Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Be Afraid of a Guy with Fire and Traction


SteamrollerYesterday, I had a conversation about an industry I follow closely. It was fascinating to me, because I think there are lessons to be learned and inspiration to be leveraged.

There are a few small industries I follow closely. For the purpose of this post, let me define what I mean: there are relatively few competitors, the players know each other, and new companies don’t go unnoticed very long.   (Also by the way: this industry and players shall remain nameless, so I can stay out of witness protection for some of the things I’m about to say!)

In this industry there are a lot of old school, entrenched, big players. They’ve been setting the rules to their game and benefiting from it for many years.  The executives typically are not overly entrepreneurial and find themselves moving slow on strategic course changes, nimble technology upgrades, etc… This has worked well for them for a long time, so I’m not faulting them at all or even necessarily saying they are at a disadvantage because of this. Just defining the broad landscape.

What’s interesting in this industry is that there is one new player who is persistently changing the rules to the game. This company seems to go against the grain in everything. Everyone else is going left, so they go right. Everyone else lowers prices, so they raise them. Everyone else raises prices… they lower.  From the outside, they are unpredictable and slippery.

Having the benefit of knowing the founding team, I can also give you a little insight into this new player’s WHY… and this is where the lessons live.

These guys aren’t in the industry because they want to take out the competitors. They aren’t in it for the money. They aren’t in it because they have any axes to grind or because they want to prove a point. They don’t even want to be Zuckerbergs.

They have a cause. They believe can make the world a better place through the work they are doing. They really and truly think about their own children every day they go to work. Because they know, deep down, that what they are doing will benefit their children many years in the future. They want to change an industry. They want to change a paradigm. They are determined to make a lasting impact.

They are on fire.

Back to yesterdays conversation…

My friend was talking about these game-changers, how they are perceived, and how the entrenched big players are reacting. He said:

Everyone is asking about So-and-so (game changers) and what they are thinking. They are crazy if they think they can beat the big guys!  Their model can’t be sustainable. They are going to flame out, not last. Everyone just needs to ignore them and wait them out. 

So it got me thinking later about that comment and that stance.  Applying a little more of my inside knowledge, I can see that this is what has been happening for 10 years or so. Everyone has been ignoring them, and they have continued to grow like wildfire.  What’s even more interesting is thinking what it must be like to compete against a game-changing company that is powered and motivated by their own FIRE.

Be on FireThere aren’t many times when fear should come into strategic business discussions. But if I were running one of these old-school, entrenched companies, I would have a conversation with my board that would encourage them to “be afraid, be very afraid” of a new player with these two advantages: a little bit of traction and a lot of gumption/passion/FIRE. These guys will be unstoppable. They aren’t coming for you as a competitor, but they are going to change the industry. And when they do, they will be a steamroller for anything and everything in their path.

The point: to look at a company with genuine alignment from a competitive standpoint is inspiring.  

If you have this alignment in your business, congratulations.

If you have this alignment and a little traction, then you’ve made it.

People should fear you. People do fear you.  You are a lion. Now keep steamrolling what you have to steamroll to bring your vision to life.



Our Dance with Debby


weather Map - debby and Dog Island


What a title. It wasn’t really a dance. It felt more like a wrestling match. And my back and arms are sore to prove it.

The short version:    We got stuck for a short time on Dog Island, FL in the heat of tropical storm Debby, but we are now safely inland and happy to be off the island.

I have to admit that even in the midst of some sticky situations, thoughts entered my mind like this:    “Ok, there has to be a great metaphor of life lessons in this situation for the blog… What nuggets can I take back from this?”  

Then with a firm backhand to my own face I would say: “You idiot, stop thinking about your blog!! Moron! You are in a serious situation.. focus on the task at hand!!!”    

Michael and Max waiting for something more exciting to happen

Michael and Max waiting for something more exciting to happen

With that understanding, please realize that I don’t have any brilliant metaphors to entrepreneurial inspiration from this experience (yet). So today, instead of inspirational epiphanies, I’ll just share what actually happened. Maybe with some time to remember the experience, I’ll get a little more fluffy (for those of you who like that sort of thing).

