Thursday, April 19, 2007

16 Rules to Live By - eBay Sellers Take Note - Thanks to Bob Parsons

I have this article bookmarked, because I like the 16 rules. Good stuff that I think applies to entrepreneurs of all kinds and eBay sellers, of course.

Set aside whatever opinions you have of Bob Parsons -- I know he's somewhat controversial, but I dig the 16 rules.

The following article is included with the permission of Bob Parsons and is Copyright © 2005 by Bob Parsons. All rights reserved.

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“Robert, they can’t eat you!” My rules for survival.

Over a year ago, I was asked by BizAz Magazine (a local Phoenix magazine) to speak at one of its “Business Beneath The Surface” breakfast meetings. As part of the event, participants have the option of submitting questions to the speakers, which are then answered during the breakfast.

One of the questions directed towards me was, “What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a business?”

I liked Clint Eastwood's rules.
Also at that time, I happened to pick up a copy of Men’s Journal. Clint Eastwood was on the cover and an article featured 10 items called “Clint’s rules.” I found his rules to be interesting. They were things like, “You are what you drive,” “avoid extreme makeovers,” and things like that. As Clint Eastwood is a pretty easy guy to respect, I thought the whole rule thing was pretty cool. And the more I thought about it, I realized that over the years I had accumulated a number of principles (or rules) that I tried very hard to adhere to -- and these rules (in many ways) have become the foundation for whatever successes I’ve had.

So, a few weeks before the meeting, I sat down and started typing -- in no particular order -- the rules I try to live by. At the breakfast meeting, I read my rules at the end of my presentation. The response was amazing. I was swamped with requests for copies of the rules. An edited list was published in the Arizona Republic newspaper a few days later. I was even called and interviewed by a local radio station about the list.

Since then, some of the rules have been edited, some consolidated, and a few new ones added. Despite those changes, the list of rules I presented that morning are pretty much what appears at the end of this post.

My rules come from the significant life events I've experienced.
As I write this, I am now 54 years old, and during my life thus far I suspect that I’ve encountered more significant life events than most people ever dream about. Here’s some information about me:

I grew up in a lower middle class family in Baltimore’s inner city. We were always broke. I’ve earned everything I ever received. Very little was ever given to me.

I’ve been working as long as I can remember. Whether it was delivering or selling newspapers, pumping gas, working in construction or in a factory, I’ve always been making my own money.

Not all of the life events were happy ones.
I was stood up to be executed twice during a robbery of a gas station where I was working when I was 16. To my amazement, my would-be executioner could not muster the nerve to pull the trigger. This saved both of us. I lived, and while he went to jail, he did not go there forever. Eventually, in spite of other witnesses of that and other crimes, I was the only one who testified against the two perpetrators. They both received major jail sentences.

I was with a United States Marine Corps rifle company in Viet Nam for a short while in 1969. As a combat rifleman, I learned several key life lessons that resulted in some of the rules I try to live by. I learned first hand how significant a role “luck” or karma can play in our lives. The rifle company I was assigned to, Delta Company of the 1st Batallion, 26th Marines, operated in the rice paddys of Quang Nam province. We operated on the squad level (7 to 10 of us, depending on casualties), and most every night we left our command post and went several kilometers out into the rice paddys and set up in ambush. While there are many who saw significantly more combat action than me, I did see my share. After 5 or 6 weeks, I was wounded and medevaced to Japan. I returned to Viet Nam several times after that, but came back as a courier of classified documents. Although I requested (at least twice) to return to my old rifle company, the transfer was never approved.

After the Marine Corps, I used the G.I. Bill to attend college, and graduated from the University of Baltimore with a degree in accounting. I attended college mostly at night. After college, I took and passed the CPA exam. I worked only a few years as an accountant. The lion’s share of my career has been spent as an entrepreneur.

I've been very lucky when it comes to business.
I started a successful business division for a company called LeaseAmerica. During the four years I was involved with this business, it grew to 84 employees and wrote over $150 million dollars in small office equipment leases. Its success helped redefine how business in that industry is now conducted.

Not long after I started the division for LeaseAmerica, I started a software company in the basement of my house. I started it with the little bit of money I had, and named it Parsons Technology. I owned this business for 10 years, grew it to about 1,000 employees and just shy of $100 million a year in sales. Eventually, we sold Parsons Technology to a company named Intuit. Because my then-wife and I were the only investors, and the company had no debt, we received the entire purchase price.

Shortly after selling Parsons Technology, my wife and I decided to go our separate ways and did the customary “divide everything by two.” I then moved to Arizona and retired for a year. This was a requirement of my deal with Intuit.

Retirement was not for me.
Retirement wasn’t for me, so after the mandatory year passed, and using the money I had from the sale of Parsons Technology, I started a new business. This business eventually became The Go Daddy Group. I started this business from scratch, did it without acquisitions, and developed our own products. In the process, I came spooky close to losing everything I had, and actually made the decision to “lose it all” rather than close Go Daddy. Today, Go Daddy is the world leader in new domain name registrations, and has been cash flow positive since October 2001 (not bad for a dot com). As of this writing, I continue to be the only investor in Go Daddy.

Throughout all of these life events, I came to accumulate a number of rules that I look to in various situations. Some of them I learned the hard way. Others I learned from the study of history. I know they work because I have applied them in both my business and personal life.

And one more thing.
I’ve read many times that original ideas are rare indeed. This is particularly true when it comes to the rules herein. I can’t imagine that any of my rules represent new ideas.

My contribution is that I’ve assembled these ideas, put them to work in my life, and can attest -- that more often than not -- they hold true.

While I put my 16 rules together in response to a business question, I've been told by others that they can be applied to almost any pursuit.

Here are the 16 rules I try to live by:

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we’re in our comfort zone. I hear people say, “But I’m concerned about security.” My response to that is simple: “Security is for cadavers.”

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.

3. When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think. There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”

5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, “As you think, so shall you be.”

6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don’t look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

7. Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.

8. Be quick to decide. Remember what the Union Civil War general, Tecumseh Sherman said: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don’t know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven’t examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you’re doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you’re doing as anyone else, provided that what you’re doing is legal.

13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn’t fair. You make your own breaks. You’ll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

14. Solve your own problems. You’ll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you’ll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: “You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others.” There's also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: "A wise man keeps his own counsel."

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

16. There’s always a reason to smile. Find it. After all, you’re really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time.”

A special word of thanks.
I owe a special thanks to Brian Dunn. When I first wrote these rules down and was thinking about compiling them into a book -- that book, like most books I suppose, has been half-done for a while :); -- Brian read them and suggested a title. His suggestion was, “They Can’t Eat You.” I like Brian’s suggestion for two reasons: 1. It reminds me of my Dad. I sure miss him; and 2. It’s true. No matter how difficult things get, you're going to be OK. It's very important to realize that. Thanks, Brian.

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