They can’t eat you

I found this very interseting article today and instead of just tucking it away in my files I decided it’d be fun to share with everyone. Plus I’ll know exactly where it is when I want to review it. Enjoy

The following article is included with the permission of Bob Parsons and is Copyright © 2005 by Bob Parsons. All rights reserved.

“Robert, they can’t eat you!” My rules for survival.

Over a year ago, I was asked by BizAz Magazine (a local Phoenix magazine) to speak at one of its “Business Beneath The Surface” breakfast meetings. As part of the event, participants have the option of submitting questions to the speakers, which are then answered during the breakfast.

One of the questions directed towards me was, “What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a business?”

I liked Clint Eastwood’s rules.
Also at that time, I happened to pick up a copy of Men’s Journal. Clint Eastwood was on the cover and an article featured 10 items called “Clint’s rules.” I found his rules to be interesting. They were things like, “You are what you drive,” “avoid extreme makeovers,” and things like that. As Clint Eastwood is a pretty easy guy to respect, I thought the whole rule thing was pretty cool. And the more I thought about it, I realized that over the years I had accumulated a number of principles (or rules) that I tried very hard to adhere to — and these rules (in many ways) have become the foundation for whatever successes I’ve had.

So, a few weeks before the meeting, I sat down and started typing — in no particular order — the rules I try to live by. At the breakfast meeting, I read my rules at the end of my presentation. The response was amazing. I was swamped with requests for copies of the rules. An edited list was published in the Arizona Republic newspaper a few days later. I was even called and interviewed by a local radio station about the list.

Since then, some of the rules have been edited, some consolidated, and a few new ones added. Despite those changes, the list of rules I presented that morning are pretty much what appears at the end of this post.

My rules come from the significant life events I’ve experienced.
As I write this, I am now 54 years old, and during my life thus far I suspect that I’ve encountered more significant life events than most people ever dream about. Here’s some information about me:

I grew up in a lower middle class family in Baltimore’s inner city. We were always broke. I’ve earned everything I ever received. Very little was ever given to me.

I’ve been working as long as I can remember. Whether it was delivering or selling newspapers, pumping gas, working in construction or in a factory, I’ve always been making my own money.

Not all of the life events were happy ones.
I was stood up to be executed twice during a robbery of a gas station where I was working when I was 16. To my amazement, my would-be executioner could not muster the nerve to pull the trigger. This saved both of us. I lived, and while he went to jail, he did not go there forever. Eventually, in spite of other witnesses of that and other crimes, I was the only one who testified against the two perpetrators. They both received major jail sentences.

I was with a United States Marine Corps rifle company in Viet Nam for a short while in 1969. As a combat rifleman, I learned several key life lessons that resulted in some of the rules I try to live by. I learned first hand how significant a role “luck” or karma can play in our lives. The rifle company I was assigned to, Delta Company of the 1st Batallion, 26th Marines, operated in the rice paddys of Quang Nam province. We operated on the squad level (7 to 10 of us, depending on casualties), and most every night we left our command post and went several kilometers out into the rice paddys and set up in ambush. While there are many who saw significantly more combat action than me, I did see my share. After 5 or 6 weeks, I was wounded and medevaced to Japan. I returned to Viet Nam several times after that, but came back as a courier of classified documents. Although I requested (at least twice) to return to my old rifle company, the transfer was never approved.

After the Marine Corps, I used the G.I. Bill to attend college, and graduated from the University of Baltimore with a degree in accounting. I attended college mostly at night. After college, I took and passed the CPA exam. I worked only a few years as an accountant. The lion’s share of my career has been spent as an entrepreneur.

I’ve been very lucky when it comes to business.
I started a successful business division for a company called LeaseAmerica. During the four years I was involved with this business, it grew to 84 employees and wrote over $150 million dollars in small office equipment leases. Its success helped redefine how business in that industry is now conducted.

Not long after I started the division for LeaseAmerica, I started a software company in the basement of my house. I started it with the little bit of money I had, and named it Parsons Technology. I owned this business for 10 years, grew it to about 1,000 employees and just shy of $100 million a year in sales. Eventually, we sold Parsons Technology to a company named Intuit. Because my then-wife and I were the only investors, and the company had no debt, we received the entire purchase price.

Shortly after selling Parsons Technology, my wife and I decided to go our separate ways and did the customary “divide everything by two.” I then moved to Arizona and retired for a year. This was a requirement of my deal with Intuit.

