Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

The Antifragile Schedule


Ever since I read the book Antifragile from the Author of the Black Swan, the idea penetrates my thinking more regularly.  Today I’m thinking about an antifragile calendar. As my family begins the new schedule of summer fun with the kids being out of school, I’m hunting for time to enjoy it with them. And it’s a tricky hunt.

Since we’ve launched the Atlanta Tech Village and a host of other programs, companies, and ideas that have come along with it, the amount of interest from the community has only accelerated week by week. My requests for meetings is at an all time high, which also means my calendar is booked at an all time density. The problem is that I have never been happier with how I spend my days. I’m doing more of what I’m doing because I “can’t not” do it.  Brad Feld just had a great post about his inability to moderate. I’m with him.  This ATV idea and all that surrounds it is an all-in movement for me.

However, it’s ironic that I’m trying to set the example for other entrepreneurs of keeping work/life balance by writing about being intentional.  I’ve realized that this calendar insanity has creeped up on me where now it needs to be addressed.  The cool thing about all this is the Antifragile angle:

It’s easy to have a work/life balance when work is easy or life is boring.

It’s easy to take a day or two a week and schedule fun activities for the kids when your company is in cruise control, the pace of creation has slowed down, and you are out of ideas. If you have ideas and passion, and BURN: you won’t find moderation naturally desirable.

To remind you of the definition of antifragile, it is when things become stronger as they are exposed to stress. Where fragile is on one end of the spectrum, robust is in the middle, and antifragile is on the other end. Robust means you stand up to the stress and are resilient. Antifragile means you become better. Stronger. The more stress you put on something, the more resilient it becomes.  Like wind on a forest fire.

If you are building a company and a family at the same time. If you think that both are delicious and you can’t get enough, then you have the situation to become antifragile.  Don’t let the friction stress you out or cause worry. Just be intentional about your calendar and take satisfaction in your personal development.

My takeaways from this thinking means a few practical actions:

  • Saying “sorry but no thanks” to more meetings. I hate doing this. It’s the hardest thing for me to do.
  • Admitting to people that it may be 3-6 weeks before we can find a time on the calendar. It’s ok, there’s usually no rush.
  • Keeping some time unscheduled on the work calendar so unscheduled meetings can actually happen and the rare time sensitive meetings have a place to land.
  • Taking advantage of no drop off routine for school in the summer and going in earlier for breakfast meetings instead of evening meetings.
  • Prioritizing and delegating. Deciding that I don’t have to do all the meetings myself and there is an awesome talented staff already running the Village.
  • Schedule our weekend father-son trips with both of my sons. Max is 5 now, so he knows he now qualifies for this benefit.
  • Scheduling one full day per week for kid activities for the next two months.
  • Scheduling two weeks of chill time at Dog Island, back-to-back.

It’s a great feeling to know that as the stress is added to my balance, I’m able to add even more good balance to it.  Hopefully nothing blows up in all this. :)



Intro Magic – And Disappearing Act at the End


Introduction MagicI love giving introductions.  In my effort to add value for the person I meet with in 2013, I’ve found that the highest value I can provide is at least one relevant introduction.  Maybe it’s Atlanta business community’s awesome culture of giving and helping, but for whatever reason, 9 times out of 10 both parties are very happy I made the intro and put great energy towards helping the other person.

Some of the coolest introduction types:

  • Cross network intros. This is when I introduce people who, from my view, would have almost 0% chance of otherwise meeting. They are running in different circles, different networks, different geographies and in different paradigms. These are the best. Universes collide and random unpredictable things can happen the most often from these intros.
  • Multiple levels up. Meeting with tons of startup entrepreneurs means I see a lot of folks who are struggling to find their way into a large organization. Typically, they are starting at the ground level and inching their way up the org chart. Occasionally, I will meet with a startup trying to penetrate a large organization where I happen to have a C-suite contact or other high level executive in my network. Selfishly, these are the most gratifying to watch happen.  When I know that both sides are looking for what the other has to offer, these intros are so cool!
  • Pool of resources.  Examples of these intros are when someone needs a certain type of person and I can make an intro to a leader in that network. The good example are the companies or individuals seeking MBA students and I can introduce them to a professor or Dean of a local MBA program.
  • Missing puzzle piece.   There are some needs that startups have that are hard for the founders to define. Sometimes I encounter people who don’t know how to describe exactly their need; or they are so close to the problem that they can’t take a step back and look at the larger picture.  Then there are others who need a specific skill set that they aren’t aware even exists. There are consultants and organizations out there that do things you never would imagine.
  • Knowledge help.  The most basic, yet still rewarding.   Person A needs to understand how to X, where to go for Y, or if they should Z.    Person B wrote the book (sometimes literally) on X, Y, and Z and can give ultimate clarity in a short 30 minute conversation… and B is often more than happy to do so.

