Good Ideas and Umbrella Inventors

If you ask an entrepreneur for advice on getting business ideas, they might say, “find what irritates you and fix it.” And while that’s not terrible advice, it does lead to terrible ideas.

This advice is misguided because a lack of ideas isn’t the problem, the lack of ideas is a symptom. The problem is not having a solid foundation from which good ideas come.

It’s Raining Bad Ideas

Enough people are attempting to fix their irritation with rain that the US Patent Office has four full-time staffers evaluating umbrella patents.

Totes Isotoner, which is the largest umbrella company in the country, stopped accepting unsolicited proposals several years ago. One of the problems, according to Ann Headley, the director of rain-product development for Totes, is that umbrellas are so ordinary that everyone thinks about them, and, because they’re relatively simple, you don’t need an advanced degree to imagine a way to redesign them, but it’s difficult to come up with an umbrella idea that hasn’t already been done.

It’s a safe assumption that next to none of these ideas will recoup the $10,000 they spent on a patent application. And it was all in the name of “find what irritates you and fix it.”

We Will Never

We Will Never

One thing I love about Google’s classic Don’t Be Evil motto is that it’s constantly used against them. The technology press acts as a watchdog on Google’s every move, ready to cry “Evil!” anytime Google makes a controversial decision. “Google is Evil” headlines have now become cliché, but the attention is still a good thing for everyone—Google included.

I don’t worry about Real HQ turning evil, but I am afraid we’ll turn into just another lumbering, bureaucratic, boring corporation once we reach a certain size.

But maybe we can prevent a regression to the lame by deciding what we’re not going to do now—while we’re still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And if we make these rules unambiguous, we won’t need the tech press to hold us accountable. So with the help of the Real HQ team, we’ve come up a handful of things we will never do:

  • We will never have cubicles.
  • We will never hire unpaid interns.
  • We will never advertise on billboards.
  • We will never have regularly scheduled meetings.
  • We will never control which websites our team can visit.
  • We will never answer a phone call with an automated message.
  • We will never tell our team where they should work.
  • We will never write a press release.
  • We will never have a dress code.
  • We will never go public.

Clubhouse Rulez

When we first started work on Agent Pronto, I decided we should have a sort of company culture document.

The first challenge in creating something like this was personal - I couldn’t help but feel I was bullshitting. A culture document for a company of two people which hadn’t launched yet and didn’t even have a website? It felt…grandiose.

But after hearing Tony Hsieh at SXSW, I realized the best time (perhaps the only time) to establish company culture is from the very beginning.

My b.s. meters were okay with the concept now, but the name “culture document” was still giving me pains. I needed a better way to describe it.

The word “values” was immediately dismissed because generations of corporate meetings have rendered it meaningless. “Manifesto” sounded cool, but seemed more outwardly focused and also a touch douchy. “Culture code”, “rules of engagement” and “how we work” were a few other phrases considered. Eventually, I settled on Clubhouse Rules - a name so silly and childish that there was no room for grandeur.

I drafted a few initial rules and sent to Peter to consider and evaluate. Over several drafts and much editing, we had eight rules that best explained the Agent Pronto culture.

I owe hat tips to Seth Godin and 37signals for inspiring several of our rules. Our passion for making beautiful things was the basis for several more. And all were filtered through the casual, “be a real person” approach I’ve practiced with clients for years. Here they are:

  • We will be artists.
  • We will asynchronously overshare.
  • We will work hard, but we won’t work long.
  • We will not create emergencies because we know that most often, they are created.
  • We will make things beautiful and profitable. We will even make beautiful more profitable.
  • We will speak to customers, partners and co-workers like a friend, not a corporate robot.
  • We will make ourselves better so we can make the world better.
  • And we will have a fucking blast doing it.

With the Clubhouse Rules finalized, I asked my talented friend Sarah to paint them for my office. She not only obliged, but inserted her own personality into the project. Clubhouse Rules was now Clubhouse Rulez and an amazing work of art:

Clubhouse Rulez for Agent Pronto