About Dog Island (DI)

Think third-world country that just happens to be claimed (and taxed!) by the State of Florida. You can read about Dog Island on Wikipedia, but here is what you need to know:

  • It is 7 miles long (or it was last week anyway).
  • There are no businesses on DI.
  • No stores.
  • No restaurants.
  • It’s about a 4-mile crossing by boat from Carrabelle, FL.
  • There is a short, grass landing strip on the island.
  • There are vehicles, but thanks to the salt in the air, they go to Dog Island to finish their useful life.
  • Our particular mode of transportation is a mid-90’s Japanese mini-truck and a 4-Wheeler. Our house is 2 miles from the docks.

How We Ended Up Dueling Debby

We had set a goal to spend a lot of time there this month. I had a nice little office setup for calls and quiet, productive working. My iPhone Hotspot provides good 3G service there, and Margaret could let the kids wear themselves out jumping in the waves all day.

We saw the news of the system developing on Saturday, but the forecasts predicted Debby to sit still out in the Gulf another 36-48 hours, then the most likely model pointed it to Texas and Mexico. Even if it came our way, it would be Monday before it got messy (so they said).

Not having any desire to tempt fate, we decided that Sunday morning would be our window to depart.  It was the prudent thing to do. BUT… things all changed Saturday evening when the wind and the surf started picking up dramatically. By early Sunday morning, the waves were officially giant, on their way to ginormous. The wind had probably picked up to 25-35mph with gusts that were much more.   We weren’t going anywhere by boat.  Neither was anyone else.

This video was Sunday morning when we first ventured to the beach to check out the erosion.

Debby beach recon 1

Tidbits of Tropical Storm Knowledge

    • USCG Dog Island Rescue

      USCG Dog Island Rescue

      On Requesting Coast Guard Assistance.   Turns out the USCG needs you to use specific words like “imminent life danger ” to get their attention. I understand. Helicopter rides are expensive are boats are breakable.   I called them Sunday afternoon to let them know that there were a few folks on Dog Island who would appreciate a ride off.  At least the women and kiddos. I couldn’t honestly tell them we were in “imminent danger,” but:

      • (A) we weren’t going to brave the crossing in our own boats,
      • (B) the ferry captain declared it was too dangerous to come over,
      • (C) Franklin County Emergency Services had declared a mandatory evacuation.Ok, smart guys, now what!?  The Coast Guard’s advice was to hunker down but to call them if it got scary and they would send a helicopter.     As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what some people down on the narrow part of the island had to do. See the video of the rescue from the USCG here.
    • On keeping a boat attached to anything.  Whew, lots of lessons learned here:

      Never enough

      Never enough lines.. (note the dock is underwater)

      1. With enough wind, high tide, and surge: lines will break!! Who knew!? With this lesson learned, came lesson #2.
      2. You can never have too many lines in a storm situation.
      3. You cannot pull a large boat closer to you when pulling against a 50mph wind. It isn’t going to happen. Find another way to get to it.
      4. When you find your other way, wear a life jacket.
      5. Even with your life jacket, get someone else to spot you.
      6. Keep your arms out from between ropes and boats in gusty winds.
    • On ground transportation.
      1.  Clearance is important. Japanese min-trucks may not have the clearance one needs to traverse flooded sand/dirt roads.
      2. 4-wheeler ATV + 60mph gusts + rain = SCUBA mask is the only way you will see forward.
      3. Tuck a towel under your scuba mask to protect your face.  (Expect that 100 people will use automatic BB guns to shoot right at your face. That’s the feeling, yeah.)
      4. Always be friendly to the other islanders.  When your ATV dies and you need a ride home, you will be happy you were. They may even offer you a glass of wine or strong cocktail for the trip.

Here is my sarcastic video message to my brother-in-law, who expected me to report like a real weather man…

My Sarcastic Debby Reporting from Dog Island


How We Got Out

Though we had accepted the need to continue “hunkering down,” when an opportunity came to disembark we pounced. Monday morning I was at the docks and noticed the back side of the island seemed relatively calm.  Soon after I heard that Capt. Rusty and his “Miss Baby” ferry-boat was making a crossing and that several others were going to go around the same time back to the island. I knew we wanted to be leaving when other boats were leaving (something about safety in numbers), so I raced home and began our first ever get-the-hell-off-the-island-NOW fire drill.

