Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Batman is Real. The Dark Knight isn’t just a Movie.


Dark Knight - Batman for EntrepreneursLast week I had a birthday, so I snuck away during the afternoon and saw Dark Knight Rises.   Despite the silly plots, I still love these Batman movies. They are so well done, I leave the theatre inspired and fired up.

Here are some thoughts on why Dark Knight is awesome from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

Batman inspires people to action.

“It’s about the symbol, not the man.” was a quote from the movie. That moved me. Awesome. When times are tough, people are inspired to see the burning bat symbol and are inspired to get off their butts and take action.

Having Resources Matters.

Money enables greatness to come to life. No doubt Bruce Wayne’s money makes Batman more of a bad dude… the toys really do matter.

BUT… Being on FIRE will get you out of a tight spot.

When he is in the prison and has to… I won’t ruin it… The way he has to get out… oh never mind.  He has to trust his own physical strength. He has to overcome his fears and his emotions. The most effective weapon Batman has is Bruce Wayne’s inner-fire.

And as far as the movie goes… not related to the story, but the film itself…

The Experience Matters 

The storyline, admitedly, didn’t inspire me much. It’s the music, the emotion, the human spirit, the theatrics that get me going.  I’ve said it before that the details of the customer experience make all the difference. Christopher Nolan gets that and brings together a powerful combination of camera work, music, and emotion driving shots.

Last point.

When I leave a movie like this I am ready to be Batman. I’m ready to kick the bad guys’ butts. I’m ready to succeed like Bruce Wayne. It’s a HIGH, for sure. But then as my mind starts adjusting back to the real-world, there is a little annoying voice that says:

“It was just a movie, dummy. Just a story. Not real. You can’t do anything like that. Get back to being serious.”

But I don’t agree with that inner voice. It’s more than a movie if it creates personal energy. If it creates inspiration that leads to action that leads to motion, momentum, and success. Then it is very real indeed.  So guys, when you watch an “action movie,” and you leave fired up to go fight some bad guys, instead find an actual “action” that you can do to pursue the same values and glory that the good guys in the movie pursued.


ps. “Dark Knight” was still the best Batman movie ever.


Positive Words Exercise – Nobody is Watching


Keurig Ready to Brew

Photo credit:

One thing I’ve started realizing about some of the “hokey inspirational speaker” stuff is that even if you embrace it fully, most of it you can do early in the morning and nobody will ever know. If the reason not to embrace hokey stuff is that you’re embarrassed, forget about it… doesn’t really matter if you wake up early enough and have some good quiet alone time.

(That is, unless you wake up early, do the hokey stuff then open up Evernote and start blogging about it to the world… then you (ok, “I”) have no fear of embarrassment.)

That said, here’s a good one for me.

Positive words.

Amazing what thinking about positive words does to your morning.

Lately I’ve tried hard to avoid email for the first 2 hours of the day. It’s really (really) hard, but it helps a lot.

Second, I start thinking of random positive words while I make my coffee. The Keurig says “READY to Brew” … I use that to think, “READY, set, go.”

And then while the coffee is brewing, I just think positive words. No order, no logic. It’s a brainstorm. It’s a free flow of words. Amazing how good it feels to do that. I’ve even noticed that sometimes I start smiling physically just from the mental goodness.

If you want to really feel successful start to the day, then go start writing them down. I did this one day, and here was my list.


Try it… I promise you at 5:30 in the morning, nobody is watching your thoughts. Except you.

Early Morning Success Ritual – EMSR

EMSR. Early Morning Success Ritual.

Despite the fact that it sounds straight out of a hokey motivational speaker, I love this acronym.    I’ve been doing my own EMSR for many months without even realizing it had a name. Ha!

Here is my morning routine. I’d love to hear yours:

Wake at 5:00m if I can stand it – 5:30 is the latest usually. No alarm. Alarms ruin the start to my day. It’s somebody telling me what I’m supposed to do, and my natural tendancy is to always resist somebody telling me what to do.

Coffee from the Keurig. Mandatory accelerant.  I can still have a great morning and feel good without it, but I love that I go from 0 to 90 so FAST!

Reading.  When I feel like my motivation or energy is low, I go to the classics like Dale Carnegie, Napolean Hill, Richard Bach, or good ol Pirsig and read a chunk of them. If things are humming along in life, I’ll be reading something new. Either a business book or something related to sales training, company culture, entrepreneurship, selling, or associations.

