New blog... better than the old one

My new blog is now up and running at www.skydayton.com. Thanks to the talented team at Squarespace for finally making the Web WYSIWYG.


Emergency Maneuver Training

Continuing my aviator training, I recently completed an intense ground and flight course in emergencies. I spent three days wearing a parachute doing spins, rolls, spirals, loops and recovery from "unusual attitudes". We made every landing with the engine out or with simulated missing controls -- I landed once without any aileron or elevator control at all, only using rudder and power (it worked but wasn't pretty!). In addition to the obvious benefits of knowing how to recover from spins, I gained an awareness of the physics that allows airplanes flown by competent pilots to be so inherently safe.


Jet to Oregon

Flew a small jet Van Nuys to Oregon (with an instructor) this week. Greased the landing.


Inspiring letter to a son heading to space

I ran across this inspiring letter, which was written over 50 years ago to astronaut Malcolm Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the earth, from his father the day before he left and printed in his biography.

I think a lot about what I tell my kids -- like a rocket, a few degrees of adjustment here or there at launch makes a huge difference later.
Dear Son, 
Just a few words on the eve of your great adventure for which you have trained yourself and anticipated for so long — to let you know that we all share it with you, vicariously. 
As I think I remarked to you at the outset of the space program, you are privileged to share in a pioneering project on a grand scale — in fact the grandest scale yet known to man. And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths. 
You are probably aware that I am not a particularly religious person, at least in the sense of embracing any of the numerous formal doctrines. Yet I cannot conceive of a man endowed with intellect, perceiving the ordered universe about him, the glory of the mountain top, the plumage of a tropical bird, the intricate complexity of a protein molecule, the utter and unchanging perfection of a salt crystal, who can deny the existence of some higher power. Whether he chooses to call it God or Mohammed or Buddha or Torquoise Woman or the Law of Probability matters little. I find myself in my writings frequently calling upon Mother Nature to explain things and citing Her as responsible for the order of the universe. She is a very satisfactory divinity for me. And so I shall call upon Her to watch over you and guard you and, if she so desires, share with you some of Her secrets which She is usually so ready to share with those who have high purpose. 
With all my love,
More amazing letters from dads, including John Steinbeck and Ronald Reagan here.


"If You Don't Know It's Impossible, It's Easier to Do."

Neil Gaiman just gave a brilliant speech with ten pieces of advice for young artists. I found it applicable to business or just about anything in life. The video is embedded below.

Some of my biggest successes in business were where I had no clue that what I was trying to do was probably impossible. I just went ahead and did it. Sure it was hard, but it often worked because I was the only one who tried. Gaiman captures this perfectly:
When you start out...you have no idea what you're doing. This is great. People who know what they're doing know the rules, and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible...were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do. And because nobody has done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.

In our materialist world, money is seen as the key motivation for people. Steve Jobs dispelled this famously with, "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me." Gaiman agrees:
Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was for the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn't end up getting the money, either.

But how do you start out? Before I knew anyone or had any experience, I used to have a 10:1 ratio -- for every ten calls I made, I wouldn't be discouraged if I could just get one person to call me back. Gaiman uses a metaphor of being stranded on a desert island, and every career attempt is like putting a message in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean. You may have to put out hundreds before the bottles start coming back. Eventually, they do.

Soon enough, however, you face the problems of success. When you do finally make it, the world starts coming to you -- the bottles start washing in -- and ironically that can prevent you from doing the things that made you successful in the first place.
The world conspires to stop you from doing the thing that you do because you're successful. There was a day when I realized I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails and found I was writing much more.

And why you should continue to take big risks:
The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time…. Looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes, and when I was doing them I had no idea. I still don't. And where would be the fun in doing something you knew was going to work?

Exceptional advice for anyone who's ever had success or sought it.


How I named EarthLink

In the fall of 1993, I was sitting in my apartment in Southern California trying to come up with a name for the Internet company I was about to start. I was 22 years old.

I recently came across my original notes from back then, and here's how it happened. I had first scribbled a few suffixes ("link", "soft", "works") and prefixes ("net", "super", etc.), then narrowed it down to some favorites, put them into a grid and called six friends, including my future wife, Arwen. The winner by a slim majority: "EarthLink". That was it.

I'm not sure if I conducted a trademark search, but I went with it. 

Then, in late 1994 after we had launched and we were growing like a rocket, I was notified that the word "EarthLink" was already trademarked and owned by a major US cable TV company. We were facing a disaster. Our lawyers wanted to start writing letters. Instead, I just cold called the cable company's headquarters back East, talked my way to their general counsel and explained our predicament. He thought about it for a few minutes, and in a stroke of enormous generosity, released the name to us, completely and at no charge.

Looking at this nearly two decades later, my conclusions:
  1. The name EarthLink worked well because it was descriptive, but also whimsical and memorable. It made a technological mystery sound approachable. It sounded disarming and helpful, and that perfectly summed up what later made the company successful.
  2. A name doesn't make or break a company. It's an empty vessel you fill with the right strategy and execution. But the vessel can be too small or it could have leaks. EarthLink was a perfect name for a very big, embracing idea: make it easy to connect to the Internet and bring it to the masses.
  3. Years later, I would be involved with start-ups that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire specialized agencies to come up with names. Back then, my net worth was less than a hundred thousand dollars. I just had a pure idea of what I was trying to build, sat down and came up with a name. My biggest successes to date have all gone that route, and I still think it's the best way.
  4. Sometimes big companies seem unfriendly and impenetrable, but they are staffed by people just like you and me. When I called the general counsel of a big cable company, he listened to my honest plea, and he decided to help me. I'm sure saving my life made him feel really good. Sometimes it's better to just take a chance and reach out to the person who can make a difference.
  5. I'm glad I didn't choose "WanSoft"!

