Thomas the Tank Engine Teaches Me About Business

This past weekend, I endeavored to take my children to the Thomas the Tank Engine live show that was going on here in Seattle.  Hat tip and double barrel to Scott Hanselman for tweeting his going to this a few weeks back.  Kids loved it, but the parents were a bit worn out when done.

During the course of the show, I realized that, like many children’s stories, there are lessons to be learned.  I decided to take the main themes, and surface them for business and entrepreneurs:

  • Be UsefulDave McClure had a great shirt I saw at last week’s TechCrunch Cloud Computing Roundtable: “Make something people want.”  It’s a Paul Graham quote, but very appropriate.  Be useful and your product or service will stand on it’s own.  A friend of mine was asking if he should hire a PR firm for his new company, and whether hungry trumps deep vertical experience.  I told him to make something people wanted and focus on that.  No amount of PR can sell a bad bag of rocks.
  • Have Fun When It Rains – These are some tough economic times we are in right now, but it’s during this time when you find out who the innovators are and who the imitators are.  To steal a line from Jason Calacanis, there are entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs.  The entrepreneurs will shine in this economy and come out the other side much stronger.
  • Don’t Cause Confusion and Delay – Just get it done.  Someone asked Brad Feld during his stop in Seattle what advice he would give to startups.  He said “just do it.”  There’s plenty of reasons to not do something, and if you try to get approval for whatever it is you want to do, you will hear all of those reasons from a great many people.  Hate flakes like to rain down on new ideas.  Those are not people you need around you, nor should you be one of those people.  Just start working on it, and release often and early.
  • Be Brave – As a corollary to the above, fortune favors the brave, so get out there and do something people think can’t be done.  I’m often quoted as saying that I’m the guy you drop behind enemy lines with a knife and three bullets, and the orders to “just figure it out.”  If you aren’t brave, those orders, and lack of appropriate equipment, will leave you scared and cowering.  Pick your objective, and get it done.
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help – They say the best founding teams have 2-3 members.  Anything more than that becomes unmanageable, and you will ultimately end up with 2-3 founders, but minus a few friends.  If you are thinking you are going to venture out on your own, ask for help.  If you are stuck, ask for help.  My late father used to like to tell me that people thought he was the “smartest mutherfucker alive.”  He made it clear to me, however, that you don’t need to know all the answers, but simply to know where to get the answers, and do so quickly.  Whether that means from a book, or from a person, it’s OK to not have all the answers or to need help.  In fact, you will find that the more input you get from people, your idea will ultimately be better for it.
  • Andrew Kisslo

    Great Post. I too endured the Thomas juggernaut and learned sometimes Spending your way out of situation is a strategic move. My son was simply too mesmerized by the twirling handheld Thomas lights in the audience. It upset him to near ‘Thomas Rage’, so I got up, went and plunked down $15 for this thing and viola, the show went on! I guess it’s a supporting point for ‘Make something people want’ and KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER! 🙂

  • Brandon Watson

    Yo, that Thomas light thing is evil. Travel with 2 kids, find your wallet that much lighter. Pun intended. Gah!