Lessons From Cambrian House, A Crowdsourcing Pioneer

I recently interviewed Mike Sikorsky on some of the lessons learned from the creation and development of Cambrian House, a pioneer in crowdsourcing. By way of disclaimer, Mike and I have since become partners.

Rick: As you look back over two years of founding and operating a crowdsourcing company, what are some of the things that you are most proud of?

Mike: First, I am most proud of that fact that we are a fairly small team sitting here in Calgary, Alberta that became thought leaders in what I believe that is going to be a part of every single company going forward.

Second, we were really proud of our launch. It is true that most companies have no idea if anyone cares about them. I was really proud that we could compel people to look at us because they thought it was meaningful.

The third thing for me, and the entire team, was to see the development of individuals in our community who have been able to develop their entrepreneurial passion.

Rick: As you look back over the past two years, what would you have done differently?

Mike: I can bluntly say that there were just some things that we were just dumb about it. That’s part of the entrepreneurial learning curve, however, particularly when you are venture into uncharted territory such as crowdsourcing. The things that we screwed up the most were things that were to some extent forecast-able. We had the organizational design wrong in the beginning. I think we had it right on the community side, but wrong on the inside.

Then you throw in the fact that we are a really flat organization. What we realized—and this is the key learning principle—was that even though we wanted a flat hierarchy, we couldn’t have a flat hierarchy of communication. We had to have a hierarchy around our communication. So changing our hierarchy of communication and putting the right corporate structure around each of the opportunities was our saving grace for the company.

Rick: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking at Web 2.0 opportunities?

Mike: The first piece of advice I give to anyone I ever meet is to, “just do it and shut up.” Thunder in the mouth and lightning in the hand—stop talking. No matter how many books you read, no matter how much stuff you’re going to think about, if you don’t decide to do it, you’re already dead anyways.

Second, do not work on things that no one wants. I know that sounds so stupid, but the number of companies that I know that build inventory that no one want to buy is so high that it’s phenomenal. That is why the crowd part to me is so powerful. If you can’t get a crowd around your idea, how else are you going to get traction around your idea? I think if you just do it and not focus on building inventory, you’re probably okay.

Third, you are probably going to screw up one or twice anyways, so you might as well start screwing up or blowing up whatever it is right now. I am not trying to evangelize this idea of not being prepared and not reading, but I also don’t want to evangelize this idea of people who go away for ten years before they want to start their company. It’s like saving sex for old age.

Entrepreneurs are always worried that someone is going to steal their idea. Or they’re worried that they’re structuring their capital deals wrong. I tell them, “what are you worried about?” Of course you want to plan—but don’t over plan.