Karma in the Lean Startup Era

Karma… I made a list of everything bad I’ve ever done and, one by one I’m going to make up for all my mistakes. I’m just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl.

-Jason Lee as Earl Hickey

Generosity: if you give, you get!

-Bill Liao, an ingredient Stone Soup: The Secret Recipe for Making Something from Nothing

In the search for partners, employees, or funding, relationships have always been important in startups; “who-you-know” often separated the best from the good.

But in times past a startup had the capital and time to build relationships. Attend trade shows. Hire a first sales person to make initial office calls.

Come up with an idea, get a good team, pitch enough investor, get some cash. Seems like so long ago, doesn’t it?

We All Need Help

The vast majority of entrepreneurs I work with are – like me – trying to figure out how to build a lean startup, an organization that runs lean by design, not by crisis. An organization that measures progress in terms of customer learning – not hires, lines of working code, or funds raised.

Relationships now matter more than ever because the fastest way to validate an idea is to “get out of the office” and talk to the right people. The cheapest way to get promotion is getting colleagues to spread the word. The best way to avoid a mistake is to get advice from someone who made the same mistake.

We all need help. All of us. And the best way to get help is to give it. Better than buying it.

Enter Karma: Currency in the Lean Startup Era

Karma is in.

For lean startup entrepreneurs, good Karma is better than a Sand Hill Road rolodex.

Don’t believe me? Check out the Lean Startup Circle Google Group. You’ll see a lot of people asking advice, giving advice, sharing experiences, sharing mistakes. You won’t see many people asking “where can I get money?”

I assure you, it was not like this when I started my first company in 1999.

Making Karma

Karma is a funny thing

-Earl Hickey

Indeed, Karma is a funny thing. I don’t know how to quantify it, but I have this odd little Karma account in my head. You probably have one too. I roughly know my Karma balance with people, and I always try to keep it in the black – meaning I’ve helped more than I’ve been helped.

A positive balance keeps a bit of Karma in reserve so it’s there when I need it. I don’t always succeed, I’m sorry to say.

Sometimes this is hard. Like everyone else, my time is the most valuable thing I have. So how in the world can anyone possibly find time to build up Karma?

In a nutshell…

Look for opportunities where you can invest a little time to save someone else a lot

Intros are a great example. All of us have worked somewhere and all of us have relationships that can help other entrepreneurs. Why not spend a few hours reaching out to make an intro for someone?

If you are a developer, look for opportunities where you can help a business-oriented entrepreneur make technical decisions.

If you work in a company, tell your local VCs that you’d be willing to give them any feedback on problems your company has.

Retweet. Leave blog comments. Ask, “how can I help”? Buy their book. Buy their product.

Or if you’re doing a lean startup, post openly about what you’re doing, learning and your mistakes. Ash Maurya is a brilliant example. My Karma account with Ash is a bit in the red; yours probably is too.

Taking Stock of Karma

Do me a favor. Take a moment and think about someone who has helped you on your path to becoming a better entrepreneur and send them some Karma, however small.

I just did that exercise and decided to buy Ash’s product, CloudFire. It is a photo and video sharing tool for busy parents. I don’t have children.

It costs only $44 per year – a lot less than the fantastic advice I got from Ash’s site.

I’m still in the red on my Karma account with Ash, but its a start.

So tell me, to whom are you giving Karma today?


  1. kevindewalt January 29, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    New Blog Post: Karma in the #leanstartup Era, http://kevindewalt.com/blog/2010/01/28/k… Inspired by coffee w/@johnprendergast

  2. kevindewalt April 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    #bootstrapmd to @caseysoftware’s point: Karma is huge today. Help other people out… http://kevindewalt.com/blog/2010/01/28/k

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