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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SLP Boston Kickoff With Bill Warner

The SLP Boston chapter kicked off their first class on September 21. After some great kickoff presentations from Program Leader Michael Mullins and Director Anupendra Sharma, we were lucky to be joined by Bill Warner, best known as the founder of Avid Technology.

Bill immediately made all of the new fellows feel comfortable. Instead of a lecture format, he sat at the head of the table with more of a fireside chat feel. After introductions, Bill shared some stories on the history on Avid, including how he launched it on $50k and spent about 40% of that money on unique office space in an old factory. "The one thing that friends always remember about the early days of Avid was the office...our visitors sat on the waiting room on my Minivan's back-seat", Bill recalled. Bill didn't make a lot of calculated moves in the early days of Avid that you'd expect for such a successful entrepreneur. He instead relied on instinct and gut feel. He advised the fellows to do the same: do things quickly and if it doesn't work, fix it just as quickly.

Bill contrasted his experience bootstrapping Avid with his launch of Wildfire Communications, which he did on $2MM of VC money. With $2MM, he didn't have financial constraints so he lost his ability to say no. Even with all of his experience growing Avid into the market leader, Bill eventually failed with Wildfire after 8+ years and a lot more VC money.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the session was when Bill spoke about his philosophies on developing new products. He said the #1 thing to focus on is your "intention flow" to "your people". When building a product, ask yourself the following: "I intend to help people _____". In Avid's case, the video editors were his people, and Bill's intention was to make it much easier for editors to do their job. He repeated several times that "your people are not your customers. They don't pay you anything." This was an interesting contrast to the cliche "listen to your customers" philosophy that is in most business literature.

So, if you're only focusing on your users, and they don't pay you, how do you make money? This is where Bill pairs "Co-Flow" with the intention flow. Co-Flow is another flow for the folks who pay money because of what you do in your intention flow. The classic example is Google. Their intention is and always was to have the best search so that "their people" can quickly and easily search the web. Ad Words is their "Co-Flow". Google is paid by advertisers who want access to the users who are simply searching on the web.

It was a great class and we couldn't have kicked SLP Boston off better. Lots of great stories and good advice from Bill. We are already looking forward to the next class on October 25!

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