If anyone goes to our house right now, they will think the rapture happened.  I believe there is still breakfast on the table, coffee in the pot, toys out, clothes everywhere, and beds unmade.  We grabbed a change of clothes for each kid, one suitcase, car keys, wallets, my LAPTOP (priorities!!), and bolted! We made sure the doors were closed and locked and dashed for the docks.



Getting the entire family out to the boat was interesting. For a 6′ guy, wading through 12″ of water  isn’t a big deal, but to my 4-yr old and 6-yr old, it made them uncharacteristically skittish.   Still, with the baby in arms, I led the way, followed by the boys, followed by Margaret who had our suitcase on her head.  (The scene would have been great front page photo material for any local news reporter!)

(Speaking of my sore back earlier in the post… it happened when leaning over to hoist my heavy boys from the dock to the boat… when the dock is under water, it’s a lot farther down than you expect and quite the angle that my physical therapist wife would recommend for lifting heavy misfits with your back!)

Our crossing was windy but without incident, and we were happy to have the kids off the island. As of this writing on Tuesday, the island continues to be beat up with strong winds, but the reports are that things are improving and weakening.

We may have some cleanup to do over the 4th of July week.

Thanks to everyone for the notes, texts, and prayers.


On the Flip Side: New Grad Weaknesses


New grads, new sprouts In my last post, I wrote about good things new grads from college have in common with entrepreneurs.  Today, I’d like to point out some of the areas that I think new grads could use some help as they enter companies in today’s environment.  I will focus on new grads entering jobs that are most similar to an entrepreneur’s job, and those are the high-touch, customer facing jobs like sales and account management.

Here are some opportunities to help new grads improve.

1. Learning to listen.

A huge missing area for new grads in my experience. They can listen and repeat, but listening to process and learn is another story. Active listening means asking the right questions and then actually hearing the answers. I think this is in general an area of weakness.

2. Learning to be a natural professional speaker.

This doesn’t mean public speaking, although public speaking skills can dramatically help this. It means how you carry on a conversation in the office, on the phone, or at a trade show booth. How do you establish rhythm in the conversation learning when to speak and when to listen.

3. Connecting the dots between speaking and listening.

By far the hardest thing to do. In my experience new grads entering sales and account management roles are good at memorizing questions, collecting the data from the answers, and even regurgitating scripts and responses with information about the company or the transaction. The weakness lies in the finesse of putting it all together. Getting the timing just right with the right factoids, knowing when to just let them keep talking vs. when to redirect the conversation. Some call this classic selling skills… others have gone as far as to say that these are the same skills a good Improv Comedian must use.

4. Creating and leveraging a close professional network. 

There is tremendous value to a good professional network. This isn’t a network of fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, not classmates, not old friends, not family, and not even co-workers. It may be clients. It may be counterparts at similar companies, maybe even competitive companies.  Entrepreneurs and successful sales people thrive by creating the right network around them then knowing when and how to leverage it when needed.  New grads haven’t yet developed this network. Perhaps some of those classmates and friends can become professional contacts, but not until you do some work to make the transition.

5. Learning to how to act in social settings through the eyes of their hosts.  

Knowing how to cut your steak and sit at a formal dinner is handy and a good foundation, but to thrive and leverage social settings for professional benefit takes a different set of skills.  New grads can benefit from knowing not just how to BE at a party, but how to THROW a party. This helps them understand WHO you sit beside, across from, away from . . . it helps them understand the reason behind the timing of events in an evening party . . . more than anything it teaches them how to put yourself in the user’s experience as you design the user’s experience.  Having the ability to embrace this perspective can benefit anyone! From leading a conference call, a staff meeting, a tradeshow booth, or even a company picnic or happy hour.

6. Learning to be likable across demographics.

Another area of weakness for new grads can be simply becoming likable when around different types of people. Generational differences are the top of the list, but there are also gender difference issues, cultural issues and more than generally new grads are oblivious to! For instance, knowing that picking up your cell phone to text a buddy during a one-on-one face-to-face conversation may be ok with some, but horrific act to others. Offending the person on the other side of the table can have long-lasting negative consequences for a new grad attempting to make a mark, earn a promotion, or close a deal. Embracing this need to educate themselves on these matters is key.

If you haven’t detected it yet, I am excited about this opportunity to help young people entering the workforce bridge these gaps and accelerate themselves faster than their cohorts. Stay tuned for my ideas or drop me a note if you are excited about this as well. (johnsoncook at gmail dot com).