Retirement was not for me.
Retirement wasn’t for me, so after the mandatory year passed, and using the money I had from the sale of Parsons Technology, I started a new business. This business eventually became The Go Daddy Group. I started this business from scratch, did it without acquisitions, and developed our own products. In the process, I came spooky close to losing everything I had, and actually made the decision to “lose it all” rather than close Go Daddy. Today, Go Daddy is the world leader in new domain name registrations, and has been cash flow positive since October 2001 (not bad for a dot com). As of this writing, I continue to be the only investor in Go Daddy.

Throughout all of these life events, I came to accumulate a number of rules that I look to in various situations. Some of them I learned the hard way. Others I learned from the study of history. I know they work because I have applied them in both my business and personal life.

And one more thing.
I’ve read many times that original ideas are rare indeed. This is particularly true when it comes to the rules herein. I can’t imagine that any of my rules represent new ideas.

My contribution is that I’ve assembled these ideas, put them to work in my life, and can attest — that more often than not — they hold true.

While I put my 16 rules together in response to a business question, I’ve been told by others that they can be applied to almost any pursuit.

Here are the 16 rules I try to live by:

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we’re in our comfort zone. I hear people say, “But I’m concerned about security.” My response to that is simple: “Security is for cadavers.”

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.

3. When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think. There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”

5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, “As you think, so shall you be.”

6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don’t look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

7. Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.

8. Be quick to decide. Remember what the Union Civil War general, Tecumseh Sherman said: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don’t know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven’t examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you’re doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you’re doing as anyone else, provided that what you’re doing is legal.

13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn’t fair. You make your own breaks. You’ll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

14. Solve your own problems. You’ll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you’ll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: “You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others.” There’s also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: “A wise man keeps his own counsel.”

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

16. There’s always a reason to smile. Find it. After all, you’re really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time.”

A special word of thanks.
I owe a special thanks to Brian Dunn. When I first wrote these rules down and was thinking about compiling them into a book — that book, like most books I suppose, has been half-done for a while :); — Brian read them and suggested a title. His suggestion was, “They Can’t Eat You.” I like Brian’s suggestion for two reasons: 1. It reminds me of my Dad. I sure miss him; and 2. It’s true. No matter how difficult things get, you’re going to be OK. It’s very important to realize that. Thanks, Brian.

When I am not writing about making games, procrastinating or watching movies I’m working on a science fiction strategy game (sometimes called 4X or empire builder.) Email me questions, ideas and jokes at mrphil (at) mrphilgames . com

A new direction

So originally I was going to post another entry about reflection and cloning. While I’m sure it would be interesting to other programmers and game developers I realized that they aren’t really the audience I’m trying to reach. In reality I’d like to reach potential customers and give them insight into my company and the game I’m working on. So here it goes!

If you are a regular reader then you know I’ve always been vague about the projects I’m working on. In my last post I gave you some insight into the churn of projects and technology I have gone through. The fear of causing disappointment has prevented me from being more specific about the work I’m doing or when it is going to be done. Now that I’ve concluded that focusing on my dreams is the smart way to go I’m going to start talking about my game more openly.

Bluntly put I’m making a 4X game. I’ve always loved strategy games. My list of all time favorite games are Star Craft, Medieval: Total War, Total Annihilation, Masters of Orion, Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, Homeworld, Alpha Centauri, Axis & Allies and Chess. Besides the theme of strategy in these games you’ll also notice a tendency towards Science Fiction. Some of my favorite movies are scifi: Star Wars, The 5th Element, Mad Max, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Enemy Mine, Close Encounters of a Third Kind, Blade Runner, Black Hole and Alien. Not to mention I’m a fan of the Star Trek shows. I can read too! I love William Gibson’s Neuromancer, John Varley’s Steel Beach, Douglas Adam’s Hitcher’s Guide to the Galaxy (can’t wait for the movie) and C. J. Cherryh’s The Chanur Saga.

So in some ways it would seem that I was kind of meant to make this game. I have lots of ideas that I want to incorporate into the game, but most of all I want it to be fun to play for hours and hours and hours. I have a title picked out that I like but I’m going to keep it a secret for now. In fact, I think it’ll be one of the last things I announce. I also am not going to commit to a release date right now. I still have a lot of work ahead of me and the last thing I need is a bunch of pressure to hurry it up. Wish me luck.


