If I had to do it all over again, I would have been willing to trust my feelings earlier that what I was doing wasn’t fun and I needed to take more risks and move on to what I was passionate about.
Marc Guren is Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Simple Matters, responsible for company strategy, operations and finances. Prior to launching Simple Matters in 2012, Guren spent 35 years as a technology industry investor, advisor and entrepreneur, developing, financing and marketing technology.
In his previous positions, Guren evaluated and negotiated numerous investment and acquisition opportunities, as well as identified and negotiated strategic partnerships and licensing arrangements with leading technology companies. His past roles include serving as Senior Vice President at Kagan World Media, where he developed and divested media properties, such as a software search company to AOL, and as Vice President at Roy Disney’s Shamrock Holdings, Inc., where he was, among other things, involved with the acquisition, operation and expansion of a leading consumer entertainment software retailer.
Before delving into the business world, Guren practiced high-tech and intellectual property law with Arnold & Porter, afterwards co-authoring a two volume legal treatise onComputer Software Protection Law. Guren has also held positions with several leading investment groups and has been active in Tech Coast Angels, the country’s largest angel investment network.
Guren is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Where did the idea for Simple Matters come from?
My former partner and I worked on a number of products together—all of them had a common core of usefulness, simplicity and elegance. One of the latest products involved a special type and format of smartphone, then another phone product then ultimately a “pivot” to our current product—Ditto®. Our company philosophy is reflected in our name – Simple MattersTM.
Dittowas born because of a real need and desire for a simple and elegant solution. While working on another product, Iwas having difficulty reaching my wife by phone or text. She usually carried her phone in her purse, like many women do, and did not hear it ring or had left it on vibrate, or silent.Other times, she had left her phone on her desk at the office. Because of that fact, we came to the conclusion that Ditto could solve the problem of leaving phones behind for both women and men.
At the same time, we also recognized that there was a conflict within everyone’s increasing smartphone use—the increasing importance of notifications and not missing an important call, text or message versus not being a slave to our smartphone and missing out on important life events or interactions. While a significant help, smartphones sometimes interfere and take away from its users being present to what’s in front of them or the task at hand. And given the importance – and cost – of our smartphones, we also recognized that it was important not to forget or lose them.
Ditto was designed to be personal – both in terms of each user being able to define and customize what is important to them, as well as being discreet in its notifications (no need for a flashy alert that might interrupt an event or bring undue notice to the user). Also, Ditto was designed to be simple, and to take care of its user, versus the user take care of it.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
To sum my day up in one word—hectic. I’m up early, and start the day with exercise and catch up on the news usually by scanning a few newspapers. I also respond to early emails that require more immediate attention. Then, I’m off to the office to start my work day. I always try to have dinner with my family, which was especially important when our children were younger. Then (too often according to my wife), back to do some additional work.To the extent I can, I try to focus on particular tasks and segment my day to be as productive as possible. I control my day and prioritize the important items rather than spending it responding to items that arise and can wait.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I being ideas to life by presenting them to a critical, trusted audience and evolving them from their responses and feedback. Nothing formal but just bouncing them off of people who know a lot about various aspects of the idea and getting their advice.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Interconnectivity – both positively and negatively. Positively because it makes the world smaller and, hopefully, people more communicative, understanding and able to deal with each other in rational, cooperative and peaceful ways. As Tom Friedman says, it’s making the world flatter (which is also good and bad). Negatively because while it makes the world smaller, it also makes the world more invasive and clips away at our privacy and personal space. It’s a lot harder to find peace and quiet.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m very efficient. I get more done quickly and effectively.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I always wanted to be an attorney but when I finally became one I found that the practice of law as it then existed wasn’t for me. I learned that I didn’t want to be part of a large organization. I learned that I wanted more control over what I was doing, when and why. And I learned that I wanted to build assets and “things” that outlasted me and also generated value whether I was working on them or not – I wasn’t just selling my time alone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’ve always changed my job when it wasn’t fun anymore. I grew up believing that I have to enjoy my work and still do. So if I had to do it all over again, I would have been willing to trust my feelings earlier that what I was doing wasn’t fun and I needed to take more risks and move on to what I was passionate about.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Play as and on a team. I truly believe that it takes a team to succeed. I always tell people that I know what I know, and I try to know what I don’t know. And when the latter comes up, I find someone else to add to my team who knows that area inside and out, someone’s who’s an expert, and then I listen to them, learn from them, and put trust in them to get things done.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
It’s an extension of what I said about working as a team. One person can’t do it all. I’ve always taken the time to find the right people to add to my team, invest in them, delegate tasks to them, and put trust into them, without ever micromanaging them. I follow my gut when I feel that it’s time for a change – whether it’s in the direction of the company or staffing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I wouldn’t say it only happened once but I’ve joined up with the wrong partner or employee and didn’t face up to the difficult decision about bringing it to a resolution. That’s disappointing, emotional and is also an economic loss. I had to let the situation evolve but probably waited too long to address it. Every situation is different so I always remember to keep perspective, pay close attention to what’s happening and realistically evaluate the possible outcomes and solutions. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes you have to fight, and sometimes you have to walk away.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
That’s a hard one. Not just because I don’t want to give it away, but because I believe that you – the reader – has to have faith, trust and excitement about the idea, and that can only come from you not someone else.
But it seems to me that the best way to generate that idea is to find something that is a real practical problem and then come up with a solution. That’s how we developed Ditto. We then tested it out on a technical basis (would this work), an economic basis (could we actually make it at a reasonable cost and sell it at a profitable price), and would people buy it (we used Kickstarter to validate our product and market). And it goes even further than that: we’ve listened to our customers and found new and exciting markets for our product. The best example is the hard of hearing and deaf community: they “get” Ditto right away, understand its uses and value to them and are impassioned advocates for the product.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I had a wonderful meal with my extended family where we talked, laughed and enjoyed the experience of life together. It gave me perspective about what “it’s all about” and one of those memorable events that I’ll treasure forever. It did cost more than $100 but it was well worth it.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I’m a long-time Microsoft user so Office is my go-to program for most things. I have such an “investment” in that platform that it’s hard to change. It’s a love-hate relationship: a vast improvement over my CP/M and DOS versions, but still not perfect.
But my favorite software and service now is, of course, Ditto!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The World According to Garp or 1984, because they are great reads and give a perspective of what the world might be with a degree of imagination.
Or do read a newspaper including the op/ed pieces that may drive you crazy. I think it’s really important to be informed and listen to other people and understand why they believe what they do before you can have a rational and pleasant conversation of how you can work together to solve problems in a mutual way.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
At the risk of further dating myself, I was always a big Walter Cronkite fan because he presented a balanced, trusted clarity of vision because “that’s the way it is”. A true “broad”caster of news and ideas rather than a “narrowcaster” of a specific perspective or agenda. The current closest incarnation is probably Charlie Rose.
Also, The Beatles, because all you need is love.
Marc Guren on Twitter: @marcguren
Marc Guren on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marc-guren-442bb33
Simple Matters on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/simple-matters-llc
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.