New Grads have a lot in common with Entrepreneurs


Female New GraduateAs I’ve gotten more into mentoring upperclassmen in college, and as I’ve been on teams with a good number of graduates coming right out of college, I’ve started to realize that one of the reasons I like this crowd so much is that they have a lot in common with entrepreneurs. Given that I normally frame this blog as a source of personal energy for entrepreneurs, perhaps I can broaden the scope of my language and examples a bit to include this crowd. Here are some of the main commonalities between the groups:

1. Most effective in their work when their personal priorities are in order.  If I relay one message to anyone through the entire existence of this blog, I hope it is this: Entrepreneurs are most effective at building companies when they have their personal priorities, spiritual and family health, their core values, and their personal WHY in order.  In my observations and experience, the same is true for new grads. The ones who are the most solidly grounded with their family, are the most confident with who they really are and who they are not, and are balanced and have healthy priorities are the most effective in their jobs– no matter the size or type of company they are entering.

2. They both see the world with unlimited opportunity.  You can’t deny that both entrepreneurs and new grads are extremely romantic about their view of the world.  Problems are only opportunities for solutions. Nothing is hopeless with the right amount of energy. Damn the torpedos, let’s make a difference. This attitude is refreshing and exciting to be around. It should be embraced and leveraged by both groups.

3. They both have large amounts of raw potential personal energy and are looking to convert it to kinetic.   Both groups realize that their primary, most important, most valuable, most useful resource is their personal energy. They can both apply their minds to any problem, any goal, any vision and make a difference.  They realize that they can do more with their hands and their minds applied correctly than can be done with money.

4. They both have the freedom and power to make decisions about their future.   Entrepreneurs source of freedom is typically control over their company, better than average personal cash flow, personal net worth, and a firm grasp on their surroundings. New grads have similar freedom- but it comes from: no mortgage, no kids, no lawn to mow, no club dues, no fancy cars to maintain, and few strong geographic ties.

5. Their worlds are both rapidly changing on a daily basis.  Whereas the long-career corporate employee typically has a pretty stable world in general, new grads seeking jobs and starting new roles have a pretty dynamic few years.  Their personal networks are changing regularly, their roles, their routines, their habits. . . all changing on a regular basis. Sometimes forming into the stability that they crave, but other times helping them realize that a dynamic life filled with change is exactly what they need to sustain their high-energy.

6. They both receive energy and stability from being with those in similar situations.    …And at the same time, find it hard to relate to people who aren’t in similar life situations.  It’s hard for entrepreneurs to relate to career corporate-minded people – the same for new grads. Life is good. Life is alive. Seeing yourself in a 20+ year career in the same company is not on either group’s mind at this point.

7. They both are experiencing a hunger for learning. Most would say it’s hard to truly see new grads having a hunger for learning after spending their entire life in so-called “learning institutions”…  but I disagree.  The ones I have met realize that now is the time when the real learning begins. It’s tie for the rubber to meet the road and learn from experience, not from books. It’s time to try something, learn, pivot.   They are an individual, living, breathing, walking human start-up!

I believe this, and I am going to embrace it. I believe there is opportunity to take organizations like Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), and replicate some of the value for new grads just entering the workforce.  The value will be tremendous for the individuals, but also the employers.  EO fuels and accelerates entrepreneurs to perform in their companies. Fueling and accelerating a new grad into a new role in any company will greatly benefit the company, the team, the clients.

Even if they aren’t an owner, they can do great things when they act like one.



A Personal Struggle


Personal StruggleI’ve hesitated writing this post for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that I don’t know how to share this subject genuinely and fully open without coming across like an ass. And as you probably detected about me, I don’t have a half-throttle setting on being Open and Direct.    However, I’ve decided to give it a shot after realizing that many around me may suffer from the same affliction.

The affliction, the struggle, is that I really only love being around people who I believe share a similar energy level. A very high one. I love dynamic people who inspire me, who engage me, who show interest in their surroundings, who are extremely observant. People who are funny, and think I’m funny.  People who lead things, who fix things, who makes things happen, who get sHtuff done!