EarthLink went on to help millions of people onto the Internet for the first time, and in the process became a Fortune 1000 company.


Arwen's novel shoots to the top of the charts!

Resurrection is #3 #1, behind ahead of the latest book by George R.R. Martin.

Get yours on Kindle, Trade Paperback or Audio Book here!


Bezos on the long game

From a great interview in Wired by Steven Levy:

Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. Ebooks had to happen. Infrastructure web services had to happen. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.

Pure gold.



Challenging the Mundane

Some of the best business ideas are borne from the dull and boring. A simpler way to take credit card payments: Square. Easier access to town cars: Uber. Sensible dental insurance: Brighter. Notes synched on all computers and devices: Evernote. Renting unused office space: eVenues.

And now, a better thermostat: Nest.

This is what happens when a bright entrepreneur decides not to take an everyday inconvenience for granted. How many ordinary problems do we live with that we'll one day say, "I can't believe we used to..."?

Here's a few off the top of my head:

  • Traffic lights that stay red when there's no crossing cars
  • Logging into social networks and seeing stuff from people we don't care about
  • Alarm clocks that suck; it's the first thing we look when we wake up and last thing we look at before we go to bed, and it's ugly and still thinks it should be programmed like a 1980's VCR
  • No way to tell which water bottle belongs to whom at home, with guests, when playing basketball, etc. (yep, I said mundane), resulting in massive waste globally
  • The hundreds of billions of spent each year to pay people to prepare tax returns, a total waste
  • The 99% of boats that sit in harbors unused 99% of the time
  • The billions spent by advertisers reaching people who are totally outside their target audience
  • Paper money, a model left over from centuries ago

And countless other troubles and inefficiencies small and large that vex and hassle us on a daily basis, and which we assume are just a given. In solving these problems, entrepreneurs will build hugely valuable businesses. For example, Square looks like a simple device to scan a credit card, but it opens the door for small merchants to manage their customer relationships like never before, and Nest seems like a better looking thermostat but could allow consumers and producers of energy unprecedented control over their costs.

The trouble we take for granted today could turn out to be a billion dollar opportunity for the entrepreneur who sees things differently.


Sunset in Santa Barbara today

Had to pull over and take this shot, which doesn't do justice to the dropping
into the Pacific on a gorgeous 85 degree day in October on the California coast.


Unaired Think Different Ad from 1997 with Steve Jobs' Voice

I met Steve at the Apple campus shortly after this campaign was launched. A lot of companies had tried the "we're different" message in advertising before, but Steve followed it up with the courage to actually be different, often in the face of deafening criticism.


Steve Jobs created the most valuable company in the world

I remember the first time I met Steve Jobs like it was yesterday.

It was 1998, and Steve had returned to Apple the previous year. The first Internet gold rush was under way, and EarthLink was signing up the masses who wanted to get on the Internet for the first time. A long time Apple user, I had worked hard to make EarthLink the best ISP for the Mac, and I guess Steve had noticed, because he asked us to come up to Cupertino and meet with him. Steve walked into the conference room in jeans and flip flops and introduced himself. I told him I was an Apple fan boy since forever and asked him to tell us what his strategy was for the company. Steve got up on the white board and drew out his plan, confidently explaining how he was drastically simplifying Apple, cutting it back to four computers: a desktop and laptop each designed for home and business. And then he proposed to to make EarthLink the default ISP for Apple's new home desktop (the iMac) and eventually all Apple products.

As a result of that meeting, EarthLink became the first ISP presented to a new Mac user as soon as they turned on their computer for the first time. Apple later invested $200 million in EarthLink and one of Steve's most dedicated and insightful lieutenants, Phil Schiller, joined our board.

Today, as he steps down as CEO to battle problems with his health, many people are sharing Steve stories. Here's one from me: It was a hot August evening in 1998, and I was living in a little rented house in Toluca Lake, California. The phone rang, and I picked it up. "Hi Sky, it's Steve Jobs." After quickly getting over how he'd gotten my number, I asked him what was up. It turned out that one of EarthLink's PR team had gotten a little overly excited and briefed a reporter on our new partnership in advance of the press release. Steve had gotten wind and politely asked me to reign them in. I told him I really appreciated the heads up, and I'd do that right away. Steve gave me his home number and told me to call him if I ever needed anything. This was a guy who had at least 10,000 employees at the time.

A lot about being a great manager is knowing how much or how little detail to focus on. Howard Schultz has said, "Everything matters," and Steve Jobs certainly embodies that idea. But to me, it's as simple as, whether the outcome is accomplished directly or through your team, a great manager truly cares about everything. Steve truly cares about every detail of the user experience, far more than anyone I've ever seen, and he has an indomitable combination of being unrelenting and right.

Steve's legacy already spans generations. My 9 year old daughter isn't prone to idolize anyone, let alone me or the founder of a computer company. Last night, she asked me if I knew Steve Jobs, and when I nodded my head, she said, "cooooooool."



Taken at Santa Monica Beachfront

Posted via email from Sky Dayton's posterous