Writing. Usually when I mix coffee with reading, creative writing comes fast and big. Since I am not a true creative person, I am a synthetically creative person. That  means that my creativity comes from combining ideas that I’ve seen elsewhere to new concepts, places, and angles. So obviously reading + caffeine causes synthetic creator in me to GO.   Other times, it takes me going out for a run or a swim and then the creative part happens later in the morning.  Usually the writing is applied to this blog, but about 30-40% of the time I apply it to other areas of the business that need creative attention: web site copy, brochures, program books, presentations, etc…

Kid prep time. I wake up Michael to prep him for 1st grade. I adore our morning routine. He’s almost always very positive about waking up and excited about school. Not sure how he has this, I don’t remember ever having it.  I prep his Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free breakfast cereal, snack for school, and lunch while I down half of a wheat-bagel and my 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee.

School delivery. Sure, the bus picks up right at the end of the driveway and Michael actually loves to ride the bus, but I enjoy those 8 minutes together in the car too much to give them up. It’s our morning routine together and we talk about the neatest stuff as we watch the sunrise, the cow fields between home and school.    Lately, we’ve been listening to BOAZ POWER CD– my friend Boaz’s 4-5 minute clips about something positive to think about. Again, sounds hokey, but we both love it.

Exercise comes next!  Ah yes, my true favorite part of the day. I go down to Lake Peachtree in Peachtree City ( just about 4 minutes from my house) and run on the trails. Peachtree City has literally hundreds of miles of trails for running, golf carts, bikes, walking, and just plain fun.  I jog while the high-schoolers stream down the trails on their golf carts on the way to school.  There are always LOTS of people running, every day, every time of day here. It’s a pretty healthy place to live.

Then I get on with the day… that’s my EMSR, and it’s what keeps me going!


Value Creep


I heard a new term the other day: “value creep.”   Someone was talking about how things seem so clear when you set out to do them, or when you step back and look at your WHY, your PASSION, your PURPOSE. But then as we start down the path, we experience value creep: that is, things that didn’t seem important or really aren’t even relevant to our purpose start getting in the way. They start getting our attention. They steal our energy away from what really matters. Then these noise-creating attackers become so cluttered and so important to us, that we can’t even see through them to our original, true, driving purpose.

It happens in everything. In parenting, especially, but also in any job, any company.

You have to deal with all the little things related to the HOW, but find disciplined ways to always check your position relative to your original purpose. Check your heading. Are you still headed where you’d like to be headed? Are the little things causing you to lose focus? Drive? Energy?

If so, take some time to recenter, refocus. Deviate from your current heading if it’s been caused by value creep.

Happy Monday!

Personal Creed


NAVY SEAL JUMPYesterday, Margaret and I attended a fantastic workshop by Tommy Newberry. Tommy runs a program called the 1% Club. He stands for all the things that I believe are most important. Goal setting, being intentional, managing your family life first, work second, living beyond good but great, and living to inspire others.

One of the neatest parts of the workshop was the opportunity to create a personal creed. We learned a lot about the Navy Seals: their training, their missions, their creed. We explored how we can apply that level of intensity to our own lives.   One of the end results is a personal creed. I encourage you to work with someone like Tommy or your personal forum to help create your own personal creed. (I happen to run a company that helps people connect with each other in personal mastermind forums and do programs like creating a personal creed! Check it out.)  It is an awesome experience to write this… and reading it aloud in the morning is super fun.

Here’s mine… but get your own!

The Creed of Johnson Cook 

I grow strong relationships with others by being interested with thoughts and actions in what is truly important to them. I turn ideas into lasting companies by picking up the phone and selling, first and foremost. When I lose an opportunity, I will immediately find another to replace it. I will work harder on the deal that follows than I did on the deal that lost. 

I succeed as an entrepreneur only by working intensely on my family’s success. I remain sharp by always exercising with a goal in mind. I read or meditate every day with positive books and thoughts. I am self-aware and at peace.  I aim for financially enabled freedom.  I am intense in everything I do, at all times.  I am open and direct.  I seek laughter as I embrace air to breathe.  I relentlessly pursue financial success for the purpose of achieving a higher-level of freedom and independence.   I avoid negative people. I avoid people who limit me or wish me to be limited. 

I acknowledge my fears so they can be overcome. I help others at all times when the help does not go against one of my seven core values. When I identify an opportunity to help others that also accelerate my pursuit of my own goals and core values, I will make this my top priority above all else.





