Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

The Famous (and Funny) CBQ, CEO of Big Nerd Ranch


CBQContinuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business. Charles Brian Quinn, or CBQ as most locals know him, is a very cool dude.  He is most well-known for being the CEO of Big Nerd Ranch… and you’ve got to love his shameless promotion page.

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

One of my strengths (and weaknesses) is overcommitting to many things.  I always remember the story about the fellow on his death bed who said: “I wish I had spent more time in the office.” Hint: there is no fellow who said that. My family is always great about meeting up regularly for dinner, and we use lots of technology to keep in touch.  I have standing date nights, and regular dinners/lunches with family.  I also enjoy doing tech support for my grandparents (believe it or not), and use that time to catch up.  I use shared google calendars to plan events and while I love planning, I like to be spontaneous.  I don’t have TV/Cable, which I think helps tremendously with living in the moment.

What is your exercise routine?

I’m lucky in that my company has a personal trainer on-staff, so I schedule workouts with her regularly.  I also bicycle to work regularly.  On weekends, I go in long mountain bike or road rides, and do yoga/pilates classes.  I run and walk my dog every day along the belt line, which runs right by my home.  I haven’t yet gotten into cross fit, and I don’t wear those shoes that look like feet with the individual toes yet, but I probably will one day.

What gives you the most personal energy?

I get a lot of energy out of seeing people succeed. I love seeing the dots connect and seeing someone have a win. I am a perfectionist, so sometimes it’s tough.  An example of how I have to work at this is that I’ll see someone do something great or see the company succeed at something and I’ll think in my mind: “That is really good, but we can do better” and I have to remember to publicly celebrate the wins, but always strive to do better, and challenge myself and others to do more.  I like planting the idea in someone, or asking others to help me to help others.  My best employees who help everyone around them raise up to their level give me energy and make me excited to work.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

Sometimes when I realize I’m delaying making a decision, I’ll actually just go ahead and make it.  If I notice that I’m saying: “well, maybe I’ll just wait….” I have to stop myself and say: “OK, let’s just do this.”

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

I am very lucky in that my company regularly donates time and energy to charitable organizations and events.  In the past 6 months we participated in Junior Achievement, Joyous Toys, the TechBridge Digital Ball, and other events like 5K runs.  I also have a budget for Donations every month.  I’m a fan of efficient charities and give my money to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, and the Atlanta Humane Society.  I mentor at Georgia Tech and serve on the board of the Georgia Tech College of Computing Alumni Association.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

My management team can handle anything.  The brain trust we have is awesomely empathetic, focused on results, and always on.  My EO Forum is also my entrepreneurial brain trust and keeps me focused on the big goals.  I also love my book club called the Captains of Industry that satisfies my business knowledge cravings.

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business?

I’m extremely lucky in that my father is the most logical, rational, intelligent, scientific person I know, and my mother is the most emotionally intelligent, empathetic, passionate, and social butterfly I know.  I like to think that I have both traits.  I love thinking logically and rationally, and using my intuition and feelings — along with others feelings to make the right decisions.  I’m also the most modest person you’ll ever meet.  And funny.



Invisible Barriers to Innovation


When discussing the Atlanta Startup Rainforest we like to promote that our local economy has all the right ingredients for a great innovation ecosystem. No doubt, we certainly do have all the right ingredients.

Then why are we not already a Top 10, 5, or Top 3 innovation community?  It’s because we have the right ingredients, but we haven’t yet built the right system for them to connect.

Rainforest Axiom #3: What we typically think of as free markets are actually not that free.

Here we mean that for some reason, the human connections that need to happen for ideas, capital, and talent to turn into startups aren’t happening at the same velocity as in other cities. There are barriers.  Something or some things are restricting the flow.   What are they, Atlanta?

Social? Are there class differences that keep people apart?

Geography? Is our sprawl issue really so bad that it is the reason more entrepreneurs don’t meet each other? That investors aren’t bumping into the right teams and ideas more often? That talented developers and executives aren’t connecting with startup teams more regularly?

Politics? Are politics keeping certain groups from connecting, mingling, and sharing ideas?

Whatever the barriers are, for some reason they are creating transaction costs for innovation in Atlanta high-enough that more of it isn’t happening.  I don’t have the answers to these big questions, but hope if we keep asking the question “Why aren’t we already …fill-in-the-blank)…”  then we will find the path to a vibrant innovation hub. Let’s help the resources of talent, ideas, and capital flow more freely.




Freight Trains and Withholding Advice Giving


I try hard to not give advice unless I am explicitly asked for it. I learned this from EO forum structure and the Gestalt language protocol. Gestalt says that we can help each other best by not assuming that we know what’s best for others. Rather, we should share our experiences — only — and then let the receiving end process our experience and form their own opinion about how to apply it to their situation.  This is a great way to live and interact. We don’t realize how often we give advice – many times creating unintentional and unnecessary friction in relationships. To pay attention to this and reduce the advice giving is a very good thing.


There are times when you can see the person is standing, sitting, or lying down on the train tracks and there is a monster freight train speeding towards them. This is especially true with business problems. You can see they are about to get whammo splatted but they don’t see it coming.  You try your best to share experiences, but often times when people are making blatantly terrible decisions, they may be even more oblivious to their imminent collision (sometimes intentionally).

It’s sad to watch the implosion unfold, but hopefully you can be there providing safe and grounded support when they start to realize what has happened.

The value of not giving advice early will pay off at this stage. Now they can feel that it is safe to open up and okay to be vulnerable because you won’t start with “I told you so…”   since… hopefully…  you didn’t “tell them so.”




Entrepreneur – Kelly Land, CEO of Berke Group


kelly-landContinuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.   Kelly Land is the CEO of Berke Group, providing the Berke Assessment. I love what these guys do– they help companies hire better and know the profile of the perfect candidate to lower turnover and mismatch hiring.

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

I am intensely focused balancing work and family and spouse.  I exercise early, I drive kids to school, and I start work early so I can be at home by dinner most nights during the week. Every month or two, the family takes some sort of vacation.  These are great ways to spend concentrated amounts of time together as a family.  And it’s pretty cool that my kids (Sarah-5 and Walker-8) really like each. Something my wife and I are doing must be working!

What is your exercise routine?

2 days during the week (early) focused on strength.  1 or 2 days on the weekend, usually aerobic like running or biking.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Mixing up the routine and doing different things.  I love sales. But eventually it wears me down. So I switch to problem solving mode. Then it’s family time. Then it’s back to work. Then it’s time with friends. I get energy from lots of things, but eventually that activity becomes a drain. So it’s on to a new activity.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

Doing something that I don’t want to do.

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

Being involved with EO and EO Accelerator have both been great.  I love helping other entrepreneurs.  I miss Accelerator (had to take a break because business has been insane), but I hope to get re-engaged next year.

What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy?

I love doing hands on stuff like building stuff. There is always some sort of project going on at my house.  I think it helps because it’s so different from what I do at work which is very mental stuff.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?

Core values are key.  I have taken a crack at writing the down over the years.  And they are pretty consistent each time that I do it.  But I don’t really think about them very much. I just DO.  And my core value drive what I DO. It’s not something that I think much about.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

EO Forum.  And a group of SAAS CEO’s.