When I am not writing about making games, procrastinating or watching movies I’m working on a science fiction strategy game (sometimes called 4X or empire builder.) Email me questions, ideas and jokes at mrphil (at) mrphilgames . com

Why I’m back and what I’ve learned

So you might have noticed that after a long quiet period I’ve started posting again. That’s because back in September I decided that the blog was a procrastination outlet. Meaning I was using the blog to procrastinate instead of working on games. So I stopped. Here is a little on what has happened since September and two important things I’ve figured out which has reduced my procrastination and allowed me to start posting again!
In September I started work on a Fantasy Football website. The beginning of the football season made me realize that I could build a website and at least create some revenue that might make quitting my job possible, or at least go part time. The work slowly ground to a halt and I lost interested.

In October I found a post on the Indie Gamer Forums from someone selling their online game. I spent several days checking out the game, and brainstorming ways I could improve the game. I traded several emails with the creator, and made many spreadsheets trying to value the game. I also explored the language it was written in to make sure it wasn’t something I hated. But eventually I just could not see trading my hard earned money in for all the risks the game represented.

In November I purchased the Torque engine thinking that moving away from programming and more towards the game making would help speed things up and rid me of the procrastination bug. This did not happen and after spending a lot of time doing tutorials etc. I started feeling like it was more work than it was worth. I had a feeling of wanting to just pound out the code to do something instead of fighting with Torque to make it do what I wanted. Torque seemed to be overkill for the game I want to make.

So then in December I got pretty depressed because I felt like my rate of progress was too slow to ever complete anything. So I started seriously toying with the idea of quitting my job. I liked the idea of having way more time to work, but I feared turning into a lazy, unproductive blob, and losing my house. So after playing with a spreadsheet and some soul searching I was convinced that for now the day job had to stay. It offers a lot of advantages like I can afford to hire a maid, which saves me some time each week. Pays the bills, and will probably help pay for some artwork, etc down the road. The other factor is that without hitting the lottery the amount of cash I can tap is limited and the logistics of it all doesn’t really buy me that much time. And there is a lot of risk in expecting a modest income from a game very quickly. It seemed the real problem is motivation, procrastination, planning and management of time and energy.

Over Christmas and New Years I spent a lot of energy thinking about all this and what my next move should be. I did a lot of reading, books and online. Eventually enough different ideas mixed in with my problem that I discovered two important things.

Going back to my experience with Torque I realized I didn’t like it because it didn’t appeal to my innate skills and motivation. I got frustrated with Torque because it did not fit with my programmer skills or mentality. My motivation to work quickly diminished because instead of whipping out code to make something happen I was fighting to make Torque do what I wanted. What was missing with Torque was the fun factor. Torque was not fun for me (at least not yet.)

Quickly I realized this theme showed up in a lot of my decisions. Until now I’ve constantly discounted the fun factor in my choices. Fun is more important to me than I ever realized. Procrastination was becoming a huge problem for me because my projects lacked any element of fun, they where all part of a fast, smart plan to success. I finally realized success was highly unlikely if I procrastinate my years away trying to force myself to work on the ‘smart’ project in the ‘great’ language I didn’t like. Put another way, I was treating myself like an employee, but I already used up my employee energy (i.e. the energy for unpleasant tasks, I’m not interested in, assigned by a boss) at work!

So I went back to C#. C# is a crazy choice, but it is the one that keeps me motivated and I don’t have to fight with myself to put the hours in. I’ve also chosen to work on my dream project because it will be the most fun.

The second important thing I discovered was this quote from Voltaire, “The Best is the enemy of The Good.” I like it because it speaks to so many of my challenges as an indie. Several times I have thrown way code because I discovered some new ‘better’ technology or thought of a faster or more profitable project. I even dumped code because I thought I had discovered a better design. Churn, churn, churn, was destroying any semblance of progress. The lesson is, usually The Good is perfectly acceptable and will cost less resources and time than The Best.

So my new approach is to stick with what I like or think will be fun and don’t try to make all the best choices, just good ones.

-Mr. Phil

(Editing note, some of this material started as posts on the Indie Gamer Forums)

When I am not writing about making games, procrastinating or watching movies I’m working on a science fiction strategy game (sometimes called 4X or empire builder.) Email me questions, ideas and jokes at mrphil (at) mrphilgames . com