The key to successfully giving introductions is to be genuinely interested in helping both parties.  Some introductions require an up-front “Ok to introduce” reach out and other people are wide open to your intros. You have to know your network well enough to navigate it without overstepping or offending.

Once you make a connection of value for someone, I have found the best next step is to disappear. It’s not my goal to benefit or profit from introductions I make.   Unless it is a rare case where I have a lot of other balls in the air related to a specific connection, then I intentionally and quickly disappear.

My request is that you take this to heart. Be more intentional about helping people find each other. We live in an interdependent society now and relationships are gold. Go make some.



The Run, Not the Route – Serial Entrepreneurs and Focused Energy


TeaminTrainingI’m training for my first half marathon.   Next week I’ll be in San Diego to run the Rock and Roll Half with a group of entrepreneurs from EO.  Our efforts are for Team in Training: we are fundraising for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and I appreciate your donations to the cause here. (One week to go!)

As I’ve built up my weekly long runs to cover more mileage (now right at 13 miles!#$%), since I prefer to run alone, one of the most interesting aspects has been planning the course and finding routes that will get me the distance needed in my training plan.

I’ve known routes for a 3 mile loop, 4 miles, 5 miles, 10k, and even a 7 miler, but I have no desire to do any of these routes two or three times in a row. I need more variety than that!   So I’ve found some new routes and combinations of known routes to get in nice long runs.

When I’m running a route for the first time, I’m often more focused on the scenery and making the right turns than I am on the run itself.  Without fail, I run slower on unexplored portions of the route in my long runs. So I’ve figured out to always start the long runs with the unfamiliar routes and end with the routes I can run without thinking.

The reason?   When I’m not thinking about which way to go, I’m thinking about what’s really important. My pace. My energy level. My actual run. Besides, that’s the point, isn’t it? The run. Not the route.

It’s incredible how directly this translates to entrepreneurship. Serial entrepreneurs, in their later career companies, are able focused on the run not the route in each additional startup. They can spot issues so much earlier than first-time entrepreneurs. They get their rhythm. They know how to meter their energy, ideas, and cash.  It’s really awesome to watch them work.

Some of my favorite observations of entrepreneurs who are focused on the run:

  • Team and culture friction issues are spotted earlier, and addressed easily with the right amount of TLC. This doesn’t usually include throwing more office benefits in (like buying a pool table, or adding beer to the fridge)… it is quickly getting to the root of stress, discussing it, and finding solutions to the causes.
  • Unnecessary partnerships and other distractions are ignored. Serial entrepreneurs know that they’ve picked the route– aka business model– and taking turns off that business model by exploring often sill strategic partnerships are a waste of time and energy.
  • Investments are made on the right people.   Serial entrepreneurs have been through the broken promises routines before. They know how to spot the candidate that looks amazing on paper but doesn’t work out in the culture of the startup. They waste less money on these mistakes.
  • Cash is handled smarter.  This is the equivalent of energy management on a run. “Go slower than you think you should” is what my coach always tells me. Whether you’ve raised money or are bootstrapping, the not-so-silent killers of cash burn rate and big overhead are aggressively managed.

Last point: I believe the ability to focus on the right things also comes with age and wisdom. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says that few people become successful in their 20’s and 30’s because our ability to effectively focus our energy doesn’t come until late 30’s and early 40’s.  No doubt this plays a big part in the success of serial entrepreneurs as well.

Whatever your stage or age, I hope you will work hard to eliminate the noise. Ignore distractions and focus on your pace.  Happy running!


Cliff Jumping or Puddle Hopping – Crazy Dramatic Decisions That Aren’t


cliff-jumpingLooking back on my own life, I’ve noticed that the best decisions (that in retrospect seem like obvious good decisions) felt like wildly dramatic leaps with unknown outcomes at the time I made them.   I suspect most of us have the same view.

Getting married. Buying our first house. Starting a company instead of taking a salaried job.  Hiring someone. Firing someone. Deciding to open a line of credit or take money from an investor.  Having a baby. Leaving a salaried job.  Adding a position to the org chart and payroll.  Giving up a responsibility. Moving to another community because of the schools. Firing a client. Saying no to a big opportunity.

All of these are the level of big decisions that cause us to lose sleep, but after we make them, life improves and we often find ourselves on a new trajectory.  If you’re stuck on a path, can see where it leads, don’t love where it heads, and you aren’t sure how to change directions: I propose that you need to consider something that seems dramatic.

When you look back, it will probably appear to be one of the many no-brainers that took you to new heights.

Dream bigger.


