Jeff Hawkins, co-founder of Handspring, has never thought of himself as an entrepreneur.Being an entrepreneur is not a career choice, he says, but is something you do at certain points in your life because you have to. Hawkins believes entrepreneurship is a means to an end, as opposed to an end in itself.
Hawkins talks about his life, his education and work experience. He started his career at Intel for 3 years and then moved to a start-up that he did not start. While working at the latter he created his first product - first pen-based computer. He soon realised that all personal computing ought to be smaller and simpler. With this thought he started on the path to try and accelerate this shift - and that was the genesis of Palm computing.
Hawkins shares the various reasons why he and his team finally spun off from 3Com to start Handspring. Although they were reluctant to leave and start a company from scratch, they felt that Palm did not belong in 3Com- a networking company. Palm was the only healthy division in 3Com and they could not continue growing and competing with a financial hand tied behind their backs.
Hawkins is working on his third start-up. Besides starting Palm and Handspring, Hawkins also followed his passion for theoretical neuroscience, the study of how certain parts of the brain work from an information theory point of view. He started a non-profit research institute called the Redwood NeuroScience Institute. Through this experience, he learned that starting a non-profit is just like starting a business.
It helps to have experience under your belt before you start your own business, says Hawkins. You ought to have experience working for a good management team and give yourself time to have great mentors. You also have to learn to manage growth and success and how to deal with and anticipate bad times. In Hawkin's experience, the vast majority of people that start companies and do so successfully have had past experiences that helped them.
Jeff Hawkins encourages students to do something they believe in. Business is hard and every company will have its trouble, the only way one gets through these times is if they you a cause and you believe in it. This passion gives momentum to see the bad times through. In his experience, people who started a company for the sake of starting a company failed when the hard times came upon them. At Palm the passion was the product, selling the company was not in contradiction with this passion, but allowed people at Palm to continue making good products. He says that it doesn't matter that the money isn't rolling in, but that we are all excited about what we are doing, and we think its great! This excitement carries companies and people through!
Hawkins believes you have to be conscious and methodological about your company culture. The culture starts at the top and permeates to the bottom. The culture at palm is a product culture. High integrity is not just internal, but integrity with vendors, suppliers and customers. A lot of companies keep secrets, but the transparency has been very good for Palm, Hawkins points out. A good, solid culture can help a company go through hard times.
Hawkins talks about the complicated negotiations with 3COM for the spin off of Palm. Discussions lasted five months and involved investment bankers and board members. Five different proposals were presented to the CEO, including spinning off Palm two years in the future. However, the final decision involved no doors banging, and no storming out of offices. All said and done, Jeff Hawkins did not want to start a company.
Jeff Hawkins, one of the founders of Handspring, claims to have witnessed teams of entrepreneurs brainstorming a product just for the sake of the sale, and he criticizes this approach. A good product can only be conjured by a genuine need in the marketplace. If there are no holes to fill, says Hawkins, then there is no point to being an entrepreneur.
Hawkins shares his story of graffiti, a handwriting recognition software, and the intuitive leap of using a keyboard to show that users can and will adopt to new technology. He elaborates on the role of market research, as well as how to listen to customers and follow your intuition and vision for the future.
According to Hawkins, no one remembers the 14 hours at work or the time missed with their kids. What people remember is if they changed the world, if they had a good time in the process, or if they promoted a positive culture. He talks about balance in regards to developing a great product and having a normal life. Hawkins believes that you can do it all and live a normal life!
When starting a business one tends not to focus on employee issues. Hawkins stesses the importance of laying a strong foundation of human resources from the very beginning. He shares ideas that he feels make sound human resource policies. When you are thinking of compensation between people, he says, you should always imagine that everyone knows everything.
I never had a technology company, says Hawkins. He believes that products come out of product marketing people who really love and understand products. He asks his employees to use competitor products to learn something from them. The focus should be on what people want and what they need, rather than only on technology.To build a successful product one has to innovate continuously, focusing on what people do and not what they say. And if you build a product, use the thing yourself.
Hawkins talks on the importance and inevitability of portablity. With portability comes small size, low cost, simplicity and the need for less power. With wireless networks on their way to becoming very inexpensive, Hawkins envisions a T1 line with high horse power and large memory in the pocket! The need for portability will make the item in your pocket the center of your universe, he says. He notes that there will be obstacles, but believes that this shift is inevitable.