But I’ve come to realize that this desire has a pretty inherent problem. If you surround yourself only with likeminded people, we know how that turns out. Also, if I am to believe what I say that a True Leader Inspires, then I should work harder to be around those people who aren’t intrinsically inspired and energetic and perhaps make it my goal to help them find more energy. Or, perhaps on the other side of the coin, maybe I just need to be more accepting of people.  I need to work hard to find what I can learn from people who are more comfortable being observers than do-ers.

This personal struggle of mine, and I suppose others, can be more than an annoyance, but a true hinderance if you don’t design your personal network just the right way.  Some of the areas I think it becomes increasingly difficult to function:

Vision Sharing

All too often I spend days, weeks, and months forming a vision in my head and I become frustrated when I share it in a 20 minute conversation and the recipient isn’t immediately inspired to tears by my brilliance. I need to work harder to understand that if it took me that long to form the vision, it could take much longer for others to see it. It also means I need to spend more time thinking about how to communicate the vision after I have designed the vision itself.

Working with Volunteers

Ugh, this one is tough! Even if you can share your vision effectively, getting them motivated to be Selfishly Generous can take a lot of convincing. Helping the “observers” of the world understand that they will be more personally satisfied if they do a little more “Doing” and a little less “Observing” is tough!


When I like to socialize, it doesn’t mean I like to disengage my mind. I like to have a beer with someone it’s usually because the conversation is going to be awesome and less inhibited on awesome topics. Not mundane. More creative thinking, more energetic.    Some people around me (and you) however, simply prefer to socialize with small talk… or no talk. They like to sit and comment on the weather, the trees, their daily activities.. . and deeper more meaningful conversation doesn’t come into social settings.


Again, the challenge I have for myself is to learn how to disengage the afterburners once in a while. To change gears. To slow down. To enjoy everyone – not just because I am tolerating the time with them – but because I truly realize I can learn from everyone.   That is my challenge and you are welcome to make it yours.






As most of my readers know, I’ve been spending my time the last few months in search of my next venture.  It has been an amazing process where I’ve considered startups of every shape and size across many industries, of many different sizes, and with many combinations of need of energy, time, and money.

I guess it’s a lot like looking for love… but without expanding that metaphor (that could get ugly given that I think a portfolio approach has merit to businesses), I’ll jump straight to the punchline.  In the last six weeks I’ve experienced and started to build out something that is, thus far, actual love at first sight.

Without going into the venture itself (it still needs a little more time in the oven before I go deeply into it for you), I do want to share with you an amazing source of energy that I’ve noticed about this next business: ALIGNMENT.

What I mean is that all those cliches about “do what you love, and the money will follow” and “be yourself in everything” are finally coming true for me. I feel like I have finally landed on an idea, a venture, a business that fits me.   The real me.   It’s not the me that thinks it would be neat to own a factory that makes something.  That’s not the real me and neat is not a sustainable personal energy source. It’s not the me that knows I’m deep down a guy who loves complicated projects with lots of moving parts but thinks he wants to do something simple for a change.  I should know better… boredom is a disease I must battle regularly.      It’s also not the me that believes I could force myself to get excited about a low quality product that has ridiculous margins. I couldn’t do it, no matter how great the margins.

I have found alignment.  I believe this next venture can put my business in alignment with my values. My business dreams, goals, visions, could actually align with my family’s dreams and goals. My newfound love for learning through writing aligns with this business. My appreciation for personal energy as a tool to become more effective as a human being align with this business.  My enjoyment for meeting high-energy, full throttle people aligns with this business.

With this alignment, I can already tell that I will be able to kill lots of birds with fewer stones. The energy and effort I apply to growing myself will grow the business. My associations, my contacts, my years of experience all will make me more effective and give me a nice competitive advantage in this business.

A successful guy once told me:

If you get your family in order, everything else will just hum along and accelerate.  You get your self and your family clicking along and your business and everything else you do will fall in line.

I agree with that, and I now I want to add to it that if your business WHY is in alignment with your personal WHY, that this too can help things fall in line.

Love at first sight.

Now are you ready to know what the business is?  Did I sell you on it? Good, now I just need you to sign up 3 friends for it. Then have them each sign up 3 friends, then have them each sign up 2 friends. You can make money with me. It’s amazingly simple.   ;)




Club Meaningful Work – Austin Gunter Reblog

The following is a powerful reblog from Austin Gunter’s post originally called “The Founders Club and Meaningful Work.” You can find it here:    I believe Austin said it extremely well!