Handling Defeat


Climbing Around DefeatA reasonable person knows that defeats are unavoidable when pursuing any plan for greatness.

Plans don’t always work.  Setting your own expectations around this fact is a critical way to manage personal energy.

I’m not one to handle defeat well. Losing. Setbacks. Challenges. In my life, I’m not patient with losing.   However, with this way of looking at things I find a lot more freedom and Peace with small and even large defeats.   They are going to happen.

The beauty is that if you’re an entrepreneur you get joy in creating. Small defeats that cause stuckness only require you to create a new plan. Create a way around your problem.    Defeats are also where learning happens. We all know that we learn more from our screw-ups than our successes, so be proud when you find one of these learning opportunities. Embrace it, learn from it, and take energy from it to power back up.

Again it’s not if, but when. And it’s not how to avoid it, it’s how to learn from it. But most importantly, it’s how you let it affect your energy, your drive, your inspiration, your fire. Make sure it feeds it. Otherwise it’s not a real fire.



False Deadlines


False DeadlinesWe are rushed a lot.

We recognize that time is in limited supply. The things we choose to invest our time into must be done efficiently.  When we choose to take on a task, we typically default to getting it done as fast as possible. You had to choose that task over at least a hundred other things that needed your attention.

But really… what’s the real rush? Is it really important that you move on to the next thing?  Would life be better if we would just accept that some things need us to slow down?

I find myself creating false deadlines so I can justify rushing through things. Examples: I pretend that I only get one shot at a pitch, so I’d better hurry up with the supporting collateral. I imagine that when I’m working in my lawn, that I’d better hurry up because this way I can hurry to get more quality time with the kids.   Neither of those are usually true.

So sometimes I realize that I’m doing this and I don’t know why. I force myself to take my time. Just focus on enjoying the work. Just focus on quality.  It’s amazing what happens… the quality improves dramatically, and the enjoyment I experience during the work makes it even better.

Next time you are rushed… question your motives. Question your deadlines.


Your Own Worst Enemy


EnemyThis one goes out to myself.

Short version.

If you really believe that the only thing you can control is your thoughts…
And you believe that thoughts become actions…
Then your only true enemy is yourself.

Deeper version.

This thought hit me this morning as I was pissed off about the almost 2 hours of traffic I battled to get to a breakfast learning event. I was over an hour late to a 90 minute event. ARGRRG!!

Even though I had a packed day of great meetings, exciting sales meetings, and huge opportunities… I couldn’t overcome the funk. The bad mood funk felt worse than a bad mood. It felt like I wanted to say to myself that things aren’t going my way. That the world is screwing me today. I wanted to moan about “Why is it so hard to start a company…”  … I wanted to complain about having to “work” and claim that all I want to do is go watch a movie and play with the kids all day.   Grumpy grump. Humbug.

So sitting in traffic (again) between meetings, I decided to throw on my headphones (something I never do), and pull up my favorite song of the summer.  Mumford & Sons THE CAVE.   That song fires me up. Over the past few weeks, it has caused me to run more miles than I thought possible, faster than I thought possible.. because it is a “full-throttle rush.”  I turned it up to max.  I was amazed at what happened. When I started thinking about kicking the day’s ass, the day seemed to look less daunting… but even more importantly, I realized that the only thing about the DAY that even felt daunting at all was HOW I WAS LOOKING AT THE DAY. My own thoughts. My own flawed, weak thoughts were causing me to think and say the world was against me.

It wasn’t.

It never is.

It’s only me against me, and I want the right side to win.




Inspired Employees, Loyal Employees, or just Satisfied Employees


Chip Conley Transformation Pyramid

Chip Conley Transformation Pyramid

I’m reading a fascinating book: Peak, by Chip Conley. In this book, Conley tells the stories of his hotel chain in San Francisco and how they not only survived but ended up thriving through the worst hit to the hotel business in the history of hotels… the post 9/11, post dot-com crash.  Through this time, Conley started studying Abe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and this book is the output of his ideas around how companies can embrace the “pyramid” in everything they do.

The point is to aim for the point, the top of the pyramid. Self-actualization. Meaning, purpose.  “With humans, there is a qualitative difference between not being sick and feeling healthy or truly alive. This idea could be applied to companies, most of which fall into the middle ground of not being sick but not truly alive.”

At the base of the “transformation pyramid” we have SURVIVAL, moving up, SUCCESS, then at the top TRANSFORMATION.

The book takes three primary relationships and applies these principals to each.  Employees. Customers. Investors.  Here is how the pyramid is applied to employees’ relationship with a company.