Cure the Destination Disease – Tips for Enjoying the Ride


At the recent EO NERVE Conference, in Charlotte, NC, there were some great speakers on life balance and things that matter. My favorites were Steve Gilliland and Gary Kunath.  Steve and Gary are both great speakers with successful careers, inspirational stories, and invaluable lessons. I wanted to share with you some of the big points I took from their talks.

  • Lessons in serial entrepreneurship. One entrepreneur once told Steve that he wanted to build another business after he sold his first because this time around he wanted to enjoy the process of building it this time.  Having started my first business in my late teens / early twenties, I can admit openly that I had no idea how cool it was to be doing what I was doing. Each new business I am involved with now, my goal is to savor the exhilaration and stress that it takes to go from idea to team to customers to company.  Enjoy!
  • The grass will grow back.  Gary spoke of his father and how he would be frustrated with his grandkids (Gary’s kids) for running on the grass and damaging his perfect lawn.   I can relate to this, being a lover of my lawn. I often find myself barking at the kids to stop destroying some plant or part of our lawn with their antics.    Gary said that his kids are now grown and gone and his father stares at a perfect lawn, with no kids, wishing only that they would come back; but that time has passed.   It is a reminder to me that the grass will grow back, but I only have one shot at having crazy fun in the backyard with my 5 and 7 year old boys.
  • Study of Happiness.    One of the speakers described a study comparing lottery winners to individuals who had an accident and became paraplegics. The bottom line is that those winning $200,000,000 in the lottery are less happy after a couple of years than people who had an accident and became paraplegics! It’s about appreciating life around us. Appreciating what we have and savoring every minute.
  • The big deals at death. Consider that you’re in the last few minutes of your life.   When you write out the bulleted list of “big deals” in your life, what will they be?   Now compare that to the list that today you are working through.   Work to constantly put your daily routines and todo list in perspective of what will matter in the end.  Do this activity in your head with some sincerity on a regular basis and your stress level will drop by 50%.  Here’s a video from Gary to demonstrate.

I may not be able to cure my “Destination Disease,” but with events and reminders like this, I hope to work harder to enjoy the ride. Relax. There isn’t a destination.  We’re living it right now, today.

The ironic thing about this conference is that 24 hours before departure I was just about to cancel because I just “have too many things to do.” Wow. Powerful stuff.



Startups: A Surprising Place to Find Spiritual Satisfaction


I find a ton of spirituality in tech startups.

What!?  Yep, you heard me.

Let’s start from a basic question. Where do you find God and spiritual satisfaction?

For me, deep spiritual satisfaction comes from being in motion. In pursuit of something better. It’s not about the what you’re making better, it’s just about movement towards better. As an example, I believe Christianity is all about the pursuit of being better at serving others and making the world a better place to live. It’s that simple, to me.

When stagnation takes hold, that’s the “devil” (or whatever bad news label you want to give it). That’s the lack of presence of good spiritual stuff. Ironically there is a book about the thoughts of Napoleon Hill called Outwitting the Devil.    In his research and writing for Think and Grow Rich, Hill not only explores why successful people succeed, but also why unsuccessful people don’t find their groove.   Doubt. Lack of self-confidence. Laziness. Fear. These are all things that lead to not moving.  It totally supports the idea that real meaning comes from motion.

With this understanding of my view of faith, religion, and spirituality, you can understand why the world of startups and entrepreneurs provides crazy good spiritual satisfaction for me.

  • Entrepreneurs who decide to do a startup are working to make themselves better as people. We all know that to build a good business, you have to build a good entrepreneur at the heart of that business.  Fundamentals are just as true here as in any other discipline. Fundamentals of life balance, a burning passion, and healthy living are key. As the business grows, so must the entrepreneur.   The spiritual energy that took a business from start to go isn’t the same energy that will get the business to the next level. Everything must move.
  • Startups are about making some tiny corner of the world better.   Whether their passion is about making something easier, cheaper, or better, it’s always about movement. It’s about helping a customer move their needle.
  • Over the top generosity and giving is a fundamental success factor for startups, just as it is in anything else. Giving of your time to others helps grow your network, which in turn helps you move. You change trajectories.

This idea is also perhaps what pulls me to technology. Technology is in constant motion. It’s not going to change any time soon. The rate of innovation is exhilarating.  Technology + Startups = More movement towards better than you’ll find in many other disciplines.

This idea is at the core of the reason I encourage “lifestyle entrepreneurs” to take it to the next level. I won’t say that these guys frustrate me, just that I feel like they are leaving tons of fulfillment on the table.   These are entrepreneurs who had the glory of going from 0-60, but then set the cruise control and relax. That’s a nice way to live for some, but for me, I see that the acceleration has slowed or stopped and the juicy satisfaction is going away.  Swinging for the fences doesn’t have to mean taking stupid risks, but it just means persistently moving from where you are today to somewhere else. Keep going! Keep moving!