I was at a PHP meetup with Jason and Mark last week to see about meeting some developers to hire.  It can take months to hire, and since we’re growing (really fast) we need to have hiring conversations all the time in order to keep up with the company. The sooner we meet someone, the better.

We all started playing pool.  Jason and Mark are pretty great at pool, and I’m average :-) .  As the party winds down, and the open bar closed, Jason and I started drinking gin and tonic and talking about growing a startup and what it means to both of us personally to have work that we find meaningful to our lives.

I was able to share my story of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which became pretty obvious when I was limping around the bar a bit, and my neck looked like it was fused together.  That’s one of those conversations that’s cool to have with people as I get to know them.  It’s a story that I don’t tell everyone personally, but the people I do tell are important.  Jason asked a few questions, but in general just gave me the opportunity to share an important part of my life.

The fact that I am having this conversation with my Founder, and my boss, is a good sign. Everybody has been through painful periods, so being able to relate those times with colleagues/bosses can strengthen relationships.  I really value the ability to have an honest and introspective conversation with the people I’m close to, and this counts my professional relationships as well.  Having an earnest and open conversation with Jason at a bar on 6th street was a significant moment for me that week.

At some point the conversation drifted to startups and doing work that matters.  The process of finding work that matters to me has been a theme in my life this year, so I started asking questions to learn about Jason’s work.

One of the questions that I asked him was about how founders like Andrew Warner, and Adii Pienaar of WooThemes, Peldi Guillizzoni of Balsamiq, Amy Hoy, and then Jason form the club that they have together.  I was thinking specifically about the camaraderie that Andrew expressed with Jason in their most recent Mixergy interview.  Andrew said, “Jason, you’re a friend, you could wake me up with a phone call in the middle of the night and I’d make a pot of coffee to wake myself up to hear what you had to say.”

I asked Jason if those strong relationships are the result of growing selling companies and “joining the club” of successful entrepreneurs.  His answer was pretty surprising.

He said that while, yes, there sorta is “a club” the reason they’ve all bonded the way that they have is more because they’ve each bared their souls and shared the messy process on their blogs.  They’re friends because they’ve all found their voice online and shared their entrepreneurial stories with the rest of the internet.  Less “Founder’s Circle,” and more Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris in the 1920’s diving into one another’s writing.  Yes, either comparison is pretty damn flattering.

Here’s where this club is cool.

When we talk about entrepreneurs finding success, we talk about the ways they became better versions of themselves first, and successful in business as a result.  In order for an entrepreneur to become successful, and to make lots of money as a result, he or she must continue growing as a human.  My favorite example of this right now is Robert LoCascio’s Mixergy interview.   I also think that if growth stops at any point along the way, then chances are, the business growth stops as well.

Let me phrase that idea differently…  

The more self-actualized and genuine an entrepreneur becomes, the more money they stand to make, and this is an infinite process.

That’s a belief that I have.  And I’m not sure how Jason would phrase it, but I see evidence in the blogs he writes that he believes something similar.

I think the process looks like this: The more honest you are with yourself first, then you become more honest and open with others.  Then you start feeling more genuine all the time and find yourself connecting with more and more people who are doing work you find meaningful.  Then you find an opportunity to work with those people.   And once you’re doing work that matters to you, with people you admire, you’ll suddenly begin enjoying a greater level of success than before.  So you’re happier because you’re doing work that matters, with people you respect, and suddenly you’re waking up and going to sleep really happy about how you spent your time that day.  And now, since you’re happier in your work, you’re probably doing a better job, so you’re probably making more money all at once.  This becomes a vicious cycle of positivity, and you start looking back every 6 months and saying, “Damn, this 6 months was better than the last, and that 6 months was better than the one before that!”  And that’s an awesome way to live your life.

That’s been true for me the last 6 months, and having been through layoffs at a well-paying, but meaningless job before this one, when I look back over my shoulder, I’m pumped about where I’ve come, and where I am today.

I could have just had all that floating around in my head, or maybe I just wrote a blog post about those thoughts at some point.  But I actually got to talk to Jason about it, and that made the evening for me.  Jason gave the opportunity to share that bit about how working at WP Engine has made me feel and what it has meant for me.  Waking up in the morning excited and ready to go to work each day means a lot to me. (I think it should mean a lot to everyone.)

