J Cornelius

Random things and inspiration.

© 2012


This was written by my father and posted on Facebook. He said it better than I could, so I’m reposting it here.

My Dad gave his youth to this country. While he never face a weapon under live fire he was a veteran of a more insidious enemy. The Cold War. Every day he shined his boots, laced them on and thought this could be the day the missiles would be launched. He was prepared to make the sacrifice. 

Fortunately 21 years after he joined he was able to say, “I gave my best to my country” and left the Army proud of his service. 
He is now another veteran with a flag placed at his headstone. 

For the many who served and gave their best years, for those who continue to bear the ravages of service and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, this country is great because of you.

He’s writing about my grandfather. A helluva man. I’m thankful for them both.

Trading Design for Equity

I was recently approached with the following question by a designer looking for ideas on how to decide on working for equity in a startup:

If I were to work for equity at a startup, what is a typical percentage one asks for? 25%? 5%? 50%? 15%? How do I go about estimating that sort of thing? I know how to estimate a project’s cost based on my hourly rate but working for equity, as you know, can’t really be quantified in the same way as the project’s value is based on some future continent heretofore unknown. And I’m not an equal partner. I’d be the lead designer. What’s that worth percentage wise? What’s typical?

Here’s my answer:

This is a tricky question. In my experience there is no standard percentage. Different people value their companies in different ways, and some people value design more than others. I would say it’s best to have a good honest conversation with the founders and ask how the value the business (multiple of revenue, assets, etc). If they’ve had a professional valuation you can look at your rate vs how they price company stock to see what percentage to ask for. 

If you’re in the gambling mood (which we all are from time-to-time) you can discount your time against the valuation with hopes of a nice upside. You’ll need to consider how you would liquidate your equity stake in the future, too. Sometimes early equity is bound to restrictions on sale to prevent the company from dissolving too early.

You should also consider whether your shares are voting or not. That can play a huge part in valuation and your role within the company as it grows.

Overall, just be careful not to invest too much time or money in something you don’t really believe in or have zero control over.

Hope that helps some of you.

On Limits

On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, ‘Okay, this is the limit’. As soon as you touch this limit, something happens and you can suddenly go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.

And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit, but still able to find even more.

— Ayrton Senna, who famously stretched that limit beyond comprehension while qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix.

Whether it’s in business, fitness, love, or life, we all run into limits. Limits of knowledge, strength, mental ability, or emotion. Sometimes real, sometimes self-imposed, these limits exist in our minds. Acheivement is about finding those limits, and pushing beyond them. Success lies on the other side.


Corporate behemoth buys innovative startup in a talent acquisition…

It’s happening more and more. A small team of people create something fantastic and a giant company dangles a carrot so large and enticing in front of them they decide to abandon their customers and join The Borg. The innovative product gets shelved, and the talent gets pointed at some large project where the likelihood of having an impact greater than the product they originally made is diminished with each passing day.

Can we blame them? No. They have every right to make the best decision for themselves, regardless of how it impacts the markets, their customers, or the long term goals they originally set out to achieve when that idea was just the spark in a conversation between friends. Good for them. They’ve succeeded. Both sides have accomplished something great. Or have they?

I can’t help but see the parallel between this takeover strategy and the anti-trust flavored way companies muscle their way into markets. Image if Microsoft had just purchased Netscape instead of leveraging their OS marketshare to release a competing product.

There’s a difference between buying a company for the talent on staff and buying it for the value of the product produced, and it’s a scary one.

Orwell’s Rules for Writing

The great George Orwell knew how to write. He knew how to capture—and hold—your attention. In 1946 he penned “Politics and the English Language,” an essay about effective writing, among other things. You should read it.

In case you haven’t, here are his rules for better writing:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Great writing is more than fancy words. It’s lingustic craftsmanship.