldn’t answer any technical questions. Unmitigated disaster. So why did he do it? Largely because everyone else said that that was the right thing to be doing.

Lesson #5 “That’s how it is done” is bullshit.

When SmartBear started, they could bootstrapped the company using Google Adwords – because no one else is doing it. They now cannot afford to use the same Adwords now as the world has changed.

By doing things differently, SmartBear  found their competitive advantage. By having the geek founder doing the technology demo’s perhaps their customers were given huge confidence in the ability of the company to deliver. Perhaps by anti-selling, they set themselves apart from the crowd. But the source of competitive advantages will change.

37 Signals have their own set of rules.

  • Solve only simple problems
  • Planning is silly
  • Don’t work too hard
Their rules, my rules

Their rules, my rules

Rules depend on where you are, what you want to be, and what point in time you are.

The relevance of advice from commentators is also very dependent on where they play in the Rich/King B2C/B2B matrix.

Common advice from bloggers in context

Common advice from bloggers in context

Jason lays his own prejudices laid bare.

The 6 Prejudices of Jason Cohen

The 6 Prejudices of Jason Cohen

Looks like it is beer O’clock. That room emptied fast!