I told Jason, the work we’re doing at WP Engine makes me happy to get to work in the morning.  I feel like the work and the company actually matters.  I feel like the work that I am doing contributes something important.

When I said all that, Jason exhaled all of his founder stress for just a moment and said, “That’s good.”  As if he was still worried about the success or failure of his company, and my small story was a tiny mile-marker that he was doing something right.

My feelings about my work and the company mattered to him.  They were important to how he measured the company on some level.

Yes, we’ve got big graphs that show our revenue projections, and they are looking really really good right now.  And I’m sure that absent those positive revenue projections, my particular affirmation might have gotten lost in the chaos.  But all told, I still think it would have been significant to him, and I still think that he would have been happy to hear one of his employees talk frankly about what is important and valuable and good about the company they both work in.  I still think it would have been meaningful to this particular founder.

And the fact that it was meaningful to him, made it meaningful to me.

Because at the end of the day, I’ve got a lot of my own dreams and places that I want to go.  And I want to make sure that while I’m getting there, the people that I’m working with and learning from are the type of people I can have this sort of a conversation with.

If there is a club of founders who can connect with their audience in a blog or a video interview, and who can connect with their customers and employees as well; that’s the type of club that I’d like to join one of these days.  Call it “club meaningful work,” and we all roll up our sleeves to improve our little corner of the world.

Hope this Helps.

Austin W. Gunter



Again, thanks Austin for preaching the message that I think needs to be preached more often! 

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Thoughts on Your Journey from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


For the last many weeks I have been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig. This monster 400+ page book is the most dense, slow reading experience I have had since college… but it’s one of the first books in a long time that is true journey. It wraps you up in wandering, drifting, “Chataquas” on concepts like quality and the philosophical thoughts on technology and why some folks appear to have a hatred for it while others embrace it.  I cannot do the book justice in even fifty blog posts, so I won’t try to review it.  By the way, I’m not even finished with it yet.    However, a few days ago I read through a part of the book where the author and his son went on a mountain climbing adventure. The language and the message in this section was powerful to me, and I wanted to share it as I believe it relates to our personal journeys in amazing ways. In this part, his son keeps getting winded and needing a rest. He realizes that the son is climbing the mountain only for his ego. He wants to conquer it and get to the top. Here are some of the author’s comments just after that realization:

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

But of course without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides. So on we go. . . we have a long way . . . no hurry . . . just one step after the next.

Then a few pages later the thought continues after realizing that his son continues to be tired.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we’re paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.

The application to many here should be obvious. To entrepreneurs, to new grads entering the workforce, to anyone embarking on a project, a mission, a journey, these words should carry great significance.

I hope to share more excerpts from this book as I slowly pass through it.



Each Day is a Choice


Choices - Fear and HopeSomeone recently told me that in everything you encounter in life can be approached in one of two mentalities: fear or hope.  At first thought, this seems like an oversimplified absolute that can’t actually exist. Sure there are things that create fear, and there are things that you must approach with feelings of hope.   But what about the middle ground? Aren’t there other ways to think about life besides fear or hope?

So it has stayed with me for about the last 5 weeks, and I find myself applying this question on a regular basis, and I challenge you to do the same. It works across the board!

In any company, we all know how fear can affect decisions. Investing in growth by adding to your sales team is frightening. Deciding to say “no” to small or low-margin customers and to focus only on the best type of customer is a scary thing.  We all know that we have to overcome these fears. But what about using the four-letter word “hope” in business? Does that really sound like a good idea?    Only if you apply it in the proper context.

In my last company when we were doing sales projections and budgets, we made a rule that the “h” word is a four-letter word that we would never use in a budget discussion!  Forecasts would not, and could not be based on “hoping” that something would come true.   We could not survive if our sales rep success was based on our “hope” that they worked out.     But this is a different context– hope as it applies to your mindset and energy means focusing on the positive energy to accomplish amazing things:  It means determination. Perseverance. Smart decision making. True grit.     So when you are starting each day, each meeting, each quarter, each year, try stepping back and telling yourself:

I can either approach this next phase with fear or with hope . . .  and my decision on this dilemma is going to drive everything else I do.