SURVIVAL for employees = Money.

SUCCESS for employees = Recognition.

TRANSFORMATION for employees = Meaning.

I have seen this first hand with employees in the past, but even more importantly, I’ve seen it in myself. I hope the awareness of this idea will cause you to pause and consider if you are providing opportunities for employees to ascend the pyramid and aim for Meaning and Transformation in their work with you. If are an entrepreneur, what are you doing to be sure you yourself are aiming for true transformation, meaning, and inspiration in what you do.




Grab a Wrench or Hire a Dude – Handoffs and Outsourcing Considerations

Editorial note: today I got a little winded… so I’m going to give those short attention span readers the entire summary in two sentences. – JC

The Short Version:

In your own ventures, when you do things yourself, you do them better because you have the true goal of Quality in mind. But doing everything yourself isn’t possible, so just keep true, deep down, meaningful Quality in mind as you make the outsource/handoff-to-scale decisions.

ZMM Mechanic - Outsource Sales or NotThe Value of Exploring Your Own Work

A lot of the ideas one takes from ZMM leave you with more questions than answers.  This one is no exception… but that’s kind of the point!

On our Motorcycle Monday topic from ZMM, let’s talk about whether you should hire a professional mechanic to fix your motorcycle or figure it out yourself. It’s not always an easy choice for those who are truly dedicated to Quality. In my mind, at least today, let’s use the dilemmas of outsourcing parts of your life and your company as you grow.  When do you hire a professional “mechanic” and when do you sit down and roll up your sleeves to do it yourself?

The default answer for the typical fast-paced-life entrepreneur is to outsource that which you do not understand, or that which you are not a high-performer. Maybe. But at what point do you outsource? Is it just a financial decision? Is it merely for capacity? What about your own need to understand the business, especially in the start-up phase?

I don’t think it’s purely financial, and I don’t think the decision is solely based on the fastest, shortest path between point A and B.   A, of course being a startup, no-revenue company, and B being a sustainable, profitable, mature organization.  Is the best way to build a sustainable company to get there the fastest?

Let’s look at both sides as Pirsig does.   The “professional” mechanic has been trained by someone on the exact steps to take to do his technical work. He is seeing many bikes each day and to him, they are all just work to be done. He knows the steps, the parts, the order, and he repeats his routines each day.

Consider the professional lead generation or “telesales” company. They are making calls, reading scripts, pumping through leads as fast as they can.   Sure both of these so-called “professionals” are equipped to do the job, but at what level of quality?   Does the mechanic actually know YOUR bike? Does he understand the slight variations, changes, and subtleties of what makes your bike different from the other 6 he saw in his day? Is he truly able to see, diagnose, and understand the intricacies of your motorcycle compared to the other ones?

Does the professional telesales guy really know what the value is of what he is selling?  Sure he can pump through many more, but at what cost to the future relationships of the prospects on which he is calling?  What experiences is he missing that could make him that much more valuable on the phone?

On the other side, there is the value of sitting down in a quiet room. Just you and your bike and GUMPTION. You know there is a problem to be solved, but you take your time. You aren’t rushing to a solution, you are “just fixing.” You are fixing the bike because you enjoy fixing the bike.   You may not have any clue where you are headed, where the problem is, or how to get there and diagnose it. But you take your time. One screw at a time. Slowly exploring, remembering the order in which things come apart…. and then making your own experiments to troubleshoot and diagnose the problems.

Consider this same approach if you are starting up a new company or new initiative for your organization. Rather than hiring a professional to plow through and rush to the end, how much more quality do you achieve through the process, if you take your time and “Just fix.” Selling is my example of the week… I know the quality of my conversations are so much higher than anything that will be ache vied by a professional telesales organization. I am learning through these conversations. I may not be the smoothest talker taking the shortest distance to a closed deal, but I am learning along the way. I’m in no hurry. I’m aiming for quality and sustainability.

Remember what I said about leaving you with more questions than answers…. here’s why. Being a startup entrepreneur, or really anybody with more than one thing to do in a day… we have to decide where to invest our time. And as much as a start-up entrepreneur would benefit from sitting down and doing NOTHING but making calls 12 hours/day… this wouldn’t yield much of a company. This is where teams come in. This is where careful resource allocation and planning come in.

My conclusion and encouragement for people who want to create something new and accelerate their pursuit of quality is to carefully consider quality when making these decisions.



