Friday, November 16, 2007

It is Not the Critic Who Counts...

ChaCha recently announced that we closed an additional $10 million in funding and we also started a pilot of a new service that will be launching nationally in January (we are in stealth mode on that now but expect details in early January time frame - hint: What if you could ask anything in natural language and get the answer anywhere at anytime?).

A behavior pattern I find intriguing is that of the naysayers and detractors, who really don't understand our business, coming up with all their many profound reasons that ChaCha is doomed each time we announce another positive milestone has been completed. As I see those who muse wittily (at least they try to be witty) about ChaCha's shortcomings, I can't help but wonder why anyone would feel compelled to be so negative. Then, after wondering for about two minutes, I realize that it is only natural for those who aren't truly informed of where we are headed to misunderstand our business. Additionally, the mere potential of ChaCha and the attention and involvement we have gained from visionaries such as Jeff Bezos and Morton Meyerson can prompt people to feel threatened by the possibility that we could actually become a disruptive force that gains massive global traction. In the latter case, the motives of those who are intent upon knocking ChaCha and others seem to be generated by a possible combination of envy and a conflicted circumstance where, say, you are good buddies with someone who perceives their business to be competitive with ChaCha (even though it really isn't). But what's the point in guessing why the mad bloggers and negativity generators are so darn mad? Well there probably is no point so I will not make any further attempts.

In any event, the amount of weight I place on the brilliant assessments by the usual critics is minimal due to the many cases where the critiques in question are, well... bad critiques that are poorly written as they are void of substance, depth, or any true current basis to support their claims directly (For example, how can you keep pointing to an example from a year ago where a user purposely created a bad experience because the negativity propagator induced that user to go purposely game the system? Just a thought, but perhaps your efforts could be more productively applied in a different pattern). The following random items are worthy of consideration as we consider the relative weight that should be placed on those who just love to criticize...

1) AMAZON DOT BOMB - In early 2001 many brilliant prognosticators of the blogosphere were trumpeting the almost certain demise of Yeah, they had just terminated more than 1,000 employees so there was some cause for concern. But the main point is that this disruptive retail giant is now trading at record levels and it is clear that Jeff Bezos had a great plan and strategy in place for unleashing a disruptive force on the retail world unlike anything shopping has ever seen. The first time I met Jeff was actually at a Retail Systems conference in Chicago circa 2003 when Amazon had recovered and he actually put the "Amazon dot bomb" headline on the screen during his presentation and commented that his "mom did not care much for this headline". Jeff now has several billion reasons he can point to that prove he was right and the critics were, well... pontificating to get people to read their negative propaganda without any true basis for pumping so much negativity out there about Jeff and Amazon in general. I tend to side heavily with the innovator over the naysayer - and, of course, the innovator tends to create much more value.

2) Theodore Roosevelt - So you are thinking "What!? Why in the world are you thinking about Teddy Roosevelt at a time like this, Brad?" Well, this ties back to the heading of this post. It's Not the Critic Who Counts. Which is an excerpt from one of the more powerful quotes out there when considered in the context of modern media and the negativity that eminates from many (often quite popular) journalists and bloggers. The quote in its entirety is:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I welcome all feedback that is constructive coming from those who actually take their time to truly understand a new, startup business that dares to try something different that can truly transform the way people live everyday. However, my patience and respect for those who find it appropriate to knock startups without any solid, relevant, current data to support their claims is negligible. Especially when the person doling out the criticism is someone who is or has been an entrepreneur. As a graduate of Indiana University during the Bob Knight era, I heard a few good quotes for the critics that I won't mention here but those of you who are sports fans know what I am referring to...

Now you know my view - What are your views on the "brilliant" bashers out there?


Bob said...


I was given that quote by Bill Sahlman - my entrepreneurship professor at Harvard Business School back in 1983. He said if you're going to be entrepreneur, you'll need to memorize Roosevelt's words.

Professor Sahlman was right - there are infinitely more critics, naysayers, back biters and Monday morning quarterbacks than there are "men (or women) actually in the arena".

I have been amazed at how many entrepreneurs I have met over the years that carry that quote in their wallet.

When I gave the Commencement Address at Rose-Hulman back in 2002, I had a laminated wallet-sized copy made for every graduating engineer and every faculty member. I have been pleased to meet many of these graduates since and they carry that quote with them everyday.

Curiously, I have never found a critic, naysayer, back biter or second-guesser who carries any inspiring quotes with them. I'm sure these cold and timid souls must have their heroes - people who have tried nothing, failed at nothing, succeeded at nothing - I just don't spend enough time with people like that.

Sadly for you, Indiana has a disproportionate share of "cold and timid souls". As I have said on other Indiana blogs - run, get out, leave Indiana - it is a cursed place for entrepreneurs!!

Bob said...


In addition to Teddy Roosevelt's quote, I like to watch the Apple video - "Here's to the Crazy Ones" from time to time.

Entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators - the people at Cha Cha and ExactTarget and Interactive Intelligence and Vontoo and Indian Math Online and Aprimo - they are the people who push the envelope and change the status quo - and as Apple shows, these are the people who make our world better, different, more interesting.

I hope the team at Cha Cha just keeps their eyes on the future - ignores Indiana's diminunitive doubters - and creates something new, exciting and better.

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Justin said...

Very well said, Brad!

We've had some pretty tough criticism to push through in the past. The difference now is, we have so many extremely cool things up our sleeves that we'll have to hand out napkins when they're done eating their words!

Keep the posts coming!