It’s amazing how often a low energy or a bad day in general day can be traced back to fear. Since I have overlaid this dichotomy to my daily living, I have found that stress, anxiety, and even ager are all the result of an underlying fear of something. Figuring out that something and finding the proper application of hope is the key to getting the energy flowing in the right direction.


Know Your Day: Good, Bad, or Blah?

Good day calendar


I think it’s neat that people tell me they can tell when I’m having a bad day. Especially my wife and close friends. I guess that comes with generally being very positive and energetic most days. When I have a day that isn’t so positive or I’m not feeling very energetic, it’s very obvious to those around me.

One source of entrepreneurial and personal energy efficiency for anyone, I believe, is to be aware of what kind of day you are having. I’ve learned that my days for the most part fall into one of three types: Good days, bad days, and blah days.

Good days are the norm, thankfully. I’d say that in general 7-8 days out of 10 are good days for me. These are days when my routines are working. I feel healthy. I feel happy. Good days are not without problems, but in general I can deal with them as they come and apply optimism, confidence, and occasional levelheaded thinking to the solutions.  (Note, I’m not saying I actually do apply these solutions, I’m only saying the potential is there to be a good rational thinker.)

Bad days are inevitable.  I don’t have more than 1 bad day every 10 days. On a bad day, everything just sucks. What looked happy and fun yesterday just seems annoying today. What was a small problem yesterday is a major devastation today. Personality quirks in friends yesterday are major character failures today. The kids behavior issues… well don’t get me started.

Then I have what I call BLAH days. These are the days in between good and bad. On blah days, there isn’t a reason to be overly happy, but nothing is really that bad.  Laziness is probably a key manifestation of blah. I’m usually fairly productive, but it’s not satisfying. I may even do some fun things, but I’m just going with the flow.  I probably have 1-2 blah days every 10 days.

So that’s the framework. That’s how I describe my days. This helps me in what comes next. Now for the good stuff. The good energy comes from:

1. Being self-aware enough to label your day. This is a huge energy source for me. When I know what kind of day I’m having, I am in tune with myself, and I can make decisions on my time that day based on this information.  For some reason it is liberating to just know and admit that you are having a bad or a blah day. It is especially helpful to those spouses. (I include both “real” spouses and colleagues that have to deal with you all day long.. business wives, I call them.)   Note, I’m not saying the spouse will give a flip that you are having a bad day, but at least you have a shot of avoiding an explosion if the announcement is delicately made that you aren’t your normal positive self that day.

2. Disengage from the world on bad days!   For me, this is huge. I’ve learned that when I am having a bad day, I can’t fight it. It’s not worth the uphill battle of turning it around.  In pilot speak, you are behind the curve on those days. The more energy you apply, the more you will drive yourself into the ground.  Find a way to just let go on these days. Leave the office. If you are able, cancel unimportant meetings… or for that matter, meetings that are really important and depend on your full energy and attention. Stay away from   long-term planning projects or dealing with people who already aren’t in the “favorite people” category. Just disengage. Go see a movie. Go to the driving range. Go workout.  Get out of your head.   I can tell you that I haven’t found any of this to turn a bad day into a good day, but I have found that my anxiety level goes down, and it passes quickly.

3. Turn a blah day around.  Here’s the neat thing about labeling a day a blah day. Unlike a a true bad day, I believe these days can be turned around.  For me, the trick that turns these days around is to talk to someone who you admire, who fires you up, and who makes you happy. Spend some time thinking about long-term, big-picture ideas. Get out of the low-hanging daily grind tasks, and do something that inspires you. Take a few hours to read a book. Go to lunch with a friend. Pick up the phone and call 3 people you haven’t talked to in a while and just catch up.

4. If your numbers are off, maybe there is a larger issue.   I’m no psychologist, but I’m willing to propose that if you have a large percentage of bad or blah days, you may have some bigger things in life that you need to change. Maybe it’s starting to work out.  Maybe it’s leaving your job and going to work somewhere new… or even starting a company yourself.   Maybe it’s finally firing a team member who pulls you and the rest of your team down with negative energy or incompetence.  No matter what, you should probably do something about it.

I hope this post will be helpful to you. It really has made a difference in my efficiency and energy each day.

Do you have any other categories of days? Do you have a different experience with bad days than me?