Steve Jobs on asking for help, and the DNA of 1776 and Israel

This 1.5-minute long interview with Steve Jobs from 1994 has been floating around the Web recently and I love it. It is a philosophy that a good friend, Auren Hoffman (a serial entrepreneur himself), taught me when I was 26 and he was 24. I was lucky to have Auren as a neighbor when he was the founder and CEO of BridgePath and his office was right next door to mine at Coremetrics when Debra and I lived in San Francisco (Auren still lives there and has greatly prospered). Auren had a very popular lunch club for the Silicon Valley elite. There was always a compelling speaker, like the CEO of Exodus back when Exodus was a big deal. He invited me to attend with him, and I think the two of us were the most junior entrepreneurs there. So after attending several of these and being amazed at the networking opportunities each time, I asked Auren over lunch one day, "how the heck do you do it?". He told me about how he was fearless to reach out to anyone - but he did it in a particular way. Instead of approach them with the typical, "I'm a young guy and would like to learn from you", he would approach them with a very informed perspective and opinion about their business, something they said, an organization they are involved with, etc. This required more research, but it was very effective. It worked because of Auren's passion and genuine desire to connect and not waste the other person's time. So it wasn't just a little bit of research - it was an authentic interest in what he had learned about that person and their business. In other words, it wasn't a "cursory" or "shallow" amount of research. And it is the same reason why Bill Hewlett took the time to spend with Steve Jobs when he was only 12, as he talks about in this interview. How many other 12-year olds do this? Very, very, very few.

This DNA is deeply embedded in American culture, and you should learn from others as an entrepreneur. We are mostly a self-created country from a wealth perspective, and we represent around 1/4th of the world's GDP. That is absolutely staggering given our age versus many other thousand-plus-year old countries. If you haven't read books like 1776 and Founding Brothers, I highly recommend that you do. Our founding fathers were very ambitious entrepreneurs. They not only invented business models, they also invented a new form of government, which was very radical for that time. They took on the empire and they prevailed. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps - except they couldn't afford boots at that time. Their mission was worth fighting for. In books like Man's Search for Meaning (one of my all-time favorites), you'll understand why passion - a mission worth fighting for - is critical to survival. I leveraged books like this at Bazaarvoice, especially during the deep financial recession and near economic collapse. We rallied as a team and continued to beat our goals, even though our clients - much larger and more established businesses - were going through a very scary time. I wrote this letter to our clients in October of 2008.

This is also why Israel has prospered. The book Start-up Nation explains Israel's entrepreneurial genes well. And that country - at least modern Israel, post Holocaust - is only 65-years old (it's birthday was this week). Debra and I visited Israel for the first time last year. The conflict broke out halfway through our vacation. It was really amazing to see how the Israeli people around us rallied. They worked around the clock to get the Iron Dome in place, two months ahead of schedule, to protect Tel Aviv. If they had failed on that mission, there would have been far more chaos as it almost certainly would have led to one of the Fajr-5 missles successfully reaching Tel Aviv. When we returned from Israel (we stayed through quite a bit of the conflict, at peach in Tzfat), a good friend, David Bookspan (co-founder and Chairman of Monetate and founder of incubator DreamIt Austin), said, "isn't it amazing how much Israel has prospered entrepreneurially given their surroundings?". To which I responded, "it is because of their mission and their surroundings". He agreed. In other words, Israel has a mission worth fighting for. The Holocaust wasn't that long ago - it is still fresh in many Israeli's minds (those who pioneered the Zionist movement to establish modern Israel with the support of the United Nations). Israel is very entrepreneurial, like the U.S., because of this. They have a lot to prove, and they have transformed their land and economy in an amazing way - and in a very short period of time.

So in America, 1776 is in our DNA. Although it was further back in our history than Israel's War of Independence, it is still deeply embedded in our DNA. We are a self-created country. This is why entitlements strike such a deep political cord, and they are, in fact, bankrupting us as Mary Meeker's brilliant USA, Inc. report points out. So when you are thinking you need mentors (and we all do), know that you have the DNA of our country to give you the strength to reach out. Steve Jobs discovered this when he was 12, and it no doubt shaped him as an entrepreneur. Bill Hewlett took the time to help him. I discovered this when I was 26, thanks to my friend Auren Hoffman. And now I am passing this knowledge along to you. I just spent the day yesterday meeting with three different sets of entrepreneurs - one who saw me present at the Penn Founders' Club during my recent return to The Wharton School as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence - who had really taken the time to read many of my Lucky7 posts and get to know me "virtually" before reaching out. This founding-father DNA is also why I feel so duty-bound to help our entrepreneurs here in Austin - the city that has given me so much. Pay it forward. Lucky7 was created, in fact, to pay it forward.