Dharmesh Shah Punched Me in the Stomach


Dharmesh Twitter Headshot

Dharmesh Twitter Headshot

Seven months ago, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to start 6 companies at the same time. Yeah, I get pretty excited sometimes.  I crafted this dream that I could structure my time, my energy, and my money so effeiciently that it could be done. I had a vision that I could manage my time like a portfolio manager. “Sure, they may move slower,” I thought, “but if more things are moving, there is a greater chance for success.”


Here’s the rub. A slow moving startup is a motionless startup. To get a company turning, you have to apply 1000000% energy to get the massive flywheel moving at all, and then you have to keep applying that energy to keep it from stopping. It’s a beast of a task! Monumental!   So the thought that I could push on one flywheel for a few hours of the week, then push another one, then push another one… well, the fact is that they just aren’t going to move.   At all! Ever!

Some people have said to me this: Yeah, but if you put enough money into them you can… blah blah.  That’s baloney!   Money doesn’t grow companies. Time and energy do.  Finding good co-founders, team members who will give the amount of energy needed to turn a motionless flywheel into a spinning flywheel is a needle in a haystack, or worse.

I give Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder of HubSpot the credit for the beginning of me figuring out this harsh reality. Dharmesh came and spoke to entrepreneurs at the EO NERVE conference in Atlanta. He told his exciting story of founding a company, having a good exit, then trying to found multiple companies all at once and failing miserably. He made the point that serial entrepreneurship is good… parallel entrepreneurship is next to impossible when your companies are the in startup/seed stage.

At the time, I was offended that he would call my brilliant plan of parallelism impossible, but turns out, as I grow Quench Network, I am  having a blast, but I can’t imaging spending even 5 minutes of my time on anything but this one critical venture.

Oh and one more thing… Dharmesh’s talk was all about building traffic to your blog by (A) saying crazy things once in a while and (B) having amazing out-of-the-box blog post titles.  So I hoped to do a little bit of that in his honor on this post.  Just for a little more SEO Jazz, let me say it again, Dharmesh Shah Punched me in the Gut!

(Wait, who would ever be searching that phrase!? If you are here from a search on Dharmesh punching someone in the stomach, you are sick and I am frightened.)



Calm and Quiet at Hyperspeed


LightspeedThere is nothing in the world like the moments when your startup gains traction: closing deals,  generating value for customers. I mean, no rush, no high, no drug is as intense as this feeling.     I’m experiencing it now with Quench Network.  If you put your head down long enough, focus on the quality of the deliverable long enough, then focus on the right kinds of things (like SALES, sales, sales, and sales… then some more sales)… eventually the magic will start to happen.  And when it does, it happens big. Maybe not big in the way a mature company sees big; but considering you started at exactly $0.00 just a few short months ago and now you are at [anything bigger than $0], your percentage growth is more than it will ever be in the future of the company!  But the excitement isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about the fact that just a little while ago you had NOTHING, you had an idea… and now you have a company. You have gone from a guy or gal with an idea (aka wanapreneuer) to a true entrepreneur.   You turned potential energy into kinetic energy.  What a thrill!

Here’s how it has gone for me. It took me about 5 months of introspection and quiet time before I found the idea that was worthy of my energy. Lots of time reading books like Zen and JLS, writing a ton, and sitting on the beach. It was easy to go slow.  It took embracing being stuck.    Even when I felt like I was stopped and moving and thinking as slow as I could think, I found that there were even slower speeds than slow. You can get quieter than dead quiet. You can get slower than stopped. You really can.

So there I was at the right spot and the right speed when the right idea sprouted… and started growing… and started getting more attention, more energy, and I slowly started speeding up.

Now the idea is in full motion. We are booking classes, taking calls, managing calls, dealing with challenges as soon as they come up and already at full throttle.  It would be so easy to go back to where I was 18 months ago at juggling balls constantly and never feeling like I’m going anywhere. Feeling like the inbox owned me. Like the conference calls are life and everything else has to fit in around it.

But I’m determined not to let that happen. As things are getting faster and the thrill gets more addicting, I’m forcing myself to STOP the madness once a day. Just stop. Go for a walk. READ a book in the middle of the day. And be sure that the energy reserves I was able to build up in all that quiet time not only sustains itself but grows even more.

And as I’m doing it, it’s awesome.  I consider it quite a feat to be going at hyperspeed but remaining calm and quiet. To be moving so fast, but also finding long pauses of life… man, it just doesn’t get any better than this.